Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hypocrisy vs. Openly Bad Acting

In our culture, as well as in the biblical record, there is something especially wrong with being a hypocrite. Saying one thing and doing another, or presenting yourself as one way (usually favorable) while acting privately another way (usually less favorable) is typically considered to be especially bad. This is, I think, correct (since I am a Christian, and a Bible-believing one, no less!).

In fact, we often hear complaints about other people tempered with addendums like, “Well, at least she isn’t lying about who she is,” or “He may be a total jerk, but at least he never pretends to like anyone,” etc. In fact, virtually no matter how poorly a person may act, lacking hypocrisy seems to count as some kind of virtue, even for these bad actors.

Yet, intuitively, and definitely biblically, there is something wrong about a total lack of shame. That is, there is something wrong with one who would openly do evil and not care about the consequences. Here there almost seems to be an inconsistency on the surface; on the one hand, we should not be hypocrites, because hypocrisy is an especially bad sin. On the other, we have biblical texts condemning evildoers for openly oppressing the poor, disregarding God’s law, etc. In fact, it is their opennessin evildoing that seems to be cause for an extra portion of condemnation. So which is it? Should we not be hypocrites or hide our evil?

The quick answer is, of course, we should simply avoid evil altogether. That would ease the tension quite easily. Of course, the result here is evildoers aren’t exactly exempted when they lack hypocrisy. There is another route we could take, and I hinted at it earlier: shame. Or rather, in this case, shamelessness.

People in our culture are often shameless when it comes to traditional or biblical morality.[1]This shamelessness means they do not have a sensitive enough conscience or sense of moral guilt such that they know their deeds are evil. Or, in another sense: they know; they just don’t care. One can think of someone who thinks God exists, but simply shakes his fist at God and exclaims, “I hate you!” Such a person is not to be commended for not having hypocrisy, but instead should be reprimanded for such shameless behavior before a holy and good God. Acting “with shame” would be a moral recognition of the wrongness of the action, as opposed to pretending one is good (though obviously acting with shame can easily lead to hypocrisy). Our culture tends to extol shamelessness (to a certain extent—shame is the tactic used for addressing certain cultural taboos, both in older times as well as contemporary ones).

So we can see the tension can be resolved: being a hypocrite is bad, and so is shamelessness. It is not a virtue to avoid being a hypocrite by being shameless.

[1]By “often” I simply mean that it is not uncommon.

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