Hypocrisy, Stupidity, Dishonesty, Ignorance, and Evil in the Bible

noah-drunk One reason I find Christianity believable is the hypocrisy, stupidity, dishonesty, ignorance, and evil in the Bible.

Take, for instance, those remarkable individuals who made it into the spiritual “hall-of-fame” in Hebrews 11:4-38.  A list of some of the most important saints who ever lived; individuals God worked through to accomplish incredible things; individuals whose lives were built on faith.  Yet, every one of them were hypocrites–that is, their lives did not always match up to the values they cherished most.

Consider Noah, one of the only men to remain faithful to God in his lifetime–“humanities last hope”.  After the flood, whilst in the primordial stages of building a new civilization, he gets wasted and exposes himself to his sons (Genesis 9:20-23).  Or take Abraham, for example, who, out of fear, led a king to believe his wife was actually his sister; thus allowing the king to take his wife into his harem (see Genesis 20).  And who can forget King David who lusted after a married woman, committed adultery, then had her husband killed so as to take her hand in marriage (see 2 Samuel 11)?  This is only a sample of the hypocrisy, stupidity, ignorance, and evil in the Bible. There’s so much more.

The Bible is simply filled with greedy, selfish, double-crossing, murderous, people (many of whom are the saints).  In one moment they are the epitome of virtue; demonstrating unwavering trust in God.  In the next, they are fearful, doubtful, conniving, lying, stealing, cheating, coveting, misfits.

The Bible is a remarkably authentic book.  It doesn’t seek to hide or distort the reality of life.  Namely, the reality that everyone is inconsistent; everyone fails; everyone gives way to anger, fear, envy or lust; everyone is a hypocrite.

From the biblical framework, even the most extreme nihilist, who rejects objective values completely, is a hypocrite.  Nietzsche, for example, was a hypocrite.  He exercised his will-to-power to create his own values; but failed to live up to his own standards.  We all fail to live up to the values we cherish most; we all fail to live consistently.

The Bible doesn’t overlook this aspect of human nature.  It doesn’t try to hide it or pretend that life is clean, or pretty, or harmonious–it doesn’t pretend that everyone gets a fairytale ending.  The saints are not depicted like Joel Osteen.  This is why I find it so convincing. The biblical authors could have easily overlooked the embarrassments and failures of the saints in order to create a more pristine and tidy view of the past; but they didn’t.  Instead they were honest and objective.

In so doing, the Bible teaches two things: (1)that the problem of evil is intractably human and (2) that we are in dire need of help.  Irrespective of one’s culture or nationality or race or gender or ideology anyone can be evil and everyone, at some point or another, is.  We are all imperfect and limited and, thus, unable to save ourselves from this awful mess.

For this reason, I find it odd that so many people leave Christianity on the basis of hypocrisy.  Christians, like everyone else, are inconsistent, imperfect, and prone to make major mistakes.  In fact, this is one of the core messages of the Gospel: that we are sick, that we are broken, that we need help, and that we can’t solve the problem on our own.

The Church, like a hospital, is a place for those who are spiritually sick to be made well (not a consortium of already perfected people).  We are not surprised to find unhealthy people in a hospital; neither should we be surprised to find unhealthy people in the Church.

What is surprising, however, is when we encounter someone truly pure, innocent, honest, trustworthy, and loving.  People of this sort do exist, but are very rare; and our reaction to such people is complex and more often than not negative (see Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot for an exploration of this).

Our hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of other’s makes us cold and cynical–we are suspicious and doubt the sincerity of sanctitude.  In fact, due to our pride, we usually lash out at such individuals.  Or, at least, over scrutinize their lives and hold them to such high standards that the slightest lapse causes us to throw our hands in the air and proclaim, “I knew  it! I knew he was bluffing!” (sorry for the shameless Princess Bride allusion). We then use their apparent failure to justify our “doubts” about Christianity and play the hypocrisy card.

Yet again, I say, this is odd. Like the saints in the Bible, the saints living in the Church are merely broken people in dire need of help. This help is what theologians call God’s grace.  The failures of others are meant to remind us of our own fragility, and hypocrisy, and draw us closer to the God who can repair our damaged souls.

So, what’s the conclusion of this meandering post?  It is this: If authenticity is part of the litmus test of truth then the Bible passes with flying colors! . . . and this: If you’ve read and thought deeply about the Bible, you won’t be surprised when you find hypocrisy, stupidity, ignorance, and evil in the Church.

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The Pain, Embarrassment, and Bitterness of the Past

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I started this blog in 2008–back when I was a young, arrogant, over-zealous, Evangelical Fundamentalist.  A far cry from the slightly older, arrogant, over-zealous, Catholic I am today.

When I survey my early writings, I feel a pain in my stomach, a sense of embarrassment, and, even a touch of bitterness.  How could I have been so naive; so careless; so proud; so callous?  As I read through the old diatribes–with all their passion and bravado–I am tempted to delete them all; to erase my past completely; to start anew.  But something holds me back.

I remember the words allegedly spoken by Abraham Lincoln in response to an artist who attempted to disguise his imperfections: “Paint my picture, warts and all.”

There is a real temptation to disguise our imperfections and failures; to hide the mistakes from our past; to live a non-authentic life.  But, at its core, this temptation to maintain an air of perfection and respectability is a manifestation of pride.  We don’t want people to realize we’re fallible, that we make mistakes, and that we often make bad decisions because we don’t want people to realize what we truly are: temporary, limited, finite, dust.

Pride is, as the Church Father’s often said, a pernicious form of self-love and stands as the root of all sin.  It cares nothing for others and, therefore, builds itself on an illusion.  The illusion that what matters most in life is our own subjective experience, our individuality.  This illusion, however, is a foundation of sand that will crumble upon the high tide.  As a wise man once said, “all come from dust, and to dust all return” (Eccl. 3:20).

For we are not mere individuals but, in virtue of our person-hood (i.e., our very existence as distinct beings), stand in a reciprocal relation to the external world; and especially to other rational agencies.  Therefore, how we treat others, how we relate to the world around us, truly matters.  We are a community of beings–not isolated free-floating substances.  To live in harmony means we must truly care about the other; our self-love, thus, must be transformed to self-giving.  This is to live an authentic life; to be a person and not a mere individual.

This is why the Bible never hides the imperfections, embarrassments, and utter failures of its protagonists.  They are presented authentically, warts and all, so that we might learn the futility of living a life built upon self-love.

I have, thus, concluded not to delete the blog post’s of my past.  Should someone ever care to read them (and I feel deep sympathy for anyone who does) they will learn that I am a man with deep imperfections; a man often given to self-love.  They might also learn, I pray, that I am a man who desires to change; to grow in my love  and live a life directed towards others.  I, like Honest Abe, desire to be authentic.

So, here stands my blog, warts and all.