Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who's a hypocrite?

Hypocrisy is the only sin in the liberal lexicon. But what’s a hypocrite?

Before quoting two writers who challenge the popular conception of hypocrisy, I’d like to make an observation of my own:

Both Christians and non-Christians accuse Ted Haggard of hypocrisy. However, they accuse him of hypocrisy for different reasons:

1.Christians accuse him of hypocrisy because homosexual conduct (indeed, homosexual attraction) is contrary to Christian ethics. So he was guilty of conduct contrary to his public identity as a Christian.

2.But non-Christians accused him of hypocrisy because he was having a homosexual affair while opposing same-sex marriage.

Permit me to point out that #2 is a complete non sequitur. There’s nothing illogical, and therefore, nothing hypocritical, about an active homosexual (or bisexual) who opposes same-sex marriage.

He could oppose same sex marriage on many grounds.

He may regard the very institution of marriage as an antiquated social convention. For him, the notion of adultery is a ridiculous Victorian hang-up.

After all, it’s no secret that homosexuals are generally promiscuous. Ironically, Andrew Sullivan has made homosexual promiscuity an argument for same-sex marriage.

Or he may regard marriage as a natural institution for heterosexuals, but unnatural for homosexuals.

Or he may regard the push for same-sex marriage as a degrading attempt on the part of some of his fellow sodomites to seek social validation for their lifestyle.

Or he may regard the push for same-sex marriage as a degrading attempt on the part of some of his fellow sodomites to emulate the heterosexual lifestyle.

Is a raging sodomite like Gore Vidal a hypocrite because he opposes same-sex marriage?

[Question] Is the fight for gay marriage a legitimate objective for homosexuals?

[Answer] I take the position that as "homo/heterosexual" are adjectives describing acts, they can never be nouns. No person can be homosexual or heterosexual and the division of everyone into two teams is part of a stupidity to which Americans and Brits are particularly prone. Everyone is a mixture of desires and who does what with an agreeable partner is of no concern to society. Why have "gay" marriage when so much of our discontents and disorder came from heterosexual marriage?

By William Vallicella

People like to accuse each other of hypocrisy, but I find that few bother to ask themselves what they mean by the word. The main point that needs to be made is that a hypocrite cannot be defined as a person who espouses high moral standards but fails to live up to them. For on that definition, all who espouse high moral standards would be hypocrites. Since to fall short is human, defining a hypocrite as one who fails to live up to the high standards he espouses implies that the only way to avoid hypocrisy is to renounce high moral standards, a course of action seemingly pursued by many nowadays. No one can call you a hypocrite if you have no standards, or standards that are easily satisfied.

No, a hypocrite is not one who espouses high standards and falls short of them: your humble correspondent espouses high standards, falls short of them on a daily basis, but is no hypocrite. A hypocrite is one who espouses high moral standards, but makes little or no attempt to live in accordance with them. He is one who pays ‘lip service’ to high ideals, by ‘talking the talk,’ but without ‘walking the walk.’ Someone who talks the talk, walks the walk, but stumbles a lot cannot be justly accused of hypocrisy. That’s my main point.

A second point is that there is something worse that hypocrisy, namely, having no ideals. One who pays ‘lip service’ to ideals is at least recognizing their legitimacy, their oughtness-to-be-realized. Such a person is morally superior to the one who avoids the accusation of hypocrisy by having no ideals.

Perhaps we need four categories. Saints espouse high ideals and never fail to live in accordance with them. Strivers espouse high ideals, make an honest effort to live up to them, but are subject to lapses. Hypocrites espouse high ideals, but make little or no attempt to live up to them. Scamps, being bereft of moral sense, do not even recognize high ideals.

Is a gay who opposes same-sex marriage a hypocrite?
By Dennis Prager

Being an opponent of same-sex marriage and a closet homosexual (if that is what Haggard is) has nothing to do with hypocrisy.

As defined by every dictionary I consulted, Haggard is not a hypocrite. For example, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition) defines hypocrisy as "The practice of professing beliefs, feelings or virtues that one does not hold or possess."

But we know that the Rev. Haggard never professed a belief that he did not hold. He believed at the time of his homosexual activities, and he believes now, that homosexual sex is a sin. He readily concedes that, in his view, he was sinning when he engaged in homosexual sex. He may therefore be considered a sinner, a person who acted inconsistent with his own admonitions and a poor model for a clergyman, but he is no more a hypocrite than a reverend who teaches the Ten Commandments and dishonors his mother or father, or bears false witness or even commits adultery. Hypocrisy requires a person to believe that he is the exception to the rule that he espouses for everyone else; that behavior that is wrong for others is not wrong for him.

