The Case for Hypocrisy

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.


  1. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks for this post, Martin.

    Here are a few of my thoughts. I think one reason Christian people react so strongly to something they think is hypocritical can be found in the new testament. Jesus saved some of his most strident condemnation for the “whited sepulchres”.

    One of the lessons I’ve struggled to learn is how to balance my goals with the reality of my very mortal, fallen self. Improvement is a slow process, with progress being measured in very small increments, but it is nonetheless important to keep the goals in sight.

    I’m suspicious of the idea that we can use positive thinking and willful disregard of our faults to improve. The first step in repentance is a full and forthright acknowledgment of the problem. People who seek to avoid that step will never make progress.

  2. so the case for hypocrisy is that hypocrites are happier somehow? How does that help those they are hypocritical to? Hypocrisy is also a natural turnoff, thus frustrating the happiness portion.

  3. The Church’s teachings about ideal behavior do give us something to work towards and hopefully believe that we can become through a lifetime (or more) of progress and the atonement. But, I think church members would benefit from more honesty about real behavior. A lot of members feel a lot of shame about behavior that is quite common, but can’t be discussed openly except to condemn it.

  4. Antonio Parr says:

    Hypocrisy is a moving target.

    If a man speaks out vehemently against porn, and turns out to have a closet problem with porn, does his condemning porn make him a hypocrite? I think not — it makes him a flawed human being who speaks against what he knows by personal experience to be a dangerous temptation. (One can easily substitute “porn” with gambling or substance abuse or virtually any other weakness.)

    The hypocrisy only comes when he condemns users of porn in a way that suggests that he is above the fray. We are taught to be slow to judge — I think this is especially true when labeling someone else a hypocrite. (In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.)

  5. Antonio brings up a good point about hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not saying something different than what you’re doing. So if you tell your class to read their scriptures while you don’t, that’s not necessarily hypocritical. Hypocrisy comes from judgment made against someone when you commit the same act. So Ted Haggard condemned homosexuals whilst committing closet homosexuality. That’s hypocrisy.

  6. I was so sure that this post would directly namedrop Wayne Booth and his “hypocrisy upward.”

  7. I agree with your basic point that we’re all hypocrites, to some degree, and that there are worse sins than hypocrisy. As much fun as it is to trash somebody for their hypocrisy, I think much hypocrisy is just an illustration of the gap between what we are able to understand and what we are able to do. We can figure out that something is wrong before we can figure out how to stop doing it. That’s just a reality of humanity.

    I do think we should make reasonable efforts to make our actions consistent with our words, but that doesn’t mean that we should sit silenced on talking about moral matters until we have reached perfection. I’m reminded of the kerfuffle about Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues, and how people were quick to discount everything he said because he was gambling too much.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve found myself holding positions that either seem to be or that actually are contradictory or otherwise logically inconsistent. Life and reality are complicated things, and trying to work out those inconsistencies takes a lot of time and work and painful digging into the gaps between clumps of understanding. I don’t think this makes me the quintessential hypocrite. If it does, then it does, but I think it just means I’m a human.

  8. Daniel, Antonio, the definition of hypocrisy per

    1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
    2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
    3. an act or instance of hypocrisy.

    Condemnation of others may make it more heinous, but hypocrisy doesn’t include it by definition.

  9. #5: “Hypocrisy comes from judgment made against someone when you commit the same act.” And making no attempt to refrain from said act. Last October, Elder Andersen pointed out that “the forsaking of sins implies never returning. Forsaking requires time.” If my scripture study rate is 2/7, but I am consciously attempting to improve in that area and NOT passing judgment against someone with the same struggles, then I am not guilty of hypocrisy.

  10. Well, I have never fantasized about raping or being raped by someone. Or considered suicide. What kinds of questions are those? I don’t consider myself self-deceptive because the answer is no.

    There are a lot of things I teach to my kids that I am not perfect at. I don’t think that is hypocrisy. If I had to be perfect in the principle, I would be able to teach very little. (Although I am a huge hypocrite in one area – spending too much time on the computer)

  11. I think the worst part of hypocrisy is that prevents you from having real, honest connections with those around you. Have you ever opened up to one of ‘those’ Mormons…the ones with plastic smiles, and perfect answers, and deadpan stares when ever anything slightly out of character is said? I didn’t think so. We gravitate to the ones who lay themselves bare, are honest about their faults and imperfections, and honestly work towards being better without having to put up a show of perfection in the meantime.

