Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hypocrisy

Caller: I don't go to Mass anymore because I don't want to be surrounded by all those hypocrites
Mother Angelica: Don't worry; there's always room for one more


One of the most common charges leveled against Christians in our society is that they are hypocrites, because they do not always live up to their own standards. Now it is undeniable that such is true of Christians. That is fairly obvious and something to be regretted (as well as eliminated as much as possible). But granting that, one cannot help but wonder why that is regarded as a damning charge against Christians specifically, or if as it proved anything other than that Christians still struggle with the effects of original sin, which is fairly obvious. (There's a reason why one of the seven sacraments is that of confession, after all, which demands the humility to recognize our own sinfulness and need for continual conversion). In fact, is that even the best definition of hypocrisy, for that matter?  I wonder....

After all, the difficulty with maintaining that somebody who doesn't always live up to their own standards is thereby shown to be a hypocrite is this: that to do so implies a corollary that is, at best, paradoxical, and indeed many people would instinctively believe to be erroneous. For, by that definition of hypocrisy, then there is one way, and one way only, to avoid regarding oneself as a hypocrite (barring the uncomplimentary implication one has no standards whatsoever, which is even worse, and difficult to even realistically conceive of actually existing in a person, even were they to claim such to be the case). That way is by maintaining that one is utterly and absolutely perfect, and not "even like this tax collector." (Luke 18:11). In other words, in the latter case, the only way to avoid regarding yourself as a hypocrite is to embrace to the fullest extent what is commonly associated as the other chief feature of the Pharisees, pride, a smug self-satisfaction which is far more offensive than any human failing which other "hypocrites" may fall victim to.. And if one can only regard oneself as not being a hypocrite (hypocrisy being the most damning of charges in our society's eyes) by imitating the conduct of those most notorious hypocrites, the Pharisees, then I think such a definition of hypocrisy (or at least the level of condemnation associated with it by our society) is highly paradoxical, to say the least

Once you admit that you have flaws (assuming you have any humility whatsoever), then by the previous definition of hypocrisy, you are a hypocrite, because you fail to live up to your own standard. (The very fact that you admit to having flaws means you both have a standard whereby you can recognize them to be flaws, and that you also recognize you fail to live up to such a standard, resulting in such flaws). But if that makes you a hypocrite, then why is hypocrisy regarded as perhaps the chief sin of our society, committed by the most offensive of people,  since anyone who is not a Pharisee is a hypocrite? (though some of us are so paradoxical as to suggest that the charge of hypocrisy is better applied to the Pharisees than people who, being human, struggle to live up to their own standards, especially when the standards they set for themselves are extremely high in the first place, not wanting to simply earn cheap ribbons, so to speak.)

Or perhaps I have just answered my own question. Perhaps because our society is filled with Pharisees. And they do not even see it. They are blind to their own "hypocricy" (as they define the term when applying it to Christians).Well, Jesus did call the original Pharisees blind...I suppose some things never change. After all, Christians who are admittedly hypocrites in the sense discussed above are hardly unique in being so, to put it mildly. But many of them do, however, seem to be unique in admitting to it. At least, they are honest about their own failings, much more so than their critics. 

In short, he who is without hypocrisy in the sense discussed above, let him cast the first stone. There is indeed a sense in which the above definition of hypocrisy is legitimate, but only in the sense in which it would apply to every single one of us.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Counter-cultural or Independent

One of the things that I have a hard time comprehending is how many people wish to be "counter-cultural" as an end in and of itself. That one should be counter-cultural insofar as the culture is messed up goes without saying, of course. As a Catholic, for instance, I am in that sense very counter-cultural obviously. But in that case, my being counter-cultural is a result of the ends I am pursuing, and not an end in and of itself. I am pursuing what I believe to be the good, and as a consequence, I will be counter-cultural to a very large degree (certainly in matters of morality). But I don't start by aiming to be counter-cultural; I have a different end in view. Which brings me back to my original point. What is the point of being "counter-cultural" for its own sake?

Is it simply to be "different"? But why does one wish to be "different" for its own sake? To be honest, that strikes of a snobbish and elitist attitude. For instance, take one aspect of being counter-cultural: scorning conventions. While convention is not necessarily virtuous in itself, of course (since there are some "conventions" one should reject in any given society for independent reasons), at least convention in the abstract  has this one great merit: it is democratic. One who has respect for conventions as a general rule is, in that sense at least, not taking a snobbish attitude towards fellow human beings, making himself greater than he really is. ("Hey, look at me! I'm different from all those other common people!") Again, I am far from denying there can be legitimate reasons in which one would resist conventions, reasons that do not partake of this attitude in the least respect. If the conventions are in error in some respect, for instance. But far too often that is not the reason for scorning conventions. Or, again, to take another example, in matters of taste, if you simply naturally have an independent taste (say in music), then there is no reason to to try to artificially like something just because it's popular. If you simply happen to like something better that may not be as popular and also less well-known, then that is perfectly legitimate. But the reverse is also true, which seems to be forgotten by many. You shouldn't artificially dislike something because it's popular and trying to be "counter-cultural". Paradoxical as it may seem to some, being counter-cultural in that sense eliminates your individuality, because it eliminates your independence.

Which brings me to another problem I have with being "counter-cultural" for its own sake. To do so is to exchange independence for slavery. After all, it matters little whether your slavery is determined by forcing yourself to like something because it is popular, or forcing yourself to dislike something because it is popular. It's still slavery, because it does not allow room for independent taste (in those areas that are matters of taste, of course). To give an example from my own life, I dislike a lot of popular music today simply because I do not like it naturally. But it's not a result of my trying to be "different". And, indeed, a lot of music that I do like tends to be popular as well. (With one exception, I don't know the music of a lot of more obscure artists, for instance). That's because I'm not trying to be different for its own sake, but judging the music I listen to whether or not I like it naturally. If I like it, I like it. If I don't, I don't. Fairly simple principle. I retain my independence, and hence have my own individuality (albeit without losing my democratic sympathies) But one who aims at being counter-cultural as an end in itself does not enjoy such independence, or, to the extent they do, it is only because they are in that respect ceasing to be counter-cultural as an end in itself.

In any case, those are my thoughts I've had rambling around in my head for a while, and which I wanted to finally get written down. No doubt I didn't explain myself all that well (especially as I was in a hurry), so I might have expressed myself in an inadequate manner, but....