If you believe everything you read in Social Media or the newspapers, you will know that Christians and politicians have a virtual monopoly on hypocrisy. They say one thing and do another; they pose as good and generous folk, while leading deeply selfish lives; they are, indeed, play-acting (the word has tortuous origins, coming to us from ecclesiastical Latin via Old French, but its roots may be found in the Greek hupokrisis ‘acting of a theatrical part,’ from hupokrinesthai ‘play a part, pretend,’ from hupo ‘under’ + krinein ‘decide, judge.’). I wonder, at least about the monopoly part.
This morning I read that Sue Perkins has had to give up using Twitter for the time being because of the storm of abuse and threats she has received from people who don’t like the fact that she is the front-runner to replace Jeremy Clarkson on ‘Top Gear’. One even went so far as to express the desire (more properly, threat) that she’d burn to death. What do the authors of such tweets think they are doing? Are they the same people who rage and rant about the injustices they perceive in other areas of life? I know that if I post a prayer intention for x, someone will rubbish it, suggest that y is more worthy of prayer (as though God couldn’t cope with both) or use it as an opportunity to air a grievance (real or imaginary) or attack someone else. The sheer violence encountered in Social Media ought to concern us all because it both echoes and, I think, contributes to the violence we see convulsing the Middle East and parts of Africa — because it is not just violence, it is hypocritical violence.
We are, rightly, concerned about the violence and destruction perpetrated by IS and its allies, but I don’t think we have given sufficient thought to the causes of that violence. We can trace a very awkward course back through history — the Iraq War, the British Mandate in Palestine, etc, etc — and see that what now alarms and distresses us has its roots in the mistakes of the past, some of them so far back that the average British person (whose knowledge of history is, at best, partial) will not have a clue why others are so incensed.
The truth is, most of us cannot admit, even to ourselves, that we are not quite as nice or kind as we’d like to be, and our forebears were no better than we are. So, we blame others for our own shortcomings and the fact that the world is not as we’d like it to be. We rather enjoyed Clarkson’s blokishness, so we blame Sue Perkins for the fact that we won’t be seeing Clarkson on ‘Top Gear’ any more (never mind that Clarkson’s conduct might have had more to do with it than Perkins’, the logic of hypocrisy is unassailable). We see the horrors suffered by those who have fallen into the grips of IS, so we condemn Islamist extremism without acknowledging that we, or our forebears, may have had something to do with it. We accuse our politicians of lacking integrity/practising deception while conveniently ignoring little pockets of untruth or bad behaviour in ourselves.
The problem with hypocrisy is that it grows and grows until, at last, we cannot recognize truth in any shape or form. We begin to believe our own lie. That is the real danger. It is no wonder that the only people Jesus condemns outright in the gospel are the hypocrites. Time for a little self-examination perhaps?