What Hypocrisy Teaches Us

By Al Serrato

 

Christians are all hypocrites!

How often do apologists for the faith encounter that objection? Yes, there are hypocrites in the church, at least in the sense that none of us can actually and fully live up to what the Christian faith commands.  But more significantly, hypocrisy isn’t about simply failing to live up to the rules; it’s about being duplicitous about it. It’s about celebrating the things we shouldn’t do, about not properly regretting the sins that we commit.  This prevalence of hypocrisy – and the recognition that it is wrong – are actually more consistent with the existence of God than with atheism.

Hypocrisy Christianity Atheism

Hypocrisy is not a modern phenomenon. Jesus himself condemned it repeatedly in addressing the religious leaders of his day. They sought power and influence by using their elevated status to suppress and burden people. I would venture to say that every culture in the world, and throughout all periods of time, has recognized, and reviled, hypocrites.  The root of the word provides some explanation: the Greek word from which it derives meant a “stage actor,” a person who is not what he appears to be.  In modern usage it carries, of course, a very negative connotation: “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs” or “a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.”

So, hypocrisy is not simply failing to live up to a set of expectations; that is inherent in human nature. No, hypocrisy involves something more calculated: a desire to exploit this feigned persona in order to accomplish some other purpose. It is, at its core, deception.

If secular humanism is true, and man is simply an accidental product of evolution, then it stands to reason that those traits which provide the most survival potential would be favored. The basis of hypocrisy is not difficult to understand. Like any form of deception, it confers an advantage on the one who employs it. By promoting virtue, but secretly not bound by it, the hypocrite can – at least in the short run – profit by his behavior. Virtue, of course, involves self-discipline and often self-denial. It is the process of saying no to what I want at present because I recognize that simply wanting it is not a sufficient reason, that competing interests are at stake that must be considered.  But why must they be considered? If the man is the measure of all things, and I am a man, why can I not decide that what is in my immediate best interest is what I should pursue?  Over time, shouldn’t it be the case that we would simply recognize that we all act in our own self-interest? There is, therefore, nothing to revile about hypocrisy, just as we don’t condemn the lion for devouring its prey. It is simply in the “nature” of things.

But virtue persists, as does the recognition that it is a better way – a more noble way – in which to live.  Virtue manifests itself in acts of self-sacrifice, altruism, and concern for others.  While these things tend to benefit a society, they confer little, if any, immediate reward to the one who does them. This, of course, is what makes such conduct virtuous, and worthy of our admiration and respect.  They are difficult to do.

Over time, then, the survival advantage hypocrisy provides should make hypocrisy a staple in society. And since it confers an advantage, it would be valued… and accepted as something that everyone does.  But that is not how we view it. Deep down, we know that such behavior is wrong and worthy of condemnation.  It is wrong because it is inconsistent with truth and honesty, and the way things “ought” to be. And if we are impacted by a hypocrite, we feel it viscerally. It makes us angry.

To borrow from CS Lewis, when we consider hypocrisy, it is hard not to see that it appears to be a law of behavior.  It is not a descriptive law, as in the law of gravity, which describes how a rock will fall if released from a height. It is instead a moral law – a law that says we should not act that way, that acting that way is “wrong” on a very basic level.

But natural selection cannot explain moral laws.  It may explain the evolution of preferences and opinions, perhaps, but not laws that all cultures and all people seem to intuitively recognize.  But if there is a God, by contrast, it begins to make sense. Having left his law written into the fabric of our minds, we should expect to have some sense of right and wrong.  Because this eternal God grounds truth in a transcendental and unchanging way, it makes sense too that this love of virtue is itself timeless and without boundary.

So, the next time you encounter the challenge, it might be worth reminding the skeptic where the hypocrisy challenge actually leads.

Notes

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2wwunD6

 


 

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4 replies
  1. Andy Ryan says:

    “While these things tend to benefit a society, they confer little, if any, immediate reward to the one who does them”
    .
    And yet game theory shows that such behaviour is rewarded on a societal level, in that groups with these traits will do better. That’s why we see Insects sacrificing themselves for the good of the hive – they die but their group prospers. A society with virtuous, self-sacrificing inhabitants will prosper more than a society filled entirely with inhabitants out only for themselves who stab each other in the back.
    .
    This is evolution 101.
    .
    “It may explain the evolution of preferences and opinions, perhaps, but not laws that all cultures and all people seem to intuitively recognise.”
    .
    On the contrary, it explains it perfectly. We’re all part of the same social species. For hundreds of thousands of years the tribes that got along with each other, collaborated and trusted each other were the ones that passed on their genes successfully. They would easily overcome and defeat the tribes filled with lying freeloaders, who wouldn’t even be able to team up to attack a wooly mammoth, for fear that the others would steal more than their fair share.

    Reply
    • Gerard Bessette says:

      First: Evolution can only work on the individual level. Consider two people: one with an altruistic gene and one with a selfish gene. The selfish one benefits from the altruistic one’s sacrifice of himself for the good of the group, but his/her gene is eliminated from the gene pool.

      Second: I used to believe standard evolution of molecules to man, but I was wrong: we are devolving. There are a lot of books refuting evolution. A good place to start is “Genetic Entropy,” by geneticist John C. Sanford.

      Three: We want to defend what we were taught, but I was a true skeptic. I was as skeptical about God as I was about atheism and came to the logical conclusion that Christianity was the logical choice.

      ,

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        But the group with lots of selfish individuals will be less successful that a group with few. The latter group produces more children who live long enough to to reproduce, passing on those altruistic genes, even if one or two sacrifice themselves before reproducing. Meanwhile, the group full of selfish individuals tears itself apart, and no-one wants to join forces because they fear the others will steal the fruits of their labour. So in that way the altruistic genes will be propogated. Ask yourself why ants are so successful – they sacrifice themselves so their brothers and sisters can live on. The word ‘devolving’ has no meaning in biology.

        Reply
  2. KR says:

    “Having left his law written into the fabric of our minds, we should expect to have some sense of right and wrong.”
    .
    The problem is that we so frequently disagree on what is right and wrong. How do we objectively determine who’s correct?

    Reply

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