Earlier this year I heard Dr. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung teach a session about the vice of vainglory. At one point she used the phrase “show offy”and it stuck in my brain. The subtitle for vainglory in her book Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies is “When Image is Everything.”Vainglory tips its hand as a vice with the little term “glory.”DeYoung, following Augustine, defines glory as “goodness made manifest.”For example, Jesus did say, “Let your light shine before people so they can see your good works…”In the same sermon, Jesus also said, “Don’t parade your righteousness for others to see…”Which is it?
What makes vainglory deadly is the little word “vain.”It is empty glory; it’s a phony expression of goodness. “Fake it until you make it”stuff. A person wants to be known as good but with no good life to back it up. Vainglory can take both secular and religious forms. Secular vainglory at its worse is when others compete to be “notoriously vainglorious”like the Corleone Mafia family and other gangsters in the film “The Godfather.”Augustine in his youth wanted to be known, as some would say today, “a bad ass.”The religious paradigm for vainglory is the Pharisees whom Jesus called “white-washed tombs.”The Pharisees help us see a great need of the vainglorious: they need an audience (…“to be seen by others…”). Vainglory must have the limelight.
Vainglory exhibits our excessive need for and dependence on the (good) opinions of others. We’ve got to be accepted in the right circles, running with the accepted crowd, honored by others for our exemplary life. All the while we live in fear of being found out for who we really are. To counter the fear, we practice “image management”with our words, using speech like ladies who use make-up…to cover the blemishes. I think we can all confess to the experience when we said to ourselves, “If these people only knew who I really am, they would…”This vice has found a wonderful digital form of “make-up”called “social media.”What’s it called? FACEbook. We can be safely “distant”from others and create a false Facebook life.
At heart vainglory demonstrates our need for love. Yes, ultimately God the Father’s love. It was the Father’s love that kept Jesus free from the opinions of hostile religious and political leaders, and from those of his closest friends, the Twelve disciples. Stuck in vainglory, we conclude “I will never really shine unless I spotlight myself.”A twisted form of self love drives vainglory. And vainglory, need I write this?, is all about me. The sin of vainglory is pushing God to the margins and putting ourselves and others in the center. We want, even need the power to create and manage our own image.
What are remedies for vainglory? Solitude and silence. That was so easy to type just now. It is grueling for those who are “attention junkies.”Solitude: drag your sorry self away from others and into the presence of God. Let God burn away your excessive need for attention by pouring over you his eternal, well-informed, and lavish love. Silence. Hold your tongue even to the “invisible audience”in your head that so wants to keep its power. Practice self examination. Dr. DeYoung suggests that you write your own eulogy. What do you want to be truly known for? Begin to practice gratitude. And in fear of mentioning it, live the song of children’s film “Frozen,”Let it go. See, even I wonder what you think?