In May of 2003 William Bennett, then the right-wing poster boy for virtues, was discovered to be a big time gambler. The trouble wasn’t so much that he’d lost a boatload of money (estimated to be about five million dollars) but that he was caught participating in what many religious conservatives consider a vice. Bennett tried to shrug off his addiction by saying his particular brand of faith didn’t really discourage gambling, but then went on to say that he’d never gamble again anyway. Mmm, okay.
Fortunately for Bennett, that story broke in the middle of particularly terrifying Midwest weather, the global threat of SARS, and Jay Leno and Katie Couric switching jobs for a day. Before long, the new Slick Willy was able to return to being a chubby spokes model for virtues and spewing forth more volumes of biblically confused morality. Bennett is lucky that Americans are as forgetful as they are apathetic. Perhaps people like William count on it.
Why do religious leaders seem to suffer the most from extreme hypocrisy? It may be that they are more closely scrutinized than the Average Joe, but that is as it should be. Having been in the military I am strong believer in leading by example. I do not look up to people who do not set a good example. Yet these are the religious leaders we’ve been putting up with over the years…
Jesse Jackson was revealed to have sired a love child and allegedly embezzled money from his own Rainbow Coalition; Jim Baker commits adultery with Jessica Hahn; Franklin Graham calls Islam a “wicked and evil religion” while ignoring Christian history. Pat Robertson blames homosexuals for the September 11th attacks, as if that was the one thing that really riled up the terrorists. Then there’s Osama bin Laden, who used Islamic fundamentalism to inspire incredible homicidal and suicidal violence while he completely ignored the opportunity to be a spectacular symbol of martyrdom himself. What a chicken-shit. By the way, when are priests going to stop abusing little children? Only when we’re looking? Currently, there’s no scandal involving that slick son-of-a-gun Joel Osteen, but you just know it’s coming.
Why is it that the people who would have you and I believe they know the path to God better than we do behave so poorly? The origin of the moral hypocrisy of the pious may have something to do with the fact that such people are held to impossibly high standards, which is the logical consequence when one picks their faith. But I think this is strange because I consider it amazing that people cling to religion in an attempt to curb themselves of the very behavior that makes them human in the first place. Have we not learned as a species that repressing our nature perverts our nature until we have no choice to but to be hypocrites? You know, religious rules should be rejoined with a disclaimer that cautions, “Guidelines Only.” I mean, trying not to scream “Oh God!” when you climax really is impossible. Granted, we don’t want people to get too violent. It must be considered though that something like violence is a part of our human nature and its okay when released in a socially acceptable manner, like rampaging your local downtown district whether or not your team wins the Super Bowl.
What makes these scandals worse? In my opinion that would be forgiveness. Perhaps it is believed that everyone makes mistakes. Yet the mistakes of these particular leaders are all too common and have caused the public to become jaded to the point that some kind of deception is completely expected as if these religious leaders were politicians (refer back to my Joel Osteen line earlier). Oddly, since monotheists in particular like to believe that God doesn’t like sinners and lying is a sin, you’d think that religious leaders caught lying or behaving poorly, thus potentially leading their flock astray, would be more severely punished by their parishioners than the average church denizen. Believe it or not though, they are actually the ones most easily forgiven by the public, never mind that these supposed leaders are the ones who are allegedly pied-piping us to heaven. What the hell? For the believer, enabling their liars will get them exactly what they deserve, which is nothing. When religious leaders fail, it is revealed just how much stock they have invested in their beliefs. Observe how often they say they will reform only after being caught red-handed.
These theocratic representatives alone however are not entirely to blame. It seems to me that the hypocrisy arises from both sides of the playing field. The people we call upon to be our leaders are characteristically of low moral fiber in part because it’s largely recognized that assholes are the only ones insecure enough to put forth the drive and determination required to lord power over others. Everyone knows it takes two to tango, and somebody has got to be the bitch. Saying a politician or priest speaks for you therefore practically makes you an accomplice to all sorts of ghastly behavior.
This also seems to be why no one is willing to be outraged (or be outraged by a lack of outrage). Most people point-blank refuse to criticize those whom they have elected. It’s an admission of guilt or at least of being an accessory. Cripes, canning the boss or your representative would mean one of us other low-lifes taking time out of their busy schedule to be an effective and true leader. Save the world? I’m free on Tuesday I guess, after my massage. Leaders rely on exactly this kind of attitude to remain in power. Then they become prone to thinking that they can get away with just about anything. For the most part I’m sure they do, because the public lets them. Sheep don’t tell wolves what to do.
I’m not going to say that I’ve never said one thing and then done the opposite. It’s just that us decent folk don’t go around doing it all the time in a conscious effort to make a mockery of the beliefs we profess. I’m not shoving beliefs I do not really believe down other people’s throats. When I make a mistake I am man enough to admit it. (It just never happens.) Religious leaders on the other hand might be better off pointing out their flaws to begin with so that their flocks will avoid any letdown (and an inevitable look-the-other-way). It’s like a “Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free” card played in advance. This would greatly help congregations identify with their leaders. Hmm, but I wonder how many leaders don’t want to be identified with their followers. Ah, now we see what they think of us.
Just how badly are religious leaders needed anyway? We might recall that Jesus told his followers that the kingdom of God was inside of them. But then he also said to his disciples that they would not taste death before seeing heaven on Earth. Did he lie? Even in his last moment Jesus seemed to question his father whom it appeared had forsaken him. When the chips were down, it appeared as if the Son of Man didn’t believe in God or at least couldn’t believe he’d been abandoned to such a terrible fate. Do you think a parent who loved you would willingly allow you to be tortured to death? Holy hand-grenades, the origin of hypocrisy is right there in the Bible!
There’s a lesson to learn here and that lesson is you can’t really trust anyone but yourself to lead yourself, especially when it comes to faith. Sucks, I know. This has been another disappointing message brought to you by Religion, the proud sponsor of Fooled You.