Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hypocrisy vs Inconsistency: A Different Perspective on Religious Life

This is one of those fun charges that atheists and anti-religious people like to throw at me. Essentially, it goes something like this: the morals and standards espoused by religion cannot realistically be reached by man because they are too high to be obtained on a consistent basis. Therefore, there is an innate hypocrisy in even trying to be religious.

I cannot begin to tell you how obnoxious this is to hear. This doesn't even touch upon the veracity of those standards or what it even means to have standards in the first place. But because I hold myself to higher standards that I cannot consistenly keep, does that make me a hypocrite?

Obviously, a simple reply of "no" will not suffice, which is why I find it to be important to differentiate between hypocrisy and inconsistency.

Let's outline a textbook example of hypocrisy. You have a fundamentalist Christian from the Religious Right. He tells you that homosexuality is a sin because of Leviticus 18:22. He is the one that Bible-beats you at services every Sunday about it. He is the one protesting any gay pride rally. He is the one who constantly espouses "family values." But his life behind closed doors tells another story. You later find out that not only does he cruise gay bars, but he actually is cheating on his wife with a male lover.

When you are beraiding others for doing something that you yourself are doing, that is hypocrisy. You really have no place in constantly chiding another individual or group of people for a flaw that you have. It's just not right.

Inconsistency, on the other hand, is a whole different matter because it does not predicate itself on the all-or-nothing mentality that religious fundamentalists hold dear.

In my humility, I recognize that I am an imperfect being. I have made mistakes in the past and I am sure that I will err in the future. Does this mean I shouldn't have standards? No! Does this diminish the fact that I hold myself to higher standards? Absolutely not! The whole premise of Judaism, or even religion in general, is to cultivate yourself into being a better human being. It's what I like to call minimizing the gap between our imperfections and perfection. The difference between me and the hypocrite is recognizing where I am in life, where I am going, and how to minimize the aforementioned gap. It won't be progress and perfection all the time. I'm sure there will be some relapses in my life or certain reactions that simply will not be pretty.

With this mentality, it's much easier to judge others becuase then you realize that you would like to be judged at least as likely as you would be if the roles were reversed. I'm here in this life to do my best and I cannot do anything more than that. I find it to be a healthy approach to imperfections. What's more is that I find it the best way to be honest with myself. That way, my relations, whether with myself, other people, or G-d, can be done with the most positive sense of integrity possible.

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