If everyone who violates a standard he advocates is a hypocrite, the word is meaningless. And worse, it makes it impossible for just about anyone to advocate moral behavior.


  1. . . . homosexual conduct (indeed, homosexual attraction) is contrary to Christian ethics.

    I'm curious about your parenthetical. I can understand an act being considered a sin (even if I disagree about this specific act), but I don't understand this about an attraction. I've never been attracted to a person of my own sex and I couldn't imagine how I could make myself attracted to a male. I feel the same about coffee. I've always wanted to like it (it smells so good and it is a good thing to do with friends), and I've tried it several times, but I've never liked it. I can't even make myself acquire a taste for it (or, at least, I've been unsuccessful at it so far).

    If a gay person is in the same boat but as me about attraction, but it is reversed so that they are only attracted to males and cannot even "acquire a taste" for females, how is that attraction considered sin for them?

    If you were to see a huge dish of your favorite food and you desired to eat it all but refrained, would you have still sinned because of your desire to be glutonous?

  2. All very cute. But Haggard said that he opposed homosexual marriage because homosexual conduct is a sin. Presumably, he believed it to be a sin even when it involved a prostitute and crystal meth.

    When we get out of Chistianist fantasy land, Ted Haggard is like Iraq -- what happens when you deny reality.

  3. :::YAWN!!!:::

  4. But Haggard said that he opposed homosexual marriage because homosexual conduct is a sin.

    What's funny is that Steve explicitly stated this, and yet you were so quick to comment without first reading carefully.

  5. I can understand an act being considered a sin (even if I disagree about this specific act), but I don't understand this about an attraction.

    Of course, not all acts are sinful, and not all desires are sinful. But some acts and some desires are sinful.

    Sometimes the act can be good, and the desire can be good, but the level of desire makes it sinful. It is a good desire to want to be prosperous. But if this desire becomes an idolatrous craving, it is a manifestation of sin. The object of the desire itself isn't sinful, but the level and intensity of the desire make it sinful.

    But in Christian ethics some desires themselves are sinful. If I want to murder someone, even if I never do, my desire is nonetheless a sinful one.

    Similarly, if I desire something which God has forbidden (a homosexual relationship), that desire is sinful.

  6. interlocutor said:
    I can understand an act being considered a sin (even if I disagree about this specific act), but I don't understand this about an attraction.

    I won't speak for Steve, but I'll give you my answer for that. Sin goes beyond simply actions. Sins occur internally far more often than externally.

    This is demonstrated even in the 10 Commandments. While Commandments 1-9 can be seen as external behavior, there is nothing but the internal in coveting. How do you "act" covetous? Answer: you don't; it's your mental state.

    Jesus covered the same idea when He said that the man who lusts in his heart has committed adultery.

    All the external behavior sins that we have are likewise condemned when we out of our evil nature wish to do them. And this is really not that difficult to think of philosophically.

    Since I think the idea of homosexuality is one you disagree with, let me use a different moral notion to explain the concept; then, even if you disagree with the idea that homosexuality is wrong, you will still be able to understand why it is true that IF it is wrong, so is the mental aspect of it. Let us consider murder:

    We know that if someone kills another person, he is a murderer. He is rightly condemned as an evil person. Suppose, however, someone does not actually act toward another. Instead, he harbors feelings of hatred toward this other person. This hatred is so intense that the man wants nothing but ill for the object of his hatred, yet he is afraid of the consequences he would receive if he actually did murder this person he so desperately hates.

    Is such a person good? Would a good person really harbor such evil thoughts toward another person in his mind?

    Or put it another way: we know that the source of evil actions comes from evil thoughts. Do evil thoughts come from a good nature, or do evil thoughts come from an evil nature?

    The person who thinks evil thoughts has some aspect of evil within his heart. Even if he is disciplined enough not to act on those thoughts, the thoughts cannot be deemed good! Were he to carry out such thoughts, his behavior would be evil; thus, so too are his thoughts. Now, it is certainly good that he restrains himself from acting on those thoughts, but that does not make those thoughts he has restrained into good thoughts! Those evil thoughts remain evil thoughts, and they are evil whether he acts or not.

    Now, if it is indeed the case that homosexuality is evil, then the desire to engage in homosexual activities is likewise evil--even if the person who has the desire refrains from committing the behavior.

