Brief Reviews, VOLUME 2

Brief Review: Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. [Vol. 2, #42]

A Brief Review of
Glittering Vices:
A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung.

Paperback: Brazos Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chase Roden.

Sin is not something we think about a lot in America in 2009. Certainly we recognize the consequences of sin in both in our personal lives and in the public sphere, but rarely is sin openly acknowledged for what it is. Even our churches show a lack of deep thought on the topic; most have either resorted to casuistry– allowing sin to be defined narrowly by rote lists of behaviors– or they have absorbed a secular, results-based understanding wherein “ethical lapses” are judged solely on their obvious and immediate impact. When we do think of sin– usually after it has become embarrassing– we don’t turn inward to examine its internal causes so much as we prefer to puzzle out our external influences on the psychoanalyst’s couch. As a result, there is not much room in modern American thought for the concept of “vices” — those habits or acquired traits that lead to perdition.

In Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung sets out to remedy this shallowness by providing a concise but appropriately deep overview of the idea of vice. DeYoung outlines a historical perspective on each of the “seven deadly sins” (called here the “capital vices”), along with ancient and modern ideas on how to combat these sinful tendencies. Although there is no agreement as to what the seven capital vices are, the author settles on envy, vainglory, sloth, avarice, anger, gluttony, and lust, treating each in its own chapter along with several “offspring vices” of each.  Some of the terminology is unfamiliar to our ears — “vainglory” and “avarice” are not words one hears often — and many of the terms have little to do with what we associate with them, but this just illustrates the historical discontinuity of our own thought. The chapter on sloth is particularly enlightening in this regard: DeYoung makes a fascinating and convincing argument that “workaholism” is actually a form of sloth. The author’s insights are trenchant and often convicting– the portraits of vice are drawn realistically enough to easily see one’s self in them. Fortunately, DeYoung also details historical “remedies” for each vice. These practices, along with some drawn from more recent sources or devised by the author herself, are practical and seemingly effective.

DeYoung, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, writes like a true expert– her prose flows well and holds the attention while providing the perfect amount of background detail. Although the philosophical underpinnings of “Glittering Vices” are based on the thought of ages past– Aquinas, Augustine, the Desert Fathers– references and metaphors are from largely movies of the last few decades; examples from the film Groundhog Day ably illustrate sloth, Amadeus and Little Miss Sunshine are used for envy, Ocean’s Eleven for avarice. As a result, the book reads like a series of lectures from an award-winning undergraduate class.

Overall, Glittering Vices is an excellent, concise treatment of a highly relevant subject. Its content and structure make it perfect for group study or personal reading. Even those already familiar with the traditional vices and virtues may find it a worthwhile read, either for the vice “remedies” or for a solid recommendation for others interested in the topic.

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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