Sloth is laziness about love

In her chapter, “Sloth: Resistance to the Demands of Love,” from Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, philosopher Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung writes:

In a nutshell, to be slothful is to be opposed to the joy we should have over being united with God and committed to him in love. Instead of rejoicing at God’s presence in us, the slothful chafe at it and resent the claims that God’s love makes on them. Rather than being willing to dedicate themselves to developing  and deepening the relationship, they resist its demands. Although sloth can appear asymptomatically similar to chronic depression, it is not a matter of brain chemistry, but rather a habit of the heart. Sloth is not primarily a feeling: it is a well-entrenched and willful resistance, even as love is fundamentally a choice. 


Spiritual battles take place on may fronts. Sometimes bodily pleasures or bodily weariness do make us more susceptible to sin. But in the case of this vice, the battle is first and foremost waged within our hearts. In sloth, we are literally divided against ourselves. We were made for relationship with God. If we are slothful, we have chosen to reject that relationship as the way to find fulfillment and chosen to try to make something else do its work instead. We are trying to make ourselves content with being less than we really are. 


Sloth cannot be defined as laziness, since slothful people often pour great physical effort and emotional energy into the difficult task of distracting themselves from the unhappiness of their real condition. 


Sloth is the vice of those who want the security of God’s love without the real sacrifice and ongoing struggle to be made anew.


Because it’s ultimately about love – accepting God’s love for us and the cost of loving him back – sloth earns its place among the top seven vices. Human beings are made for love. To resist it is to deny who we are. In her reluctance to die to her old self, the person with sloth chooses slow spiritual suffocation to the birth pains of new life and spiritual growth. She can’t fully accept the only thing that would ultimately bring her joy. She refuses the thing she most desires, and she turns away in revulsion or bored distaste from the only thing that can bring her life. In the perversity of her sin, she prefers sorrow to joy, emptiness to fullness, restlessness to rest. 


The slothful are inwardly unwilling to be moved; they are stuck between a self they cannot bear and a self they can’t bear to become. 


Sloth can thus show itself in the total inertia of the couch potato or the restless distractions of endless activity. Somewhere in between these two symptoms of vice is a holy Sabbath rest for the heart that has given itself utterly to God, a heart overjoyed, not oppressed, by the thought that “love so amazing, so divine, demands my self, my life, my all.” 

The slothful person ultimately insists on his own way, his own will, his own self-made pseudo-rest. His lack of commitment speaks of an unwillingness to surrender himself to God. It is this resistance that roots the vice of sloth in pride. Unlike other forms of sorrow, grief, or even depression, all of which can be mistaken for sloth, this capital vice results from a choice not to commit oneself, a refusal to give oneself wholly to God and then stay the course. It is the antithesis of Mary’s “yes” at the annunciation, a “yes” that finds her faithful to the end, standing at the foot of the cross. The slothful person tries to find happiness while evading the daily demands of self-giving love. He prefers his own diligent efforts to make himself happy with shortcuts and quick fixes. He chooses to avoid the onerousness of love’s demands by putting them off and trying to find fulfillment some easier way. By doing so, however, he cuts himself off from the possibility of fulfillment and happiness. And so, says Gregory, sloth eventually brings one to despair. 


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