It is said that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. Our word hypocrisy arises from the stage. A hypocritēs is an actor, a person who in the context of Classical Greek theatre is literally under the judgment of the spectators.
Jesus employed the word satirically to condemn the Pharisees. They were terrible actors, and yet manipulated the audience to praise them for their godliness. They were a loving bunch.
We live in an age that prizes sincerity above all traits, all pretense to virtue. We loathe hypocrisy.
Our loathing of hypocrisy might, at first blush, be construed as a sign of our society’s moral health.
But that is far from the case. It is not because we share Jesus’ sensibilities. It is because our culture so hates God’s discerning truth that it is willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The baby might be a hypocrite.
Charlatans and saints are thereby indistinguishable.
The most quoted verse in Scripture today might well be ‘judge not, lest ye be judged.’ It is thrown back at Christians whenever discernment is being used. All too often, it functions as the heckler’s veto over expressions of Christian truth in the public square.
The heckler’s veto of political correctness has had a similar effect. It has made all judgment, including just judgments, appear inappropriate.
But when more measured disagreement will not be heard, social discourse doesn’t cease. It becomes less restrained, less polite.
We celebrate people that speak their minds, even when they cultivate a persona of gratuitous offensiveness. So long as they are on ‘our side.’
The post-truth world
There is a reason why insulting conduct is becoming acceptable despite our professed love of sincerity. Since we will not tolerate truth, we can no longer satirize hypocrisy. As Jesus once did.
Satire judges and exposes vice for what it truly is – the mere appearance of virtue. But satire requires something more basic to function: a fixed sense of vice and virtue, truth and falsehood. It allows us to distinguish acting from the real thing.
Our moral standards cannot be fluid or vague if satire is to be effective.
Jesus calls the Pharisees ‘whitewashed tombs’. In Swift’s A Modest Proposal, the author proposes to alleviate the evil of Irish poverty through the modest means of consuming their babies as goods – for a tidy profit of course. His irony is salacious, but only if the standard of not killing babies for profit remains a clear, bright line.
Sadly, we live in an age of such deadly moral earnestness that no one can be convicted of hypocrisy. It is not because of our commitment to rights or virtue. It is because in our devastating judgment upon judgement, our progressive society has willed itself blind to the binary distinction between vice and virtue.
There is no more black and white, or good and evil. There are fifty shades of gray. Much of what we call satire now is simply cynical mockery. It intends no real correction, and we have become so cynical that we expect none to come of it.
The false gospel of ‘unconditional love’
Christians are called to be salt and light to the world. Salt is a preservative, but it also enhances the distinctness of flavours.
Sugar, on the other hand, tends to cover up flavour. A spoonful can even make the medicine go down.
Political correctness is akin to laying sugar on everything indistinguishably, whether it is wholesome or no, then demanding that we swallow it all.
Sugar is the prime ingredient in our processed food. And consuming too much sugar and its substitutes, as everyone knows, causes obesity, which leads to diabetes and even blindness.
Processed love and processed food thus have much in common.
If we sweetly call everything love, and become conditioned to unconditional acceptance, we become blind to true distinctions between right and wrong. It is growing more common in Christian circles to recover orthodoxy by recovering the creeds. But only the positive statements, and not the anathemas, are learned.
A saccharine culture addicted to sincerity and positivity is immune to the saltiness of satire.
And like a spoiled child it demands ever more sweets, and is ever less gratified by them.
Would someone please pass the salt?