Though all but the appearance of Christianity is out of favor among the elitist power-mongers of our times, there is one standard they purport to honor — the one that makes hypocrisy the cardinal sin.
It is no longer, as the French depicter of mores, observed, “the tribute that vice renders to virtue.” Rather it has become the truthful weapon of choice in the mock combats used by the vicious to mask their common cause, which is to overthrow the ordinary decency required if a people is to sustain the exercise of their unalienable right of liberty.
Ont of the featured stories of the day in this regard is the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) electorally belated response to allegations of domestic abuse against Keith Ellison.
Another reports the latest development in the epic saga of the American Catholic hierarchs’ apparently longstanding cover-up of clerical sex abuse—among themselves and against lay people, including minors and young seminarians entrusted to them for instruction.
Even in our morally obdurate times, the charge of hypocrisy still rouses strong negative feelings. This emotional effect makes it useful to lend verisimilitude to partisan political combat.
But while partisans hurl the charge back and forth among themselves, their blows also damage the self-confidence of the people at large. They feel betrayed, deceived and tottering unsteadily, like a makeshift stage whose creaking props are finally giving way.
So, the charge of hypocrisy may cause outrage in proportion to the doubt it casts on the judgment of people taken in by its best practitioners. Part of what they feel is self-distrustful fear.
But is hypocrisy itself a matter of feeling or truth? The entry that appears online in Merriam-Webster dictionary describes hypocrisy as “behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.” But the etymology of the word raises a question about that definition:
- 1200, ipocrisie, “the sin of pretending to virtue or goodness,” from Old French ypocrisie, from Late Latin hypocrisis “hypocrisy,” also “an imitation of a person’s speech and gestures,” from Attic Greek hypokrisis “acting on the stage; pretense,” metaphorically, “hypocrisy,” from hypokrinesthai “play a part, pretend…”
At its Greek roots, hypocrisy is the word for what actors do. So it has come to be synonymous with pretending to be some person other than oneself.
I can’t help but think that great actors would take offense at the suggestion that their craft is, at its roots, simply about lying. Lying means purposely saying what is not true. But a true actor studies the role he or she is playing to learn everything that may contribute to an accurate portrayal of the character they assume.
When their stagecraft succeeds, we say their performance is “true to life,” meaning, of course, true to what we know of the life they are assigned to portray.
In this respect, a great actor’s best performances are like some masterful forger’s reproduction of a work of art.
They are each of them so true to the original work that even an expert’s knowledgeable eye mistakes them for the original. Telling the difference then requires substantive analysis, the kind that looks at the materials that compose an object to determine whether they are consistent with the original artist’s habitual usage, and the materials available for use in the place and time in which he or she produced the work.
In the practice of contract law, there is such a thing as a “true copy” of an original document. It is one authoritative certified or otherwise known to be true to the original text, which can therefore serve, as well as the original, as evidence of some statement or agreement.
Is an actor’s fine performance like such a “true copy?”
Abraham Lincoln is one of the historical figures I most admire. I have spent countless hours reading about him and pondering his thought and actions.
When I saw Daniel Day Lewis’s performance in the 2012 movie bearing his name, I for one concluded that it was the most true-to-life rendering I have seen, bringing together in one person the strength found in the classic Lincoln portrayals of Walter Huston and Henry Fonda.
Actors are, in a sense, fakes. But in another sense, the best performances are as close as we mortals get to watching people in action, who died before technology gave virtual immortality a semblance of meaning.
If acting is deceit, some such ‘fakes” are the best approximation of truth we now can hope to see, in intention and effect. Therefore, we can learn from them something needful about the strengths, weaknesses, virtues and vulnerabilities of people who will never appear to us in this life as anything more than figments of our mind’s reconstruction.
Somewhere in the Plato’s Republic one of Plato characters dwells on the possibility of deceitful men of ambition who therefore study and come to be admired by all for their virtues. They are said to exist in contrast with the people who seem to be and are most just, but who are saddled with the greatest reputation for injustice.
It seems that the former have always been most likely to come to power over cities and nations. The latter, for all the good they never cease to do, are more likely to live without effect, die without repute, and remain unavailable to their posterity as examples of all too human virtue.
Contrary to the Frenchman’s saying, this neglect was the tribute vice commonly rendered to virtue through in all the ages when the semblance of power mattered above the substance of virtue.
In all those times and places, hypocrisy was the order of the day, as it is becoming once again in our own. The charge has never been lacking in our politics.
But thanks to the influence of Christianity, it had a significance that it lacks today. For according to Jesus Christ, who was the living archetype of the innocent, virtuous and just man Plato’s character envisions, hypocrisy had more to do with being than acting:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity…. You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean…. you are like whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside, you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
What are the weightier things of the law? Those that begin with love and reverence for the substance of all things, which is God, and His will for their existence as He created them.
This authority was the just cause to which America’s first patriots bore witness, with their words, and with their willingness to die for the self-evident truths made manifest in the nature both of humanity and of all created things.
This cause informed their actions from within, as God’s mind and spirit inform all existing things. In this respect, hypocrisy is as brass is to gold. It has the appearance of what people value for its own sake but is actually of no value but in appearance, and for the sake of the power it exerts over those who do not know, or have abandoned, the true measure of worth.
It’s telling that in our day, charges of hypocrisy have so much to do with sexual relations. In their view of those relations, more and more Americans are abandoning the notion that there is any standard of worth but powerful passion, enforcing its will.
But if passion is the standard, what greater passion is there than the one that heeds no boundaries and admits no purpose but its own satisfaction?
To sit in judgment of that passion requires a vantage point grounded in some purpose, end or aim beyond the will to satisfy it.
It requires some good beyond the motion (or emotion) that supplies it. For that power carry us toward what we do not know. We feel its force, however, because the destination is one we somehow understand ourselves to be and resting place in which we sure will belong.
Is there some hypocrisy greater than this, which worships the transporting passion, but denies the being, in and of itself, that makes us certain that it is taking us where we belong? For this idolatry worships as God that which has no power but to return us to our place in Him.
It mistakes the consequence of being as we will, for the substance of Being whose will alone makes us of any consequence.
Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchange the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshipped the creature rather than the creator… (Romans 1:26)
Ironically, facts do not evaluate themselves. They can, therefore, be falsely abused. The remedy is not in facts alone, but in returning to the true cause that is the best standard for judging their significance. This holds especially for the American people, whose very existence as such depends upon that cause.
Dr. Alan Keyes is a political activist, prolific writer, former diplomat, and the founder of LoyaltoLiberty.com
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.