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Christianity: hypocrisy

Luke Breuer
2009-03-24 09:57 UTC

The American Heritage Dictionary, fourth edition
The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
a trite saying
Consider the saying, "Do as I say and not as I do." Besides the great annoyance that wells up when something states or even intimates this, two questions arise:
  1. why should I do as you say?
  2. why don't you do it yourself?

Such a person thinks that it is desirable to do something, even though they themselves do not do that thing. Perhaps most importantly, this person probably lacks the how — otherwise, would not [s]he being doing this him/herself? It is useful to know what is good to do, but statements made by hypocrites raise two more questions:
  1. is this thing actually a good thing to do?
  2. how do I do it?
why do it?
I can think of two reasons to do something:
  1. it is beneficial for me, regardless of what others do
  2. it is beneficial for me, if others do it as well

Whether or not someone says one should do a thing is irrelevant in some senses: whether or not that person can do the thing doesn't necessarily impact #1 nor #2. It could be that the thing is truly good and he/she has recognized that, but not figured out the how. Here are two reasons that hypocrisy might indicate that one should not do a thing:
  1. it is hard or impossible to do that thing
  2. few others actually do it

The best way I know of judging whether doing something is "good" is whether it produces "good" results. Matthew 7:18 is a good verse:
A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
Such judgment cannot be made by looking at hypocrites; one has to observe people actually doing that thing.
a learned behavior
Children are very good inconsistency detectors. If mom and dad say to do something but do not do it themselves, this will be made very clear to them. Some of this is natural — little tykes need more sleep than most adults. They don't know enough to cross a road safely. These inconsistencies are supposed to lessen as the years go on, disappearing in adulthood. Unfortunately, in many situations they don't. If anything, the inconsistencies become veiled, situations become more complex, excuses abound, and one is left feeling around in a fog of mixed messages and nebulous thinking.

Our brains don't like inconsistencies. Morpheus words it wonderfully in his soliloquy when speaking to Neo in The Matrix:
Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Inconsistencies in and of themselves aren't necessarily bad things; in fact, some of the best science occurs when inconsistencies are noted and dealt with by altering existing theory or developing new theory; the ultraviolet catastrophe is one such example — the fact that classical physics could not explain a phenomenon was crucial in developing quantum mechanics.

There are three ways to deal with hypocrisy:
  1. let your mind become dulled to inconsistency
  2. remove yourself from its presence
  3. remain, stay vigilant, and deal with the pain

All too often, #2 is not an option, which leaves #1 or #3. It's easier to fall into #1, which is, as far as I can tell, what really causes hypocrisy. Abandoning clear thinking is a recipe for disaster in many ways.
the essence: inaction
As best as I can tell, most hypocrisy in the church is due to preaching and teaching what a Christian life should look like, without helping in the transformative process. A good illustration is to read Philippians 2:12-13 as if it were addressed to us one-on-one. Then read vv. 1-11 and see how it provides a model that very much involves the whole church and not just a person and God.

Put simply, people are trying to be like Jesus without doing what he did. They don't want to suffer, they don't want to self-sacrifice, but they want all the good stuff.