Christianity and Hypocrisy

You might think that I am going to write about the political situation here in Wisconsin where (presumably) the “pro-life” Christians voted that we should reinstate the death penalty, while also “preserving” marriage by making sure that gay people cannot have the same legal rights as straight folks in regards to their partner. If you wanted to read something like that, I am sorry to disappoint you.

In my own life, I have been quick to throw around the “H-word” and I have more than once in the run up to this election. Even though I might live in a glass house, I was somewhat secure in using that word, because we in the West have a role model for this.

Now it is true that when Jesus referred to people as hypocrites, he was calling us each to examine ourselves, to remove the log from our own eye, as it were. But it is inescapable that a running theme of the Gospels is “Jesus vs. the Pharisees.” The Pharisees were, of course, a real group within Judiasm of the time, but as with any group not all of them would show the charicature of behavoir that the Gospel writers ascribe to them. But the “Pharisees” that Jesus has a problem with are a part of all of us. Those “Pharisees” go through the motions of religious observance, but their heart does not match those motions. They are “hypocrites” because their insides and outsides do not match, or even worse maybe polar opposites. In many ways, this is simply calling a spade a spade, or at least this is the way I have seen it throughout my life.

Then I heard Pema Chodron give a Buddhist perspective on this. And frankly, I was quite moved.

She was talking about a situation where some habit was getting in the way of your spiritual growth. In Buddhism, any habit (unthinking repetition of a behavior pattern, that is) keeps you from being fully awakened. So let us just say the habit is an addiction to chocolate, just to keep things simple. She pointed out that there are basically three positions you could take in regard to your chocolate habit once you decide that it is a hinderance to you and you need to stop.

The first might be called complete faith or even enlightenment. You stop. For whatever reason, you just know what to do and you do it. Your inside and outside match perfectly and at least in this small area, you have awakened. But not many of us fall into that category.

The next position she calls “half faith.” You know you should avoid chocolate, you know it is bad for you — but that smell. The anticipation of the sweet taste! Temptation! This, says the Buddha, is also the path to awakening. If you are mindful of your struggle — even if you sometimes fail — you will bring an awakened presence to your decision to avoid the sweet temptation. In fact, you might even say that starting from this position, even with its inevitable failures, leads to a “greater” awakening than the first instance, as you have been fully aware of both the temptation and the need for restraint. Most people would not refer to someone trying so hard to “do the right thing” as a “hypocrite,” but sometimes this person’s inside and outside might not match.

The third position is less than half faith. Sometimes much less. This is a person who can, say, intellectually agree with the position that chocolate is a hinderance, but is not going to make a serious effort to actually give it up. If they intellectualize to much — that is to say, if they shoot their mouth off too much about how bad chocolate is — but eats it anyway, we have ourselves a hypocrite. And the Buddha says, this too can be a path to enlightenment.

What? Saying one thing and doing another can be a path to enlightenment? Yes, if it is done with mindfulness (remember too, that we are talking chocolate here, not genocide or something). If you are going to eat the chocolate anyway, do it mindfully. Look at the circumstances that lead you to the craving. Look carefully at the results of your “slips.” See how it feels to say one thing and do another. You can actually look at all those things about yourself non-judgementally and non-moralistically. In really examining your habit, even as you succumb to it, you may find yourself awakening — and moving to the first position.

I can’t speak for him, but I think that if the Buddha was confronted with the Pharisees, he might say something like “Your desire to serve God is admirable, and your strength in carrying out the religious observances can serve you well. But do we not serve God by serving others, as Rabbi Hillel so eloquently pointed out? How do the laws and observances help us serve our people?”

Yes, Jesus was saying essentially the same thing. But you have to admit he set sort of a trap for us. In judging the Pharisees he tempts us to judge — and therefore be judged as well. It is a trap I have fallen into far too many times.

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3 Comments

Filed under buddhism, Christianity, journey into Buddhism, Philosophy & Religion, Religion, Self Improvement, Thoughts on Buddhism

3 responses to “Christianity and Hypocrisy

  1. D~C

    Christianity from a Taoist perspective . . .

    According to the Bible, Jesus Christ really only gave humanity two Commandments. He said the “Laws of the Prophets” hang (or is rooted) on these two Commandments:

    1. Love the Lord God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.

    2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    Anything after that is religious dogma that has been constructed by man for the purpose of control and based on pride, fear or lust for power.
    It seems that it is for this reason that the religious always persecute the spiritual. That is why when speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus said “of which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?”

    During his ministry, Jesus spoke of worshiping and trusting in God. He did not encourage people to worship himself – that was an idea conceived within the church some 100 years after his death. Again, Jesus constantly spoke of placing your faith and trust in the Father (God). Also, according to scripture, Jesus referred to himself as The Son of Man, rather than The Son of God, while allowing people to draw their own conclusions about him.

    When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me,” he was referring to the spiritual example that he was living – his sacrifice of prayer, meditation, giving true love and teaching forgiveness.

    Therefore, true Christians follow the teachings of the Christ, accepting his example and loving all people, races, and tribes. That example of divine love is the true way and the life that men of God were called to live.

    His statement about being born again was also a profound spiritual truth. Unless we die to the old patterns and old beliefs based on ignorance and fear (which imprisons the earth bound, material aspect of our soul), we cannot enter into the spiritual kingdom of heaven. Each time we spiritually die it can be called the death of the ego fear – we enter (or are reborn) into a new spiritual awakening.

    Remember that a belief is a certainty that something is true – it doesn’t mean that it is true – only that we have currently come to accept it as fact. Those personal experiences that we have come to understand as true are sometimes created and colored by individuals of power in order to fit their social or political agendas.

    However, each time we are born again, these old truths erode away to a new, deeper spiritual understanding of life. First we see and experience life through simple black and white understandings. However, each time we are born again, we re-experience life through a deeper spiritual dimension and can suddenly perceive not only black and white, but also the vast array of colors, dimensions, powers created within the dominion on man as a gift from God.

    When Jesus spoke to his disciples he said, “Greater things than these shall you do.” They could only achieve the ability and power of these spiritual gifts through being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. Therefore, when Jesus (being filled with the Holy Spirit) spoke saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me,” it is only through being filled with the Holy Spirit, loving God, and following the example of Jesus Christ can we truly walk as Christians.

  2. shannan

    wonderfully put!

  3. Greg F.

    Buddhism’s central quest is the elimination of desire in order to eliminate suffering. It is good that Buddhists embrace hypocrisy — because every child in a Buddhist family is the result of consumated sexual desire between the father and mother. A non-hypocritical Buddhist society would die out in one generation. Christianity allows us to make love, enjoy a meal, desire good things for our children.

    As far as the comment above regarding Christ’s diety, it shows no understanding of Christian scripture at all. Matthew Chapter 16:13-17:

    13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

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