Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Hypocrite's Hypocrite

A lady reading a magazine with a picture of the conservative Dr. Laura Schlessinger on its cover was asked about the story. "It says Dr. Laura doesn't practice what she preaches" was the reply. This raises a question, does this lady or the author of the article live up to any kind of standard? The truth is that both might just as guilty of the same sort of hypocrisy for no one really lives their lives without some sort of standard.

The problem arises because Dr. Laura, a self proclaimed Jew, holds up a Judeo Christian standard of morality. But if the foundations of the charges of hypocrisy are analyzed, Christians may actually be the least culpable, and their accusers the most. How can this be?

First, consider that without a standard from which to measure, the word hypocrite is meaningless. Christians not only point to an objective set of moral standards that apply to everyone, they also point out that all fall short of those same standards. So let's consider the Christian standards. But let's not stop there but also examine the standards held by those who are quick to accuse Christians of hypocrisy. The charge cuts both ways.

The starting point of Christianity is the admission of the fallenness and depravity of all mankind, including self. It points to a God who cannot be both just and merciful. God's wrath puts all of mankind in a position of condemnation before Him. But his mercy provides an escape. As an aside, it is in recognizing this that we begin to understand the ire of those who are vehemently opposed to Christianity and relish in debasing it. Who, after all, likes being confronted with the truth that they are condemned?

But this is also why the good news is good news. So, that said, not only does the Christian agree with God that he has fallen short of God's standards, but he also acknowledges his failures before man. That said, anyone who accuses Christians of hypocrisy are actually a little late to the party.

Secondly, what of the standards held by those quick with the Christians-are-hypocrites accusations, and how do they fair in holding to their standards? They have their standards too you know. This is proved by the fact that accusations are being made. If one has no standard then there is nothing for another person to fall short of, and no reason to accuse.

The fact is that no one has no standard. In the same way that it is judgemental to judge someone as being judgemental, it is also hypocritical to judge someone as being hypocritical if the person making the judgement has fallen short of his own standards. And no one has not fallen short of his own standards, no matter what those standards might be. So, in one sense, all people except Christians are hypocrites. Of course I don't buy that. There are clearly glaring Christian hypocrites.

It seems to be a common thing in these acrimonious times for accusations of "does not practice what he preaches". Although such charges may be true, it is also true that the one making them is making them from a position of self-righteousness. In the end it is just as important to realize that everyone has standards to fall short of as it is that all fall short of standards. The teachings of Christianity embrace this reality. The fact that the accusers do not raises the question of who is the more authentic hypocrite?

13 comments:

Susan said...

Your writing always amazes and blesses me!!!!! I am so glad to see a post from you. Been missing that, Danny.

I hope you know how much you and Kathy are in our hearts and minds each and every day.

Jeremy D. Troxler said...

Dan,

"...who is the more authentic hypocrite."

Nice. I was thinking on reading your post about the notion of justified hypocrisy (actually having a standard and trying your very best to meet it, but failing because you aren't perfect). You're on the money with followers of Christ being in this number.

The sticky part and what is devestating to the gospel, unfortunately, is that people do not always look at the gospel message, or Jesus, initially. They look at us. It is a fearful thing to know that how we live, how we communicate, how we respond in blog comments, is being scrutinized by people who may have no standards of their own, but know enough of what Christians teach to see when we are being disingenuous to our own teaching.

I feel like I have said a thousand times "you can't judge a belief system by its abuses" recently, but it is still a devestating blow to the gospel message and a charge that should give us all pause to pray for integrity and consistancy in our walk, so that no one can bring a charge against us.

Thanks for the post, and keep defending the truth and exposing really bad thinking.

By the way, have you ever heard Francis Schaeffer's "Mark of the Christian" (that title may not be exactly right). He does a great job in talking about the issue of non-believers pointing out faults with believer's lives and how to properly repond even to non-Christians who see those flaws. Very challenging.

Stan said...

Danny, good stuff.

Jeremy: "I was thinking on reading your post about the notion of justified hypocrisy."

What we have here is a failure to define. Hypocrisy is to pretend to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually possess. The starting point of the Christian faith is "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." In other words, woven throughout Christianity is this ongoing problem that we are not the virtuous, moral people we ought (nay, need) to be and we are constantly in need of a Savior. In other words, the fundamental premise of Christianity undercuts hypocrisy because it makes no claim to virtues we don't have.

As an example, when I told my sons, "Don't have sex until you get married" even though I had made that very mistake in my youth, it wasn't hypocrisy. It was from the perspective of "It's bad for you ... trust me, I know." Some would label me a hypocrite, but that's because they don't understand that admitting that I don't have the virtues I espouse makes hypocrisy impossible.

ExPatMatt said...

Dan,

It was my understanding that, when non-Christians accuse Christians of being hypocrites, they do so based on the Christian's self-professed standard.

I guess this happens specifically because Christians claim to have found 'The Truth' and an objective and absolute standard of morality that they claim to follow and adhere to. The charge of 'hypocrite' comes when a Christian fails to live up to the standard he sets himself.

Now, if non-Christians were being reasonable, they would be aware that the standard that Christians hold themselves to is one that they cannot ever meet and that they get by via Grace, not works (did I get that right?!) and so, for the most part, calling 'hypocrite' on a Christian is a useless and often mean gesture.

However, I would say that if a staunch anti-homosexuality preacher gets caught with a gay rent-boy then the term hypocrite is fairly applicable by the dictionary standard alone, right?

Hypocrisy is rife on all sides purely because the way we'd like to be is almost always a pale imitation of what we actually are. Sad but true.

Good post (and I feel like I may have misinterpreted some of it, so feel free to set me straight if I've missed the point)

Cheers,

Jeremy D. Troxler said...

