It is time to be kinder to hypocrites
Another post from Brother Ivo (who has joined His Grace's cyber-ministry team):
I once sat on the Media Committee of a nationally known institution when we were presented with an impending disaster. The figurehead was about to feature in a front page exposé of a major Sunday newspaper for using the organisation's London accommodation for an extra-marital assignation.
The newspaper had approached the man concerned who had shared the problem with the Public Relations Department. They in turn reported to the Committee and advised us that matters could worsen. The story referred to one lady, but a prudent review of the CCTV revealed that she was perhaps far from enjoying exclusive claim to his wandering affections.
The Committee members could do little more than to wait, read the exposé and hope to limit the damage.
On Sunday morning, the item appeared on the front page as expected, yet half way through the story a simple statement killed the scandal dead; when door-stepped for comment, the miscreant responded with a simple statement: "I am not a moral man"
You could almost hear the collective shrug of the journalistic shoulders. There was no more to be said; the fox was shot/tranquillised. The story died in the original and all other news outlets.
Whatever may have been said of the man's conduct, he was not a hypocrite and in the modern world that is fast becoming the primary secular sin.
How often have we heard that 'all politicians/churchgoers/conservative pundits are hypocrites'?
To avoid this ever present risk of hypocrisy, teachers decline to conduct school assembly. Some young people declare themselves unable to take the Scout Oath or sing the National Anthem. Supposed hypocrisy is the target of choice for the trendy comedian. In consequence, many who live flawed, inconsistent, messy lives dare not risk taking those first faltering steps towards publicly declaring faith. Some feel uneasy entering a Church building. The widespread fear of hypocrisy has become a potent weapon of advancing secularism.
Worse, the tyranny of the accusation easily silences moral or Christian opinion and excludes it from the public space, especially amongst public figures who dare not 'Do God' lest it attract threatening attention. If you profess no standards, you take no risks. Only saints and cynics are safe, and saints are a modest minority.
It cannot be denied that the Bible is a primary source of this opprobrium.
Psalm 26 verse 4 says: 'I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.'
Each of the Gospel writers, save John, records Jesus using this term to denounce opponents, especially the Scribes and Pharisees, who would have been especially wounded by the implied likenening of them to Greek actors who customarily hid their true identities by masking their faces. Mathew uses the insult no fewer than 12 times.
The full force of the accusation primarily wounds those of a religious persuasion; the biblical context reminds us that whoever else we may attempt to deceive, there is no fooling God. It is this which is the primary focus of the sin: not simply attempting to fool other people or ourselves, but the mocking of God. Believers must be sensitive to such things but plainly this aspect is of no interest and carries no force to the atheist.
It is therefore especially paradoxical that the charge of hypocrisy is most frequently used by those disinterested in its theological dimension. When the newspaper editors are throwing around the epithet, few of them are religiously aware, fewer still concerned.
Yet there is another side to the coin.
Hypocrisy was described by La Rochefoucauld as the 'Homage vice pays to virtue'.
Samuel Johnson considered:
Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that professes zeal for virtues he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions without having yet obtained the victory: as a man may be convinced of the advantages of taking a voyage or journey without having courage or industry to undertake it and may honestly recommend to others those attempts which he neglects himself.William Wilberforce put a similar idea more crisply when he asked rhetorically who better promoted the public welfare, the honest man who pointed the way to vice or the hypocrite who urged virtue. That presents the issue neatly.
Many defenders of traditional values will be painfully aware in later life of past failures and indiscretions. Within the present 'hypocrisy narrative', they may feel personally queasy about entering a debate knowing their past inconsistencies, some of which may be either secret or barely acknowledged. Yet facing up to adult responsibilities is something all societies need, and a failure to learn from past failures is a source of weakness and, dare I say, degeneration.
On some sensitive issues - drugs use, child sexualisation, ease of abortion, a reduced age of consent, casual or serial relationships - those who have experience and have suffered in consequence are a great resource, and are particularly suited to explore the issues. Learning from our own mistakes should be a source of strength not the occasion for self censorship in the face of trendy abusers.
Unfortunately, with rare exceptions like Ann Widdecombe and Nadine Dorries MP, the public liberals have managed to bully many believers into silence and it is understandable why others have not joined the few. Perhaps it is the very chutzpah that takes those two onto reality television shows that emboldened them to take up causes which others feared to champion. God moves in mysterious ways.
If we are fearful of ridicule or hurt or unpopularity, it is good to remember that whatever our failures, Jesus has already offered his support when he challenged accusers with the words: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." He did not exclude the hypocrite from that protection.