Ethical Jujitsu: Making Hypocrisy Work For You (2)

In my last post I discussed how hypocrisy has become our culture’s unforgivable sin, and in fact perhaps the only sin that most people are still willing to recognize. Making Christians and other moral people feel hypocritical is a key part of Satan’s strategy for disrupting public discourse about ethics, the strategy that Chuck Colson calls a “Spiral of Silence. Satan uses a good person’s desire to avoid hypocrisy to try to silence such a person on moral matters. As we found last time, the “Hypocrisy Argument” is usually fallacious. Sadly, this fact does not diminish its effect, which is largely emotional in nature. In fact, if a person has significant feelings of guilt or shame, the Hypocrisy Argument is often quite sufficient to prevent the person from participating in any meaningful moral dialogue, even if the dialogue and guilt feelings pertain to separate moral issues. How can we avoid being silenced about moral issues, especially when each of us is sinful? Is there a balance between being truly hypocritical on one hand, and being completely silent about moral issues on the other?

I have good news for you – the answer is yes, there is a balance between these two extremes, and in fact there are ways of using our culture’s peculiar fascination with hypocrisy to your advantage and to the advantage of God’s kingdom. Here are five steps to help you find that balance and avoid being silenced by feelings of guilt, shame, and hypocrisy.

  1. Appeal to an objective standard. If you can consistently appeal to a solid and objective moral standard, then that helps make the moral issue you wish to discuss bigger than just your own opinions and judgment. In other words, you will not be hypocritical because of mere prejudice. In order for this to really work, however, you must be willing to submit yourself to that same objective standard.
  2. Accept (and remind yourself) that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Having a healthy sense of your own sinfulness encourages both humility in yourself and an appreciation for how harmful sin can be. Humility helps to keep you from judging others hypocritically, and understanding how dangerous sin is helps to motivate you to speak out when you see a moral situation in need of the light of clear moral reasoning.
  3. Live a pure life! Of course pure living has its own rewards, but the more you live your life in obedience to Jesus and the teachings of the Bible, the less open you make yourself to legitimate application of the label “hypocrite.” This will also make you less subject to feelings of guilt and shame, further weakening the emotional power of the Hypocrisy Argument. If you fail, accept Jesus’ forgiveness, forget what is behind you, and press on towards the goal!
  4. Recognize that being silent when you know you should speak out is itself somewhat hypocritical, and suggests that you don’t really believe in your own moral position. That only breeds more hypocrisy and more silence! Thus failure to speak out for fear of being hypocritical feeds the spiral of hypocrisy and silence.
  5. Take the final step and speak out on moral issues. Don’t be silenced by a guilty conscience any longer! Actually taking a step and speaking out will help in a few different ways. First, when you speak out it will cause you to remember to apply in your own life the same ethical principles you are commending to others, building an ethical awareness into your everyday life. This will help with living a pure life (step three). Second, it commits you to a specific moral position; you have gone “on the record” and will now have people holding you accountable (both friends and enemies, sometimes). Third, it may embolden other people speak out just as you have done, which will both encourage you and help ensure your progress. These others will also hold you accountable.

But please don’t stop there – don’t be content to just avoid being hypocritical yourself. Take advantage of the widespread aversion to hypocrisy. I’ve thought of three ways of doing this, but there very well might be more. First, learn to use hypocrisy as a category when discussing or debating. It is increasingly less common (especially among the younger generations) to find a strong awareness of the importance of logical consistency. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve tried to bring attention to the serious logical flaws or even complete contradictions and self-refuting statements in an opponent’s argument, only to find that they were completely unaware that such flaws utterly destroyed their argument! These same people, however, often have a tendency of identifying hypocrisy in others and of trying to avoid it themselves. Instead of saying that someone is making a logically “incoherent” argument, or explaining how they are being self-contradictory or self-defeating, point out that they are hypocritical for believing two things that conflict in such a way. They will probably be able to see your point better, and the analogy between contradiction and hypocrisy is appropriate.

The second way to take advantage of the widespread aversion to hypocrisy is by incorporating hypocrisy into an Argument from Objective Morality. If you encounter someone who rejects the existence of objective morality, they still will most likely believe that it is wrong for a person to not live by their own personal standards of morality. That means that the moral standard “Being hypocritical is bad” is a moral standard they think applies to everyone, and of course that means they really do believe in a moral standard that applies to everyone. At this point, it is probably appropriate to point out they have contradictory beliefs… er, I mean, they are being hypocritical.

The third way to harness hypocrisy is by using the Apostle Paul’s strategy in Romans 2. Paul wrote the book of Romans to both Jews and Gentiles he had never met, and consequently he faced a special challenge. The Jews, on the one hand, had the words of the Torah (the Law) and thought that they were therefore inherently closer to God. The Gentiles, on the other hand, were “without the law” and so could claim in some sense that they were off the hook. So the Jews thought Paul was “preaching to the choir,” and the Gentiles represented the hard cases. How does Paul reach both groups? Although in the first chapter of Romans Paul appeals to the general revelation of creation in what has become a pillar of natural theology, in the second chapter Paul appeals to the consciences of his readers. He points out to both Gentiles and Jews that they have all violated their own standards of right living in some way. To the Gentiles Paul says:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things…. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

And to the Jews he says:

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written.

Paul summarizes his case, “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” Hypocrisy affects everyone, and if we can’t even meet our own standards, why should we expect God to let us off the hook?

It can be frustrating to see our culture so far out of balance, denying objective morality in all of the important areas (like murder, sexuality, etc). It is critical in these times to remember that such an imbalance cuts both ways; our enemy has overcommitted, providing us with a fulcrum to leverage culture against itself. I hope that these two posts have helped encourage you to not let accusations of hypocrisy or feelings of guilt keep you from saying and doing what’s right, especially in the public arena, and I hope that you will look for ways to use our culture’s obsession with hypocrisy to further the Kingdom of God!

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