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The Truth about Hypocrisy

The media relishes exposing disgraced conservatives, especially those who tout traditional family values. So when Republican Senator Larry Craig was arrested by an undercover police officer for lewd pinocchio_2.jpghomosexual conduct in an airport men’s room, you knew they’d be all over it.

Political scandals are becoming commonplace, and by Washington standards this one is fairly run-of-the-mill. But because of Craig’s avowed conservatism and avid opposition to the gay agenda, charges of hypocrisy are now flying.

Apart from Mr. Craig’s guilt or innocence, the response to the story — primarily the liberal response — illustrates a logical fallacy in how many approach moral and ethical indiscretion.

Most people mistakenly assume that hypocrisy automatically invalidates one’s position. Nietzsche, ever hostile to Christianity, said “If they want me to believe in their Savior. . . His followers will have to look more like men who have been saved!” — as if the facts about Christ’s life, death and resurrection are dependent upon my conduct. Christianity has survived centuries of its own idiots; thankfully, it does not require my perfection for its perpetuation.

The truth is you can’t judge the validity of any religion, philosophy or value strictly by the conduct of its adherents. There are bad Buddhists, bad vegetarians, and bad environmentalists. However, their “badness” does nothing to invalidate the ideal of their positions. Hitler was, after all, a vegetarian. Yet his inhumanity is no reason to eschew cabbage and artichokes. Likewise, the possibility that Larry Craig is a homosexual would not necessarily nullify his opposition against the lifestyle.

When the Democrats re-took the Senate, they pledged a push for improved ethics. Sounds great, right? Not long after the promise, Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson was charged with multiple counts of bribery. Question: Does Jefferson’s lack of ethics invalidate his belief, and ours, in the need for higher ethics. Absolutely not. If 203.jpgsomething is true or virtuous it should be defended, even if the one defending it is a liar.

Does this mean conduct doesn’t matter? In relation to truth, no it doesn’t. How we behave cannot alter the truth. However, truth apprehended inevitably impacts behavior. But there’s a catch: None of us perfectly embodies the values we profess. In fact, the higher standards one possesses, the more of a hypocrite they will inevitably be.

In some ways then, hypocrisy reinforces, rather than undermines, one’s beliefs. The evolutionist can hardly be slighted for acting like an ape, after all, he is one (according to him). It’s those who believe we’re more than animals who get judged by a higher law. Larry Craig is being judged by his own standards. William Jefferson is being judged by his own standards. Their hypocrisy is evidence of something ideal. If what they say is true, then they should live up to it. But the fact that they don’t says more about them, than their convictions.

If immoral actions automatically invalidate one’s ideals and principles, then we’re screwed — conservatives, liberals, environmentalists, vegetarians, all of us. Why? Because nothing worth believing can ever be fully lived up to. In this, we are all hypocrites.


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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • janet August 31, 2007, 12:15 PM

    My favorite line: Hitler was, after all, a vegetarian. Yet his inhumanity is no reason to eschew cabbage and artichokes.

    Great, great post. The heart of the Gospel is that we are sinners in need of a savior, which God has provided. If that is the focus of our message, then our screw-ups actually confirm the message. SEE? I’m a sinner!
    Yes, we strive to be Christ-like, but the truth is that we are bound to this icky sinful human nature until we reach Heaven. Maybe we need to admit THAT to the world.
    The more legalistic Christians are, the more they are bound to end up looking like (or rather being) hypocrites.
    Should our behavior validate our message? Yeah. Jesus knew people needed validation. That’s partly why He did all those miracles, right? So people would know that He was who He claimed to be.
    I’m so thankful though, that my sins (and there have been some pretty bad ones) can’t mess up the truth. So… I guess we just keep praying, seeking God, trying to be lights…

  • dayle August 31, 2007, 1:29 PM

    Who better than a recovered alcoholic to convey the dangers of drinking.

    Who better than a rehabilitated crack-addict to warn you of the dangers that wait the first-time user.

    And, who better than a cleansed sinner to tell you how wonderful it is to be forgiven and accepted by a loving God.

    As Christians, we are often mistaken for hypocrites. I’ve never told anyone that I’m better than them or that I am perfect. I’ve only relayed the standard which God expects us to STRIVE for “if we love Him.”

    We still sin. So I ask again: If a crack-addict while still under the influence tells you that first crack hit isn’t worth it. Is he a hypocrite or an expert in his field. I say listen up.

