One of the most irritating characteristics I find in theists is hypocrisy. The sense of moral rectitude that they continually profess is often contradicted by extreme moral failings. Think child diddling Catholic priests. Think Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, not to mention Oral Roberts. It’s the “Do as I say, not as I do” approach to morality that gets my goat. They always seem so sure of what they demand of me, but when it comes to applying their morality to themselves, they conveniently ignore it.
I don’t have a major problem with human frailty and failings. We are not perfect. I don’t believe in the concept of sin, but I do believe in the concept of imperfect human nature. Perfection is a nice thing to strive for, but I don’t kid myself that I might actually achieve it, despite my wife’s protestations to the contrary.
I also don’t have a problem with others preaching perfection, as the religious are wont to do, under the guise of proselytizing. I can take personal criticism, and welcome any suggestions to help me achieve perfection, as long as you don’t mind if I pick and choose what I find to be the best path. If this means rejecting your religion, or your personal morality, of even your favorite book, then get over it. It’s my path I’m taking, not yours.
What I’ve never been able to understand, however, is how a self-professed religious person, who believes all the moral strictures of their religion, can be so insistent towards others about those strictures, while violating them at the same time, oftentimes rationalizing them in the process. Sure, when they get caught, like the examples above, they become contrite and acknowledge their “sin”, while pleading for personal forgiveness, but how can they rationalize their actions in their own minds as they repeatedly violate their own divinely mandated morality? They believe that their god is always watching them, yet they do so anyway.
My personal theory is actually naturalistic, fully explainable by the workings of the human brain. I’m not a neuro-biologist, and I’m sure there are others out there with the credentials to support, confirm or refute this, but it seems patently obvious to me that anyone who trains their brain to hold two diametrically opposing thoughts, while believing both, is just setting themselves up to fall into a pit of hypocrisy. What better example of this phenomena than religion?
Religion requires the religious to believe in god, and other matters of faith, without evidence. They beleive that faith is a virtue, and that there is nothing wrong with believing in something that would otherwise contradict one’s day to day experience, such as the existence of unseen beings, or the existence of an unseen world outside the bounds of scientific testing, the performance of miracles, and other matters of “faith”. So, on Sunday, it’s OK to believe that a woman could have a baby without any sexual contact with the father, that men can walk on water, that burning bushes can talk and impart wisdom, that the earth was created in one day, and the whole of the universe in six, or that huge bodies of water can be parted in the middle on command.
But then, on Monday through Saturday, they rely on engineers to build the bridge over the same body of water, along with the car to drive over it. They accept the findings of science and evolution, and the advances of scientific technology, when it provides medical relief from life’s common ailments. They fly in airplanes, designed and constructed by people with advanced degrees in science and technology, rather than simply praying to god to get them to their distant destination.
In short, humans depend entirely on evidence based thinking to run their lives, to make decisions about the smallest, most transparent aspects of their existence, or risk inconvenience, injury and even death for not doing so.
Imagine if you prayed to god every night to wake you up the next morning at a specific time so that you could get to work on time, rather than setting your alarm clock. You could probably do that once or twice, but within the week you’d be fired for habitual tardiness.
Imagine if you brought your grocery order home, and simply stored everything on the room temperature shelf, including the perishables, while praying to god to preserve them for the week until the next grocery run. You’d be putting a lot of good food in the garbage within a few days, and going without fresh food the rest of the week.
No one does this in their daily life. Everyone makes decisions on the day to day workings of their life based on evidence, not faith. No one has “faith” that the car will start in the morning, they rely of the designers and automobile manufacturers for that, and if the car doesn’t start, they don’t call their minister, they call the mechanic.
The irony in here is that theists share evidence based thinking on an everyday basis with their more rational, non-believing brethren, while at the same time holding far-fetched beliefs in one specific area of their lives. Most humans actually can compartmentalize this irrational/rational belief dichotomy in their minds, with no adverse consequences. They instinctually, or even knowingly, understand the competing nature of faith-based beliefs and that of logical, evidence-based beliefs, and can keep them separate. Others, however, find themselves being overwhelmed at the wrong times by their faith, which then spills over into their daily lives with hypocritical results. In these instances, we get Bible thumping ministers railing on about the evils of homosexuality, while having homosexual affairs in secret. Or perhaps we simply get a less noticeable, yet devout doctor committing insurance fraud, in contravention of the The Eighth Commandment. Some people may even take this faith-over-evidence mindset to an extreme, with dire results.
It’s hard to be a hypocrite when you run your life on the basis of logic, reason and evidence. When you do so, you are always examining your thought processes in order to prevent yourself from making mistakes of inconsistent thinking. I’m not making an absolute statement here, because there are certainly many non-religious hypocrites in the world, though I would venture that religious upbringing, even if subsequently rejected, may go far in explaining this.
It’s the mindset created by religious thinking, not religion itself, that begets hypocrisy. If your brain is trained to think that the holding of two opposing beliefs is normal, it’s easy to be hypocritical about anything.