Not as I do

I hadn’t thought about it as such before, but in any English Bible translation, by far the majority of references to hypocrisy and hypocrites are made by Jesus himself, which strikes me as denouncing hypocrisy “from above” rather than—as is generally the case now, “from below.”

One surprising truth about hypocrisy is its irrelevance: the fact that someone is a hypocrite does not mean that his or her position on an issue is false. Environmentalists who litter do not by doing so disprove the claims of environmentalism. Politicians who publicly oppose illegal immigration but privately employ illegal immigrants do not thereby prove that contesting illegal immigration is wrong. Even if every animal-rights activist is exposed as a covert meat eater, it still might be wrong to eat meat.

More generally, just because a person does not have the fortitude to live up to his or her own standards does not mean that such standards are not laudable and worth trying to meet. It therefore seems that charges of hypocrisy prove nothing about a topic. Why, then, are they so potent?

The answer is that such allegations summon emotional, and often unconscious, reactions to the argument that undermine it. Such indictments usually serve as attacks on the authority of their targets. Once the clout of an advocate is weakened, the stage is set for dismissal of the proponent’s position.


from “The Truth about Hypocrisy,” by Scott F. Aiken and Robert B. Talisse, Scientific American, December 2008 :: via 3quarksdaily

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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