Finding Peace with Your Inner Hypocrite
“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world”
Very few people are unfamiliar with John Lennon’s classic“Imagine.” John was a peace activist, feminist, megaphone for the redemptive power of love, and insufferable prick.
By his own admission, Lennon was violent and neglectful during his first marriage and he was a terrible father to their son, Julian.
“Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world, but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces—no communication, adultery, divorce? You can’t do it, not if you’re being true and honest with yourself.”—Julian Lennon
He was a tyrant, a misogynist, part-time alcoholic who left his second wife, Yoko, for a “lost weekend” that lasted eighteen months.
He’s remembered by the world as a humanitarian and revolutionary.
He’s remembered by those closest to him as a tortured and conflicted soul who believed passionately in ideals he never entirely internalized.
Embracing our inner hypocrite
The initial reason that I started considering Christianity years ago wasn’t because I had some huge revelation about Jesus. I recognized something in its story that I recognized in myself. I identify with Lennon’s struggle to exemplify the ideals you promote—and his inability to do so.
I don’t know a single person who completely lives up to their values. There’s a hole at the center of all us where the goodness seems to leak out, and because of this, Christianity’s narrative of a fallen humanity resonates with me.
The divine part of me aspires to the highest ideals of my faith. I strive, and stretch, and pull myself toward the light; I long to give expression to the Spirit within me, but often find myself walking through the desolation of little compromise and enormous mistakes. Crimes of passion. Words I should have left unsaid.
As painful as it is, I take solace in the fact that we’re all in the same place. We’re all struggling to right our capsizing vessels. . . and I am forever grateful that when I fall, I fall into the arms grace.
My biggest fear is that Jesus means it when he says:
“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”—Matt. 7:2
When I’m honest with myself, I know that I wink at my inability to be as good as I would like and demand judgement on others for the same sin. I’m the fellow who’s been forgiven an unimaginable debt but is willing to shiv you for $20. (Matt. 18:21-35)
Does failure make you a hypocrite?
We call people out for their hypocrisy pretty quickly, but we don’t really understand the word. When Jesus labeled the Pharisees as hypocrites (Matt. 23), he used the term hupokrités—a Greek term for an actor. A hypocrite is one who plays a role. One who hides behind a mask.
Because we demonize failure, we manufacture hypocrites.
Part of the reason we have so many hypocrites in the church is because we persecute those who don’t get with the program. Since its much easier to look good than it is to be good, we teach each other to play roles. Because we demonize failure, we manufacture hypocrites.
Sometimes we say one thing with every intention of doing another—this is hypocrisy. Sometimes we talk about the virtues of community when we just want to be left alone—this is humanity.
I don’t naturally do the things I know are best. I may talk a big game about the power of love but I lash out at the people closest to me. I may feel strongly about philanthropy and play a losing game with my own greediness.
This is typically fine and expected from people . . . until they start being a mouthpiece for love, altruism, and peace. Once you go public with your belief that “all you need is love,” you’re on shaky ground because, eventually, your inability to live up to it will catch up with you. You’re going to be called a hypocrite. . . and who knows? You just might be. You could also just be a fallible person. You’re probably both. God knows I am.
But if only the people who loved perfectly were allowed to proclaim our need for love, no one would speak of love again.
The congruity of Ayn Rand
If you never want to be accused of being a hypocrite, you should embrace Ayn Rand. Her philosophical system placed self-interest above any other consideration. One could champion Objectivism and never suffer the indignity of being called a charlatan.
If you find personal fulfillment in being kind, great! If you feel kindness is a sign of weakness that should only be offered in exchange for goods or services, that’s fine, too.
You can accuse Rand of a lot of things, but never hypocrisy. Her personal philosophy was built on deciding on the virtues you chose to embrace and embracing them fully until they no longer work for you.
The problem with Christianity is that the virtues we long to embrace originate from outside of ourselves. We recognize their goodness, but our spirits are still being formed to fully personify them. This puts us all in the awkward and unenviable position of extolling qualities we don’t possess.
The thing that I take comfort in is the fact that I can recognize the value of these virtues by the presence of my conflicting passions:
- I long to love because I fear my never-ending self promotion
- I eschew violence in spite of this constant desire to see my enemies suffer
- I embrace community despite my natural bent toward isolation
- I champion equality knowing how badly I long for primacy
- I talk of charity when I recognize my avarice
I hear a lot about different groups not living up to the progressive views they espouse. I can only speak for myself when I say, “You’re right! You are absolutely right!” I believe in ideals much higher than my own natural tendencies. My views are often much more on point than my behavior is . . . and I say this to my shame.
I am a disgraceful mouthpiece for the love of God.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t call out people who say one thing and do another. It becomes way too easy to live a life that isn’t fully integrated, and it doesn’t take too long before folks become too comfortable living in discord with their values.
It’s one thing to stumble and fail; it’s quite another to lead lives of duplicity. And if we’re not careful, the former (without restoration) easily become the latter.
We need others to love us into integrity. We need people who care enough about us (and those we influence) to warn us and coax us back onto the proper path. But there’s a huge difference between helping someone get to the place they need to be, and “putting them in their place.”
We need to be better about being open to criticism in order to recognize truths before it’s too late. Eventually the duplicitous person forgets that the other persona even exists and their restoration from hypocrisy can only come after a hard, and often shameful fall. It’s in everyone’s best interest that it happen sooner and gentler rather than later with much more damage and fallout.
On some level, I guess we’re all hypocrites and pretenders . . . but I think that some us are moving to a place where those warring parts of our character are becoming more and more integrated—conformed to the character of Christ.