I was interviewed on Nightwatch Radio Tuesday evening. Todd and Hugh and Johnny and I had a great time talking about monsters and movies and comic books. Eventually, the subject of religion came up. After all, I am a Christian and my Christian fiction book, “The 12th Demon” was the subject of the interview. I found it interesting to hear the usual attitudes towards average “Christians” from Todd. And, I can’t blame him! That reputation is well earned. Todd was very gracious in his comments and I had to agree with him. As a Southern Baptist, I can talk about Southern Baptists. But, my comments on today’s blog go beyond my denomination to all denominations of the Christian church.
You see, the accusations that are always aimed at us are universally recognized. They are represented by such words as judgmental, arrogant, holy roller, Bible thumper, and so on and so on until the “H” word is finally uttered. HYPOCRITE! As an apologist, one who defends the truthfulness of the Christian faith, I can’t possibly count all of the times I have heard the number one objection to someone becoming a Christian: “All of you Christians are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites!”
I’m in the middle of examining the teachings of a simple carpenter; focusing on his words of wisdom and trying not to focus on his “religious” claims. As I stated in earlier posts, no matter what our station in life I think we can all agree that these teachings of Jesus of Nazareth can be applied to every human being. And, the world would be a much better place if we did. So, just what is a hypocrite? Here is a definition of hypocrisy:
“the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French ypocrisie, via ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek hupokrisis ‘acting of a theatrical part,’ from hupokrinesthai ‘play a part, pretend,’”
Anyone who claims to have certain moral standards OR to adhere to certain beliefs and then acts in the opposite manner is a hypocrite. Interesting. Nowhere in that definition does it say: “A person professing Christianity who acts in a manner contrary to the teachings of Christ.”
Although I would certainly say that the above statement would be consistent with a hypocrite, hypocrisy is NOT CONFINED to religion. In fact, I would claim that every single human being on the face of the planet is a hypocrite. We all espouse a high system of behavior or beliefs but we routinely violate those principles with our actions. A simple example would be the claim that I do not lie. Yet, when my wife asks me “Does this dress make me look fat?” I wisely choose to be a hypocrite rather than to become a fool!
What did Jesus have to say about this? Or did he even address it? After all, he was a religious person. And, in the minds of most people if you are religious then by default you are a hypocrite. Was Jesus a hypocrite? Let’s see what Jesus had to say as recorded by his disciple Matthew.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”
On and on, Jesus used the word, hypocrite. And, here is what is interesting. Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders of the day! He was calling them hypocrites because their behavior and their religious claims were totally at odds. In fact, it was because of these kind of statements that angered the religious leaders that contributed to his death.
It would be very easy to apply these teachings to those of us who practice religion in the 21st century. But, I believe the lessons of Jesus of Nazareth cut both ways. In fact, I would say that his accusations of religious hypocrisy also could apply to our behavior towards one another in general. Look at the specific truth in each of the above statements:
First, we crave recognition for actions that should best be kept to ourselves. When we pray, it should not be for recognition but a private affair between us and God. When we give to those in need, it should not be for recognition but because it is the right thing to do.
Second, we want to tell someone what they “should” do but we fail to stop and look at our own behavior first. What set of circumstances gives us the right to tell others what they should be doing? Frankly, we should practice what we preach!
Third, we set up rules and regulations, just as the Pharisees did, and then follow them to the letter disregarding the necessity for us to ALSO show mercy and forgiveness. Rules are important but never more important than the needs of the one person they are going to hurt or destroy.
Fourth, on the outside, we often appear perfect, polished, poised, collected, in control but more often than not inside we are dying. We are often the walking dead; filled with regret, shame, doubt, fear, suppressed anger, and the like. This one category alone describes almost all of us and we are all hypocrites in this respect. What if we lived in a world where we were honest about our faults and our doubts and our shortcomings? What if we lived in a world where we truly had to rely on each other to get through the day? What if we lived in the kind of world that Jesus longed for us to have — a world of mutual respect, kindness, mercy, openness, giving, and compassion?
Fifth, you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate these realities. In fact, when we call other people hypocrites, we are ourselves becoming a hypocrite, setting ourselves up as morally superior when in fact, through our judgmental, arrogant attitudes we have just become a hypocrite!
This Christmas season, let’s listen to the teachings of Christ. Let’s look at each other through his eyes and see the person within that may be hurting or in need of just a little love and compassion. That could be the greatest gift we could give to someone this holiday season!