Answer by Jim Ashby:
Most of the Seven Virtues precede Christianity, so I wouldn't call them 'religious guiding principles'. Guiding principles, morals, ethics, etc. are value judgments — which people have been making since there have been people. There has always been the tendency or attempt, by certain religions, to hijack the human condition and usurp credit for mankind's highest ideals.
With that in mind, here's what thewiki has to say:
The four, from ancient Greek philosophy, are , , (meaning restriction or restraint), and (or ). The three , from the letters of , are , , and (or ). These were adopted by the as the seven virtues.
As an atheist, faith is not a virtue. Hope is good if you take it to mean 'a positive attitude' but not if it means 'wishful thinking'. Prudence is acting wisely but has negative connotations to me when associated with sex. Yes it's best to be wise about sex but that doesn't mean that being 'prudish' is wise. Given the importance of one's sex life, I question the wisdom of 'saving oneself for marriage'; especially in modern times (with availability of birth control methods and condoms to mitigate transmission of STDs). Temperance is similar to prudence in as much as a major part of both is self-restraint. One should not restrain oneself too much. Boldness can be a virtue too.
The rest I'm fine with. So, to answer your question, virtues are value judgments and, as such, are subject to interpretation and to change over time.
The Seven Deadly Sins, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish . . . and it stinks to high heaven! Here's what thewiki has to say:
The seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins or demon actions, is a classification of(part of ) that has been used since times to educate and instruct Christians concerning humanity's tendency to . In the currently recognized version, the sins are usually given as , , , , , , and . Each is a form of Idolatry-of-Self wherein the subjective reigns over the objective.
By and large, cardinal sin is one of the most pernicious concepts (if not the most pernicious one) in the toolbox of Catholic religious indoctrination.
Sin, as virtually everybody understands it, is a biblical concept: disobedience to God. Sin is in our genes. We're born to sin. We're all miserable wretches, unworthy of heaven except by faith in Jesus. Biblical sin hijacks the human condition — born ignorant and, thus, fallible — and twists it, making us guilty by default. Sin is inescapable. It turns us against ourselves by teaching us that our very nature is shameful.
As if biblical sin weren't pernicious enough, cardinal sins kick it up a notch. It takes seven specific human instincts and emotions and squashes them so that we're unlikely to recognize the lie of sin. Yes, as social animals, some of our instincts need to be tamed . . . but not squashed.
Pride, for instance, is an emotion we feel for ourselves and our loved ones when we do good or accomplish something. Pride is a good thing unless, like anything else, it's taken to excess. Well, you know what that means! Pride is the first thing that needs to be squashed: if people take credit for the good they do, God's influence is diminished. Any confidence in ourselves leads us away from God. Before you know it, pride will lead us to think for ourselves . . . and we can't have that! All credit must go to God. And all blame is on us.
Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony are instincts or emotions that everybody experiences. Hype them. Exaggerate them. Condemn them as sins . . . and you've made sure people won't experience them for what they are. If we are to learn from our mistakes, it's essential that we recognize things for what they really are. By demonizing the Seven Deadly Sins, we're more likely to stay in thrall to God.
And clergy can breathe easier.