Quit! You Hypocrite!

I was talking to the boss a few weeks ago and as usual, the conversation was riveting. That is the church-boss-guy, not the Big Guy Upstairs. Church-boss-guy, on his many polymathic travels, once sat through a post-grad course taught by the recently disgraced American Evangelical minister, Ted Haggard.

Allegedly, Haggard was an exceptional communicator and a very gifted teacher. He also had a lot of very valuable things to say about church unity that influence church-boss-guy to this day. When Neuro and I heard reports about a leading Christian leader being exposed on the radio we were on holidays and we kept missing who it was. The news reporters kept saying he was the leading light of evangelicalism so we worried it was Bill Hybels or Tim Keller or John Piper. We didn’t know who Ted Haggard was. That is the first key thing to learn from this shambles of a disaster. If you rely on media reporting to understand Christianity at all, nevermind a narrow corner of it like American Evangelical Christianity, then you are on for a hiding even worse than if you rely on media reporting for your grasp of physics. A BBC reporter comes to report the story as carefully as she can but she has no experience of the huge world she has stepped into and she can’t tell crap from gold. If the crap makes a better story then she is not wrong to report it. But Haggard wasn’t the leader of American evangelicalism. What he was, was an influential political lobbyist for a strange ginormous beast that seeks to represent something called “Christian Family Values” to the lawmakers of the State.

The discussion that follows from that will take forever to disentangle and for me to get clear on. But suffice to say that overall, I think that political movement is a parasite on the back of Christianity which cannot be authentic if it is cosying up with the powers that be in that manner. But its for another day.

What I want to address from the Haggard debacle is the nature of hypocrisy. Everyone called him a hypocrite. Neuro and I shook our heads and tut-tutted and said, “such hypocrisy” under our breath. Imagine that if you will. Imagine that green hill of moral superiority under the bright shining sun that we were perched upon. We look at home there, don’t we? It doesn’t surprise you that we would end up in that position, does it?

Well you’re judging us now! YOU HYPOCRITE! So shut up!!!

The best comment I found on Haggard was from a theological journal called First Things where Robert Miller wrote brilliantly about how he finds the desire amongst Christians to distance themselves from Haggard morally perilous. Rather than slink away, he argues, we should be standing beside him. Amen to that! It seems so obvious but it doesn’t appear to be what is happening. (Of course for all we know there might be a circle of concerned and passionate friends guiding Haggard right now, indeed the letter suggests there are).

But Miller also argues that Haggard is not a hypocrite. I was going to write a Zoomtard about this 4 weeks ago but I had to stop and think about it. Back then this seemed like a reasonable argument. Here is what he says.

A man is not a hypocrite because he violates a moral norm in which he sincerely believes. President Clinton, I am sure, believes that adultery is wrong, and he violated the norm against it in his dalliance with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky; but this made him an adulterer, not a hypocrite.

An example of a real hypocrite is the acclaimed novelist German Grass who has spent his life calling for NAZI criminals to be chased down but it turns out he willingly joined the SS. This is a perfect description of hypocrisy. Miller defines it thus:

The hypocrite pretends to accept and live by one set of values when, in fact, he accepts and lives by quite different ones… the corporate executive who cultivates a reputation for honesty and lectures the business community on ethical issues but meanwhile engages in a scheme of financial fraud over many years, hoping to keep his ill-gotten gains when he retires to Bimini. Such people pretend to live in accordance with values that they do not hold and have no desire to hold. Their whole lives are lies, lies about what they think the human good is. That species of lying is hypocrisy.

Someone who says one thing and does another is not a hypocrite. He or she is a sinner. That is all we really do- we set levels of behaviour for ourselves and others and then we proceed to miss them entirely. I work for a church. I spend a lot of my life talking to God, (or an empty room), thinking about God (or a clever idea I made up) and figuring out ways to explain it to other people. A part of this is to say things like, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before people, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Then I go and buy a pair of [Red] Converse and wear them boldly with my Make Trade Fair t-shirt. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite. It makes me a badly dressed bad teacher.

I think Miller is right. To use “hypocrite” so broadly as to mean anytime anyone fails to meet their own standards, then in a very real way you can address everyone at all times with the moniker “Hypocrite”. Defining hypocrisy so that any apparent contradiction in the internal logic of a person’s ethics qualifies them for it makes hypocrite mean the same as sinner. Instead, hypocrisy is a very specific and particularly virulent expression of sin. I am certainly a hypocrite, but not because I wear my Coldplay-endorsed garments while preaching on the Sermon on the Mount. The true nature of my hypocrisy, like Gunter Grass’ hypocrisy is likely to never be seen by even you, my beloved internets.

But then I got to thinking about Haggard. He spent a lot of his time organising a political movement that sought to ban the civil rights of homosexuals to develop state-acknowledged monogomous relationships. Meanwhile, he saw a gay prostitute over a prolonged period of time. This seems to me to be a classic and clear-cut case of capital H Hypocrisy. In the apology letter that I link to above, Haggard writes about his internal battle with homosexuality. There are a number of worrying things in the letter, including a very low view of “the assassin within”, an emphasis on church members continuing to give money to the church and a request to forgive the man who outed him (why would we need to forgive him for bringing the light into darkness??). To dwell on them would make this a very different website so I will just send you to the JollyBlogger who will teach you about grace.

Two important links to make, both Gallic-inspired. The first is a regular call out, “props” if you will, for France A Million, the astoundingly readable blog you should spend the next 15 minutes procrastinating over. Also, my little brother, who should really have a blog like Zoomtard but where he sings hymns to economics instead of theology, linked me to musicovery, a French site that takes last.fm and pandora and does what you always wanted but never had the gall to dream of. (See what I did there, gall and Gaul…) It is web radio for the future. Unlike France, which mostly is a country for the past.

Your Correspondent, Can’t keep his eyes on the prize.

11 Responses to “Quit! You Hypocrite!”

  1. babette says:

    I thought everything Grass wrote about Nazi Germany was a weak, auto-flagellating effort at atonement for sins he didn’t fully understand, committed at a very confusing time. Wrong again, obviously. Hypocrite it is.

  2. zoomtard says:

    You know more than me. You big literate know-it-all.

  3. babette says:

    Maybe. But I’m afraid of your wife.

  4. zoomtard says:

    I don’t know how fear (is the appropriate word not “awe”?) of my wife affects your superior insight into the goings-on in the literary scene of Germany but I am sure you know. And I am happy to trust that.

  5. babette says:

    I meant how in a literate-off she would own my ass. I apologise. My answer was idiotic. I want to change my last answer, please. You call me a big literate know-it-all again, and I say something about the pot calling the kettle a big literary hypocrite. That is all. Goodbye.

  6. zoomtard says:

    Thank you for your contribution, as self effacing as it was. Of course, you and I both know your little reticence ruse won’t work. We read your blog. We know of your prowress. We know you can bring the literary references that will have all the other nerds running to Wikipedia to catch up.

    I am just glad no one has had a go at my flawed logic yet…

  7. Amy says:

    Been watching your blog for awhile now, came here via squid blog…
    Intriguing, funnny & perplexing. Keep up the furious thinking!!!!

  8. Zoomtard, if we were going to call your ass on your flawed logic, we’d be here all day. It’s illogical to even consider the question that has been begged.

    Straw man!

  9. zoomtard says:

    Thanks Amy. I really appreciate the comment.

    David; Invalid ANALOGY!!!

  10. Man, that joke is like that time I was in hospital.

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