On the 10th anniversary of publishing Benjamin Pratt’s book that is best known as The James Bond Bible Study, we are releasing a newly updated Kindle version of the book. If you haven’t read Ben Pratt’s thought-provoking book about 007 and the world’s most dangerous sins, this is a perfect time to visit Amazon and buy the affordable digital edition. As you will learn in Ben’s story today, this is a great choice for small-group discussion. Of course, you still can order the original paperback edition.
By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author and Columnist
“Do you have the courage to open your eyes to the many guises of evil in our times?”
That’s a line from a reviewer’s recommendation of my book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, which was published 10 years ago this autumn. When readers got their first look at this book, late in 2008, the world was full of hope. President Obama had just been elected on a groundswell of “Hope”—the word was splashed across his campaign posters. Although we all were grappling with a catastrophic financial crisis, the global mood seemed hopeful, as well. Australia, for example, reached its historic milestone of issuing a nationwide apology for the treatment of indigenous people. The world’s future seemed bright.
So, back in 2008, many readers wondered: Why should we take time to ponder our human capacity for evil?
Today, global headlines have dramatically changed. The title of Bob Woodward’s new mega-bestseller is one word: Fear. Once again, author Ian Fleming is proven to be prophetic when he undertook his years-long reflection on the so-called Seven Deadly Sins.
‘PERFECT FOR SMALL-GROUP STUDY’
That reviewer I quoted in my opening line made a similar point. Here is the rest of that 5-star review:
I don’t generally give any book a 5-star rating. However, in this case, I felt as if I owed as much to the author because of my initial skepticism: “A Bible study with James Bond? I think not.” I once met a Christian who was enthralled by the Star Trek movies and prided herself with her ability to speak Klingon. Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass had to be just another example of a Christian infatuated with movies. I was wrong. Take a look. This book is much more than James Bond. It is about our society and you—the strengths and weaknesses of our moral compass. Do you have the courage to open your eyes to the “many guises of evil in our times”? The questions Pratt poses are contemporary, relevant and perfect for a small-group Bible study setting. Don’t get hung up on the immorality portrayed in the James Bond movies. Read the original literary texts of the James Bond series, which are so much more satisfying than the films, and you will recognize the Biblical themes which Benjamin Pratt desires for us to consider.
‘PARABLES ABOUT EVIL PEOPLE’
For years I have been bewildered by the staying power of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lust. These were the sins that threatened order in the monasteries—they were not the sins upon which Jesus focused. In his teaching, Jesus focused on avarice, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Gluttony is surely a problem in our first world society, but hardly a universal evil impacting the whole world.
It was not until I began reading and studying Fleming’s “Bond, James Bond,” that I was convinced that Bond was a knight out to slay these contemporary dragons threatening our lives. All of Fleming’s 007 tales follow a common theme that he identified in his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, as parables about evil people. Fleming’s stories have considerable mythological, allegorical and theological depth that are compelling to this day. Fleming’s total James Bond opus (the 14 books as a whole) was the first contemporary narrative treatment of the centuries-old Seven Deadly Sins.
Fleming says unequivocally that the traditional code of sins would no longer keep one out of Heaven, according to the culture of our modern era.
So, he analyzed that older list, devising his own step-by-step contemporary and provocative critique of the ways we think about sin. For Fleming, one sin—accidie, the original form of 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. However, except for accidie, Fleming found most of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins to be closer to virtues in contemporary culture.
SEVEN DEADLY SINS AS HEADLINE NEWS
While an editor on the staff of the Sunday Times, Fleming suggested the famous London-based newspaper publish a series of essays on the traditional Seven Deadly Sins. Fleming later saw that this collection of essays was published as a now out-of-print book called simply, The Seven Deadly Sins. In his Foreword to that volume, Fleming lays out seven modern deadlier sins, a list that turns out to be a roadmap to his overarching intention for writing the James Bond novels. Fleming’s modern sins that will send people to Hell are: Avarice, Cruelty, Snobbery, Hypocrisy, Self-righteousness, Moral Cowardice and Malice.
Fleming voiced his hope that someone of equal caliber to the seven essayists would write about his list or their own list of deadlier sins. Then, finding no takers of his challenge, Fleming began to pour out his own series of novels.
Fleming, often considered a literary light-weight in his day, actually gave us far more than run-of-the-mill adventure stories. He wrote mythical parables of evil people in which, novel after novel, he sketched out the baseline of evil against which we can measure goodness. To counter these evil people, his Bond is a modern-day St. George who slays the dragons and confronts the moral dilemmas that spring from the confusing lures of modern culture.
In the James Bond tales, Fleming repeatedly references the original Seven. Then, he illustrates his deadlier list, personifying each of his sins in the evil characters Bond pursues—as well as in Bond himself.
In the Bond thrillers we are told that there are other agents: 008, 0011 (not an accident since historically there were times that the number of deadly sins was 8 and 11). In Fleming’s version of the British secret service, the double 00 designation gives the agent the right to kill. It is no accident that Mr. Bond is 007. He has the right to kill all of Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins.
The evil characters Bond is fighting are fascinating, brilliant villains, often more interesting than James Bond himself. They are larger-than-life caricatures of the evil they personify. Bond is in pursuit of the agents of the Devil. To meet the evil figures in Fleming’s writings is to meet the Devil whom Fleming regarded as a deadly serious threat to our world.
‘FLAWED WARRIORS ON A SPIRITUAL BATTLEFIELD’
This is what Ian Fleming has done in the 007 series. James Bond, as presented in the Fleming novels, is less than a perfect man who often drops his guard, is captured by his enemy, and yet fights with loyalty and courage to escape the clutches of the dragon. This parallels Fleming’s life struggle as it does the life struggle of many of us who know that we are flawed warriors on a spiritual battlefield.
Throughout his career, Fleming took the personal pain of his spiritual battles and converted that into the creative energy of myths and parables. Fleming’s Bond novels, short stories and even Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, which he wrote in a hospital bed as he recovered from his first heart attack, are parables, stories, and myths about the evil within us, the evil around us, the spiritual war we face with the demons and dragons of our lives.
DISCUSSED IN GROUPS AROUND THE WORLD
Now in 2018, we can clearly see why Fleming was such a prophet. Daily we are confronted with extravagant greed, violence, snobbery, hypocrisy, self-righteousness and spineless moral cowardice. That is why this book has been discussed in small groups around our world. I have heard personally from folks describing how my book and subsequent conversations with friends have raised soul-searching questions.
Many of these words of thanks have come from people who have encountered serious losses that stifled their joy, energy and hope. They had never heard of accidie, but discovered that this traditional term was helpful in identifying their seemingly insurmountable burden. A phrase like, “Shaken, not stirred,” took on new meaning. Their lives had been deeply shaken but they had lost the energy and focus to be stirred. That is the temptation of accidie—a life that loses all capacity for joy and deadens any sense of mission. By naming and discussing that temptation, many readers have told me they took new steps toward relief.
For those who have suffered from accidie—or any of these deadly temptations Fleming explored—I hope that my book will continue to become a vehicle for self-examination, group reflection and ultimately the healing of souls.