The Nature of Hypocrisy, Or…How do you know I’m a badass?

From Salt by Isabel Zuber (North Carolina author):

She was quivering now, felt her hat shaking on her head in spite of its pin. Men were sitting there pious and in judgement who she knew for a fact had plotted murder as a mob, perhaps one who had done or would do a killing. And maybe the arsonist who had burnt down the first church on this very spot. Making and drinking whiskey were nothing to them, nor fornication either, but a man must be sure of his legal seed, musn’t he? She remained standing, would stand there till she got to speak. Would stand till hell froze over. Where was the man at fault? Probably right there in the church this minute. And he wouldn’t say a mumbling word, nor take any of the blame. [Picador, New York. 2002.  p.200]

What is hypocrisy? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th edition) defines it like this (I did have the word “thusly” there, but then I decided that was waaaaaaay too pretentious):

1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.2. An act or instance of such falseness.

As a wordsmith, I believe that the smallest nuance of word usage is imperative to the meaning, and so I reject this definition for this reason – I truly believe that hypocrites do possess the beliefs or feelings that they profess, and that they do believe that they have the virtues.

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that “a sense of moral superiority can lead to unethical acts, such as cheating” (Bryner, Jeanna. Do-gooders can become the worst cheats. 2007). Folks with a “moral identity” –who say, perhaps, “I am honest,” “I am chaste,” or even “I do the will of God” –are more extreme in their behaviors…

“So it makes sense that this principle would help explain what makes the greatest of saints and the foulest of hypocrites.” – Scott Reynolds of the University of Washington Business School in Seattle (quoted in Bryner article).

So in the excerpt from Salt, the men sitting in judgement really do believe that adultery is wrong. They believe that people should not have sex outside of marriage. They believe that the Bible says those who engage in adulterous behaviors should be stoned and that since the Bible said it, it is a commanded truth.

But they also believe that Eve led to the downfall of man, and that anytime since if a man does wrong, the woman is to blame. And they believe that men have needs and sometimes fall because of them, but that it’s okay because if God really had a problem with it, he wouldn’t give them those urges. They believe that women have only wants, and no decent woman would have wants like that, so if she allows him to do what God has not stopped him from doing, it is because the devil is driving her to lead him into sin. He believes that if no one knows then it didn’t happen. He believes that sinning is okay, because trying not to sin is trying to be Jesus and is arrogant, and since the Bible says everyone sins it would be conceited of him to try not to. He believes anything, anything that allows him to act in the manner he wants to while keeping his place in the community, his standing in the eyes of others, and his peace of mind.

I wonder, often, at how some of the people I know can handle the massive amounts of strain their brains must be subjected to, as they constantly try to overlay their knowledge of their actual self with that of the self they are illusioned enough to believe they have. How much does it cost you to lie to yourself all the time? What happens if you wake up one night and you can see your true self? How do you stop yourself from collapsing into fragments at your own feet?

And I wondered that before I ever read that article. I didn’t need a study to tell me that self-proclaiming moral people are the most judgemental, back-stabbing, dangerous group of folks you can find. I studied the crusades. I read The Crucible. I saw The Diary of Anne Frank. I was here on 9/11. I remember the Bakers, the Swaggarts, Haggard, Latham, Spitzer, Reker, Thurmond. (I’m not including the more liberal scandals on that list, before you ask, because conservatives expect that type of behavior out of them anyway and shouldn’t act so betrayed when they are proved right –we are talking about hypocrites here, not those who aren’t any better than they have to be.)

 Sad though I am to say it, being a church-going Christian myself, the people I am most wary of are those who talk about God the most — no matter which god they are talking about. Christian, Muslim, pagan, Hindu –it doesn’t matter. Once they start raising their hands and ranting, once that fire gets in their eyes, once they turn on the declarations of affirmation, I freak out.

I’ve always believed that the more you proclaim something, the less you have of it. 

How do you know I’m a badass? Because I don’t have to tell you that I am a hair’s-breath away from smacking you at any given second.

How do I know you are a good person? Because I see it in the way you treat people, in what you give, and in the humility with which you serve.

When I say “proclaim,” I’m not speaking here of private, intimate conversations one-on-one or in small groups. Not talking about discussions or forums where everyone is interested in the topic. I don’t mean taking the chance to let someone in on the your truth because you see they need it or want it.

No, by proclaim I mean the more disruptive. Certain Facebook posts. The mass emails. The opinionated blogs (almost like this one-but wait for the end of the paragraph). The odd conversations in the break room at work. Any proclamation that is loud, obnoxious, and says, when you strip away the fancy language on top – “Look at me. God loves me. I do what I’m supposed to. I am going to heaven. I’m not that sure about you.”

No, I don’t hold to the American Heritage Dictionary definition at all. Hypocrites believe in themselves, in their righteousness, and in the rightness of their condemnation of others. No, the definition I believe in is this one, from Collin’s English Dictionary:

1. the practice of professing standards, beliefs, etc., contrary to one’s real character or actual behaviour, esp the pretence of virtue and piety

This definition allows for the fact that hypocrites do not really see their “real character or actual behavior.” They are blind to the fact that they are lying to themselves. They are not brave enough or smart enough to really confront their own behavior and to try to change it before calling out their brothers. Or they are blinded by the power they have and the reflection of themselves shining bright in the eyes of the ass-kissers they surround themselves with.

In the end, I fear for their eternal soul more than I do for that of an honest sinner.

 

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~ by gypsyjonga on September 14, 2010.

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