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.