Some years ago British researches claim that not only are Australians the worst of all sinners, according to their definitions, the greatest sin of Australians is envy. Has anything changed?
In a study of 35 countries, Australians come up as the most likely to commit this particular one of the seven deadly sins. An article in the February edition of Focus, a UK magazine produced by the BBC, states Australians rank first for envy and third for lust and gluttony. The authors used a points system to determine which countries committed the seven deadly sins - lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride - the most.
Topping each of the sin categories were South Korea (lust), the US (gluttony), Mexico (greed), Iceland (sloth and pride), South Africa (wrath) and Australia (envy).
I was fascinated by this survey, and wonders why Australians, with their legendary 'laid-back' attitudes and casual lifestyle, have come up as the very worst in the entire world with 'envy'.
'Lust' might have been understandable, as the advertising is not without its young female and male exhibitionists, and certainly the hot weather promotes a light weight and skimpy wardrobe, and the beach scene is certainly a site to behold, even if it is mild compared with some areas of Europe.
I was also a little surprised that the Koreans came up tops in 'lust' as, when he has been to Korea, he noticed their society is more conservative than ours.
He was not at all surprised that Americans and eating went hand in hand. Everywhere one goes in America, eating is a major feature of their life style. Even a cursory look at the contents of street stalls show 'super-size' portions of high-calorie food..
It is easy to imagine why 'greed' came up trumps in less-developed country such as Mexico, where people feel they would like to improve their economic situation; and perhaps 'sloth' is not surprising in a place like Iceland where it's too cold most of the year to do much outside; and why South Africa with its fraught history is high on 'wrath'.
But I was initially surprised at 'envy' coming up so high in the survey for Australians, until I began to ponder and reflect on why 'envy' might be such an issue.
A nation of Haves
By and large, Australia is a nation of Haves, having a 'classic middle class syndrome'. While acknowledging there are the relatively poor, the disadvantaged, and the homeless; these people are generally not so badly off as in developing countries, and even some other western countries such as America, where social services are not so generous.
The place of 'working families' and 'Aussie Battlers' has been emphasised by the two most recent Prime Ministers. The implication is that ordinary Australians who work hard can aspire easily to the affluence of the 'middle classes'.
Everyone is considered to have equal opportunity to attain the 'good things of life', and because of this notion, definitions of 'class' are frowned upon in Australia. However, Wikipedia attempts to do so, and states that two of the indicators of those within the 'middle class' is that they have a certain financial security even if supported by the banks, and many own their own homes or are purchasing them.
This certainly describes the 'Australian suburban dream' that everyone aspires to.
This idea of 'aspiration' is perhaps the key to Australian envy. During the most recent election campaign, the political analysts used the term 'aspirational class' to describe the group of voters that the major parties should appeal to. It was seen as important that, in order to gain votes, the political parties needed to pay attention to the needs of those who are wanting to improve their status in life.
So, perhaps it is not so much 'envy' in the conventional sense that Australians are feeling, but a sense of frustration that they are not yet able to 'live up to the Jones's'. Perhaps the road to acquiring the house and garden, and the possessions they see others enjoying, and the high quality education for their children is harder and rockier than they anticipated; particularly during the recent financial crisis.
Perhaps some Australians are just expressing their desires to partake of the riches of the 'lucky country', and wishing more of their aspirations had been already fulfilled.
With such social analysis and statistics as this, I began to understand and acknowledge that those of the middle class, as well as those of the aspirational class, are seeking to advance their situations within the ideal of the Australian equal society.
As a matter of course, these people might express a form of 'envy' at those who have already moved ahead. This poses a very interesting theological issue, which is how akin is legitimately aspiring to improve one's lot, might be confused with covetousness, or are they one and the same, or are there pie-chart degrees associated with this?
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html