Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saying one thing, doing another

The place where I occassionally "work" often has a local radio station playing. Much of it is just varied genre songs which, save for the token 2009 releases, are usually pretty good. But, recently, I have been hearing more advertisements on the station. As in, they are drawing my attention more. And one recurring ad in particular caught my ear.

The advertisement was for a church (or something like that, I don't really pay that much attention). It began by expressing the idea that the people do not like to go to church because they do not like to be around "hypocrites". Frankly, I do think that this is a factor for people deciding that they do not want to delve too deep into organized religion, despite potentially still believing in (most of) the doctrines relevant to it. Not necessarily the only factor, of course, but one that can't be shrugged off as insignificant. The idea of "hypocrites" existing within the confines of strict religious institutions is a potent and widespread one, to the point where "hypocritical devout church-goer" has become a modern archetype that seems pervasive in both fictional and news media, appearing frequently perhaps due to the inherit intrigue and outrage caused by such a figure. How big of a problem they actually are, in terms of actual negative influence on communities or in terms of sheer numbers, is hard to say, but probably less than we would be led to believe, and not more.

But, regardless, this particular advertisement proceeded to then say that if the speaker himself did not want to associate with hypocrites, then he could not associate with himself due to the difficulty he has in living up to his own moral standards. The implication being that, just like everyone is a sinner, everyone is a "hypocrite" in some way. But, this conveniently ducks under the very problems that people have with folks who are labelled as "hypocritical".

Hypocrite, in the case of this advertisement as well as the standard complaints against "hypocritical behavior" is best described here as "a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings". Obviously, a person could do such a thing innocuously and in fact it may be very hard not to do so. But, you see, the problem is that the typical hypocrite who actually earns the ire of other people is somewhat more than this definition suggests. Not due to an omission in the description it gives, but due to the nature of the "stated beliefs" involved.

You see, your standard hypocrite, the kind expressed most clearly by that definition and that the person speaking in the ad refers to himself as, has stated beliefs in the forms of ideals. These stated beliefs are things that a person should do, because they are the things that result in the best outcomes, and are even often applied to person holding those beliefs alone. These are the beliefs about manners, achievement, and other such areas that naturally allow for a little bit of laxity. If these kind of hypocrites have beliefs that are more strict and absolute, they either do not express them (thus failing to count as hypocrites because no-one will know if they have contradicted what they believe if those beliefs are unstated) or they are beliefs that they actually can actually live up to.

But, there are some hypocrites who are just a cut above the one described above. They warrant more scorn because their stated beliefs are not merely beliefs about ideal practices, or how they themselves can best behave. The stated beliefs about the kinds of hypocrites that people actually give a damn about are those that are spoken vocally, applied to everyone, and are about things that those people must do. That is to say, where the other beliefs were wishy-washy and just focused on best possible outcomes, these kind of beliefs are strict, set-in-stone, and, in order for anyone to even notice them, brought up in order to scold others and restrict behavior. And, as a result, the people who present such opinions about how people need to behave, do so allowing no room for exceptions, and then violate their own rules, it is a matter that brings into question both the character of the person who loudly offered up the rules and the tenability of the rules if their loudest proponents cannot even manage to adhere to them.

Oh, but there is of course a step up from that as well: actual activists who are hypocritical about the behavior they were advocating against. That is to say, a hypocrite who disobeys their own rules about what people must do and wants/wanted to turn their own personal rules into actual laws. You know them well: anti-prostitution johns, anti-gay glory hole strollers, anti-adultery adulterers, pro-life women getting abortions, pretty much any politician you can name on one subject or another. They are not just people who proved to have a touch of human frailty, but people who adamantly insisted that others acknowledge as a law a set of beliefs about behavior that they could not live up to, restricting others through the legal system due to moral standards that their own behavior suggest may in fact be too strict for even its greatest devotees to hold themselves to.

Obviously, when the man on the radio admits to being a hypocrite, he doesn't mean that he is actively saying that all people have to act in a way that he himself does not. Nor would he wish (I hope) to frivolously brush aside the concerns about cases of people who do just that, and how it reflects upon the standards being put forward as much as the "hypocrite" themselves. Yet, this is exactly what the popular conception of hypocrite is when it is brought up as something that is actually problematic. Whether it was intentional or not, attempting to push such concerns under the rug by suggesting that the hypocrite who can't live up to personal standards is equivalent to the hypocrite who can't live up to standards he expects others to live up to is either completely underhanded, incredibly self-effacing, or just unknowingly dishonest. Anyway you slice it...boy have I been there!

[Please forgive me for overusing the word "hypocrite" in this post. I know that it is already overused enough by teenagers across the country. Ba-zing!]


Anonymous said...

Another good point Asylum. In my limited experience the loudest were the biggest offenders.

