Friday, May 20, 2016
Acting or Transforming?
At its origin, the word "hypocrite" referred to a stage actor in ancient Greece. An actor/actress "put on" an alternate identity in order, adequately and convincingly, to play the role demanded of them. In such a context, being a "hypocrite" was not a bad thing! But, then, as now, for a non-actor, especially a public figure, to attempt to deceive by being/believing something else is NOT a neutral thing, let alone a good thing. "Hypocrisy", as Wikipedia describes it, is "is the contrivance of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, while concealing real character or inclinations, esp. with respect to religious and moral beliefs; hence in general sense, dissimulation, pretense, sham." Harsh, negative, descriptors!
"Hypocritical" is used -- today as before -- as a (frequently well-deserved) critique of religions and religious leaders. "How can a religion preach love and act so un-lovingly?" "How can your tradition value charity while spending so much money on its own buildings?" "How can you prioritize certain scriptural texts while ignoring others (even in the same book)?" In other words, "Y'all are a bunch of hypocrites!" Those who are thusly criticized often have "answers" (and some of them are good and reasonable). But even the appearance of hypocrisy is usually enough to create a barrier to any further conversation or understanding. It is this real, or perceived, hypocrisy that, according to polls, is driving an entire generation (the "millennials") away from organized religion. (While this has been the case with young people for a long time, it is increasingly the case in the last few decades.)
What many of these un-, or dis-affiliated people often imply in word and deed is that the traditions that were supposed to provide meaning (at the least) or transformation (ideally) shoot themselves in the foot in their public actions and pronouncements. These folks then find, or create, alternate structures to meet those needs (affiliation, community service, etc.) that are not as susceptible to organizational "posing". Their hunger is great. This problem is recognized by our institutions; few are very apt at correcting it.
I suppose that's not too surprising, as the "hypocritical" institutions are filled with "hypocritical" individuals. Very few of us reflect our stated values accurately. We look in the mirror and see ourselves as something other than who we are . . . and we hope that others will see our "reflection" rather than our reality. "What matters most is how you see yourself" is a caption often accompanying the picture above. The "captioned" version is generally employed in a positive or motivational manner: "If you see yourself in some ideal way, you'll be able to aim towards that ideal." I understand that. But there is a big difference between recognizing the journey to the ideal and posing as something other than we presently are.
Religious/spiritual traditions, at their best, must aid the "cat" in becoming something greater. Likewise, we, as people of commitment must be mature enough to set aside our pretense, our own hypocrisy, as we deal with those who seek to grow. We need to challenge false images, inadequate beliefs, harmful actions. We cannot "leave well enough alone". We must not equate mere acting with a commitment to transformation into a new creation.