Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bait-and-Switch Religion (Hypocrisy)

We all hate false advertising. This past Christmas, I received a gift from my wife that we both thought we would love. I had mentioned interest in the product a month or so before Christmas and was sure it would be a time-saver. See, I'm good at ironing (or so my wife tells me), but it's a bit of hassle: it's difficult to position certain articles of clothing on the ironing board, and our ironing board is just about ready to fall apart. So I said I'd like one of those clothes-steamers that I've seen commercials for. It's a device that emits steam to remove wrinkles and odors from your clothing.

Now, maybe I'm just impatient, maybe the instruction manual should have included actual instructions for how to employ the device, or maybe I just haven't gotten the hang of it, but the darn thing doesn't work very well. It's not as effortless as I'd thought it would be (from the commercials) and it's frustrating (and dangerous!) to try holding a dress shirt on the hanger with one hand while effectively steaming it with the other.

False advertising leads to the "bait-and-switch" phenomenon: you're baited with one product and it is switched with another when you purchase it. We sometimes fall into the same trap as Christians, but the "product" here is our religion and our lives. There's an anecdote about an aggressive driver...
This driver is cutting people off in traffic, shouting obscenities and making rude gestures to other drivers, speeding through yellow lights to avoid red lights, etc. A police officer pulls him over, has him step out of the car, and proceeds to handcuff him. The officer tells the man he is under arrest for grand theft auto.

The man is livid. Sitting in the back seat of the officer's car, he yells at the officer to check his wallet for his license, and his glove compartment for registration and proof of insurance. The officer does so and sure enough, the man is the owner of the car. The police officer opens the door and helps the man out. Before releasing him from his handcuffs, however, he explains himself.

"I apologize for this mistake, sir, but after seeing your behavior while driving, I noticed a 'Choose Life' frame around the car's license plate, a magnetic "Jesus" fish emblem on the trunk, a rosary hanging from the rear view mirror, and a bumper sticker for the local Catholic school. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."
How many times are we like that? Would the average person on the street recognize us as Catholic by our daily behavior? How often do our actions betray our fallen human nature rather than our redeemed human nature in Christ?

It's nothing short of hypocrisy, and it's something we need God's grace to conquer. It has been plaguing Christians since the time of Christ. One need look no further than James 2:15-16, where the Apostle admonishes those who say "Go in peace, be warmed and filled" to a brother or sister who is ill-clad and lacking daily food... without giving them the things needed for the body!

What else does Scripture say about hypocrisy? Apart from the synoptic gospels (especially Matthew 6 and 23), the Psalms and the book of Sirach give us a clear picture:
Be not a hypocrite in men's sight, and keep watch over your lips. (Sirach 1:29; cf. 1:26 [NAB], 1:37 [DR])

He who seeks the law will be filled with it, but the hypocrite will stumble at it. (Sirach 32:15; cf. 32:19 [DR])

A wise man will not hate the law, but he who is hypocritical about it is like a boat in a storm. (Sirach 33:2)

I do not sit with false men, nor do I consort with dissemblers. (Psalm 26(25):4)

I hate double-minded men, but I love thy law. (Psalm 119(118):113)
And looking for "dissembler" and "double-mind" elsewhere in Scripture, I find:
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:6-8)

He who hates, dissembles with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with guile, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. (Proverbs 26:24-26)
Hypocrisy can be a great enemy of evangelization. If those to whom we are preaching the Gospel see that we ourselves are blatantly not living it, what will they think of that Gospel? Now, this is not to say we are utter failures when we sin, but we must realize what the Gospel calls us to. The Gospel calls us to that great enemy of hypocrisy, repentence. Confession of our sins and receiving God's mercy and forgiveness cleanses us, and it calls us out of that habit of hypocrisy.

The Catechism says this about hypocrisy: "Truth as uprightness in human action and speech is called truthfulness, sincerity, or candor. Truth or truthfulness is the virtue which consists in showing oneself true in deeds and truthful in words, and in guarding against duplicity, dissimulation, and hypocrisy." (CCC 2648)

We must pray for an abundance of that virtue of truthfulness, so that by God's grace we can avoid and overcome hypocrisy and be better stewards and preachers of the Gospel.

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