The Really Big Show of "Morality"

Published originally as an answer to the following question for Vox Populi 15:

2. When you observe a religious person acting in a hypocritical fashion, what does it make you feel or think about? HYPOCRISY.mp3


I feel a combination of amusement and sadness, because what hypocrisy does is essentially to turn morality into a show. And I think humans do this generally, because morality is simply an agreed upon set of rules and regulations. The fun comes in when we put on a big show of demonstrating to others that we are following such rules. That helps keep most people from breaking the rules through peer pressure. But in such a system, the incentive for cheating is almost overwhelming. If a person can successfully pretend that they are following a moral system, while at the same time, actually not following it, it confers the maximum advantage. As George Burns famously said about sincerity, “if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

To sum up, I think hypocrisy is fundamental to the human condition just as other forms of deception are fundamental. Deception and cheating have strong evolutionary support. They have shown themselves to be highly adaptive over time. So much so, that many people are unaware that they are even doing it. When Christians act immorally, they are simply acting as we all often do. They just make more of a show about denying their transgressions than most others. And they are the first to notice and point out the flaws they see in of the rest of us. This, to me, makes their own inevitable moral compromises that much harder to stomach.

[UPDATE: For an object lesson of this principle, see the recent arrest report of Mel Gibson for drunk driving–where he is revealed to be a foul-mouthed anti-semite. Gibson has been a fundamentalist Catholic for years. He staunchly denied all accusations of anti-semitism when he made his blockbuster film “The Passion of the Christ.” But now his true beliefs have been revealed to all the world.]

Comments (4 comments)

Francois Tremblay / August 1st, 2006, 5:43 am / #1

After thinking about this some more, I think I really like your point on how morality is used as a show. I’ll have to think about that.

Matt / August 1st, 2006, 8:37 am / #2

But Sean, didn’t you know? All he has to do is say a few ‘hail Mary’s’, and he can go on hating Jews all he wants.

I seriously can’t stand this bastard, he’s right up there with Tom Cruise for pure lunatic idiocy.


thebizofknowledge / August 11th, 2006, 3:07 pm / #3

I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. No one is or should be excusing Gibson’s behavior and his deplorable comments. But the man should be encouraged to do something constructive to make reparation for the harm he’s done.

albinofrog15 / December 8th, 2010, 11:56 pm / #4

I just found this article in surfing the web, if I may jump in for a brief moment: this piece seems rather self-serving and (not unsurprisingly) close-minded to the fundamental possibilities of morality.

When I observe a 'religious' person acting hypocritically, I must say I think precisely the same thing as when I see a 'non-religious' person acting with hypocrisy. You're assertion here is incomplete and hasty, overall quite cynical and unrealistic—but this tends to be the case when one presumes to generalize humanity.

'Religious' and 'non-religious' people alike hold themselves to some sort of a moral code, even if their code just happens to agree with remaining within the bounds of law only, or only restricting use of illegal drugs while freely practicing an open sexual lifestyle. Even some people think that it is morally permissible to kill and torture other humans; we call them either insane or overly dangerous, and incarcerate them.

With this understanding and grasp of morality, the only difference between 'religious' people and 'non-religious' people is that the 'religious' people cling to a written and traditional code of their religion, whereas someone outside of the structure of religion has no previous historical or cultural structure to follow except for their surrounding secular culture and their own personal "moral" preferences.

To sum it up, when Christians act hypocritically, they are behaving according to the desires of their flesh (just as is claimed in their Bible); the defining difference is when a Christian repents of their mistakes (as continued as they may be), and receives gracious forgiveness. The trouble with this is that repentance is a matter of the heart and honest regret, not just words; that leaves this process between the Christian and God, not a single soul otherwise.

Any 'christian' who can't practice what they preach and fails to admit their transgressions as mistakes with humility brings a bad name, sure: so don't generalize. There are Christians and there are 'christians'.

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