    One of the most cherished life lessons I’ve learned so far is that walling yourself off from the reality of life to remain clean and perfect is missing the entire point of being here. Like the saying goes, you’re not supposed to show up at the pearly gates with your plastic smile, coiffed hair, neatly organized FHE lessons, and perfected sugar cookie recipe in hand. Its not about YOU and your perfection as much as it is about OTHERS and being willing to open yourself up to their experiences and learning to love them. Real life is sometimes (most times) complicated, scary, and painful. We grow from trials by learning to work through them, not by pretending they aren’t there.

  12. Thomas Parkin says:

    “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. ”

    Well, this is where you go wrong, isn’t it? Painting the picture for deacons of a church full of people who study their scriptures everyday can only have a poor effect down the road. I’m willing to bet that deacons can get the idea that studying the scriptures is important and simultaneously grasp that most Mormons don’t do it everyday. Seems to me the Spirit coalesces around truth – as in , telling the truth. ~

  13. I plead guilty coming and going.

  14. Antonio Parr says:

    Act of hypocrisy: A person who gives a lesson on the word of wisdom, condemns/makes light of/ridicules those with word of wisdom problems, and then turns out to have a drinking problem himself. (Now that I think about it, ridiculing another person is inherently an act of hypocrisy, since our own peculiar imperfections make us fellow sufferers and guilty, just in different ways, of whatever weakness may be besetting the object of our ridicule.)

    Not an act of hypocrisy: A person who gives a lesson on the word of wisdom, speaks with emotion and feeling about the pain that substance abuse can cause on individuals and their families, and then turns out to have a drinking problem himself.

    I don’t need the latter person to disclose to me his/her drinking problem in order for me to appreciate the power and impact of his/her lesson. Similarly, if the lesson is on lust, I don’t need an acknowledgment from the teacher that he lusted after Sister-so-and-so just that morning. Hopefully, we all arrive at a point where we recognize the fallibility of man, and presume that the teacher struggles with any or all of the seven deadly sins (plus), just like the rest of us. It is only when the teacher assumes an air of haughtiness/cruelty/levity about the struggles of others that I begin to detect the ugly sin of hypocrisy.

    I don’t have a problem with the LDS practice of decorum/discretion when it comes the public confession/acknowledgment of sins. I have seen the opposite approach (found in some evangelical congregations), where the public confessions can become chaotic and, in some inexplicable way, a trigger for others to become caught in the precise conduct being confessed.

    I do recognize the potential for LDS decorum to create a veneer of form over substance. However, the heroic acts of service and compassion that I have seen in the LDS community throughout my decades of membership help reassure me that we are, for the most part, on the right track.

    (In order to minimize my own hypocrisy, I acknowledge that, more often than I would like, my words and deeds undoubtedly fail the test for hypocrisy that I outlined above.)

  15. It’s a fine line – a delicate balance. Hypocrisy generally happens, imo, when someone loses sight of that.

  16. 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.

    Very interesting. One of my family members is really, really into positive thinking, to the point of believing it can make anything happen. Seems reasonable that it could give you an edge, but it’s not going to turn a couch potato into a star athlete. I’m really suspicious of the concept, myself. But I’m a cynic, generally speaking.

    I agree w/ Antonio Parr and Ray.

  17. One of my family members is really, really into positive thinking, to the point of believing it can make anything happen. Seems reasonable that it could give you an edge, but it’s not going to turn a couch potato into a star athlete.

    Maybe not a star athlete but probably get them in dang good shape in a few months if they act on it. Being a star athlete of course requires years of training, good genetics, and a fair bit of luck. But that’s more because of the competitive aspects and because the differences are so small.

  18. Great post, Martin; thanks.

    I head a speaker in sacrament meeting a while back who suggested we are not hypocrites if we are not yet perfect at all we preach. We are more likely striving to be better than we are today.

    Anyone with teenagers knows that they are quick to point out a parent’s apparent hypocrisy, but they nearly always misuse the word, suggesting that perfect compliance with the principle taught is required.

