VANITY FAIR, 08.01.20

We’ve all seen them . ..   smug, holier-than-thou, attitudes of superiority, snobbiness, self-absorbed to the nth degree. This is a presentation of self that does nothing to endear onesself to others. And of course, we never think we could be that person, a sample of “Vanity Fair,” (*see below for definition, reference), living in a perpetual state of denial or a fantasy world.    

Often, in a bid to do good works individuals can get caught up in a fantasy world of false humility and an attitude of holier-than-thou self-righteousness. Individuals enduring abusive relationships will often take on this posture as well.  In either case, these responses are acts of vanity, driven by pride, and do not constitute a functional or healthy response.

There is a form of self-justification that arises out of self-pity, which undergirds and drives this response pattern, whereby the individual actually feels somewhat smug and superior because of what they believe to be self-sacrificing martyrdom. Truth be known, the only true martyrdom that counts for anything, is that which the Lord of the Universe has ordained, not that which is self-driven.

When an individual believes they are somehow more religious, or holy than others, there is an attitude of self-righteousness reflected through body language (as a 30+ year Family Counselling Practitioner, believe me, non-verbals speak louder than the spoken word). A self-righteous attitude is one which assumes a form of righteousness as having originated from within the self. Unfortunately, this source of righteousness is meaningless to God our Father, or anyone else, since “there is none righteous; no not one” (Rom.3:10; Eccl.7:20),  and “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa.64:6). Thus it is not only meaningless, but counter-productive, and an affront to God, that one would claim to be righteous apart from Him. 

Self-righteousness presents also as False Humility, largely forming a mask for low self-worth, a mindset of inferiority, timidity, passivity, and self-devaluation, even self-loathing, all of which are fear-based, generated also by self-pity, insecurity, and rooted in a victim mindset. As a pretense, and a cover-up, this false humility is undergirded by an exceptionally high need for control, and thus this pretentious posturing  employs varied forms of conniving, scheming, and manipulation in a bid for the desired power and control. These are the usual strategies employed by the passive-aggressives, timid and insecure, thus fearful of direct confrontation, but powerfully adept at subtle control devices (bear with me, folks; this is my psychology background clicking in here, and you are benefitting from a free lesson in psychology 101!).

There is much deception at work in this behaviour pattern, because this behaviour forms an effective cover-up for that which simmers as repressed rage, hurt, and resentment from the past. Although the individual’s intention is to appear very religious, innocent, or super spiritual, such behaviour usually comes across to others as either phoney, snobby, or as someone who is very insecure and needy, with the “poor me, I am a victim” look. The “Vanity Fair” component often clicks into gear when the individual, in an effort to counter the victim image, indulges in very frivolous, self-indulgent, self-serving, often attention-getting, fleshly behaviour, taking on a rather haughty, prideful, vain posture.

Appearing as sacrificing one’s self in some way, subjecting oneself to some form of abuse and debasement, while expecting to be credited in some way for this uncalled for sacrifice, is a totally useless undertaking. While the individual is ensconced in self-pity and a victim mindset, this behaviour rooted in pride, and driven by a need for control, results in behaviour patterns such as being very pushy/bossy/dominating with those close to that individual, a tendency to assume responsibility for everyone else’s actions, thus taking things personally, and becoming easily offended, when it is totally irrelevant, unwarranted, or even inappropriate.

True humility, on the other hand, while it may involve sacrifice, is not self-serving, self-debasing, and is the opposite of pride/control, for it is not self-derived, self-driven, nor is it motivated by self-pity, or the need to take responsibility and assume control. True humility is never manipulative, but rather a response to an assignment from God, an act of obedient submission and surrender. The motives are very different; false humility has self-serving at its root, while true humility is motivated by obedience to God.

It is most important to realize that unless we are called to a particular situation/action by God Himself, it will inevitably result in negative consequences. If it is only because of one’s own vane thoughts that the individual is undertaking a form of action, it will almost always, if not immediately, eventually, bring the individual down. Whether it may be religious rituals that the individual believes will make them holy/superior/worthy, these are vane thoughts, as in the example of the Pharisee: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘O God, I thank You that I am not like other people—thieving, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and tithe on all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, wouldn’t even lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man, rather than the other, went down to his home declared righteous. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk.18:10-14). The man-pleasing motive of the Pharisee hoping to impress others through this exhibit of false humility and artificial self-righteousness is contrasted with the tax collector’s simple, but most sincere confession of his sorry state of sinfulness. 

Jesus/Yeshua was neither impressed by this type of hypocritical religiosity, nor was His response aligned with modern-day political correctness. Rather, He served up a generous portion of tongue-lashing when He said: “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. Fools! Didn’t He who created the outside also create the inside?” (Lk.11:39,40). 

“The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death” (Prov.21:6), and “Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor” (Ps.39:5). 

The word “vanity” is liberally applied to carnal thoughts, motives, desires, and behaviour, (I prefer the KJV word selection), especially throughout Psalms and Proverbs. The word “vapor” is also used interchangeably with “vanity,” indicating the fleeting, meaningless nature of human thoughts, desires, and behaviours. 

Words, thoughts, and behaviours which we often ascribe much significance to, simply don’t count for much in God’s eyes; they are, in fact, as nothing. “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Eccl.1:14).  Meaningless, unattainable – this is how the “works done” are viewed by God. Grasping at the wind = unattainable. Solomon, again at the end of Eccl. 2:18-26, defines all our human efforts as nothing more than “vanity and grasping for the wind.” “They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit . . .” (Isa.44:9). Often the things that we consider important – the delectable things – are meaningless to God; they do not impress Him at all.

“It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick” (John 11:2). “Miriam, who was seated at the Master’s feet, listening to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; so she approached Yeshua and said, “Master, doesn’t it concern you that my sister has left me to serve alone? Then tell her to help me!” But answering her, the Lord said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and bothered about many things; but only one thing is necessary. For Miriam has chosen the good part . . .” (Lk.10:39-42). The action validated by Yeshua is the action done from the heart of worship, a relationship of intimacy, while He admonishes the one performed in self-righteous, false humility. It is vanity, and counts for naught. Martha views herself as having made a noble sacrifice, and feels quite self-righteous about what she is doing, thus indignant, critical, and judgmental of her sister for failing to do likewise. But she is focussing on what doesn’t count in the Lord’s eyes, while Mary is focussing on what is meaningful. This exemplifies our Lord’s priorities,  that only what is done from the heart, for the glory of God/Yeshua, and what He calls for us to do counts for anything.

When we each come before God to give an accounting for our words and deeds: “each one’s work will become clear. For the Day will show it, because it is to be revealed by fire; and the fire itself will test each one’s work—what sort it is. If anyone’s work built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss—he himself will be saved, but as through fire” (1 Cor.3:10-13). God will determine what actions were undertaken out of obedience, to serve our Lord and Master, to bring Him glory, and what actions were driven by self-will, self-glorification, self-serving motives, and never called forth from God/Yeshua/Holy Spirit. 

Regardless of the possible outcome, those works which were carried out for any reason other than to bring God glory, out of obedience, in answer to God’s call, done from the heart, will be burned up in the flame of God’s devouring fire, and will count for nothing. They are nothing short of vanity, arising from one’s own frivolous/vane thoughts, desires, and fantasies, all to be blown away in the wind.










Eccl. 2:18-26


John 11:2


1 Cor.3:10-13



* Vanity Fair, “in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a fair that goes on perpetually in the town of Vanity and symbolizes worldly ostentation and frivolity,”

© 2020 by Verna Crowther. All rights reserved.