I recently received a copy of Russell Rathbun’s new book nuChristian, a response to 2007’s unChristian. I really appreciated his thoughts on hypocrisy. Of course, any poll will tell you that the general public finds Christians to be hypocritical. Rathbun helpfully describes hypocrisy in a broader way than the narrow “holier than thou” definition we usually consider. Rathbun says hypocrisy is “the inability to evaluate oneself accurately, to see oneself honestly” (page 29). Basically, we want to believe that we are better than we really are. This might be more prevalent among people of faith who have a stake in looking holy, but I’d argue along with Rathbun that this is something all of us do. It’s almost a requirement in our culture to maintain an “image” and to manage it, whether you’re a politician, pastor or business person.
This is such an interesting dynamic to me. In one way, it is helpful to cast yourself in a better light and try to live into it. It gives you something to shoot for, it helps you find a higher place to stand. When you grow, it’s often because you have demanded something more of yourself. But hypocrisy is born out of an assumption that you stand somewhere higher than you actually do, without recognizing the real distance between the two. In the former, you create a gap between where you are and where you want to be so that you can find a bridge. In hypocrisy, you don’t feel any bridge is necessary.
It’s often been said that Americans are quick to forgive someone if they ask for it. We don’t mind that people mess up. We only mind when they pretend they don’t. But there is a hypocrisy even to requests for forgiveness if it is not asked after truly evaluating yourself accurately. To be honest, I have found most every political “apology” to be the kind that is done not to seek true amends but to repair a tarnished image. It’s hard to see any authentic realization that a bridge is needed; a new ad campaign is.
It takes an incredible amount of courage to evaluate yourself honestly, and I think this is one of the many reasons faith communities are important. We need people to tell us when we are lying to ourselves, because left to our own devices, our hypocrisy can be staggering.