    As #8 says, this issue is pretending to have the virtue and not having it. If we teach the deacons to read scriptures daily and claim we do it when we do not, that is hypocrisy. If we teach them that we are counseled to read daily and we are blessed for it, and in the times of our lives when we’ve read daily we’ve seen positive results, we are not hypocrites, even if that week we were only 2 for 7. Of course, as #12 Thomas points out, sometimes there is great power in acknowledging that we have not yet arrived at the ideal. But #15 Antonio is also right that sometimes those details are not important or required or particularly helpful (and in fact sometimes they may be hurtful).

    #4 Antonio, I think you’re right that sometimes the sinner is far more aware of the devastating effects of sin; pointing those out does not necessarily make him a hypocrite, as well.

  19. What ever happened to good ol’ Prostitute-Client Privilege? What is this world coming to?

    This is a really interesting concept Martin, and I think I’ll have to let it stew in my mind for a while.

    Some thoughts off the bat, I think what is being described about the athletes is hope, not necessarily hypocrisy.
    Similarly I think that repentance is to the soul what expungement is to a legal record. It makes it so that X never happened. So if I were asked “Have you ever enjoyed a bowel movement” and it was something I had done, but repented of . . . . . it would be as if it never happened, and I could answer with a clear conscience “no.”

    In the end, I think that hypocrisy is the reason why every lesson – even scripture reading – should turn to the Savior as our pedestal, not ourselves. Jesus obviously did his daily scripture reading, or he wouldn’t have so easily been able to quote scripture when meeting with the rabbis, scribes, pharisees, etc. **We** should all try to be more like him.

  20. “But I would rather live among those who recognize standards and fail to meet them than among those who mock all standards as lies. In the end, hypocrisy is preferable to decadence.”

  21. Great topic to explore and think about, Martin, thank you. Based on the comments, it looks like there is disagreement on an operant definition of hypocrisy. The definition of condemning while participating is appealing. I’m not sure participating while advocating an ideal is what we think of as hypocritical. Problem: doesn’t advocating an ideal at least carry an implicit suggestion of condemnation, or at least some level of judgment, of those who do not behave consistent with the ideal? I would say, “Yes,” unless the person advocating and the observers/listeners understand the general implications of the atonement as it relates to how one should view others’ behavior: I cannot condemn others throughout my life based on eternal ideals while at the same time I maintain an expectation that the atonement will apply to me and not those I condemn/judge. This is my whole problem with hypocrisy: we forget that it, like other sins, is subject to the atonement. So for a Christian that latches onto the idea of hypocrisy of another (whether it’s Haggard, any former ecclesiastical leader, etc.), he or she may want to consider whether he or she can expect the atonement to work equally for them and the hypocrite. The atonement applies to all people, and nearly all sins.

    Hypocrisy is a tough one, though, because it becomes a very transparent, public affair and it carries public-relations implications. But for Christians the public effects should not undermine the atonement and its effects on hypocrisy as a sin.

    At any rate, here’s one bit that caught my eye and goes into a whole host of topics: “[Athletes] don’t calculate realistic odds – they essentially “lie” to themselves that they’re going to win, and the “lie” helps make itself true.”

    Again, what is the operant definition of a “lie”? There are objective, real facts. To make a misrepresentation (to oneself or another) of those objective, real facts is not being accurate or truthful. Is that what is meant by a “lie” here? Because if so, the rest of the illustration doesn’t pan out, especially the part about calculating “realistic” odds. The event of winning is a future event. It is not real yet in the sense that it is happening now, or has just happened. If a pro athlete tells him/herself that they can win, it is most often absolutely based on a calculation of “real” factors: the athlete has the capacity to execute the play, they are in good present physical condition, they will participate in the game, they know how to play the game, they can run, they can see, they can throw/catch/swim, etc. etc. There are very “real” objective facts that an athlete bakes into the calculation of envisioning a win. How is it possibly “lying” to oneself if one represents to oneself present, real, objective, observable facts?

    I guess I take issue with the suggestion that envisioning a win involves self-deception. A vision of winning is most often very self-honest in that it is based on an athlete’s calculation of real factors. And a win is not “delusional” either because it is something that is realistically and imminently attainable by the athletes based on real factors listed above.

    What makes the win become “real” is the execution of earning more points than the other team. That’s how you win. Having a mental vision of winning, alone, cannot make this happen; it won’t move a scoreboard. The vision can definitely help and motivate one through execution, though.

