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.]