The Corner

Don’t Be So Quick to Dismiss Hypocrites

From Ed West, across the pond:

Contrary to what is often said, the commentariat aren’t anti-clerical – they want to be the clerics, and they become more priest-like the more secular the country becomes; the BBC is the new Church of England, and as capable of steering the nation’s morals as the Church once was.

The new priesthood may not view sex outside marriage as wrong, but there are plenty of other forms of behaviour that have replaced it as socially deviant, including the holding of deviant opinions (opinions that can get you sacked or deemed to be unsuitable parents, just as atheists once were).

And just like the old priesthood, the new one has its hypocrites. How many of those who pay homage to green politics use aeroplanes or engage in other environmentally damaging behaviour? How many supporters of egalitarianism have fixed it for relatives and cronies to get into positions? How many champions of diversity live in rural idylls or upscale parts of cities where high housing costs protect them from its downsides? And how many of their neighbours are socialists who send their children to the best schools and have holiday homes in southern France or northern Italy? Quite a few; there are saints who make the sacrifice for their beliefs, but human nature never changes.

Hypocrisy is built into the human mind; projecting a moral attitude is necessary for popularity, but such moral rectitude normally carries high personal costs, and temptation is strong. The more idealistic and utopian the political system, the more such hypocrisy becomes overwhelming, the most extreme example being the Soviet Union, which demanded absurd levels of personal sacrifice. In reality everyone strived for the best houses, western goods and the elite Moscow schools (even the USSR failed to achieve egalitarianism in education, a fact that doesn’t deter some British commentators).

The Left still makes high moral demands of its supporters, which perhaps explains the venom towards Catholic hypocrisy. In contrast lots of young British Tories are libertarian, the thinking being presumably that since every moralistic worldview is bound to lead to hypocrisy, the best thing is to not ask anything of anyone and revel in avarice. That’s an unpopular stance, since humans have an innate need to be moral in some way, but if you don’t have priests you just end up with equality and diversity officers.

It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for morality, whether it’s suppressing lust, greed or racial hatred, but we are all hypocrites, and always will be.

Perhaps instead of dismissing sinners who want to be saints, we can each help one be better. 

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