This post comes from frequent BCC reader Martin.
In our society, hypocrisy seems to have been elevated to the ultimate sin. When Ted Haggard, the evangelical who was “outed” by male prostitute Mike Jones for gay sex and the use of amphetamines, it wasn’t the drug use, it wasn’t the gay sex, or even the hiring of a prostitute — it was the hypocrisy which attracted the most opprobrium. In fact, when Mr. Jones was attacked from every direction (even by a male escort for exposing his client), he defended himself by saying “I had to expose the hypocrisy. He is in the position of influence of millions of followers, and he’s preaching against gay marriage. But behind everybody’s back [he's] doing what he’s preached against.” Haggards’ sin of hypocrisy seemed to trump anything Jones may have done, including procuring the drugs.
Haggard’s a bit of an extreme case, but if you’re a person of faith, I think you’re going to face charges of hypocrisy eventually. If you persist in declaring faith, somebody at some time is going to interpret that as you putting yourself on a pedestal, and they’ll gladly point it out when you fall off. As a bit of hypocrite myself, I find this frustrating. The fact is, the difference between me and Haggard is primarily one of degree. I’ll preach the importance of daily scripture reading to the deacons knowing full well I’m only 2 for 7 the previous week. I don’t tell them that – AS it would undermine my point, and reading the scriptures daily is important. So, I confess nothing and just try to do better the next week. And go 3 for 7. What a hypocrite.
Hang around the bloggernacle long enough, and you’ll identify “hypocrisy” as a bit of a theme. I’m convinced there’s some secret mission statement somewhere which includes “to lay low the self-righteous, expose the hypocrite, and wrest the unflattering truth from behind the artificial smile”. Mormons can be hard on each other.
((Actually, in the case of the bloggernacle, it’s more like “trip the self-righteous on their way to the pulpit, pants the hypocrite at the drinking fountain, and turn artificial smiles into gaping shock by the things you say in Relief Society meetings”, but again–it’s more a matter of degree than anything))
Years ago, I concluded that the only people who will never be hypocrites are those who have no ideals to defend. Ideals are just that – ideal. Very hard to reach. Therefore, if I was going to espouse any, I’d just have to live with the dissonance and trust that the Atonement could someday make me what I want to be.
I decided that Mormons weren’t exactly hypocrites – we were fake-it-till-you-make-it types. Don’t read your scriptures every day? Well, at least read enough that you sound intelligent in class, and maybe you’ll learn to read more. Don’t like that weirdo you hometeach? Well, keep visiting, bring her treats, do a little service and maybe you’ll learn to love her. Don’t have a testimony? Well, bear what testimony you can, and you might be surprised what slips out of your mouth. Isn’t faking it until you make it a form of progression?
RadioLabs from WNYC had a really interesting show on deception. Researchers were trying to determine what gave certain athletes the psychological edge to win, given that their competition was physically just as gifted. The most obvious characteristic of the winners was their belief that they could win. A remarkable aspect of being human is the ability to model things in our minds and picture the outcome should some parameter of the model be changed. In other words, we have the ability to tell stories to ourselves. Successful athletes tell themselves they can win, they picture themselves winning, and it gives them an advantage in actual performance. They don’t calculate realistic odds – they essentially “lie” to themselves that they’re going to win, and the “lie” helps make itself true.
The segment continues into the much more controversial. Researchers wanted to determine whether the ability to “lie” to ourselves can help in other aspects of our lives. They identified people who “lied” to themselves by asking uncomfortable questions. “Have you ever considered suicide to get back at somebody? Do you ever enjoy your bowel movements? Have you ever fantasized about raping or being raped by someone?” The assumption is that every truly honest person would have to answer yes to all these questions, and those who didn’t were grouped as the “self-deceivers”. The researchers found that “self-deceivers” are generally more successful in life and generally happier. The more truthful people were found to be less successful and more depressed. No, I don’t know the metrics – listen to the show and you know everything I do. The real kicker is a quote by one of the researchers at the end: “We’re so vulnerable to being hurt, that we’re given the ability to distort, as a gift.”
How this could carry over to Mormonism is, I think, pretty obvious. Maybe those self-deceiving, self-righteous hypocrites are happier than the rest of us. Or maybe I should say it’s possible I’m happier as a self-deceiving, self-righteous hypocrite than when I’m realistic about my faults. Possibly this self-deception helps us progress, because we picture ourselves as something we’ve yet to become.
On the other hand, it’s pretty clear there are self-deceivers out there who have gotten mighty comfortable in their self-deception. Haggard was likely an example. All is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth. I’m not convinced these people are actually progressing. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re not, because that’s a state I’ve found myself in frequently. Sometimes, I think we need the cold, hard truth to spur us along, and that’s where humility kicks in. Next time we get “pants”ed at the drinking fountain, it would be good for us to remember that, rather than just getting angry for being identified as hypocrites.