  22. Adam Greenwood says:

    A praiseworthy post.

    “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.”

    I’ve seen research that shows that the only people whose estimate of their own personal beauty and likability matches others estimates of them are the clinically depressed.

    It makes you wonder if not only the capacity for self-depression is at root a spiritual gift, as you say, but also if melancholy can be. Maybe the Tower of Babel needed a little less of the can-do spirit and a little more Russian literature.

  23. Stephanie! You self-deceiver, you! At least we can assume you enjoy your bowel movements, since you didn’t deny that.

    Just kidding. Actually, I’m surprised somebody hasn’t already said “The researchers concluded people who denied considering suicide and rape fantasies are happier than those who didn’t? Well, no duh!” I think it’s safe to say those who consider suicide are generally less happy than those who don’t.

    B.Russ, Eric S., regarding whether the athletes “lied” to themselves, I remember an interview with Charles Barkeley during the playoffs. He was going through a monster period of his career and was pretty cocky. The interviewer asked if he thought he was as good a player as Michael Jordan. Since Barkeley had a reputation for failing to self-filter, it was interesting to watch him hesitate. He said something to the effect of “when I go on that court, I know there’s no better player out there, that I can compete with anyone. That’s true no matter who’s on the floor. You can’t tell yourself anything different and compete at this level.”

  24. Well, Martin, that line just confused me. “Enjoy”? I thought there is likely something there that my innocent mind doesn’t understand. But, I do appreciate being regular, so . . . (Ha ha ha, TMI)

  25. Gomez (14),
    I had been waiting for someone to post that link! If only these BCC readers had heard the accompanying podcast as well…

  26. Thanks for quoting Radiolab!

    If I freely admit I’m a hypocrite, am I still a hypocrite?

  27. #27 Only if you then are not a hypocrite.

  28. At the risk of sounding like I’m commenting over at FMH, “THIS WAS A GREAT POST!!!!!!!”

    In seriousness, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the U.S.’s stance on religious freedom. We do, I think, on par, a pretty good job about accommodating several religions in the U.S. without too much friction. But I’ve always found it interesting that when we make a mistake–like a Burqa (sp) ban or wiretapping a mosque, for example–we hear most vehemently from those countries who aren’t even trying to accommodate several religions, but instead insist on a one or two religion state. In essence, we’re being penalized for actually having an ideal of a pluralistic state, and falling short, while other nations do far worse, but escape serious scrutiny because they never professed they wanted to do the right thing to begin with.

  29. Swisster says:

    Hypocrisy has got to be the easiest, laziest critique one can make.

  30. The point I would have made about hypocrisy has already been made a few times so I want to address this apparent study mentioned in the RadioLabs segment:

    Self-deceivers may be happier in the present moment but not in the long run. It’s not possible to really change what we don’t acknowledge. We can be distracted from our problems and flaws, we can ignore them, but we can’t change them through pretending. Our problems and our discomfort exist because they’re real. The source of the problem may not be where we think it is but the problem itself is real. For example, thinking that your marriage is a problem because of your spouse when really it’s you— the problem is still there, you just haven’t understood it well enough yet. If you think there’s a problem somewhere, there is.

    Any discomfort or pain we feel is real. To ignore it is self-abuse and inflicts pain onto others. The real problem is not with acknowledging all our many unhappinesses and criticisms; it is in not recognising that the real source is more often our own thinking than anything else, and trying to figure out why we think the way we do and what change is possible and how.

    Understanding precedes lasting change and you can’t understand something without being honest.

    Fake-it-til-you-make-its might be able to change their behaviours for a time but not the underlying problems. I’d rather stumble or even just remain stagnant while I source out my problems with my thinking; get to the core; completely annihilate the core issue; and soar from there, never having to deal with that issue again, than fighting my way through life employing every willpower technique I can think of and gritting my teeth raw, particularly for appearances’ sake.

    We’re here not just to behave a certain way but to become something. That comes through self-discovery, understanding, and compassion, not through statistics and check marks.

  31. Naismith says:

    What is the relationship between “fake-it-till-you-make-it” and what Robert L. Millet calls “doing the right thing for the wrong reason”?

