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23 January 2008


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Wow, what a topic - A great topic, which requires thought. A few initial ones...

A large part of the problem, I think, lies in the definition of a hypocrite. It is the easiest charge to make against another person, and people who actually try to believe something (e.g. religious people) are particularly subject to this kind of psychological critique. The only way to completely avoid the charge of hypocrisy is to give all you have to the poor and devote your life to God and the service of humanity. But then again, if you secretly resent it or occasionally wish for something different, are you a hypocrite? Clearly, we are in the tall grass, here. In the end, then, the whole world is full of hypocrites - every one of us. But, that is not the test of moral character. You mention that money and moral effort are limited - very true. Respond according to your moral instincts. Your moral instinct is just like training in any other field - eventually you develop a sense of how things work, which often operates below the surface. If you train your moral sense by frequent and honest examination of your conscience, then you will do the right thing. It may not be the best, but it will be good, and it will be enough.

So, don't worry about the charge of hypocrisy - after all, in the time you spend worrying about whether you're a hypocrite, you could instead be doing any number of things that could be directly morally productive. Don't be a hypocrite by wasting time worrying about hypocrisy. :) Just train your conscience, try to live by it, and remember that God is merciful.


My favorite bit of writing about hypocrisy appears in Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age, in which a neo-Victorian character explains to an amused interlocutor how it was that "back in the day" when relativism ruled, the only possible sin was hypocrisy. Found most of the quote at the link below:

"You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices…It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticise others-after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism? Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticize others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticize another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behavior-you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy."

(at the link http://www.boxxet.com/Neal_Stephenson/Neil_Stephenson_on_Hypocrisy.12o0zs.d )


BTW, I'm glad to get some feedback on the idea that moral effort is limited. In one sense it's not -- because we can keep improving our characters such that it's less and less difficult to figure out our priorities, and easier and easier to make sacrifices that honor those priorities. Basically, the idea is to get closer and closer to perfection throughout life, hopefully attaining it at the end of all things.

But at any given time in your life/point on your journey/whatever, there is only so much you can do on top of the obligations you already have proper to your state in life. AT least that's my theory. The question is -- is this a cop-out?

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