The Virtue That Has No Name

Via Calculated Bravery, an extremely important discussion that addresses hypocrisy, one of the primary crimes of progressivism, Christian and otherwise.

Sometimes a vice is just a vice, but more problematically a vice can be a distorted virtue. The writer runs through all of these, then comes to the virtue which is distorted as hypocrisy, and finds there is no actual word for it.

It is a very basic progressive idea that one has no right to advocate any moral standard that one does not actually meet oneself. As with all things progressive, this is selectively applied of course to enemies and overlooked for friends. As with most progressive things, this has a basis in Protestant theology and the Reformation.

One of the Reformers’ charges against the Catholic Church was that the Catholic clergy was hypocritical, living large and having mistresses on the side while preaching poverty and celibacy. This charge was probably overstated, priests probably demonstrated a wide range of behavior, some saints, many more or less decent and dedicated servants of God, and a not insignificant number of scoundrels. But they did have a point.

Nobody actually meets a strict standard of morality, at least by Christian standards, so the Reformers had to resolve their own cognitive dissonance. They did this through the idea of antinomianism, that the true believer is under no law, and because he is a good person, anything he does, thinks or says is good. Luther explicitly denounced antinomianism, but the idea is pretty clearly basic to Protestant theology. Conversely, if you are not a good person as defined by the progressive Protestant, nothing you do is or can be good.

If progressives want to fornicate or sodomize, those things are wonderful and good, whereas evangelical virgins are laughable and contemptible. Whatever you want to say about the Pharisees- Jesus said they were children of Satan- at least they were actually following all the rules they said were important, not just saying they could do whatever they want.

But getting back to hypocrisy, a toleration of a gap between formal moral standards and actual behavior seems to have existed better in rural, traditional societies, Catholic or Anglican, than the urban merchant society that developed some time after the Reformation with globalization. In rural society everybody knows everybody’s business, and one’s social position can neither be much enhanced by good behavior or reduced much by bad behavior. In urban society, you are who you can convince people you are, and a reputation for probity can get you a better job or more business.

Roughly the idea of what was correct went from understanding and acknowledging the limits of the ability of people to adhere to strict moral standards- which benefited rich, idle landowners the most, which was a big part of the reason rich, constantly working merchants and bankers didn’t like it- to the understanding that whatever your sins, you should best keep them carefully hidden for the good of society.

And then another change came along, in which the idea of moral standards became a big drag, and that one should not pretend anything. Ganymede calls this the “cult of authenticity” and it comes down to the idea that suppression is the worst thing a person can do, because deep down inside each person is the true self, what the person is supposed to be.

The cult of authenticity is a very powerful idea that has shaped most of Western culture for the last 150 years or so. It is also not in the least Christian. Jesus hated hypocrisy, but by the definition of replacing a true moral standard with a false moral standard.

For everybody there is a gap between what they should be, and what they are. For some people the gap is bigger and more obvious. What Jesus wanted people to recognize was that the gap was there.

Obeying and honoring God is a kind of journey. Where ever you are, you have a long way to go. You can stop and rest, but don’t set up camp, and definitely don’t build a house.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Virtue That Has No Name

  1. Thanks for the link, and for the very valuable historical context.

    Although Protestants will disagree, antinomianism does seem to be a fairly natural development of the Reformation belief of salvation by faith alone.

    In my opinion, though, the roots go deeper than that, back to Joachim of Fiore, some of the excesses of the Black Death flagellants, and some of the popular extreme expressions of the crusading spirit. You see it a little bit even in the abuses of indulgences that Protestants were reacting to.

  2. That virtue’s name is “fake it ’til you make it”.

  3. Pingback: No Hypocrites, No Heroes, No Humble Worship | Junior Ganymede

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