A common reason given by non-Christians for their lack of faith is the hypocrisy of actual Christians. Christians, of course, preach a high (some would say impossibly high) moral standard, one that forbids excessive drinking, swearing, gambling, adultery, and perhaps even dancing. Christians are commanded to love their neighbors as they love themselves and are generally supposed to emulate our great and perfect Savior. And yet, as Christians are real human beings who are infected with the plague of Original Sin, Christians cannot live up to their own standard. We preach one thing and do another. All of us. On a very regular basis. It’s simply the reality of a perfect standard set before imperfect people. So, we’re easy targets if and when someone wants to label us hypocrites.
But any reasonable person who studies Christian theology for ten minutes will realize that hypocrisy is not a problem for Christians. In fact, it was assumed by the Christian when he/she became a Christian! From what else would someone need to be saved if not their own hypocrisy? All Christians – by definition – place themselves at the mercy of God, of a crucified savior who lived a perfect life and died a perfect death so the perfect standard could be reached by Christ for us. So yes, the Christian preaches a moral standard that he himself will be unable to attain. That may very well make him a hypocrite. Then again, no sincere Christian ever said moral perfection was possible, even if it is our goal.
Granted, there are many who wear their faith and their good and evil works on their sleeves, and all the world can see that the Christians aren’t practicing what they preach. I agree with critics who suggest that Christians should try to live what they believe, and shame on those Christians who believe faith is a license to take advantage of others. I just don’t agree with critics who assume we can perfectly live out what we believe. So long as the Christian is repentant for his falling short, that falling short is just part and parcel of the Christian life.
But if we really wanted to fight fire with fire, it isn’t hard to throw the hypocrisy grenade back over the fence. The truth is that most non-believers are if you just peak underneath the surface. For what is a hypocrite except someone who holds to a high standard, and yet is unable to execute it perfectly? To what standard does the non-believer hold himself? It can’t be transcendent revelation for they have already denied that. Is it some vague talk about the ideals of humanism? Well, whatever it is, I can assure you, they aren’t living up to it. Or they arbitrarily define their moral standard so it always accommodates them right where they are. As the old Church Lady would say, “How conveeeeeeenient.”
For example, Christians are often told they are foolish for believing in things they don’t see. But agnostics and atheists must believe in evolution, which is un-seeable by definition. (I’m not arguing against evolution, per se, here, but simply saying it can’t be observed.) Non-believers will cite the brutality of the Old Testament as an indication that Christians don’t honor life. And yet atheists will regularly advocate the “pro choice” position in the abortion debate. Non-believers will lift up the standard virtues of our day: tolerance, diversity, and freedom. But when believers want to express themselves, they are shouted down.
The reality is that a non-believer has no transcendent moral standard to which he can appeal. Therefore, he simply cannot judge Christians for being good, bad, hypocritical, or anything else. Because all he possesses is a circular chain of reason that points to nothing external, but only back to his own mind. And when they do reveal what their standards are, they will either be high enough for us to throw the hypocrisy charge right back at them, or so low that they will never appeal to anyone who has a good relationship with their own conscience.
More important than hitting back at others for their shortcomings (which is also expected on the Christian worldview), is our reminding the world that one can only be a hypocrite if one holds oneself to a high standard. I ask you: what kind of world would you rather fight for?
- One in which high standards are lifted before us so that, even when we fail to reach them, we have created a much better world?
- One in which no standards can even be known and it’s a moral free-for-all.
Option 2 is the world we now have, and if you can’t see the lack of clear morality in film, music and art, you are not paying attention. Telling Christians that they are hypocrites is just a way to silence them. I say stop letting it work! Embrace hypocrisy! At least you have a standard.
And, of course, in the meantime, try to attain to that standard even if you fall short from time to time. For we certainly don’t want to intentionally convey to the world that our standards are meaningless to us. Rather, we want to convey that we know we can be forgiven when we do fall short.