Stan (and in a way Matt?),

I suppose we'll have to be logical and bring truth into the equation won't we. It's sort of like an alcoholic telling someone not to abuse alcohol because it will ruin your life. You wouldn't reject him out of hand just because he happened to be an alcoholic (whether he was a recovering alcoholic or not). It seems that hypocrisy can become something of an ad hominem or a fallacy of the genetic type in that we can look at the person, or the source of the message and overlook whether what is being said is actually true or false.

I didn't really specify the totality of my thoughts there, but that's where I was going. What I was rolling around in my brain was someone who claimed to be a Christian but did nothing Christian-like but did tell biblical truths in chiding someone else who was behaving badly. They would be justified by saying things that were true, albeit from a hypocritical standpoint because they were claiming to be something they weren't.

At that point it would be a matter of whether the person actually was a Christian. Uh-oh..and I depart.

Dan said...

Susan, Thank you so much for your king words.

Jeremy, It breaks my heart when I see true Christians fall. Not only because of what it does in destroying the image of Christ, but also in the absolute war that must have been being waged in the heart before his secrets sins finally found him out.

I often point this out however. Having come to the faith late in life I can still remember well how I viewed Christians and their hypocrisy. They were people I loved to hate in a general sense because I never saw past their failings to their claims. But deep down I knew deep down that I didn't want their claims to be true, and every failure that I saw gave me hope that it wasn't, for the reality that their claims might be true was much to heavy a burden to bear.

Also, perhaps more importantly, I knew deep in my heart that everyone who claimed to be a Christian wasn't. Those worshiping money on TV and also those hanging out with me and doing the things I did didn't really bother me so much. I'll never forget how pathetic a guy sounded as he told me, while we were out on a lake skying and getting drunk, how he knew Jesus died for his sins. Not two months later he moved in with his girlfriend. I knew he didn't take his supposed beliefs seriously.

And I'd also spend Saturday nights in the bar with many of them drinking and chasing women knowing that they would get up the next morning and go to church. It was the ones who actually lived out their faith that ended up haunting me because I knew they were somehow different. Dennis Prager also drives this point home when he asks his listeners: "if your car has broken down in a bad part of town, and five young men were walking toward you, would you not be relived to know they had just left a Bible Study? I am convinced that the world knows this to be true also: that not everyone who claims to follow Christ does. I think that they also know that not every Christian who stumbles and falls in this life, even in grand ways, is not not a Christian. It is my thinking that for the most antagonistic accusers of hypocrisy, their accusations are similar to whistling in the dark cemetery.

I have read Mark Of A Christian, (I should read it again) and have even recommended it. It is a convicting book, and sadly one that I fall short of. There is also another book that I would recommend, not because of its emergent like theology, but because it does a fair job of bringing to our attention the importance of our behavior as Christians, a behavior I often fall short of. I spoke of these things in this post written a while back.

Dan said...

Matt

"However, I would say that if a staunch anti-homosexuality preacher gets caught with a gay rent-boy then the term hypocrite is fairly applicable by the dictionary standard alone, right?"

Absolutely. He quintessentially deserves the title. But the title ultimately is about him and not about the validity of his claims, anymore than Al Gore's life of hypocrisy is about the validity of his claims. It does cause one to ponder if they, as preachers of such claims, really believe them themselves, which brings me to the point of this post, which was not a defense of Christians, really, as much as it was an attempt to point out that Christians have not cornered the market on hypocrisy; that unless someone has no standard, which I don't believe such a person exists, that accusations of hypocrisy such as the one I mentioned at the beginning of the article are themselves hypocritical. By the way, that article, unlike Al Gore and the rent-boy, was bringing up something that happened earlier in Schlessinger's life which does not, I believe, qualify as hypocrisy. Not that I think that Schlessinger is not a hypocrite at some level. After all, she does espouse a standard.

BTW, I havn't seen anything from you on my Google reader. Have you stopped posting?

christian soldier said...

I have recently chosen the type of individuals that I trust-
they are honest about short-comings..they do not have to state their short-comings-
just do not tell me that they have none!
Thanks for letting me vent :-)
C-CS

Z said...

what an excellent discussion and post, thanks SO much.
I loved that line of Prager's, it's so true. I often say "The down side of Christianity, if it ISN'T true, is that you've lived a much better and more fulfilling life!" You can trust people coming from a Bible study,you just CAN.

Thanks very much...

Craig and Heather said...

Dan,

This post caused me to more carefully consider what I claim to believe and how I present myself to others. The old adage "actions speak louder than words" comes to mind.



I often say "The down side of Christianity, if it ISN'T true, is that you've lived a much better and more fulfilling life!"

Hm.

I think I know what you meant, but I'm not sure if Paul would quite agree with that statement...

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:19-20


And really, I think "pitiful" is how atheists do tend to view (real) Christians who actually practice Christ-like, selfless love for others. Even if they feel uncomfortable, as Dan described, the lack of eternal perspective prevents an unbeliever from being able to see beyond the natural realm.
When one holds to the belief that you only go around once and then cease to exist, it makes sense to do whatever works to bring temporal happiness--and possibly do something "good" by which to preserve a memorial in the minds of those who come after.



Just a thought.

Heather

Dan said...

C.S.- That didn't sound like a vent at all.

Z-Speaking of Prager, I've been listening to him some this morning and he is discussing this very subject.

Heather-there seems to be no end, as I look at my own life, to the improvements I could make to better represent the "good news", of which I am an ambassador. I often remind myself of this very thing.

Joe said...

Dynamite post and discussion! I only just discovered that you were posting again.

Dan said...

Hi Joe, good to hear from you.