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Hypocrisy, Leadership, Addiction, and Free Will
By Peter Nuttall August 2, 2005

Anciently, a "hypocrite" was the Greek word for actor. In Roman times, actors, like prostitutes and gladiators, were forbidden to hold office because of their "infamy." We would let them entertain us, but we would not let them lead us. When Jesus spoke of "hypocrites," he referred to people who god-fearing people should not look to as examples, because these people did not believe what they pretended to believe:

THEN spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Jesus did not tell us to ignore or mock the messages of hypocrites. He said, if they speak with authority and truth, then do what they say, but do not follow their personal examples.

Modern popular wisdom has changed this message about "hypocrisy." According to the popular wisdom of our day, a hypocrite is anyone who appears to fail to completely live up to any of the principles and values that she advocates. Popular culture demands that we mock and reject every value and principle that any "hypocrites" as ever advocated.

Naturally, some forms of hypocrisy get more press than others. This isn't necessarily because the Press favors the left over the right. It's because conservative moral hypocrisy is generally more and salacious entertaining than the hypocrisy of the left. Newsworthiness is a slippery concept. The courts speak of newsworthiness as the people's right to know, measured by the impact that the story might have on our lives. Unfortunately, in practical terms, newsworthiness as measured of what hits the front page as opposed to getting moved to the middle or clipped out altogether to make way for the Viagra ad, has more to do with entertainment.

Consider the following two completely fictional hypothetical examples. Imagine you are a national newspaper editor, without any sort of political agenda, just trying to sell copies of your paper. The following two stories land on your desk:

1. An international association law schools, famous for its charter for academic freedom and diversity, has secretly issued a code of conduct to its member schools, which includes most of the high-ranking public and private US law schools. The association's new secret code of conduct requires member schools to keep track of all of its students and professors who have published culturally conservative opinions, and submit these names to a secret association blacklist. Member schools who bestow academic honors or tenure to anyone on the blacklist, will be put on probation dropped from the association of law schools, which will damage the school ranking. The association also hints of other unspecified action towards noncompliant schools. Three mid-ranking law schools have sent you copies of the secret policies and threatening letters that they have received from the association, and no other news organization has wind of the story.

2. A right-wing televangelist, famous for his denunciation of immoral behaviors, hosts a bisexual orgies in his chapel. The televangelist's longsuffering cuckolded wife finally decides to surreptitiously turn on the chapel cameras, and broadcasts the events live on TV from 1:34 AM, while the station is normally turned off, clear through 3:50 AM. Three bored insomniac channel surfers managed to videotape the broadcast orgy, and all three videotapes are on your desk. No other news organization has wind of the story.

Which hypocrisy story is the most newsworthy? The first story will control the constituency of future appellate and supreme courts, and has other implications regarding freedom of speech. The second story will sell more copy. Which hypocrisy story do you give higher priority to?

Right-wing and Left-wing intellectuals (the few to actually hear and understand the ramifications of the first story as well as the second) would argue endlessly whether the Right-wing Televangelist or the Left-wing association of law schools was "more hypocritical." Why does this question really matter? An omniscient loving God could look into the hearts of these people and answer that question, but I'm not even certain that God measures us against each other that way. If we could just stop playing god for a moment, and look to our own lives, shouldn't we be more concerned with the lessons that freedom of political expression and sexual virtue are good, and that secret blacklists, adultery, abuse of power, and broken promises are evil? Aren't these cases where we should follow the good things that our teachers bid us do, while refusing to "follow after their deeds?"

Dispensing with the fictional hypotheticals; let's draw an example from real life:

My best friend father, a pediatrician, died of emphysema. I heard him speak about the evils of the cigarettes that he was unable to to quit, down to his dying breath.

Is it hypocrisy for a doctor who smokes, to tell his patients that they should not smoke? I certainly think that it was wrong for him to do; I see smoking as a form of slow suicide, a sin.

Was smoking wrong according to his own world view? Yes! Even more wrong in his beliefs than in mine! As an atheist who denied the afterlife, this pediatrician believed that every puff he took brought him closer to complete oblivion. Even my own religion, with our strict prohibition of cigarettes, doesn't go that far.

But was it hypocritical for this pediatrician to advocate against smoking, in between puffs of oxygen and puffs of smoke? This is a man who loved his life, and loved the lives of others. As a doctor, he understood the consequences of the substances he was taking into his body.

I don't think so. We should pity his weakness, not condemn him or his message.

If sin did not destroy our capacity for free will, then God would not tell us to condemn it.

Cigarettes addict.

Pornography addicts.

Anger addicts. Am I a hypocrite to warn others that being angry puts us in danger of hellfire, when I myself feel its flames consuming my spirit, my friendships, and my life?

Copyright © 2005 by Peter Nuttall

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