Passages from the Opening Chapter
My pilgrimage in cracking the 007 Code sometimes felt as though I was caught up in the pages of a novel. In August, 2000, I was bicycling for ten days around Lake Champlain in northern Vermont. One unseasonably cool evening in a small clapboard motel tucked back from the highway amidst birch and pine trees, I did what I often do when I am alone in such a setting. I reached for the Gideon Bible, which lay alone in the small drawer of the pine bedside table. I flipped through the pages of this well-worn book with a scuffed blue cover to a short letter, called the Epistle of James. I was startled to the point of shaking when I read the opening words:
“James, a bond servant…” (James 1:1)
Sleep was not restful that night, nor was riding properly balanced the next day. I had come here with two couples to get away from the mental stresses of my life, to push and test my muscles, to soak up the beauty of nature, to drink a little beer, eat good food and laugh with good friends. I am a former pastor who has spent my life chasing links between the spiritual and the profane. This journey to Vermont was to have been a little oasis—not a life-changing confrontation with one of my greatest quarries: the Bond of fiction and the Bond of moral and spiritual reflection. Yet there lay the words on this little page in this out-of-the-way inn: “James, a bond servant…”
My mind raced: Could there be any connection? Why had I not seen this before? I knew that Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA sidekick, referred to 007 as “St. James” on more than one occasion…
So many associations surfaced that evening. I knew that many commentators on the Bond literary tales have called them profoundly Christian, very male and quite sexist. I knew that the Epistle of James only mentions the name of Jesus twice and is more an ethical compass than a theological treatise. I knew that James Bond’s faith is in fact expressed by his works, which is the core assertion of the Epistle: “…I will show thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)
My gut more than my head told me that here, sitting with a scruffy little Gideon Bible in my palm amidst pine and birch, I had found a pattern that would weave together threads I had collected over many years of researching Fleming’s work and legacy. It never fails to astonish me how I can ride a bicycle with total awareness of my terrain and at the same time be deeply absorbed in filtering the threads of intellectual and emotional research and emerge not only safe but rejuvenated because of the interface of the two exercises—the physical and the intellectual. I had been so eager for this retreat in Vermont, but now wanted nothing more than to return to my basement study where I could attempt weaving a full fabric of Fleming’s spiritual message…
My adventures with Bond stretch over so many years that I cannot recall which perilous challenge we faced together in our maiden voyage. I do vividly recall that Bond always was interrupting even my most cherished holidays from the pressures of my work as a pastoral counselor on Capitol Hill and in Northern Virginia. For some reason, the tension of skiing down a slope with bullets flying around me or sloshing through the rat-infested sewers of Istanbul was always a relief—compared with the anxieties of tracking through the muck and mire on Capitol Hill.
I first found myself hanging from a cliff with 007 on a family vacation in southwest Virginia, at a surprisingly delicious retreat called Hungry Mother State Park. When not feeding worms to fish that never took the hook, or frolicking in the cold mountain lake with our children, or eating and laughing ourselves silly with our dearest family friends, I found time to escape with the only Bond book I owned. Almost certainly, a half-clad woman and a gun graced the cover. I do remember that I had the first tale finished within two days and was off to the used bookstore where I found three others that surely were a sign of my new addiction.
In each of my adventures with James Bond, whether sitting on pine needles at the edge of a mountain lake or in my hammock in my back yard, Fleming was enticing me away from the pressures of my daily life to join Bond in the violent struggles between the cosmic forces of light and darkness. Without moving a muscle from my world, Bond was inviting me to engage and grapple with good and evil.
These are mythic narratives. More than that, they are astonishing theological parables.
One keyhole through which I glimpsed that truth is a seven-letter word derived from Greek. I was startled to discover that the word shows up in nearly every Fleming tale: accidie. Why does this word appear so often? It’s usually well placed as a description of the motivation of the most evil opponents of Bond—as well as a description of 007 himself, when he is bored between the demands of his mission-driven life.
Accidie, it turns out, is one of the original seven deadly sins that was defined in the Middle Ages by its symptoms: sloth and torpor. Accidie comes from the Greek akedos, which refers to those who didn’t care enough to bury the dead on the battlefield. Their energy and the dreams that energized them had been drained. Accidie defines the loss of the dream that gives our lives definition, meaning and passion. The disappointment of the loss of the dream can leave a person at the edge of despair. The loss of the dream saps us of our energy and joy and hope in life. It is a form of moral lassitude and spiritual suicide. The religious say that it even results in the loss of faith in the very goodness of God. But there it is! That unusual word—accidie—one of the original deadly sins—is laced throughout the Bond tales.
And, from that key, the further I searched in the Bond adventures, I began to see other deadly sins—and finally, as amazing as it may sound even as you read it in these pages—all seven were there—elegantly portrayed in the characters and eloquently described in their speeches, even more so than they were defined in earlier narrative treatises by such giants as Chaucer, Spencer, Langland and Dante.
I became convinced that this was intentional on the part of Bond’s scribe, Ian Lancaster Fleming. As my research unfolded over the years, Fleming seemed to be the first modern author—in fact, the first author in centuries—to write narrative tales expressly personifying deadly sins. Fleming carefully built Bond’s larger-than-life tales in which the very future of the world rests on Bond’s battle-scarred shoulders—on the foundations of an ancient architecture. These are struggles not so much with lasers and guns, cars and criminals—but with timeless temptations that lure each of us each day.
A crucial link in the chain of my early discoveries occurred while researching for my doctorate in the dusty library shelves of Wesley Theological Seminary. I stumbled across a small volume called The Seven Deadly Sins, published in 1962. The Foreword was written by Ian Fleming. I opened it with as much delight and startling surprise as I did the Gideon Bible years later.
Fleming begins his Foreword in The Seven Deadly Sins by declaring that the idea for the series of articles contained in this small volume was presented by him while on the editorial board of the Sunday Times in London. He also reveals that it was he who arranged to publish the series of essays by different authors, mainly by authors he suggested, on the traditional seven deadly sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth (Accidie), Covetousness, Gluttony and Lust…
The Foreword to The Seven Deadly Sins provides a substantial clue to a rarely acknowledged motive in his creation of the James Bond tales. (…) Fleming argues that most of these ancient sins will no longer keep one out of Heaven—except for one especially troubling sin: accidie. For Fleming, accidie or sloth could never be considered a virtue. Fleming, who was plagued with black, slothful moods all his life, believed that accidie, a form of spiritual suicide and a refusal of joy, deserved his complete denunciation because he had known its despair so often. So, except for accidie, Fleming finds most of the traditional seven deadly sins to be closer to virtues in our time…
Fleming voiced his hope that someone (…) would go on to write about his list or perhaps propose their own list of deadlier sins. The challenge was so tempting, in fact, that Fleming accepted it himself! In the Bond tales, in spite of mentioning the original seven deadly sins, his primary focus is on his deadlier seven, plus accidie.
He personifies each of the deadlier sins in the evil characters Bond pursues as well as in Bond himself. And here is where the 007 code twists, turns and reconnects us with the biblical record—because when I compared Fleming’s list of deadlier sins with the Letter of James, even more strands wove neatly into place.