Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cardinal Sin Part 1: Vanity


In almost every list Pride is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and indeed the ultimate source from which the others arise. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to give compliments to others though they may be deserving of them, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor." In Jacob Bidermann's medieval miracle play, Cenodoxus, Pride is the deadliest of all the sins and leads directly to the damnation of the famed Doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus. In perhaps the most famous example, the story of Lucifer, Pride was what caused his Fall from Heaven, and his resultant transformation into Satan. Vanity and Narcissism are prime examples of this Sin. In the Divine Comedy, the penitent were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs in order to induce feelings of humility.

I'm actually quite impressed that vanity is here regarded as the most dangerous sin, not just because I agree with it, but because of some of the subtleties I've observed about it. Let's get one thing out of the way: all sins are empty. Heck, two things: all pleasure derived from sin is also empty.

As people, we have egos. People with egos are subject to egos and the subsequent inclination to indulge them. The problem with vanity is not so much in the appreciation of cosmetic beauty or narcissism--although those are indeed quite damning--but in the way it seeps into every facet of every sin in the world. Consider this phrase: to do something in vain. What does that mean for you? To me, it involves performing an act that has no purpose. It's based on hollow pursuits that bring immediate and ephemeral gratification, things that give a false sense of pleasure but never enrich one's life. You can see how all other sins could be interpreted that way:

Lust: indulging chemical desires
Gluttony: eating for the sake of taste or distraction, instead of hunger
Greed: the pursuit of more money than one inherently needs
Sloth: a false sense of repose (as it doesn't count when one is genuinely tired)
Wrath: the manifestation of anger instead of healing
Envy: the pursuit of gifts that aren't given by God

Vanity is a very strange bugger, because it doesn't always serve to elevate oneself as much as distract from more urgent motivations. Whenever we deviate from God's will, we try to serve our weaknesses instead of our purposes, and that, according to my interpretation, is a deliberate act of vanity. In fact, it might even be alleged that vanity is what prevents a lot of people from finding God in the first place; where God's guidance yields permanent, undying gifts, vanity only serves the moment that commits it. Vanity is also the progenitor of guilt and repentance for those who acknowledge them, but, sadly, many choose to fill those voids with further acts of vanity, and that is one dangerous cycle in which to find oneself.


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