From James Bratt
Dorothy Sayers is best remembered today as the author of fine detective fiction in the classic British mode. You can still buy her translation of and commentary upon Dante’s Divine Comedy as well. But in her time (the second quarter of the 20th century) Sayers was also a smart essayist on theology, ethics, and cultural affairs. Something of a Marilynne Robinson, then, only a couple generations earlier and high Anglican instead of Calvinist.
Sayers’ most apropos missive to our own time might be “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” the concluding essay in her collection Creed or Chaos? (1949). The piece originated as an address given in 1941 to the charmingly named Moral Welfare Society of the Church of England. The “immorality” that the good church folk were fighting, Sayers judged, had come to be so entirely associated with sexual offenses that a “man might be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous, and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous, and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct” and still not be deemed “immoral”—for, lo, he had kept his zipper zipped. Reformed folk back then would have translated her title to “Whatever Happened to the Other Ten Commandments?” It’s a great question for what passes as “faith-based politics” today. We have seen Sayers’ list of vicious attributes in action, not only but also among proponents of “family values.”