Visiting ethicist Dr. Rebecca DeYoung invited a PBA audience Monday evening to join a conversation experiment she has seen open up deeper levels of friendship “and a better way of doing relationships.”
Her presentation, one of three she gave in the Provost’s Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series, examined vainglory, “a largely forgotten character problem” that actually might be our most familiar vice, she said. DeYoung, Calvin University professor and author, began her explanation of vainglory with Jesus’ words: “Be careful not to let your righteousness be seen by men.”
“It’s all about appearances,” she said. “We just want attention from people.”
Social media has vaulted vainglory to a new level, DeYoung said, but being overly dependent on adulation from others was an issue long before the internet arrived. “Have you ever exaggerated something about yourself in order to impress people listening?” she asked. “We all know how to play this game. Much of what we do with our words is to manufacture, puree and engineer a wonderful image of ourselves.”
One way to detach from the excessive need of adulation from others, she said, is to “take away the audience.” Sitting in solitude, in silence before God, “you don’t have to perform.” Our problem, she said, springs from “the fact that we don’t trust God to give us what we need. Take the larger view. The real validation is who I am before God.”
But what about when you are among others? “What if you had to let your actions speak for themselves?” DeYoung asked. Addressing students, faculty, staff and guests in the DeSantis Family Chapel, she gave the homework assignment she has given to her Calvin students and to her own family: Try going for a week silencing all talk about yourself.
“My students found it excruciatingly difficult,” said DeYoung, “And I concur with that assessment.” But her students reported that as they struggled to “shut up about themselves,” by the end of the week, they saw something powerful happening in their social interactions: they were creating space for other people to talk and share with them.
Listening and receiving from others, DeYoung said, made a different level of interaction and intimacy possible. She has challenged students with this experiment “semester after semester,” she said, and afterwards, “they pretty consistently said to me, ‘I feel like my friendships are better.’
“Maybe God is inviting us into a new and better way of doing relationships,” she said.
In addition to her evening lecture, on Monday morning DeYoung spoke to a large chapel audience at Family Church Downtown, sharing on the topic “Why Are You Angry? Exploring the Deadly Sin of Wrath.” Tuesday morning in the Graduate School of Ministry Chapel at Memorial Presbyterian Church, she spoke on the subject of her newest book, “Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.”
DeYoung earned her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, and has taught ethics and the history of ancient and medieval philosophy for more than 20 years.
Provost Dr. Chelly Templeton praised DeYoung for her thought-provoking presentations during her visit to PBA. “We are blessed to be a Christian liberal arts university,” she said, “because we are free to have ideas and exchange thoughts and invite speakers on topics we may not have thought about, that may not be in the sphere of our major. Dr. DeYoung has challenged the mind and touched the heart in a way that speaks to all of us.”
Photo 1: Master of Divinity student Alex Aken asks a question of guest speaker Dr. Rebecca DeYoung, as History Professor Dr. Gary Poe looks on.
Photo 2: Dr. Rebecca DeYoung speaks in a PBA chapel service at Family Church Downtown.