Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 19, 2007
Hypocrisy! There's enough to go around
David Suzuki and Al Gore are the latest celebrities to be accused of hypocrisy for saying one thing and doing another.
Suzuki's taken the rap for his cross-Canada tour preaching against greenhouse gas emissions while travelling in a luxury diesel-spewing bus. Then there's the matter of his huge beach-front mansion in Vancouver.
Gore's sin is to spread the environmentalist message while owning three homes, including a 10,000-square-foot, 20-room, eight-bathroom home in Nashville.
These revelations about Gore come from researcher Peter Schweizer who has written a book called Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy.
One problem is that not all hypocrisy is "liberal." There is more than enough of it to go around.
It was only a few months ago that evangelical pastor and family values crusader Ted Haggard had to admit to using illegal drugs and consorting with a male prostitute. Over the years family values advocates have taken a rough ride for their forays into hypocrisy.
Indeed, a criticism of Christians in general is that while we sit piously in church on Sundays, our actions the rest of the week do not live up to the law of love. Guilty as charged.
So, should we turn a blind eye to hypocrisy? Should we just write it all off as normal human failings into which we cannot help but fall. Not according to Jesus. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect," he advises us during the Sermon on the Mount.
Into the issue wades Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household. In a March 9 reflection for the pope and top Vatican officials, Cantalamessa says Jesus reserves his harshest criticism not for secular hypocrites, but for religious hypocrites.
In Matthew 23 - a chapter of the Gospel that gets short shrift in the Lectionary - Jesus launches a blistering tirade against "those who do not practise what they teach."
"Woe to you hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. . . .
"You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?"
Cantalamessa says the danger of hypocrisy increases as one becomes more religious. "The reason is simple: Where there is greater esteem for the values of the spirit, of piety, of virtue or even orthodoxy, there is also a greater temptation to show them off."
For the discussion of public issues, what does this mean? Total silence, except from those who are non-hypocrites - that is, probably a few monks who devote their lives to developing humility and who would probably not want to discuss public issues at all.
It should rather mean that those bold enough to enter public debate make a serious effort to walk their talk. You need not be an ascetic to discuss global warming, for example, but you should certainly strive to overcome the grossest forms of self-indulgence and environmental exploitation. If you want to promote family values, you had better not have a mistress in every port.
The rest of us too shy to enter the public forum also need to be aware that the ad hominem attack is a worthless line of argument. Even if a public spokesman on an issue turns out not to live what he or she preaches, that does not invalidate the position they advocate. Criticize the person's argument, not the person.
Finally, we must focus more on our own hypocrisies than on those of others. Cantalamessa recommends asking ourselves daily, "Have I been a hypocrite? Have I been more concerned with how people see me than with how God sees me?"
If we all asked ourselves that question regularly, we would stand a better chance of staying out of the brood of vipers.
- Glen Argan
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