At the start of her classes, Rebecca De Young asks her students to imagine that they have died: “Your friends and family gather to grieve their loss and to remember you. What conversations would they have about you? What sorts of memories of you would they share with one another? What sort of person would they remember you as when they gave your eulogy at the funeral?”
After her students outline a probable speech, she asks them to write a second speech—the one they wish someone could give at their funeral. Usually there is a gap between the content of those two speeches. “Which is to say there’s a character difference between the person I am and the person I wish to become,” she writes.
Thus the motivation for her book Glittering Vices, which seeks to identify and describe each of the seven vices—all rooted in pride—with the purpose of prompting the reader toward more Christ-like living.
“I felt like when I was growing up in church there was a really strong emphasis on getting saved,” said DeYoung. “Justification was the grand finale, and for the rest of your life you’re just hanging around. It seems like we underemphasize the sanctification piece; this is an attempt to rehabilitate sanctification.”
DeYoung begins the book with a history of the seven “capital vices”—or “deadly sins,” as they are often referred to—though she emphasizes that a reader could begin the book at any chapter: “Just pick the vice you’re most interested in,” she said.
The traditional teachings compiled by saints such as Augustine, Pope Gregory I and Aquinas are “pure gold,” according to DeYoung. “These are ideas that have stuck around for nearly 2,000 years,” she said. “They tap into something deeply true about human nature.”
With pride as the root of all of the vices, the others—envy, vainglory, sloth, avarice, anger, gluttony and lust—are explained such that readers can identify and diagnose the problem within themselves.
“If you have a question about why you keep falling in a particular area, having a diagnosis can make all of the difference,” said DeYoung. “The point of a diagnosis is not to make you feel bad about having the disease, it’s to point you towards the right remedies.”
Therefore detecting and naming the vice is a critical first step. “Each vice is an attempt to create a happy life for yourself without God,” said DeYoung. “As soon as you turn happiness into a do-it-yourself project, you’re in pride territory. Then it’s just a matter of which particular vice in which you try to find happiness. If you try to make it a status game, it’s going to be envy; if it’s a control game, it’s anger; if you try to find happiness in possessions, it’s avarice; if it’s about comfort, it’s sloth; if it’s pleasure, it’s gluttony or lust. So you pick your happiness factor, and that will determine which of the seven you’re most susceptible to.”
But the book goes beyond diagnoses: It offers remedies through the practice of spiritual discipline and character formation.
“The counterpart [to the tree of vices] is the tree of virtues rooted in love and humility,” said DeYoung, “and we have the perfect example of that. Our project is to become more and more Christ-like. We have a very clear picture of the way it’s supposed to be.”
She stresses this is not a “self-help” book, however. “The minute you take it on yourself to correct these things, you’re right back in the problem,” she said. “Christ is the physician of souls, and we know to whom we have to turn.”
DeYoung said she wrote the book for Christians “to give people a reason to take the Christian tradition seriously again. It’s about how to be a human being and how to live well, and if you’re interested in that project there’s a lot to learn from this particular tradition.”