    A couple of side notes. A) In the human legal system, our thoughts cannot (and should not) be prosecuted since our thoughts are internal and other men have no access to them. We can only judge by what a person does--we are not privy to what he thinks. God, however, is; and as such, when God is the judge your thoughts would be laid bare before Him too. B) While it is evil to think evil thoughts, it is more evil to commit the evil actions. God Himself indicates that certain sins are worse than others, both in the fact that the punishments for sins vary and in the fact that He has indicated that the torments of Hell will be different (for instance, when he says it would be better for Soddom and Ghomorra on the day of judgment than for the various cities Christ taught in). Therefore, if one thinks an evil thought, he should not say, "Oh well, I've already thought it so I might as well do it since it's all the same anyway." Instead, the proper response is to recognize that an evil thought is an evil thought, keep yourself from worsening the situation, and turn to your Advocate, trusting in Him for God's mercy.

  7. Stricly speaking, Haggard would be a hypocrite on this issue if he opposed same-sex marriage but secretly supported same-sex marriage by (say) giving money to a pro-SSM group.

  8. Calvindude,

    Do you consider the "denial of self" a virtue?

    The virtue of self-denial (if you agree that it is a virtue) is that one is attracted to a "wrong" thing, but refuses to indulge in that wrong thing, and this is counted as a virtue.

    For instance, you might want to gluttonously eat a whole tray full of [insert your favorite, naughty food here], but you exercise self-denial and only have a reasonable portion. Or, someone does something to harm you and you instantly feel anger towards that person and want to inflict harm on him or her, but you exercise self-denial and do not seek revenge.

    I tend to think that someone who practices self-denial is virtuous.

    So, assume (for the sake of this argument) that homosexual sex is sinful. Someone who refrains from homosexual sex when they are sexually attracted to people of the same sex seems to be acting virtuously, yet you would disagree.


    I realize that I used the word "desire" in my analogy of food, but I'm not sure it is completely synonymous (call it a weakness in English or in my vocabulary).

    Say that you are married and that you are at the grocery store and a beautiful woman is standing in front of you. You are sexually attracted to her immediately. This attraction wasn't an action. You didn't stop and think, "Okay, now I'm going to allow myself to be sexually attracted to this woman." It just happened. You refrain from saying anything to her and even look another direction so that she is not in your sight. Was that attraction sin? Weren't you acting virtuously by turning your attention away?

    If it is virtuous to deny particular attractions, how can it be that the particular attraction is an act of sin?

  9. interlocutor asked:
    Do you consider the "denial of self" a virtue?

    "The denial of self" is not a virtue simply for being "the denail of self." Whether it is virtuous to deny oneself depends on other issues.

    So, if you would give a homeless person shelter and you live by the maxim that you must deny yourself, this would most certainly not be a virtue. If you would stop yourself from killing another person, that specific action would be virtuous.

    However, this is where your argument falls apart. I am not saying that a person cannot have conflicting values. This is why I specifically said: "Even if he is disciplined enough not to act on those thoughts, the thoughts cannot be deemed good!" (emphasis added).

    So, getting to the meat of your argument:
    So, assume (for the sake of this argument) that homosexual sex is sinful. Someone who refrains from homosexual sex when they are sexually attracted to people of the same sex seems to be acting virtuously, yet you would disagree.

    The man is virtuous in restraining himself but he is not virtuous in having the original thoughts.

    Now humanistically, since we do not have access to the internal thoughts of another, we judge all moral behavior simply on the aspect of what a person does. As such, humanly, we would say that a person who refrains from acting out on an evil impulse is virtuous.

    But consider yourself for a moment (as you are the only one who has access to your own thoughts). Let's keep it simple and avoid the excess baggage brought along with the homosexuality argument for the moment. I assume you are generally opposed to harming others except in matters of self-defense. If a person cuts you off in traffic and your only thought is to ram your car into his bumper, drag him out of his car and beat him to a pulp, you know that this thought violates your idea of morality. You don't act out on this thought.

    Now, ask yourself a simple question: would a truly good person even think such a thought? What is the source for these ideas, even if you do not act on them? Can they possibly come from something good within you?

    I think the answer is obvious that they cannot. These thoughts come from a "dark" place within you. Thoughts like this would never come from a virtuous soul. The virtuous person would think virtuous thoughts too, not merely engage in virtuous actions.

    Now again, I am not advocating that we should just do whatever our thoughts dictate without imposing discipline on our evil nature. After all, it is better for everyone else if you are a hypocrite and think evil thoughts without doing them than to be consistent in thinking evil thoughts and doing them. But your virtuous self-restraint in no way mitigates against the evil that spawned the original thought in the first place.