Saturday, March 7, 2015

The case for hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is bad, right?  Strictly defined, it's trying to impress people with the appearance of virtue while inwardly being a rotter.  And no, I'm not really going to argue for that.

But I think we tend to feel an uncomfortable feeling like we're being hypocritical whenever we notice a difference between our outsides and our insides.  Here I am preaching charity and I was just a jerk to my kids!  Here I am in church when really there are scads of atheists who are better people than me!  Here I am sharing an article about poverty when in reality I don't really give much to charity!  It feels bad.  It feels fake.

And it's true that this feeling should inspire us to clean up our insides to match our outsides.  But is there anything good about dropping the exterior stuff in order to match our inner awfulness?

When I was in boarding school and correspondingly way too obsessed with sin, I was afraid to make a visit to the chapel because I suspected I secretly only wanted to go so that people would see me and think I was holy.  But then I thought, maybe this line of thought is just an excuse because I don't want to make a visit.  How do I know I have an honest intention?  What is the better thing to do?

And I made a decision, back then, for how I wanted to live my life, and it is summed up like this: Never let fear of hypocrisy stop you from doing a good thing.

Yes, it's a bit dishonest to let people think you're better than you are.  But sometimes our search for "authenticity" just makes us stop doing good things that we actually wanted to do.  There's only so far you can parse your own motives -- I learned at that time that I am capable of reading horrible motives into any conceivable action I could possibly take.  At some point you've got to just make a decision, and rather than worrying that some actions are hypocritical, you should just pick good actions.

If I feel too hypocritical about that, I just make it a point to be honest: YES, I am sometimes a jerk to my kids.  SURE, I don't give much to charity.  But it is a good thing that I'm able to recognize that peaceful parenting or charitable giving are good, and maybe talking about them will help me do better at them.

So this is kind of the conclusion I've come to, for the present, about faith.  I don't think I have any faith to speak of, because faith should include thinking it's true and I can't seem to think it's true without evidence.  I'm saying this now, to fend off the charge that I'm being dishonest when I act like I think it's true, even though I only think it's sort of plausible, tops.

But here's what it comes down to: I want to be Catholic.  I want to go to church.  So I am just going to DO IT.  Hypocrisy and all.  If God is real, I can't help but feel he appreciates the effort, and if not, he's not going to mind.

Do you think that's hypocritical of me?  Is the fear of hypocrisy stopping you from doing good things?


Belfry Bat said...

Does fear of hipocrisy stop me? Well, no, I don't think so. My vices and sloths are a lot more boring than that; and so I won't bore you with them.

Enbrethiliel said...


I don't think that it's hypocritical of you at all! As I keep telling you, I think that you have the beginning of faith (as defined by Father Martin, who said that wanting to believe is the beginning of believing). So it makes perfect sense that you would be going to Mass and acting as you would if you totally accepted everything as true. And as you point out, it will help you to do better . . . while staying away would presumably only make you worse.

In general, I think that any reason for doing a good thing is a good reason. And I can't believe how many people there are won't do something that is good because they worry that their desire to do it has been contaminated. (This is the flipside of not doing something that is good because they worry that they will lose face--which is equally bad.) My belief is that the good choice dignifies whatever reason was behind it, however imperfect that reason may be.

Anna said...

To me hypocrisy is putting up a façade of virtue and preaching it to others while inwardly condoning one's own faults and not really trying to fight against them. Like what it says in the Gospel about putting heavy burdens on others' backs while not lifting a finger to move them oneself.

entropy said...

Not at all! I admire you for being so open and honest with your struggle.

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

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