What’s the Difference Between Pride and Vainglory?

The difference between pride and vainglory is subtle but important. In her new book, Vainglory, Rebecca DeYoung offers some helpful illustrations of how these two vices differ from each other. The seven deadly sins are often illustrated as a tree with pride as the root and “vainglory was the first main branch on the tree. The difference, roughly, is that pride is about position and power, and vainglory is about attention and acknowledgment.” (p. 42) Consider a case when the two are combined in a slogan: “‘PRIDE: Also Bigger in Texas.’ Such a fan thinks himself (and his team) superior to the rest of us, but he also wants us to recognize that fact and acknowledge it. . .” (p. 43)

What does pride without vainglory look like? The “‘purely prideful’ person feels superior to the rest of us—so far superior, in fact, that our opinion of him, our attention and acclamation, mean pathetically little to him. The supremely prideful person might even think it is beneath him to care what others think at all. Their opinions are not worth having. . . . he has risen above needing anything at all from others, even their acknowledgement of his superiority.” (p. 43)

What does vainglory without pride look like? Here the person “is not particularly interested in putting forth the effort to attain real superiority, nor does she even wish for it. She is happy to be famous for faked goods or pseudo-status, as long as her name stays on everyone’s lips. This person doesn’t care if her books are genuinely superior literary value; she just wants them on the bestsellers lists.” (p. 44)

Another important distinction is that vainglory can be motivated by either pride or fear. These are called “glory-worthy” or “glory-needy” people. The former have achievements which are notably good. “They think they have ‘glory-worthy’ goods. Their audiences ought to admire them for what they have or what they’ve done, and they therefore put their superiority on display to win the admiration they so desire and believe they deserve.” (p. 46)

But how can vainglory be motivated by fear? They are just the opposite of the “glory-worthy” people since “the ‘glory-needy’ think they don’t have much goodness at all, and they don’t want that inferiority to be shown or known. . . . The fearful want attention and approval, too, but their constant concern is to keep up appearances and make sure no one sees what lies behind those appearances. The positive public image they present is for a surface self that is paper-thin. . . . Vainglory is, in cases of fear, not a show-off vice for excellence, but a cover-up maneuver for its acutely felt absence.” (p. 48)

DeYoung notes that for fearful vainglory “the temptation to falsity and fakery is stronger than in prideful cases. . . . This form of vainglory aims, paradoxically, at a self-display designed to block a truthful manifestation of ourselves in which we have no confidence.” (pp. 51-52)



About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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