    For years, I was in charge of a monthly service project to serve a home-cooked meal to a facility that housed cancer patients and their families. I gotta say, there were some months I was not in the mood. I had a grudging attitude as I prepared things, but as it turned out, I was invariably so very glad that I came. The people were appreciative, and I felt that I was taking part in the work the Lord would be doing if he was here with us today. (Of course, I would forget that again three weeks later…)

    So I was totally faking when I started, and because I was willing to fake it, I was blessed in a way that I would not have been if I had decided to wait until I was no longer faking in order to serve.

    What is the difference between “fake-it-till-you-make-it” and exercising faith? And aren’t we supposed to be doing the latter?

  32. 32 — I am concerned about “fake it till you make it” because it is so easy to drop off the last four words if you don’t seem to be making it in a timely fashion. I am more comfortable with the “act as if” approach, which is really just doing the best you can to be what you are supposed to be as you grow to become what you are supposed to be.

    I just don’t see any merit in deception, and “fake it” is deception. It’s not a far thing from hiding your fears and wading on through anyhow, I recognize, but that distance is significant. Perhaps the difference has to do with how much faking we’re talking about — are you going forward with something begrudgingly only to find your motivation later, as you described, or are you pretending that you really are temple worthy while you try to get temple worthy over (say) an addiction to sex with strangers. Perhaps a difference there has to do with who is aware that you aren’t necessarily what you appear to be, also. I’m not sure.

  33. to quote the Incredibles:

    Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
    Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
    Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

    If we’re all hypocrites, then nobody is.

  34. Antonio Parr says:

    The great, great writer Frederick Buechner wrote that Christians are either heroes or they are pigs, and Buechner identifies himself as drfting back and forth between the two extremes (i.e, part-time hero and part-time pig).

    “Pig” and “hypocrite” seem pretty synonymous (with all apologies to swine), and Buechner’s observations and condemnation probably apply to most (if not all) of us.

  35. Wes Brown says:

    I love Radiolab and I love my bowel movements. In my experience realists are not sad about how they side on an issue, but are overwhelmed with the seemingly blissful ignorance that others can have. Cognitive dissonance is not enjoyable psychological state. That’s why we avoid it with hypocrisy. We get to take both sides! When we stake out a position contrary to what reason and experience tell us is correct, we set ourselves up for guilt and hypocrisy. Ted Haggard apparently likes sex with men and taking drugs. However, he had previously committed to a position, not based on experience, that claimed it was bad. He ran into trouble when he wasn’t able to deal with that dissonance.

    I think self deception is a tool that has helped us become more efficient in our daily lives. We all take mental shortcuts and act without fully examining outcomes. Sometimes ideals and actions can crisscross and contradict each other. I think it becomes dangerous when ideas based on self deception are pushed on other people as truth. The fake it till you make it paragraph presupposes that the stated results are what you should be doing. Is it virtuous to pursue something you consider errant? Is it preferable to fake instead of investigate. I liked what Emily U wrote about the positive thinking self help that seems to be popular lately(The Secret). That type of placebo effect is real, yet usually short-lived and counterproductive as it deflects attention from where it needs to be in order for real improvement to happen.

  36. There’s a great article on hypocrisy here.

    And on Ardis #4, I’ve heard it said that we preach best what we need to hear most.

  37. You make some good points, but I think there’s another dimension you’re missing:

    Some of the big-name family values guys aren’t just preaching that you should or shouldn’t do X, they’re advocating writing those restrictions into the civil law. Specifically, when a guy preaches that committed, loving gay partners should be barred from getting married because that somehow, magically hurts marriages like his own — and meanwhile he’s chosen to cheat on his wife with a prostitute — then he has a bit of a credibility problem.

  38. Amen, chanson. That is hypocrisy at its worst.

    fwiw, “fake it ’til you make it” doesn’t appear anywhere at – and every use of “fake it” is negative. It’s been coined as an explanation for the idea that a testimony is found in the bearing of it, but it doesn’t say what that talk said at all.

    There’s a HUGE difference between having the faith to open your mouth and bear a sincere testimony (and feeling the Spirit as you do so – finding a deeper spiritual testimony as you bear sincere testimony of whatever you can) and lying from the stand until you actually do have a testimony. The talk in question never once even hinted at lying (“faking it”), and I wish the “fake it ’til you make it” idiocy would die a quick death.