What I think merits attention, and as you pointed out, are the rules (rigid or flexible) and the outcomes of attempting to follow them.

I came to a conclusion that religion can separate in idea what is one "thing" in the human psyche: selfishness and altruism.

Unfortunately, it would be self-defeating for a religion to promote looking at human ideals as spectrums.

Jared said...

please elaborate on how selfishness and altruism are the same thing "in the human psyche." I was under the impression that selfish and altruistic behaviors were highly different in how they are processed, I was, possibly mistakenly, under the impression selfish behaviors activate only the mesolimbic pathway (reward) while altruistic behaviors activate the subgenual cortex (social bonding) as well. So I'm not sure if I would say they are the same.

Additionally, why would it be self-defeating for a religion to look at human ideals as spectrums?

While hypocrisy is quite common among all groups, (see: ) the causes of this can be understood given the tools, time, and researchers. There is, in fact, something to be said for having such a flexible moral or ethical model; we can break our morals if it is necessary in the situation.

The Maze Monster said...

When your beliefs come from you own life experiences and actions being a hypocrite is uncommon.

When you place your beliefs outside your actions it's easy to be a hypocrite.

Example A:

I believe that woman should have the right to choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. My sister is put in a situation where she decides she wants to terminate her pregnancy. I support her. I'm not a hypocrite here.

Example B:

I believe that god cries salty tears when a woman terminates a pregnancy and I that's why I'm against it. My girlfriend gets pregnant with my baby and decides to abort the pregnancy. I suddenly support it cos I can't deal with a baby right now. However, I will still be marching against abortion next tuesday. I am a hypocrite here.

Stacy said...

My mother said it best ..
"Do as I say. Not as I do".

Always with a little "wink" on the inside. (like when she would sneak a cigarette while trying to quit)

To me - THAT type of honest hypocrisy is OK because the person knows that they are trying to protect you from something that they themselves were not strong enough to overcome.

Did that make sense?

mac said...

I think St Brian the Goddless has my favorite word to describe the flagrant religious kind,

I agree with oneblood too, the loudest are usually the worst.

I like your politician angle. No need to name names, just say "allof'em".

Stacy, as always, sums it up nicely in a few sentences :-)

mac said...

Of course, if we read the Bible, God himself is a hypocrite.

"Thou Shalt Not Kill" : But he killed EVERYTHING on the planet.

"Love Thy Neighbor" As long as he's not gay, Islamic, has a deformed testicle, Egyptian, Pagan, pork eater...etc, etc. "No, those fuckers are an abomination."

He's the original "Do as I say, not as I do" guy!

Small wonder there are so many hypocrites out there....they're all just trying to be Godly ;-)

Asylum Seeker said...

Agreed Jared. Flexible morals allow for certain exceptions, and morals that, on the basis of the individual bringing them up, are expressed in a manner that belies some willingness to make those morals flexible makes the person look less horrible if they happen to violate those morals themselves. Of course, there needs to be a breaking point of sorts: a certain place where those flexible morals do not allow exceptions and become less negotiable. But, otherwise, laxity at a large level lets you better accommodate natural human tendencies and imperfect reality better than all bet the best formed hard and fast rules could.

I think that you also have a good point, MM. Beliefs that are actually formed due to one's perceptions of how humans actually behave and take that into account are less likely to result in accidental hypocrisy than those that do not. But, I also think that you've accidentally tapped into something else of note: it is incredibly difficult to be a hypocrite when you are accepting and allowing behavior, rather than forbidding it. On the other hand, mandating a certain behavior and not doing it yourself can also win you hypocrisy points, but I somehow think that that is less common.

Stacy: after writing up this post I actually remembered an interesting question. It was something to the effect of "if you are told that in order to be healthy, you need to lose some weight from your doctor, but your doctor is obese, does that contradict his credibility in giving that advice?". And I guess that is something that you have to factor in: sometimes "hypocrites" do in fact know what is best, and are telling people to do so despite their own failings in fully going through with the necessary behavior themselves. I think that this fits into my soft hypocrisy of ideals that one fails to live up to, though, because in both the case of the mother and the doctor though the statements that both offer border on "demands".

And, mac. I've always found "hypochrist" cute and it was good that he distinguished those meriting such a title from the regular Christian stock. But, I've also seen that it could probably come off as a little too much of a mockery, an indiscriminate insult, an inflammatory remark that, if used inappropriately and without the necessary cautionary notes, could inevitably lead to a case of internet rage. And we can already get that in buckets without doing it on accident!

As for God: God is too powerful to obey God's rules! Seriously, it's a bit of a quandary...

Anonymous said...


Maybe psyche was a trigger word. I don't use it in a biological sense and maybe I should.

When you act you aren't separate (necessarily) from your action. The same goes for altruism or selfishness, you aren't separate from your action. To me they are two sides of a spectrum within a person; and are not contained within an either or proposition as religion claims.

