Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sin vs. Hypocrisy

As you may know, around here we've modified the cliche to: "love the sinner. period." If you do some searching online about that (the original quote is actually from Gandhi)...lots of Christians have started to distance themselves from the "hate" part, thankfully.

However, one thing I do hate, and which I think we should, is Hypocrisy. That's what Jesus spent most of his time condemning.

I heard a really good sermon once about Hypocrisy. The priest said, "Many people think that hypocrisy is believing one thing but doing another. That's not hypocrisy!! That's just sin, and we're all sinners. Rather, hypocrisy involves a claim, involves professing something. Hypocrisy is not believing one thing and doing another. Instead, it is either believing one thing but professing another, or else professing one thing but doing another. Sin is just falling short of our standards, but Hypocrisy is a Lie!"

A demonstrative example might be helpful. A Christian who believes pornography is wrong but uses it anyway sometimes is not a hypocrite, he is simply a sinner; he believes one thing but does another. That's not hypocrisy: there is no false claim, even if he does publicly express his belief about the immorality of pornography. However, there are two ways a person could be a hypocrite. The first is to believe one thing but profess another; for example, he might believe pornography is wrong, but around his more secular friends might say that he thinks it is fine. The other way is to profess one thing but do another; for example, he might claim to actually not use porn in fact, even though he actually does (whether he actually believes it is immoral or not).

So there are those two types of hypocrisy: believing one thing, but professing another, and professing one thing, but doing another. In both cases, as you can see, there is dishonesty involved, a facade.

Many people call conservative politicians who oppose gay marriage and then get caught in homosexual affairs "hypocrites". I think this is often true, but it depends; it's a little more nuanced than it first seems. If the politician sincerely believes that it's wrong, and simply fell into it nonetheless...then I don't consider them hypocrites, just sinners, as we all are. On the other hand, if their homosexual behavior is indicative of the fact that they don't actually believe it is wrong, and were merely opposing it publicly to get votes...then they are a hypocrite, because they believe one thing but profess another. They could also be hypocrites if there was a public claim (which can be implicit) that they were not in fact involved in such things even though they really were. That is professing one thing, but doing another, and is also hypocrisy.

I think this distinction is an important one for us in terms of whom Jesus indicates we may rightly direct indignation against (hypocrites, but not regular sinners).

However, I bring it up specifically in the context of the facade of clerical celibacy. Many people who have contacted me recently in regards to my "Casting a Wide Net" post...seem to misunderstand my indignation over clerical celibacy being broken. I have emphasized, of course, that it's not the sin that makes me mad, I couldn't care less about that, it's the facade, the hypocrisy involved in the claim of "mandatory" celibacy.

Many people seem to interpret "hypocrisy" still as meaning, "believing one thing but doing another" and so can't understand how I reconcile this with my other belief that bishops shouldn't keep priests and seminarians on such a tight leash worrying so much about what they might do in their private lives, as long as they are effective
priests. If I was really upset at what goes on, they reason, I'd support efforts to stop such behavior.

Well, besides the fact that such efforts would be futile, the way I reconcile the two is because the hypocrisy I condemn in clerical celibacy is
not the fact that they believe one thing but do another. That I don't mind, that's just sin, and we're all sinners. What makes me indignant is that they profess one thing but do another.

Mandatory celibacy, as I discussed in that post, causes people to give priests this naive benefit-of-the-doubt, a presumption that they are actually being celibate in a way that we certainly don't for single lay Catholics (even though they are supposed to be chaste too). So there is this implicit public claim of actually following through on it attached to mandatory celibacy that makes what they do hypocrisy.

The other way some of them can be hypocrites is if they do not, in fact, believe what they're doing is wrong...and yet nevertheless agree to be part of an institution that is officially against it and involved in promoting a morality they don't themselves actually believe in. If they don't believe that fornication and vow-breaking is wrong...then condemning that from the pulpit, in the confessional, in catechism, etc...that too is hypocrisy, for it is believing one thing but professing another. And we must condemn it even if we actually agree with the thing they're publicly professing.


Michael (a seminarian) said...


Michael (same guy) said...

Being a "hypocrite," namely the "profess one thing but believe another" kind applies to liberal intellectuals just as much as it does to "hell-fire" sermon preachers. They believe in both a heaven and a hell, yes, but they only profess the latter publicly.