  39. Ray, I think you’re being harsh.

    Many times when people “bear their testimonies”, they’re effectively declaring an allegiance rather than witnessing of truth, because that’s all they can really do. The words just sound very similar. I think the Spirit can corroborate the declaration of allegiance, and that becomes a witness in and of itself.

    “Lying” is declaring something you know is false. “Faking-it-until-you-make-it” is a quasi-derogatory term stating that you’re going to try to make something true. When it comes to something like “showing love” you don’t feel, I think the term fits, even if it has negative connotations.

    Obviously, isn’t going to advocate “faking it” in any way, shape, or form. I used the term to explore an idea.

  40. I agree with Martin here–to some extent, at least. While fake-it-till-you-make it may well have earned something of a derogatory connotation, the phrase itself actually seems to imply the optimistic: it has the directly embedded assumption of “making it”–or of achieving success in the endeavor. In this way, the actual wording of the phrase takes on a surprisingly faith-promoting meaning.

  41. Also, we could fill libraries with things that are good and useful in the world and which nevertheless return zero hits on a phrase search at The absence of such a phrase is no more a condemnation of it than the presence of it in a CES manual is an approval of it.

  42. Naismith says:

    “I wish the “fake it ’til you make it” idiocy would die a quick death.”

    Well, gee, Ray, thanks so much.

    If it’s not your thing, fine. It isn’t the only path to becoming more Christlike. But this really does work for me. I am a much better person because of faking it than if I didn’t try at all.

    While “faking it” may not be at, there are many references to “acting as if…” To me, that is the same concept.

    In an Oct 06 GC talk, Elder David S. Baxter counsels us to, “act as if our faith were already deep.” He offers this as a pathway to acquire deep faith.

    In an Aaronic Priesthood manual, the lesson on “Pure Thoughts: Clean Language,” young men are told, “We can decide now what kind of person we want to be and then act as if we were that person. By doing this, we will become like that ideal.”

    That sounds like fake it til you make it.

    And as far as faking it in marriage, how about Judith Viorst’s famous quote that, “One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again.” Faking it until you make it.

    If you can be deeply faithful all the time and madly in love all the time and happy to serve all the time, that’s great. I am not that good of a person, but faking it provides me the opportunities to reap the blessings of faith, love, service so that I am motivated to go through those acts more sincerely.

  43. Thomas Parkin says:

    Oh, man, Naismith, so I know some people who have crashed hard on the rocks of what you seem to be suggesting. I consider the Aaronic Priesthood manual’s and Elder Baxter’s advice to be more than wrong, I consider it, in long term, deeply deeply destructive. ~

  44. Naismith says:

    “Oh, man, Naismith, so I know some people who have crashed hard on the rocks of what you seem to be suggesting.”

    No doubt. I’ve also seen lots of people crash hard on the rocks of NOT serving and NOT acting as if they believed, because they were waiting until it seems authentic and feels right to them. And it never just comes, which leaves them feeling inadequate and unloved by their father in heaven, or just leading them off in other unsavory directions in the meantime.

    If you have a healthy alternative to suggest, I’d love to hear it.

    I sincerely think there are many different paths to perfection. Nobody is being forced to take this one. But it is apparently one that has worked for many of us.

    When I do this, I am NOT lying to myself that how I feel at that point in time is good enough. I am doing it in order to get to the place I want to be, to become the person I want to be. I am NOT doing it to put up a front for my neighbors, I really don’t care what others think, with the exception that I never complain about church service in front of my children because I don’t want them to think that I hate it all the time (and knowing myself, I am more likely to complain than to say that I am having a good time, because having a good time just doesn’t seem noteworthy).

    I am doing it, as Martin says, “to try to make something true.” And if it becomes true, which in my experience it does, then it is just a timing issue, so where is the problem and danger?

    I just got a new church calling for which I am ill-suited and in an area in which I have no desire to serve. I have no testimony that this is right for me, but the leader feels the calling is inspired and they need help. Should I turn the calling down, or should I act as if I know this is right for me, and go fake it til I make it, trusting that the Lord will make it feel right eventually?

    Or what are the other choices?

  45. I have no problem with the idea of striving to live up to our ideals. I have no problem with not dumping all of our emotions when we are upset – or of “hiding” some things from public view and “putting on a happy face” at times. It was the phrase I meant I would like to see die, not anything that talks of striving to live the ideal when mired in the practical. I just don’t like the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” – especially since it’s never once been used by even a GA, as far as I’ve been able to find, and it has taken on a meaning relative to testimonies that was never intended, imo.

