Unconscious Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is almost always unconscious: it draws the veil over its own evil deeds, while it condemns those of others, not intentionally, but because human nature is strangely gifted with the power of deceiving itself. It is popularly described as “pretending to be one thing, and doing, thinking, or feeling another”; in fact it is very different. Nobody really leads this sort of divided existence. A man does wrong, but he forgets it again; he sees the same fault in another, and condemns it; but no arrow of conscience reaches him, no law of association suggests to him that he has sinned too. Human character is weak and plastic, and soon reforms itself into a deceitful whole. Indignation may be honestly felt at others by men who do the same thing themselves; they may often be said to relieve their own conscience, perhaps even to strengthen the moral sentiments of mankind, by their expression of it. So that hypocrisy, though the worst of sins, is for the most part weakness and self-deception. The Scribes and Pharisees, “hypocrites,” regarded their own lives in a very different light from that in which our Lord has pictured them. Their hypocrisy, too, might be described as weakness and self-deception, only heightened and made more intense by the time and country in which they lived. It was the hypocrisy of an age and a state of society--blinder, perhaps, and more fatal in its consequences for this very reason, but less culpable in the individuals who were guilty of it. Those who said, “We have a law, and by it He ought to die,” were not without a zeal for God, though seeking to take away Him in whom only the law was fulfilled. But although experience of ourselves and others seems to show that hypocrisy is almost always unconscious, such is not the idea that we ordinarily attach to the word. The reason is--

1. That the strong contrast we observe between the seeming and the reality, between the acts and words of the hypocrite, lead us to speak as though the contrast were present and conscious to himself. We cannot follow the subtle mazes through which he leads himself; we see only the palpable outward effect.

2. The notion that hypocrisy is self-deception or weakness is inadequate to express our abhorrence of it.

3. Our use of language is adapted to the common opinions of mankind, and is incapable of expressing the finer shades of human nature.

(Prof. Jowett.)