When hypocrisy is a good thing
By Selwyn Duke
Many leftist partisans are licking their chops over the revelation that Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig solicited sex from a male undercover detective in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. This scandal is reminiscent of that involving Ted Haggard, the disgraced preacher who had relations with a male prostitute. You may remember Haggard, he was the Distraction du Jour the media conjured up right before the 2006 election. I keep my finger on the pulse of our culture and I had never heard of this Haggard fellow. But fixating on this minor story served well the purposes of demonizing the "right" and distracting people from the real issues – always useful during an election cycle.
What is interesting about our time, though, is that these men are castigated not because they have been living an immoral lifestyle but because they have been living an immoral lifestyle without also sanctioning that immoral lifestyle.
Certainly, as far as politicians who toe the left's line go, they can't seem to flaunt their Liberace leanings enough to register on the radar screen. Congressman Barney Frank (D) owned a residence out of which a call-boy operation was being run, and the late Congressman Gerry Studds (D) once spirited a 17-year-old boy off to Spain for a sexual liaison. Studds won re-election until his retirement in 1997, and Frank is still in office, lisping his way to legislative success. Of course, both represent Massachusetts, and there has just got to be something in the water up there.
What interests me, though, are not the obvious double standards, but identifying the correct standards. You see, it's interesting how the Studds and Franks of the world are often cast as superior to the Craigs and Haggards merely because it was they – and not someone else – who thrust open their closets and dumped the contents in the public square. The idea is that it's worse to espouse a standard you cannot live up to than one you can and do live down to; second, it's always implied that an individual's position cannot be credible if he lacks credibility. And such tacks certainly are rhetorically effective.
They're also nonsense.
Let's examine the second point first. Does a virtue cease to be a virtue simply because the vice-ridden espouse it? If a preacher teaches that "Thou shalt do no murder," do we conclude that murder must be a moral act if we discover he is a serial killer? Or, for those on the left, would you assume preserving the environment was unimportant simply because you discovered that an environmentalist – like, oh, let's say, Al Gore or Ted Kennedy – uses far more energy than the average person or preaches wind power but opposes it in his own neighborhood? It's silly. You may as well say you won't believe a mathematician when he tells you that 2+2=4 if you find out he is a bad man.
A position either has merit or it doesn't, either a basis in truth or it doesn't. The rightness of a position is not determined by the righteousness of a politician.
Once this is understood, refutation of the first point is simple. It cannot be said that a person who espouses everything he lives is morally superior to one who doesn't – nor can we say he is inferior – as greater specificity is required; we have to ask what behaviors he engages in and whether or not they would translate into valid positions if advocated publicly. In reality, though, it's seldom very cut-and-dried, for while truth is black and white, people are shades of gray, possessed of both virtue and vice. And our standards should reflect not our virtues and vices, but the virtues we possess and those we should possess.
In other words, it's ideal to have saintly leaders whose lives reflect the highest standards, but what is the next best thing? If a leader is lacking, will we really be better served if he translates his vice into policy than if he merely practices it while advocating the virtue that eludes him?
We would readily understand this if we applied it to other domains. If a teacher lived a decadent lifestyle, would we prefer that he advocated same in the classroom? Would we say, "Well, it's so commendable that he's no hypocrite, that he lives no double life. Why, he possesses the virtue of consistency!"? If a parent cannot stop smoking, is a glutton, is lazy, or has a tendency to tell lies, would it be a good thing for him to sanction this behavior in his children? Should a therapist with a gambling or drinking problem encourage it in his patients?
Moreover, if one did so, it would most likely be part of a rationalization, one that says his darkness is actually light and that he designed so he could feel better about himself. And this brings us to an important point: Such behavior is antithetical to love, as it is selfish. It is directed toward satisfying the emotional needs of the self, not the moral needs of others. We would do well to remember that misery does love company, but true love doesn't spread misery.
Now we come to a very simple principle, one that applies whether your designation is politician, preacher, parent or person. No one is perfect, as we're all bedeviled by frailty, and we all commit our sins. But whatever one's sin may be, there is one greater: Leading others into sin. This is why closets exist, because certain things should be kept in them. There is no nobility in releasing your inner demons when doing so means they will possess your fellow man.
Lest I be misunderstood, my title is somewhat figurative; hypocrisy isn't really a good state, but it can be the lesser of two evils. Sure, we should strive to elect politicians of strong moral fiber and I certainly think we can do better than Larry Craig, Barney Frank and Gerry Studds. But I do know this: I'd rather have a politician propositioning in a bathroom than proposing policy that turns the whole country into a bathroom.
We should, however, also understand what hypocrisy is. It is not saying one thing but doing another; rather, it's saying one thing while intending to do another. In other words, let's say a man has a weakness for drink but seeks to abstain from alcohol and preaches sobriety. Let's then suppose he attends a party, has alcohol waved under his nose, is overcome by temptation and becomes soused. While this isn't good, it also doesn't mean he is a hypocrite. It simply means he is weak.
And this brings us to an important point. Really, we're all weak, in some areas and to some extent. Thus, if we did espouse a standard of perfection – which would be ideal – how could we possibly live up to it? In point of fact, being human, we could only measure up to mortal standards, never godly ones. But just as a musician or athlete strives for perfection knowing all the while it's unachievable, we will fail to fulfill our moral potential unless we shoot for the stars. And would we ever tell an aspiring young athlete or musician that being mediocre was the state to strive for simply to make him feel better about his lack of proficiency or make ourselves feel better about our own? This is why we not only can but must erect a standard of perfection for our fellow man; to do any less does him a disservice. As I said in my piece, Are Christians Hypocrites?,
"It's ironic, but anyone who can truly practice what he preaches isn't practicing anything worth preaching."
There is no doubt about it. If we were limited to espousing only what we could practice consistently, our standards would be cursed with our imperfection, when they should be blessed with the divine reflection.
As for the matter of weakness versus hypocrisy and the Craigs and Haggards of the world, my guess is it isn't that their values are a facade but that their vice is a fall. Whether I'm correct or not, though, I do know one thing for certain, and this I direct toward the open-closet crowd on the left.
They're better than you.
Yes, they might have fallen from grace in a shameful way, hurting their families, party and/or cause. They may be light years away from Heaven and a heartbeat from Hell, but your greatest sin cannot be laid at their feet. That is, such people don't aggressively push libertine values to create latitude for vice. They don't seek to transform their nation into a toxic wasteland just so they can feel (because, above all else, leftists just have to feel good) better about themselves. Their secretiveness is their saving grace, in that they limit their battle to the confines of their minds and souls. Theirs is an internal battle against personal corruption, not an external one for the public variety. They leave the rest of the world unmolested.
So perhaps, just maybe, they're the worst thing they could be: Hypocrites. But they're still better than you.