    Maybe (probably) I’m more sensitive to it because I’ve seen the damage done to so many people who go to church on Sunday and are over-whelmed by their inadequacies as they look around and see what appears to be so many picture perfect people with their perfect children – and also because I’ve seen how that phrase is used on anti-Mormon sites. I don’t like things that build barriers between people and set up unrealistic expectations and lead to depression or other feelings of unbridgeable inadequacy. Maybe (probably) I’m over-sensitive to it. I just don’t like the phrase because it’s so easy (for members and anti’s alike) to misconstrue – and it’s so easy for it to be destructive.

  46. Naismith, I’ve never said we shouldn’t do any of the things you mention. I just don’t like the phrase – at all.

  47. Thomas Parkin says:

    Nobody said anything about not serving, not accepting callings, etc. You don’t have to “fake” anything to do those things. You seem to know your real feelings, so you’re not really faking yourself.

    I wonder who you are faking that is enabling you to do these things? Martin, for instance, is faking out the deacons. He is allowing his deacons to think that he reads his scriptures every day because he is afraid that if they knew the truth they wouldn’t take him seriously. (When it is almost certain that, if not already, by the time they are Priests – if they are still around, the best of them will have developed the nose for phony by then – the exact opposite will prove to be true.)

    “Or what are the other choices?”

    Saying “I’ll serve willingly even though it doesn’t feel right to me” doesn’t require you to fake anything. “Maybe I’ll work my way into it. I hope so.”

  48. Thomas,

    but if these deacons, by the time they are priests, discover a sense of who around them is phony, then it shouldn’t be damaging, because they can understand that this is how the church works.

    For your chain of actions to work, it has to presume that faking it is bad. It begs the question. What Martin is saying is that since it is not bad, it is not something bad to teach the deacons and teachers and priests. It is something necessary to which they must mature.

    The damage comes, I think, when, as Naismith mentioned, people feel as if they must WAIT until things “seem authentic” or “feel right” to them. Now, authenticity and right feeling are well and good, but should we WAIT for these things? No.

    “I’ll serve willingly enough eve though it doesn’t feel right to me” IS faking it till you make it. Because serving willingly enough (even though you aren’t willing) requires putting on a solid face.

  49. Antonio Parr says:

    The most recent posts remind me a bit of Pascal’s wager:


    God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

    Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

    Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

    “That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.


    One may choose to embrace a lifestyle about which one is not fully convinced out of fear (i.e., “although I am not sure if I believe in Mormonism, I am going to live this way because iif I don’t I might suffer eternal damnation”) or, much better yet, hope (i.e., “although I am not sure if I believe in Mormonism, I am going to live this way because I hope that it is true, and I am going to live as if my fondest hopes are a reflection of eternal truth). I don’t find either approach to be hypocrtical.

    P.S. If you are not familiar with Blaise Pascal, you owe it to yourself to read his haunting Memorial (it is one page long, and will take you all of a minute to read. But a lifetime to ponder . . . )

  50. TP, I gotta admit that your accusation that I was faking out the deacons makes me squirm a bit. I was sincere about everything I said to them. I don’t enjoy being a hypocrite. Should I absolve my guilt by confessing to them, or should I once again determine to go 7 for 7?

    The trade-off is creating ideals vs. risking disillusionment. I think ideals matter, and it would be kind of hard to create them if you’re constantly requiring confessions from teachers.

    Take the law of chastity. Which works better? “The Lord’s standard is no sex outside of marriage, and you need to decide now whether or not you’re going to follow that standard before you’re faced with temptation” or “The Lord’s standard is no sex outside of marriage, and even though I personally was a bit of wild kid growing up, you should follow that standard.” ?

  51. “but if these deacons, by the time they are priests, discover a sense of who around them is phony, then it shouldn’t be damaging, because they can understand that this is how the church works.

    For your chain of actions to work, it has to presume that faking it is bad. It begs the question. What Martin is saying is that since it is not bad, it is not something bad to teach the deacons and teachers and priests. It is something necessary to which they must mature.”

