Writing about the teaching of Jesus on hypocrisy from Matthew 6, Monsignor Charles Pope explains that hypocrisy covers far more than what might initially come to mind: Hypocrisy Is More Than We Usually Think. An analysis of Jesus’ teaching on hypocrisy in Matthew 6
Msgr. Pope defines hypocrisy thusly:
In effect Jesus describes hypocrisy as the sad state of a person who reduces himself to being an actor on a stage because he does not know God the Father. There are many people who live their life in a desperate search for human approval and applause. They discern their dignity and worth not from God (who is in effect a stranger to them) but from what other human beings think of them. They are willing to adapt themselves often in dramatic ways to win approval. They are willing to play many roles and wear many masks to give the audience what they want. They are like actors on a stage who seek applause or perhaps laughter and approval.
There is far more involved than merely this, however. Msgr Pope writes:
This happens to a person who does not know God the Father. The great tragedy of many lives is that they do not know the Father. They may know ABOUT God, but they do not personally know God or his love for them. God is at best a benevolent stranger who runs the universe but he is in some remote heaven and the interaction that many have with him is vague and abstract. God exists but he is on the periphery of life. In effect he is a stranger.
Those who know me may be surprised to learn that I spent a good part of the beginning of my life in such a ‘sad state’ as Msgr. Pope describes. Because I was not close to God and did not really know Him, I allowed others to play the role that God should play in one’s life. My dignity and worth, I wrongly believed, was based on what other human beings deemed it to be. As a result, I was quite terrified by the idea of saying what I really think and believe about things. Also, my self-esteem was practically non-existent. On one level, it may have been good that I did not speak my mind since I was not a particularly enlightened individual, but my reasoning for not speaking out — fear of disapproval — was flawed.
It’s not that I wanted necessarily to be popular. Basic approval was enough to get that superficial satisfaction I desired, but if you live in a culture or sub-culture in which most people do not allow God to rule over their lives — people who will not allow God to shape their judgment of things — you place yourself in a very dangerous situation indeed when you allow those human beings authority to mold you into their form. Not only that, it’s an exercise in futility as you will never receive the absolutely unconditional love from any of them that is truly found only in God. He is at the center of your life whether you recognize it or not, and ceding to an unGodly society the authority to form you into the person you are to become is an exercise that leads ultimately to self-destruction. God has created you to be someone holy and pleasing to Him. That person is the “real” you and that is the person He intends for you to become as you walk with Him.
Msgr. Pope writes:
Adults too will often compromise core principles in order to fit in and be liked, gain promotions or earn access. Christians will hide their faith, playing the role of a secular modern in order to win approval. Some will act deceitfully to please a boss, others will gossip or engage in any number of sinful behaviors to ingratiate themselves to a group.
I see many examples of compromising and hiding on a daily basis as politicians strategically align themselves on issues in order to gain the approval of voters, but all people at some time or another, myself included, have experienced the temptation to conform to the views of the majority or, at least, to the views of those people we choose to surround ourselves with.
Msgr. Pope rightly notes the remedy for hypocrisy:
[T]o the degree that we begin to experience God the Father’s love for us, his providence and his good will toward us, then we become less concerned with what others think. We begin to come down off the stage and be less concerned for the approval of men and more focused on and then satisfied with the approval of God.
Experiencing God’s love for me did cause such a transformation in me as Msgr. Pope describes. When I found God and opened my heart to Him, it was no longer the approval of others that I sought. The fear of the disapproval of human beings that had possessed me throughout my former life nearly vanished, though I still do err in that regard. Unfortunately, any time that you become closer to God on some level, you also immediately capture the attention of the enemy who deviously tempts you to stray again. So it has been with me. Now, though I have no fear whatsoever of speaking what I believe to be the truth, I have a new problem in learning to speak the truth in charity.
An example of my own current personal failure comes in regard to my stand against abortion. I know that abortion always kills an innocent human being and I have no fears about speaking out against it. Sometimes I let arrogance get the best of me and I am uncharitable toward those who disagree. Speaking against abortion is the right thing to do. Calling those who disagree with you ‘idiots’ is not charitable and, as such, does not serve to enlighten but rather to alienate.
By being uncharitable in such a way, you appeal to the other person’s desire to be approved by others. You effectively challenge them to give in to a fear of disapproval by another human being. It challenges them to surrender to pride. When it all boils down, people shouldn’t reject abortion because they fear being called an ‘idiot’. They should reject it because it is objectively a hideous evil that is offensive to God.
Even further, when you insult another human being in such a manner that devalues his dignity, you yourself become a tool of the enemy who rejects the dignity and worth of every human being. In other words, you embrace the same falsehood which perpetuates abortion in the first place, a falsehood which is the ultimate rejection of God’s unconditional love. You become a part of the very evil you profess to be fighting and thereby engage in hypocrisy.
There is a considerably helpful encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI which sheds even more light on these challenges. Caritas in Veritate explains the important relationship between truth and charity.
Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living. This is a matter of no small account today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence.
Truth and charity must go hand in hand at all times; never one without the other.
(Image: La Charite [Charity], painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau)