The Glamour of Evil

Peter Paul Rubens, Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria

In the middle of the rite of Baptism, right before the water is poured, the parents and godparents are asked if they reject Satan and “the glamour of evil.”

It’s a curious phrase. Their whole life ahead of them, young infants are entrusted with the most precious gift on the planet, the gift of God’s grace, yet soon to find themselves at loggerheads with this varied and vengeful reality—the glamour of evil.

Is evil glamorous?

Yes, in that every temptation is an appeal, drawing us toward its “empty promises,” another phrase from the rite.

To be clear, not all evil is glamorous. Sometimes it’s downright frightening. Once, in college, I was weekend house sitting, and the family had me stay in their teenager’s vacant room. I turned on the lights to see Heath Ledger leering at me, his face painted as the Joker from The Dark Knight. I remember exiting the movie the year before, thinking, “Is it responsible to create such an evil character and give him a sort of attractive genius?” Needless to say, I crashed that weekend in the living room alongside the golden retriever.

But there is glamorous evil, often subtle, as in certain ideologies or lifestyles. They don’t seem evil, but they end in evil, or in emptiness, which is the same thing—to miss out on the ultimate richness of life, the fullness of meaning and peace and community we were made for.

One broad example could be the so-called American Dream.

In the 1939 novel Ask the Dust, the young immigrant protagonist wanders the streets musing to himself: “Los Angeles, give me some you. Los Angeles, come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town, I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.” He soon realizes that California’s many promises—the women he passes on the street, the golf clubs in storefront windows, the blue-green swimming pools—don’t deliver. He will never possess them. “You’ll eat hamburgers year after year, and live in dusty vermin-infested apartments and hotels.”

A better-known example of the American story is Jackie Kennedy. She represents an acceptable glamour that many admired. Still, the Kennedy family represents a vision of the good life which doesn’t end happily ever after. In the movie Jackie, Bobby vents to her his anguish at the collapse of the family political dynasty: “What did we accomplish? We’re just—we’re just the beautiful people. Right? Isn’t that what we are?” She laments in her own fog: “I never wanted fame. I just became a Kennedy.”

Each of us, too, will be faced with glamour that can lead us astray.

But to turn our first question around: is glamour evil?

Not in itself. It’s really sort of a surface beauty, a close linguistic cousin to the word “glimmer” for its quality of quickly vanishing.

Without a deeper beauty within, glamour at best is a nicety: someone’s appearance or personality or ideas. It can have silly instantiations, like Prince’s “Glamorous Life” about a power woman and her Mercedes sedan, or like 70s glam rock, named for its guitarists wearing eyeliner. These notions are easily allayed by natural means, by Alicia Keys who has forsworn all makeup and belts out reflective ballads like “If I Ain’t Got You,” an invective against superficiality.

At its worst, glamour is a lie which can bankrupt whole lives. It can lead us to ignore the deeper things, not only of human values, but of God. Not only in others, but in ourselves. As Augustine came to see: “Late have I loved You, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved You. You were within, and I without, and there did I seek You. I, though unlovely, rushed after the beautiful things You made. You were with me, but I was not with You.”

Jesus warned of “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” So we should discern things by seeking their deeper beauty, not the surface glamour. Harmless though it may sometimes be, as with our first parents, it can often draw us in, only to sting.

Image: Peter Paul Rubens, Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria

You May Also Enjoy:

Theodicy and The Odyssey “How could a good God permit evil?” This question has plagued the faithful and armed the faithless for as long as there have been sufferings to endure. The topic is vast, but for the purpose of this post, the following from St. Augustine will suffice: “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil” (Enchiridion 9). As Christians, we...
The Church is not a Government The Church is not a government, and in these not-so-serene days of state debate, we can be thankful for that. A democracy, for instance, is like a babysitter. Her classic question is, “What did your mom say you could do?” A babysitter receives delegated authority from the consensus between parents, and it lasts only a limited time. The children are not her own, and she even knows she’s not their only babysitter. Her goal, then, is to keep the ...
The Four Loves In the last chapter of the last gospel (Jn 21), there is something strange going on. It is the scene where Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me,” to repair the three times he betrayed him. What is lesser known is that they’re using two different words for “love.” Jesus asks Peter if he has agape for him, and Peter says he has philia for Christ. Agape is that kind of selfless love shown on the cross. It’s the love of bridegroom for bride, ...
Hope When Alexander the Great first went on military campaign, he gave away to his relatives all of his inherited property in Athens. Asked what he would keep for himself, he replied, “Hope.” It’s easy to be hopeful at the beginning.   I love beginnings. I love the opening of a movie or book more than the plot twists; the charm of Gandalf setting off fireworks in the Shire more than the treacherous episodes of arriving in Rivendell or defending ...
Br. Timothy Danaher, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Timothy Danaher entered the Order of Preachers in 2011. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he studied Theology and American Literature. Before Dominican life he worked as a life guard in San Diego, CA, and as a youth minister in Denver, CO. On DominicanFriars.org