    Maybe I’m dense, but I didn’t start figuring that out until my mission. Despite my mission president’s teachings, the number of baptisms didn’t seem to correlate very well with obedience to mission rules. My disillusionment has continued as I’ve noticed that disobedience during teenage and courtship years hasn’t mattered very much for most of my friends in terms of being happily married and serving in the church. I’m left to wonder why I felt so guilty about my inadequacies. And yes, that guilt and the disillusionment that followed has been damaging.

  52. It’s always interesting when people who agree with each other generally but disagree about a detail end up arguing with each other about the detail and miss the general agreement.

    I apologize for my terrible word chioce and usage of “idiocy” and the reactions it caused. I should have followed my standard practice and re-read then edited the comment before I used that word.

    Fwiw, I agree with pretty much everything that I think people are trying to say, in theory. I just don’t like the phrase”fake it”. The verb “fake” is associated generally with “deceive, defraud, trick, etc.” – and so I don’t like using it to describe sincere efforts to live the currently unreachable. I just don’t see teaching and trying to live an ideal we can’t reach as “faking it”. Therefore, I don’t like calling it “faking it”. Imo, there’s nothing “fake” about anything that has been mentioned.

    If that is a semantic soapbox to everyone else, I will climb off of it.

  53. Thomas Parkin says:

    “The trade-off is creating ideals vs. risking disillusionment.”

    I don’t believe there is a trade-off, Martin. Ideals are abstractions except in the case of Jesus. The rest of us are only trying, and there is never a need to cover that up. I’m not sure why you feel a need to set yourself up as an ideal. I understand that there is some pressure to present yourself as a good example. Like all of us, you will only be a good example of some things and a perfect example of nothing. That is reality, it is the reality that your deacons will live in as well, and there is no time like the present to make sure we are all living in reality as much as possible. But the ideal is frequent scripture study whether or not you embody that ideal.

    I don’t think that it is necessary to be constantly confessing our sins to each other – but we can’t be involved in a cover-up. Sec 121 lists covering our sins as one of the things that grieves the Spirit. In my opinion, and experience, it is one of the main reasons we have as little of the Spirit in the church as we do. We have so many strategies for covering our sins.

    If one of your deacons asked you straight up how often you studied your scriptures you wouldn’t lie to them, I’m sure. ~

  54. Martin, I would respect someone much more if he told me he had been a bit of a wild child growing up, which taught him first-hand that the Lord’s standard is the best standard to follow, than if he never told me that, preached the standard, then I found out about his wild oats later. I would respect an alcoholic who told me in no uncertain terms to avoid alcohol or risk ending up like him than the person who preached the Word of Wisdom, condemned alcohol use and campaigned to close down the town bars telling me to abstain – if that pillar of the community took his own liquor privately or in a town where nobody knew him. I respect honesty over hypocrisy pretty much every time – and I respect openness over condescension pretty much every time, as well.

    I don’t advocate making a great showing of our warts, but I also don’t advocate covering them and pretending they don’t exist – or, worse still, denying their existence. Nephi is many people’s favorite scriptural prophet exclusively because of 2 Nephi 4. I think that is instructive.

  55. Someone probably already said this, but I think hypocrisy is pretending to be something you are not. If you really don’t think it is important to read the scriptures, but you tell the Deacons that you have a testimony of scripture study, then that is hypocrisy. If you do think it is important to read the scriptures but are having trouble adapting scripture study to your life and can only manage 2 days a week, that just makes you human. If you tell the Deacons that you do study the scriptures every day and you really don’t for whatever reason, that makes you a liar no matter what the reason is.

  56. Naismith says:

    Ray, I see your point about faking, but the “till you make it” is critical. That’s often the difference between someone content to fake, and someone temporarily using the act of faking to exercise their spiritual muscles and jumpstart their growth in the desired direction. Certainly it is the rhyme that makes it so much easier to say the f-word instead of “act as if…”

    I like to read and view military science fiction for my mindless entertainment, and in that genre, “faking it”is often viewed as a positive. In the original miniseries of V, when the young med student doesn’t want to/feel qualified to be the leader of the resistance, the old wise lady tells her to fake it.

    Or this explanation from a book I’m rereading,

    “But you see,” said Gregor, “we all start out that way. Faking it. The role is a simulacrum, into which we slowly grow real flesh…the role then becomes a handily-worked prosthetic, which serves the man.”

%d bloggers like this: