01 November 2015

On the ridiculous vanity of selfies and desiring the applause of multitudes

What comes to your mind when you read this tweet sent out yesterday by the Holy Father Pope Francis?
When I first read these words yesterday, I immediately thought of selfies. The self-absorption of the selfie mentality surely keeps at least some distance between the one taking a selfie and God. Furthermore, anyone taking a selfie certainly looks ridiculous doing so.

Someone on Facebook or Twitter yesterday (regrettably, I cannot remember who or where) described these words of Pope Francis as a papal condemnation of selfies, but this (also regrettably) cannot be true because the Holy Father routinely takes selfies with people both young and old. In fact, a few months ago Pope Francis described selfies as "another culture," adding, "I respect it." Even so, he thinks only teenagers should take selfies, though he did not explain why.

I agree with Pope Francis that there is something of a growing selfie culture, but - unlike the Holy Father - it is one I do not respect. Why? Because the selfie culture is the height of vanity! The vain selfie culture is especially dangerous because most people taking selfies simply do not see their vanity for what it is.

G.K. Chesterton describes vanity as "a much wiser and more vigorous thing than pride." Vanity, he goes on to say, 
is social - it is almost a kind of comradeship; pride is solitary and uncivilized. Vanity is active; it desires the applause of infinite multitudes; pride is passive, desiring only the applause of one person, which it already has. Vanity is humorous, and can enjoy the joke even of itself; pride is dull, and cannot even smile.
A short while later, after reflecting a bit more on vanity, the Apostle of Common Sense wisely notes in his customary style:
Thinking about himself will lead to trying to be the universe; trying to be the universe will lead to ceasing to be anything. If, on the other hand, a man is sensible enough to think only about the universe, he will think about it in his own individual way. He will keep virgin the secret of God; he will see the grass as no other man can see it, and look at a sun that no man has ever known.
Here I am reminded of the words Antoine Saint-Exupéry has the Little Prince address to a bunch of roses:
"You're not at all like my rose. You're nothing at all yet," he told them. No one has tamed you and you haven't tamed anyone. You're just the way my fox was. He was just a fox like a hundred thousand others. But I've made him my friend, and now he's the only fox in all the world."

And the roses were humbled.

"You're lovely, but you're empty," he went on. "One couldn't die for you. Of course, an ordinary person would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she's the one I've watered. Since she's the one I put under the glass. Since she's the one I sheltered behind a screen. Since she's the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three for butterflies). Since she's the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she's my rose."
The blunt words of the Little Prince may sting and humble and sound harsh, but they do so because they are true. The rose was the Little Prince's precisely because he looked outside of himself and around at the universe and not at himself; she was his because he was not vain (nor was he proud).

As selfie takers seek the attention of so many people through their "Look-at-me-and-not-at-the-things-or-people-around-me!" photographs, how much of the world are they missing? How much of the world are they helping and encouraging others to miss, as well? 

With their inherent ego-centrism, selfies blurr the image of the universe all around us through which God wishes to speak to us and demonstrate his love for us. The selfie misses this beauty and so distances us from God.

In the Beatitudes, the Lord Jesus does not condone vanity, but rather he encourages its very opposite by commending those who are meek (see Matthew 5:5). Let us, then, beg the Lord for the grace to be meek that we may draw all the nearer to God, indeed, even before his throne, there to cry out continuously, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:10)!

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