In the usual lists Envy would come right before Pride. You know, wanting what someone else has. Could also be called jealousy.
Envy is the province of small people who don't work as hard but want the rewards. It is the vice of zero sum, wishing others to lose in order to win. It is corrosive and destructive and altogether unsightly, entirely the opposite of what anyone would see as Christian values of generosity and servanthood and passion. The envious person is the person at the back wishing they could be in front, wishing they were leading not that other guy, wishing they were wealthy. While those who do work, who put in the time and effort and knowledge to move forward on their own avoid envy by effort and struggle and spirituality. Work and be content.
This all is why Envy is not the best choice for a deadly sin. Who would think this something to hold onto? It's a shallow, easy vice not one to celebrate. And certainly not one that can be properly excused by our excellent rationalization skills. For really, that's what makes a deadly sin a deadly sin. It leads to death because we think there's life in it. We can be blinded to their pernicious effects by coming up with all sorts of reasons to embrace them. No one wants to be envious.
Vainglory on the other hand. That's good stuff. Look at me. Look at me. See what I'm doing. Envy is a symptom of vainglory, but it is vainglory that encompasses the broader disease.
Of course, there's a reason why envy is in the list and vainglory is not. The Seven Deadly sins, as well as being justified by sinners are also easily accused by saints. We want sins we can point to and name names. We want to be able to accuse those who are down and make firm lines in the sand between Us and them.
Vainglory doesn't allow this. It doesn't allow this because along with pride vainglory is in a new category. The other six deadly sins attack us and make us stink. They are signs we've missed the mark and expressions of our mark missing. Vainglory, however, is substantively more insidious.
You see, with vainglory a person can be entirely right, entirely knowledgable, entirely without visible sin, a saint to all near an far, a model of Christian living and insight. Yet, with this be entirely on the road to death.
Vainglory is the sin of wanting to be seen, of accepting glory that should go to God, of wanting to highlight one's own gifts, talents, learning, skills, authority, so that others pay proper respect. Instead of finding satisfaction in God, the vainglorious person finds their value coming from the attention of others.
Why is this so insidious? Because it is when all the other sins are overcome that this one comes to topple the building that has been built. This, along with Pride, is the deadly sin of the holy and righteous and the most worrisome fault of those who think themselves leaders.
It is insidious because it is an inner reality, not an outward expression and can accompany entirely positive works and attitudes.
It is dangerous because of the fact that it is an ever present danger, but for the absolute indwelling of humility.
It is dangerous because even by writing this, and being glad someone will read it, and wondering if I'm phrasing this all well, I'm flirting with it now.
Vainglory, because of all of this, is in my opinion the strongest deadly sin on the internet, even if other sins seem to be more visible. We're all wanting attention, and value, and acclaim for whatever our assets may be, whether they are physical, or mental, or literary, or whatever.
It is more dangerous because it seems so right, and verbal arguments can't hardly be made to the contrary, and judgments are really hard to come by. How do I tell if a great Christian leader is primarily motivated by love of God or love for attention? Often we can't.
I'm a leader. I'm pretty. I'm wise. I'm artistic. I'm opinionated. I study. I am disciplined. I work out. I… I… I… That's what we hear all around, competing voices for competing attention all wanting to make their traits seem better so that someone anyone will give them a pittance or more of value.
Envy is a vice to be sure, but it's easily spotted. Vainglory is a deadly sin because it hides in the garden of real gifts and talents, waiting to strike and deliver its poison just when a person thinks they have it together.
Being right isn't wisdom, even if it wins arguments. Being talented isn't leadership even if others follow or are impressed. Being skilled in singing or drawing isn't artistic, even if works impress others. Because all these things can be true, but vainglory can come in turning these gifts downwards to worship the one opposed to the Divine, leading the Body towards dissolution rather than holy unity and edification.
Patrick Oden lives and works in the mountains of Southern California. Education web design pays the bills. Writing and enjoying the beauty of God's Creation fills his soul.