As far as acknowledging moral spectrums, I think it isn't beneficial for the organized religions I'm familiar with because it calls into question their dogma, pretty much the 'either or' thing mentioned earlier.

This being said they do practice spectrum thinking. The Abrahamic religions generally have hierarchical notions about their religious laws. But this is still insufficient because they are absolutely sure about, you name it.

I appreciate the question Jared. Sometimes I throw a phrase out sans explication. I don't know whether you agree with my assesment or not but I hope that clarifies my position a little bit. It was philosophical not biopsych.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Great post Seeker. I've tried condensing some thoughts into a single entry that actually won't exceed 2 sections. You've touched on one of my huge pet peeves.

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Great post.

I just got around to reading this. Coincidentally I also wrote on hypocrisy this time around... I promist I didn't copy!

Well, there have been a lot of humongous hypocrites in the news lately. That's probably it.

They're hard to miss.

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Seeker i think I finally articulated my peeve and I've posted a postulate on the subject.

pboyfloyd said...

I think that religious institutions know that they must overlook, hide, minimize their hypocrisy and the old, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks!" quote is likely to have much truth in it when it comes to clergymen informing flocks what they mustn't do.

We write about what we know, or, we're likely to write well about what we know.

Case in point. Ted Haggard had much to say about gayness, funny stuff. A huge clue that he was deep into the gay issue.

Asylum Seeker said...

Actually pboy, you just made me come to a bit of a realization that (slightly) mitigates the sense of hypocrisy in a way: in order for these people to be accepted in the groups that they wish to associate with they are EXPECTED to preach about these standards that they do not live up to. In a way, they are victims. Sure, they don't need to associate with that group, nor would they need to be so vocal in preaching against the very vice that they themselves indulge in and thus demonize others who are pretty much the same as them but just less willing to spit bile at others who do the activity in question. But, I guess if they aren't adopting those beliefs about standards for behavior on their own, and instead getting them wholesale from whatever communities they affiliate with, you can almost blame them less for their hypocrisy. Not that much less, but maybe it's something to take into account...

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

pboy, seeker, You guys make an interesting point - is hypocrisy more of a slippery slope than a cliff? Do we over time make small concessions here and there that end up in aggregate to look pretty inconsistent when viewed in retrospect?

pboyfloyd said...

Are you still Evonizing Seeker?

What's your state? What's your handle?

Asylum Seeker said...

State? I think it's Lower Lorraine unless you are referring to something a bit more arcane.
My handle is "Ivantukilyu". Sadly, I have not seen "Count" as a title. Prestige is roughly 9800 right now and have two cities. I'm now hellbent on getting 30,000 units of hourly production for every resource in order to catch up with the top 5 members of Wraith (the Alliance group...30 people). So, you right about it being addictive...

Michael Lockridge said...

It sounds like an evangelistic message to which you are refering. If that is the case, you are over-thinking the issue. The intent of such ads are to disarm weak, off-the-cuff responses to evangelistic approaches.

"Try my church."

"No, the church is full of hypocrites."

In most cases this is a quickie answer that is not particularly well thought out, nor is it based on any real experience. It simply serves to justify rejecting the offer of religion in a relatively polite manner.

Responding to a quickie answer with a shallow challenge designed to fit into a thirty second radio spot makes sense, within the context of the ad.

A larger radio budget would be required to fully explore hypocrisy. They were just trying to get some listeners to go to church.

Asylum Seeker said...

You're right of course. But overthinking things is my M.O. ;)

pboyfloyd said...

Seeker... move to Saxony... use your city teleporter... I will help you... we will form our own alliance...

The city teleporter 'says' it's random... but you get to choose the state, just not the location withing that state.

pboyfloyd said...

oh yea.. if u do.. locate me at 177,25.. my flag says 'Who?'.. I am Whatever.

Asylum Seeker said...

Unless you are a level 9 grassland, I think you're an a different server than me! Try 15, 216. If you can find me, you might be to tell me how I can find you. (I actually got my brother playing and he's on a different server too...can't even find a way to mail him!)

pboyfloyd said...


Nearest city says that it is in Lower Lorraine.

When you look at the nearest player to my co-ordinates, is it in Saxony(177,25)?

Asylum Seeker said...

Yep. I am in the Lower Lorraine region and the cities near your coordinates are in the Saxony region. Quite a few players clustered the coordinates for your place. Two of them are pretty strong. Glad they are on the complete opposite side of the map.

GearHedEd said...


There's cobwebs in here!

Asylum Seeker said... least I'm doing better than I did last summer in that regard...

Anyway, hopefully I'll get up a new post before Friday ends.

GearHedEd said...


I'll bet you and pboy are plotting to destroy the world from your virtual Bat Cave in Saxony...

Asylum Seeker said...

That's true. But I can multitask....(technically).

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