Moses' 3rd Commandment states that we should not take the Lord's name in vain. In other words, saying "God damn it" is commanding God to punish something because it angered us. This is vanity, to think that God is our servant. God is actually our teacher, and we are the students, and the presumptuousness of giving orders to God is laughable. This much is well understood in Christian culture.
But vanity shows up in many other ways, especially in Christianity. Most notably, many people believe that they can pray to God, requesting divine intervention when things don't go their way. This, too, is vanity.
God's laws are absolute and permanent, and no amount of praying is going to change the rules, because then nothing would work properly. For example, we might learn in physics class that water boils at a predictable temperature (e.g., 100 °C at standard atmospheric pressure). This is valuable information, because with it, we can build steam engines, pressure cookers, and many other useful things. If God were to answer somebody's prayer for the water to start boiling before it was hot enough, it wouldn't just break steam engines and pressure cookers. Boiling points are set by the balance between inertial and electrical forces between molecules. So altering the boiling point would require altering the mass of atoms, and/or the electric charge of protons and/or electrons. Then everything would break, which would be bad. So the consistency of the rules is a good thing, and the Teacher gives us these rules as dependable tools that we can use to master our environments. Even if the Teacher could alter the rules, a good teacher never does this, knowing that students learn faster if they can rely on the rules staying the same. A shifting platform doesn't help students reach for the sky. God is a great teacher, who would never consider altering the rules, for this very reason.
So when we personify God, we think that we have brought Him into the human realm. There, we can interact on a personal level. As concerns God speaking directly to us in our native tongues, this is a good thing. But if we start to think that God has been demoted to a lesser being who can be manipulated into altering the rules in return for a little patronization, that isn't so good. First, as soon as someone stops searching for absolute and permanent natural laws, she stops learning, and thereafter gains no new tools with which to master her environment. Second, she has embraced vanity, with all of its inherent distortions of reality. So whatever she used to know is now corrupted by her self-centered world view.
Then a bad pattern sets in. With no new tools, and with the ones she already had not working properly, her effectiveness suffers. Meanwhile, due to her vanity, her expectations have expanded to include the whole world. Now there is a huge disparity between what she thinks she deserves, and what she is actually getting out of life. So she prays even harder. She still doesn't get what she wants. And she is confused when she sees other people who are not as pious as herself getting the things that she wants. She thinks to herself that God works in mysterious ways, and prays even harder. Somewhere in there, she thinks that she hears God tell her that she can just take what she wants, without respect for other people. Now they no longer trust her, and just to survive, she has to be even more ruthless. And now she is all alone. This sort of thing gives piety a bad name.
The mistake was to let vanity interfere with one's search for truth and wisdom. Natural laws are knowable and predictable, and when God doesn't intervene as expected, it isn't a mystery — it's another lesson. We can master our worlds if we are willing to gather up the tools and do the work. Then we will be respected and loved. The rules are easy enough to follow, and without greed, we already have more than we need. But if we let vanity master us, the world will alienate us, and we will get nothing worthwhile from it.
Note that in Christian culture, pride is one of the 7 deadly sins (along with wrath, greed, sloth, lust, envy, and gluttony), but there is a useful distinction between pride and arrogance. Pride is the good sensation that we correctly feel when we know that we have done the right thing, and we did it well. This is one of the best feelings in the world, and there is nothing wrong with it. Arrogance, on the other hand, is the belief that the rules do not apply to us, and this never ends well. All bad things in this world trace back to arrogance in one form or another, because bad things are broken rules for which we are punished, and only if we are arrogant do we ignore the rules. So arrogance is a sin, while pride is not. And vanity makes the difference between pride and arrogance. So vanity is the most fundamental sin of all, and can easily be seen as the root of all of the 7 deadly sins (with arrogance substituted for pride).
- Natural law is absolute, and this is useful. Therefore,
- God intervenes only with advice, not by changing rules.
- Without greed, we already have more than we need.
- Pride is good, but arrogance is bad.
- Vanity can turn pride into arrogance.