I don’t know much Latin or Greek, but I do know the origins of the word “hypocrisy”: hypocrisis or hupokrisis, each meaning fakery or pretending. The concept of hypocrisy is at the heart of Christianity; Jesus condems few people more severely than the hypocrites (note to hypocrites – steer clear of Matthew and Luke. John is the gospel for you). Dante placed hypocrites in the 8th Circle of Hell, forced to wear coats that are golden and beautiful on the outside, but lined inside with heavy lead.
Hypocrisy can mean several different concepts, from the basic idea of “not practising what you preach” to “consciously or subconsciously putting forward a better image of ourselves than really exists” to “Hypocrisy is the act of pretending to have morals or virtues that one does not truly possess or practice” (wiki).
Here is the problem: most of us are hypocrites.
Perhaps we include another element to hypocrisy: that your beliefs need not be publicly stated; that is, hypocrisy can be not only “not practising what you preach,” but also not practising your own internally established code of conduct. It’s disputable whether or not this definition works, because theoretically all sin can therefore be considered a form of hypocrisy. But let me illustrate the importance of the concept by some examples.
First, let’s start with the most obvious form of hypocrite: someone who publicly preaches one thing but privately believes and practises another. Say a man publicly rails at Church against people who break the Word of Wisdom, but this man really does not believe in what he says; he leaves Church and breaks the Word of Wisdom himself on a regular basis and feels no shame. This man in a hypocrite in many senses: he does not practise what he preaches, and further, he does not even believe his own words. This man is a liar and a hypocrite. Let’s label this a true hypocrite.
Next, let’s look at a variation on that example. Say a man publicly rails at Church against people who violate the Word of Wisdom, but the man does not believe in what he is saying. However, due to various circumstances, he keeps the Word of Wisdom and adheres to his words. He practises what he preaches, even if he does not really believe in it. Is this man a hypocrite? Let’s label this an internal hypocrite.
Finally, let’s look at another variation on the example. Say again that a man publicly rails at Church against people who violate the Word of Wisdom, and the man believes in the truth of what he says. However, although he rails agains violating the Word of Wisdom, the man regularly breaks the Word of Wisdom himself, knowing that he has done wrong. He does not practise what he preaches, and knows it. Let’s label this an external hypocrite.
There is little to be said of the true hypocrite: his condemnation is clear. However, the internal and external forms of hypocrisy need a little more examination. I’m indebted to Lonnie Lee Best, whose table appears below, which I found very interesting:
|Lonnie Lee Best’s Hypocrisy Matrix|
Stated beliefs contradict actions. Stated beliefs are consistent with Internal actual beliefs.
Stated beliefs contradict actions. Stated beliefs are NOT consistent with Internal actual beliefs.
Internal actual beliefs contradict actions. Internal actual beliefs, if stated, are stated honestly.
Internal actual beliefs contradict actions. Internal actual beliefs are NOT consistent with stated beliefs.
This table is slightly different than the labels I applied above, but should still be instructive. There are two variables: whether our internal and external beliefs contradict, and whether we follow our beliefs at all. Thus the “internal hypocrite” I describe above is Mr. Best’s “internal dishonest hypocrite,” and the “external hypocrite” I describe above is Mr. Best’s “external honest hypocrite” (side note: “honest hypocrite” — best oxymoron EVER).
The “dishonest” hypocrites are people that don’t do what they believe, and further, don’t really believe what they say they believe. These are the true hypocrites, liars unable to follow their own words. Their position is dire, according to the scriptures.
The “honest” hypocrites are the commonplace sinners: all have sinned, all come short of the glory of God. We sin when we know what is right and choose otherwise, i.e., when our actions contradict our public or private beliefs we know are right. The sin can take place because of any number of reasons: falling to temptation, addiction, lack of faith, etc., but the important concept is that we are at least aware of the sin and we deal honestly with the problem. In many ways this honest hypocrite is the best off of all hypocrites.
I believe most of us are honest hypocrites. That is, there is very little difference for most of us between what we say we believe and what we actually believe. We aren’t lying to ourselves or others about our faith. In this way, “practising what you preach” is a poor definition of hypocrisy, because everyone fails in this respect. If practice was an absolute prerequisite to preaching, Church would not last three hours! I think in particular of the people caught in addiction, who fervently believe that their behavior is wrong and yet consistently and repeatedly sin against their professed belief; the drunk who hates his alcohol, or the porn addict who hates himself for not turning off the PC. These people are hypocrites, to be sure — but no more so than the rest of us.
The solution is simple: sin less. By trying our best to make our actions consistent with our beliefs, we are better situated to speak out against sin and to improve the lives of those around us. By the same token, the worst thing we can do is to deceive ourselves, to alter our internal beliefs to justify sin, while at the same time publicly decrying such sin. Rationalizing sin or twisting our reality to protect our selfish desires leads us even beyond hypocrisy to the land of delusion.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, or why I wrote this post, other than that I’m a hypocrite and I felt bad about it. I don’t want to downplay hypocrisy or make anyone feel better about the fakery of their lives. But I think it’s important to examine the different ways we deceive ourselves and others, in order to learn the truth and set ourselves free.