The Hypocrisy Problem

Anyone who has tried to pass on the Gospel, be it in the classroom, in the home, or every day life, has encountered the hypocrisy problem.

We are calling people to goodness and holiness.  Yet most of us are keenly aware of how we lack those qualities.

Who are we to tell people how to live when we are not living as we should?  And let’s admit, one of the biggest impediments people have to entering into the faith is their experience of Christians not living as they should.

So what are we to do?

Here are some things to remember.

1.  We must stop being hypocrites.

We know that we will never be perfect, so it is tempting to simply throw up our hands and let it go.  But that is not our calling.  We are called to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.  The reason for this is that our lives may be the only Gospel some people will ever read.

Whether we know it or not, all Christians are teachings others who Christ is by our words and actions.  We cannot become complacent.  We must face our imperfections head on and with humility.  It is a strong temptation to excuse our little vices like laziness and temper if we counterbalance them with all of the work we do for the Lord.

But it doesn’t work like that.  Some people are looking for any excuse to dismiss the compelling call of Christ.  If they see that He has not transformed you from your old ways, you may be cutting off a possible encounter with Him.

2.  Ad Hominems do not disprove the teaching.

An Ad Hominem attack is where you go after your opponent personally rather than attacking their argument.  This is a common tactic seen in politics all over the world.  But it is what we call in logic, a material fallacy.

Even if the person making the argument has some great personal defect, it does not disprove their point (unless the argument revolves around character itself).  For example, a drug addict can tell you that drugs are bad.  The fact that this person is hypocritically using drugs does not make his statement untrue.  If someone calls you out for being a sinner, it does not therefore mean that the Gospel message you were giving was untrue.

(But for safety’s sake, be sure to go back to lesson 1.)

3.  Knowledge and Action are separate things.

I once had a student say to me, “No offense,” (which always means they are about to say something they think is offensive), “but if you are such a big sinner why should I ever listen to you about morals?”  Below is a paraphrase of the dialog we had.

Me:  Are you an athlete?

Student: Yes.

Me: What do you play?

Student: Basketball.

Me: Do you have a coach?

Student: Yes.

Me:  Is he a good coach?

Student: What do you mean?

Me: Does he teach you good strategy and skills, like how to shoot an accurate three-pointer?

Student:  Yes.

Me:  Who is in better shape?  You or your coach?

Student.  I am, I guess.

Me:  So if you had a three-point shooting competition, who would win?

Student: Me.

Me:  So your coach can’t shoot three-pointers as well as you?

Student: Probably not.

Me:  So you don’t listen to him about anything regarding basketball because you are better at it than him, right?

Student: No, he may not be better than me, but he knows how things should be and he tells me how to do it.

Me:  Exactly.

We know what is right and wrong.  That is not difficult to figure out.  And even when we don’t execute our moral duty correctly, we still know what ethics are necessary to achieve salvation.

(But for safety’s sake, be sure to go back to lesson 1.)

4.  You are not preaching about yourself.

The big problem with a lot of philosophers and self-help gurus is that they are trying to get others to emulate their own lives.  If a relationship expert gets divorced or a financial advisor goes bankrupt, it makes sense that we should be skeptical of their advice.  Their teachings are about themselves.

But we are not preaching about ourselves.  We are preaching about Jesus Christ.  Unless you are already a holy saint like Paul, we should not say as he did, “Be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)  We are not trying to bring people closer to ourselves.  We are trying to bring them closer to Christ.

I once had a student who left my school.  Before she did, she said, “You’re, like, my hero.”  Rather than having my ego inflated, I was suddenly taken up with a sense of overwhelming responsibility.  I said, “I hope I never let you down.”  But the reality is that I will, if I have not already.  I screw up.  I fail. I fall short.

But that isn’t Christ.  Christ does not screw up.  Christ does not fail.  Christ does not fall short.

My job as a Christian is not to hold myself up as a model.  I must be John the Baptist who said of Christ, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  (John 3:30)  We must get out of the way so that our sins do not become obstacles to the faith of others.  And if they come to know Christ, then our sinful failings should not be as big of a stumbling block to them.

(But for safety’s sake, be sure to go back to lesson 1.)

Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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