    Liz Curtis Higgs said that Howard Stern once told her she needed to clean up her life. Now that will get your attention. She cleaned up and became a Christian.


  • Nicole August 31, 2007, 1:46 PM


  • janet August 31, 2007, 3:49 PM

    Dayle, I remember Liz saying that at the conference last year. Wow. She was wonderful.

  • Heather Goodman August 31, 2007, 5:27 PM

    I agree with you in that our actions do not change the truth of Christ. However, I see Nietzche’s point. For some reason, Christ has decided to hang His reputation on us (for now, at least). As long as we depend on Him, He looks good.
    Who someone is affects what I think of their belief (although it doesn’t change the belief itself). A nonChristian looking in has us as a witness. Am I being a good representation of Christ, specifically in loving my neighbor as myself, in loving my God? That’s where I need to focus.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller August 31, 2007, 6:06 PM

    Mike, I agree with Heather. We are talking about something more than “ideals and principles” after all. We are talking about a real thing that happens when a person becomes a Christian–that “new man” thing.

    I’ll tell you, if Christians did a lot more asking for forgiveness than defending our positions, giving a lot more grace than demanding our rights, I think the attitude of society toward Christianity would not be so hostile.

    I could be wrong. Some will hate us because they hate Christ, but how sad if they hate us because we are rude, obnoxious, or two-faced.


  • Nicole August 31, 2007, 6:57 PM

    Double Amen!

  • Alayna August 31, 2007, 7:43 PM

    Is there a difference between sinning and living a sin? Was Larry caught only sinning or was he caught living a sin for a while now?

    Form: Lay Lay/ ALayna

  • Mike Duran September 1, 2007, 1:52 AM

    Thanks for all the great comments! Heather and Becky, I wanted to respond to your points about our need to be like Christ / Christlike.

    God commands us to live perfect lives, and then offers forgiveness, knowing we’ll need it. So while we’re called to an ideal standard, we will always fall short. This is the “problem” of Christlikeness — as long as we’re in these bodies, we will never perfectly embody Him.

    Does this mean we’re off the hook? No way! Scripture is clear about us striving for holiness and letting our lights shine. Scripture is equally clear that we will inevitably fall short. My point in this post is not to minimize our responsibility, but to affirm there is a higher standard, absolutely worth striving for, that none of us will ever achieve.

    I personally believe some faith traditions over-emphasize our role as witnesses (I’m probably more Reformed in this regard). God can save anyone He chooses, with or without me. Being better Christians might further our witness, but ultimately no one gets saved without Him. That I’m called to play a role in the process is part of the mystery of grace. However, it could be that my humility and honest admission of hypocrisy is as powerful a witness as is my repeated attempts at virtue.

  • Mike Duran September 1, 2007, 1:58 AM

    Alayna, do you mean: Is there a difference between a one-time sin and a lifestyle of sin? Probably yes. I can slip up, say a cuss word and ask forgiveness. But if I’m cussing all the time, there’s a deeper issue. Not only do I need forgiveness, I need to readjust my entire frame of mind. Many individual sins are the result of a lifestyle of sin, but sometimes they are spur-of-the-moment mistakes that we need to shake off and walk away from. Does that answer your question?

  • Michael Ehret September 1, 2007, 3:40 PM

    I’m no defender of Larry Craig, don’t know him or even know of him before this recent bit, but last I knew he was arrested, not convicted. After listening to the arrest recording (isn’t it rather invasive what can be made public for Fox News to post on the Web site?), his guilt seems far from assured.

    I admit I am not keeping up with this.

    But about your topic, Duran. I do agree that the truth doesn’t change based on what we (the truthtellers) do, but I also agree that our failures, and we all have them, hurt the CAUSE of Truth.

    When you’re dealing with a society that no longer recognizes (knowingly or unknowingly) truth, let alone Truth, our failures, especially these Big Ol Public Ones, only call into question IN THEIR MINDS the reality of truth/Truth.

    May God keep us all from embarrassing Him.

  • Nicole September 1, 2007, 5:57 PM

    I would agree our sins hurt the “cause” of truth. Usually, the first to point the finger at our failures are those of the world: “I thought you were supposed to be a Christian.”

    Almost like another Catch-22. They’re “relieved” we’ve demonstrated our “fallibility” but disappointed that even we can’t uphold a standard some of them secretly wish they could believe in.

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