Sloth: Look Where Hard Work Got Us

Working harder only gives us more sloth-inducing gadgets.

BY: Steven Waldman


This article first appeared on Beliefnet in 2002.

For several hundred years, the great innovations in science, technology and engineering--the wheel, the bellows, the cotton gin--were focused on reducing the amount of backbreaking labor humans must endure.

More recent technological innovations--the three-in-one remote, the sit-down lawn mower, the clapper--have seemed somewhat less momentous. By the time cruise control was invented, we had clearly run out of things to make more efficient. Pushing one’s toes on a pedal was too arduous, someone at the General Motors apparently thought, perhaps assuming the ultimate goal was allowing us to sleep while we drive.

In other words, for some time now, progress has moved beyond preserving human dignity to encouraging human sloth. Far from being a sin, it has become an aspiration.

Why was it put on the list in the first place? Originally, the term used was “sadness,” not sloth. The Catholic Church changed it to “sloth” in the 17th century, just in time for the industrial revolution. Both qualities were deemed sinful because they meant we were not sufficiently energetic in doing good deeds and therefore working towards salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of the effort it takes to do it.”

Then, Protestants came along, with their annoying “work ethic,” teaching that mopey people don’t just help fewer lepers, they build fewer gizmos--and they impede progress. Sloth hurts God, God’s creations, and your fellow humans.

And sloth can still cause great hardships for others, at least according to my wife. A slothful person forces labor on to others (“Where’d you put the remote?” “Over there” “Can I have it?” “That would mean me getting out of my chair…”) Lethargic people can suck the energy out of a room. In that sense, sloth isn’t the completely victimless crime we might think it is.


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