It seems to me you guys could all benefit from some HARD FACTS about hypocrisy.
I know what you’re saying: “But Steve, you’re one of the biggest hypocrites I know!” Well, friend, in which case who better to write about what hypocrisy really is and how it really operates? It’s like learning about the prison system from an inmate.
First off, let’s clarify what hypocrisy is and what it is not. This part is essential. In the NT, we’re using the Greek word hupokrisis (or hupokrites), signifying a dissembler, an actor playing a feigned part. When Jesus says that the leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy, He means that it appears righteous to men but it is full of sin within. This is also what He means when He refers to them as whited sepulchres, which look pure on the outside but inside are full of rotting bones. I also like (and Wikipedia agrees) what Samuel Johnson says on the topic:
It is, however, necessary for the idea of perfection to be proposed, that we may have some object to which our endeavours are to be directed ; and he that is most deficient in the duties of life, makes some atonement for his faults, if he warns others against his own failings, and hinders, by the salubrity of his admonitions, the contagion of his example.
Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practise ; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.
To summarize, hypocrisy is not just failing to practice what you preach, because it is not a vice to call good things good and evil things evil. If perfect behavior were a prerequisite to preaching the word, Sacrament Meetings would be a lot shorter and our pool of missionaries would definitely be reduced. Talk about raising the bar!
No, hypocrisy is something different; it involves deception of others, not deception of self. Politics can provide some helpful illustrations. But say if I’m an alcoholic, and I talk publicly about the importance of sobriety? Probably not hypocrisy. Sorry to the shamers the world; a lot of what you’re calling hypocrisy ain’t. Maybe it’s irony, certainly there’s a karmic element in there, but we can’t (and shouldn’t) disregard it when sinners talk about right and wrong. (Even when it’s Steve.)
This all came to mind the other day when I was talking with a friend about O.U.R. Rescue. They’re a charity group (founded by Mormons, largely former military) that launch operations around the world in which their ‘jump teams’ will break into a brothel or slaver’s compound, rescue women and children sold into slavery, and free them. O.U.R. stands for Operation Underground Railroad; a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine refers to the group as the New Abolitionists. Their methods are very, very American: former Navy SEALS and other military men use weapons and tactics of war to cut through diplomatic nonsense and help people. Their operations are hazardous and (probably) expensive. They are not able to help many, many people. There are criticisms: that white dudes should not be co-opting the language of American slavery for their charity; that they’re glory hounds; that not enough attention is paid to post-rescue aftermath; that they actually may hinder international diplomatic and political efforts. But these guys, who used to kick ass in the military, are now continuing to kick ass for a good cause. If you’ve seen the Taken movies, you know that the most boring part is when Liam Neeson is making copies or getting a foot massage; when he unleashes his very particular set of skills, all seems right in the world. That’s a bit facetious but these men are trained warriors, very good at what they do, and now they are quite possibly doing more good with those skills than ever.
I digress. The particular objection was that these guys are very conservative, traditional Mormons with very conservative views on women. That they are Mormons who definitely would not be on board with female ordination, and who probably are just fine with how women get treated in their own home cultures. That some of them, on a personal level, are macho jerks who don’t treat women well. That these guys are out rescuing women from slavery in Mexico and Thailand — while ignoring the plight of women closer to home, perpetuating some of the attitudes that ultimately contribute to treating women as objects. They’re hypocrites!
Well, after mansplaining to my friend the definitional niceties found in my opening paragraphs, we talked about it and a few things came out:
Steve: I guess my reply would be that you’re onto something, but the difference in how those women are being treated is truly extreme and I have no problem getting those poor people the hell out of there.
Friend: Their group also has more of the MLM feel to it. But this time there’s that added “rescuing girls from slavery” stuff. I don’t trust it.
Steve: I agree that it seems self-aggrandizing and super macho. But holy cow, these women are being abducted and sold as sex slaves. If they really are getting them out of there, part of me is willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that they’re dicks.
Friend: I just believe there are better ways.
Steve: Yes. But nobody’s doing those things. In other words, yeah I think you are seeing the real irony that’s there, and it shouldn’t be ignored, but I also think they are doing something good, so I don’t know where that leaves it all.
Friend: And that’s life right?
Steve: pretty much. Mediocre people doing things in ways we might not like but it’s better than nothing.
I’m not going to call the O.U.R. Rescue guys hypocrites for a couple of reasons: first, they could seriously beat me up in a New York minute, and second, they’re doing good things that I cannot do. It’s like the guy in Priesthood whose opinions on Big Tent Mormonism drive me nuts but who is an excellent home teacher and great dad. I just don’t have standing (in the Civil Procedure sense) to complain. And that is how it goes a lot, I think, in any religion but especially Christianity: we are all called to the grace of God, all called to labor, and people are just going to do that work their own way and that’s that.