Saturday, April 07, 2007


I was listening to Dennis Prager a couple of days ago. He was interviewing Michael Rogers, a gay activist and journalist who aggressively "outs" politicians (especially those on the right) who are not supportive of gay rights in their public life. His purpose, he says, is to attack the hypocrisy of those who profess one thing but live another in their private lives.

Dennis spent a great deal of time trying to get Mr. Rogers to explain exactly what it is that most concerns him about politicians who privately practice homosexual behavior but who publicly oppose the lifestyle. In spite of continued questioning, the journalist refused to elaborate. He just kept coming back to the "great evil" of hypocrisy. At one point, Dennis asked him if there was any difference between a person who in private practices homosexual behavior but in public supports policies that are viewed as anti-gay, and the person who supports penalties for cheating but who is himself not always honest. Mr. Rogers was not willing to acknowledge that these are morally similar. I suspect that he did not want to make the admission because such hypocrisy is much more widespread, and to recognize any equivalence between the two hypocrisies would dilute his source of outrage.

And I got to thinking (how many times have I said that in this blog?). If hypocrisy is defined as behaving one way in private while being against such behavior in public then we are all guilty of hypocrisy. It is commonly recognized that people are often most adamant in their condemnation of behaviors that hit close to home. This has always been presented to me as a bad thing, but I wonder. Perhaps it is not that we are hypocrites as much as it is that we aspire to be better than we are; and we rightly recognize that many of our private behaviors are wrong. In a great many cases we even want to see them disappear from our own lives. During the time between recognizing our failures and overcoming them, we run the risk of being labeled hypocrite. But I do not think that it is hypocrisy to believe that everyone ought to behave better than we actually do. Do we not all agree that society would be better if everyone behaved better than they actually do. We cannot define socially-acceptable behavior based on what we do. This is the flaw of moral relativism.

But you don't have to be a relativist to make this mistake. The church also misses this distinction as well, expecting that those who lead will themselves not struggle with sin. Or at least not with any sin that the leader may condemn in public. With one exception, no one has risen to this standard of flawless behavior. The story of the Bible is one of deeply flawed people who manage to continue to follow God in the very midst of their flaws. In the New Testament Paul himself admits that his struggle with sin was ongoing and frustrating. I myself expect and desire that my behavior would always be more Christ-like and good than it actually is. But my sins are not any less wrong just because you or anyone else may struggle with them as well. And lately, I have learned that I have enough to do worrying about myself, and have little time remaining to worry about so-called "hypocrisy" in others.

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