The hypocrite

Help me out here with a thought exercise. Consider the following:

A man, a faithful church-goer and by all accounts a pious man, throughout all of his adult life has emphatically stated that adultery is morally wrong and a sin causing grievous harm to the integrity of the marriage. He has never believed otherwise. One day, he falls into temptation, succumbs to the seduction of woman who is not his wife, and commits adultery. His unfaithfulness is discovered, and his friends and family have different reactions. Some argue he is a horrible hypocrite and should be treated as such. Others argue that he is not at root a hypocrite, but he is a man who engaged in hypocritical activity but is not a true hypocrite. Yet others believe he did not even engage in hypocritical behavior. They do not justify or palliate his actions, but point out that he was and is not a hypocrite but simply a man who failed to live up to the standards he believes are right.

Here are my questions:

  1. Which group would you fall into (if any)? Describe another group you’d fall into if need be.
  2. Do other factors come into play in evaluating this scenario (e.g. contrition, forgiveness, the man’s future intentions regarding adultery, etc.)?
  3. What is your operating definition of “hypocrisy” and/or “hypocrite”? Please, no dictionary definitions.

I’m most interested in answers to question 3 but would appreciate the other answers as well.

5 thoughts on “The hypocrite

  1. 1. Second group most closely, I suppose. Though I would put myself between the first two groups. He is a hypocrite, but so are we all.

    2. Yes, certainly in regards as to how I would treat such a person. A contrite and sorrowful man needs help and forgiveness, a bold and unrepentant man needs rebuking and instruction. It does not affect his hypocrisy.

    3. “Hypocrisy” is actions that are in contradiction to one’s stated beliefs. Since we all none of us always, everywhere consistent, we are all guilty of hypocrisy from time to time and to varying degrees. A “hypocrite” could then be used to define the human race. The nature of the sin or magnitude (for those who distinguish between the venial and the mortal) make no difference to whether or not one is a hypocrite.

    To elaborate: I think that people often use “hypocrite” to indicate a person who is particularly blatant in his contradiction of his stated beliefs or who consistently violates a particular one of those beliefs. However, despite common usage being what it is, I think that is incorrect. The purpose behind such a distinction is not to distinguish a particular set of reprehensible beings, but rather to shore up the notion in one’s own mind that one is not truly bad. One considers that one is not a hypocrite for the various sins one commits, because “it was just this once”, or “at least it wasn’t something really bad”. One may think, “Sure, taking the Lord’s name in vain is a sin, but at least I’m not sleeping around on my wife.” It doesn’t make a difference though; one is a hypocrite either way.

  2. My thoughts:

    Hypocrisy is more a conflict between beliefs than a contradiction between beliefs and actions.
    If the man said all people should be monogamous in relationships and believed himself to be an exception to this standard then that, to me, is hypocritical.

    For example, the way SPU tells students that abstinence from alcohol consumption is an expression of Christian faith and a sign of commitment to academia, yet does not hold the faculty and staff to this standard.

    Of course, our beliefs shape our action. Hence our willingness to forgive the man who asks forgiveness. He admits he is wrong, he still submits himself to the standard he previously professed.

    However, I say the man who becomes a victim to temptation in some way views himself as above the standard because he fails to prepare himself to hold to the standard.

    If monogomy is the standard, you obviously believe that it is a rewarding institution. Yet somehow you wound up alone with another person. At the point you “fell” to temptation you no longer saw rewards of monogomy but in repentance submitted to the immorality of adultary. There is a contradiction of beliefs there.

    The most noble way would be to admit the rewards are no longer appealing. And then to adopt a new belief system.

    In the SPU example, the Admin should admit the rules against alcohol are bullshit and everyone can drink with respect to state/federal law. OR fully embrace their doctrine on alcohol and take it away from faculty and staff.

  3. The response to this question has everything to do with how the man involved resolves this issue. Unless you know this, it would be hard to answer your questions. I recommend reading in 2 Samuel, chapter 11 about the affair of King David and Bathsheba. We all are sinners, however whether we continue to live in that sin and whether or not we genuinely repent of that sin makes a BIG difference.


  4. You never said explicitly whether he’s married. I’m not sure I’d call a simple fling by a single man “adultery,” but surely sexual immorality.

    Way to go, Josh! I fully support your all-or-nothing pledge at SPU.

    Anyway, I’m in the 2nd group. Hypocrisy for me is more about at least a semi-regular violation of stated beliefs. This guy falling into temptation once, even if he went in very flagrantly (what kind of affair “just happened”?), doesn’t rise to hypocrisy for me.

  5. I would say that this is not a black-and-white issue first of all. To question one:
    I would trend towards the first group however. How, though, should he be treated as a hypocrite? If you mean that his wife should treat him as an aldulterer and leave him, I would say yes-he is a hypocrite. He made a sacred oath to her to be faithful. He probably came home every night and told his wife “I love you.” This is blantantly hypocritical. He should be treated by his family as the hypocrite that he is.

    I would agree with group number two conditionally. While he certainly WAS a hypocrite when he commited adultery, his attitude towards his actions can legitimately change. He can easily pull a Jimmy Swaggart and repent-and do so honestly. According to Christian beliefs, and according to a measure of logic, he is no longer a hypocrite once he really feels that what he did was indeed wrong and fully intends to never, ever do such a thing again. He was, however, a hypocrite when he performed the said act of adultery.

    Group three is right out.

    To Question two:
    I believe I answered this question in my partial agreement with group 2. While he was a hypocrite and should be judged for the actions he committed, he could very well be sorry he did it and fully inted to never do it again. That would make him less of a hypocrite, and eventually no longer a hypocrite. People do change. I think he should be treated as a hypocrite until such time as he can prove his fidelity. This may take a lifetime, this may take one tearful conversation. It depends on who considers him a hypocrite, whom he has hurt by his hypocrisy.

    Question 3 is much more abstract. Hypocrisy is something that must be defined by both actions and intentions. If a person claims to be faithful to their wife yet lusts after another woman “he has already committed adultery with her in his mind”…according to the Bible anyways. Certainly if he has promised to be faithful to his wife and actually performs and adulterous act, he is a hypocrite. However, if he is somehow forced to perform such an act, like at gunpoint or to save someone’s life, that shouldn’t count 😉

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