Fishocrites

fishThis little nugget popped up several weeks ago, and got relatively little notice in the blogs — although OpinionJournal gave it a nod. In brief, our friends at the Washington State Democrats web site had this little gem for sale, a variation on the car magnet ribbons which say “Support the Troops”, “Hate Isn’t a Family Value”, or some similar inanity. At least, they did sell it–for about an hour, until some folks on the Dark Side noticed, after which they promptly pulled it (but you can see the original page here).

Fish symbols on cars have a long and illustrious history. Starting as a simple Christian symbol, they were soon followed by fish with crosses, fish with “Jesus” spelled out (in English, Greek, or Aramaic–your choice), fish on feet proclaiming the lordship of Darwin, Jesus fish eating Darwinian fish, Jihadi fish with suicide vests blowing up Jesus fish eating Darwinian fish (haven’t seen this one myself–but sales have evidently exploded). Anyway, you get the idea.

I’ve always wondered at the mentality of bumper-sticker evangelists: whom do they hope to convert? The guy behind you who thinks you’re driving like a senile ninny? The tractor-trailer whose crack-addled driver is trying to run you off the road? Or the guy you just cut off and gifted with that casual five-minus-four-finger wave? Personally, I’d rather not advertise my faith, my politics, how much I love rainbows, visions of whirled peas, or any other preference, rant, or mantra on my car: I just want the darn thing to start, and get me where I’m going, as anonymously as possible.

sound carBut if you’re gonna promote your religion with your car, you really should go for the gold: early Jehovah’s Witnesses used sound cars blaring anti-Catholic and anti-clergy vitriole back in the glory days of ol’ Judge Rutherford. No lame fish magnets for them, no sirree: say it loud and say it proud. Leave them Watchtowers in the car, Mildred, forget about ringin’ them doorbells, and crank it up, baby!

But back to the matter of hypocrisy: is there anyone who does not manifest this trait nowadays? It is the coin of the political realm: if you are a conservative, liberals are hypocrites; if a Democrat, of course all Republicans are hypocrites. The culture wars are no different: everyone who disagrees with you about abortion, or gay marriage, or separation of church and state, or guns, or whatever, is an extremist, and a hypocrite–and probably abuses little children as well. Thus is the high-water mark of public discourse in our thoroughly-modern millennium.

The word hypocrisy has its roots in ancient Greece, where the word hupocrites was used to depict actors or the parts they played–and some would say it is still used this way. It bespeaks a dichotomy between conviction and action–specifically that which occurs when one pretends to be something or someone which they are not. Hypocrisy is, of course, a matter of degree, and of one’s perspective: if you believe that lying is wrong, for example, but have ever told a lie, then you are by rights a hypocrite–although most of us would find such clarity of definition a bit too threatening, for the obvious reason that we would be its primary target.

You see, the charge of “Hypocrite!” works best when applied to others–carefully applying my surgical log to the splinter in your cornea, to make your vision Lasik-sharp, just as mine is. And it is, in a way, a left-handed compliment–insofar as it implies that you actually have some principles, although you may be acting contumaciously to their dictates.

One, of course, is tempted to respond to such a charge with counter-charges of still more hypocrisy, on your accuser’s part. And thus the cycle of violence continues, a verbal Munich which spirals downward until we all become cynical bastards incapable of even the faintest glimmer of human decency or moral compass.

But I for one take a different view: to be called a hypocrite is a badge of honor. It tells me that someone cares enough about me to point out my moral shortcomings — for which I am grateful, as I am wont to overlook them otherwise. And it has another benefit rarely noticed: it elucidates how my behavior fails to measure up to your standards–which guides me along that meandering, aimless brick road toward true multicultural tolerance, the Oz of our postmodern world.

The fishocrite magnet was acquired by our Washocrat friends from the delightfully-named Reefer Magnets company, which specializes in promoting the decriminalization of marijuana–and whose efforts thereby may help keep the marketing consultants to the Washington State Democratic Party out of jail. Allison Bigelow, whose magnetic personality envisioned and founded this enterprise, is a woman clearly interested in raising the moral standards of the world around her to new highs:

She sees the media attention as a chance to talk about the real aim of Reefer Magnets and her efforts to educate and advocate for the decriminalizing [of] marijuana.

“In my opinion, we wouldn \'t be such a warring people if we used more cannabis and used less alcohol,” Bigelow said.

Bigelow has marched in anti-globalization and anti-war rallies in Seattle. She has written letters to editors and voted for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in 2004 if only to vote against President Bush.

“I \'ve done everything I can, but I still feel I have blood on my hands,” Bigelow said of the ongoing war in Iraq.

Through her online store, Bigelow sells magnets the size of business cards with a pro-pot messages.

“We don \'t need to be in a war for oil because we have industrial hemp,” Bigelow said. “If you look into all the little things that hemp can do, you \'ll understand. We wouldn \'t be killing people for oil.”

Now lest you be confused, Ms. Bigelow did not create the clever fishocrite with her own bloodied hands, but acquired it from another, unnamed source:

This latest ichthys parody was created by a Seattle activist who wanted not to be named. He said he feared for the safety of his cats if the controversy grew out of control.

Now the confluence of Christian hypocrites, reefer madness, and smitten kittens did–I must confess–stump me for a bit. But after due deliberation, in a puff of perlucidity, it all became as clear as bong-water: If I turn from my religious ways, smoke some weed, fill my tank with hemp, and stop killing all those darn cats (spawn of Satan, don’t ya know!), world peace will be upon us–or whirled peas, if you are of the vegan persuasion. If you are still confused, take a deep breath, hold it as long as you can, then slowly exhale–aahh!–and it will all become clear to you as well. Just be sure your room is well-ventilated so the neighbors won’t celebrate the demise of your hypocritical ways by calling the cops.

The charge of hypocrisy against religious folk, especially Christians, is hardly a new one. It’s been the battle cry of those opposed to Christianity, for any reason–political, philosophical, moral, personal–virtually since the apostles started pounding pavement to convert the world. And it should come as no surprise that there really are Christians who are hypocrites–just as there are Buddhists who are hypocrites, Muslims who are hypocrites, yes, even atheists who are hypocrites–not to mention accountants, lawyers, doctors, brick layers, plumbers, prostitutes, and street people. It is an equal-opportunity avocation, whose membership requirements involve simply having a pulse, and not (yet) pushing up daisies.

Hypocrisy is the pretty face we put on the sordid underbelly of the human condition, the dark side of our nature, the charade we maintain to cover our shame. It is a function of our relational nature, as we seek the acceptance of others by making ourselves more attractive on the outside than our inner decay warrants. For our lives are not simply a process of gilding the lily–though we often we imagine them so–but are rather spent candy-coating a cow pie, embellishing the outside while the inside corrodes. For if our inner light was the shining jewel we presume it to be, we would proudly show it forth in all its glory–and there would be no pretense, no deceit, no hypocrisy, no hiding. But such is not the condition of man, so we take pains to pretend to be that which we are not.

The accusation of hypocrisy is directed at Christians, and others of faith, for any number of reasons. At times, the charge is spot-on: when Jimmy Swaggart was ranting about the evils of sexual immorality and fornication, all the while addicted to pornography and frequenting hookers, there is no more apt description than hypocrite. But such egregious cases, while commonly cited as the norm by opponents of Christianity, are in fact condemned by Christians of all stripes virtually without exception–and are grotesquely and disproportionately magnified in significance by media obsessiveness with such scandals. At other times, the charge of hypocrisy resembles an archeological dig, as the dust is brushed off the fossilized remains of the Inquisition and the Crusades to “prove” how debased and power-hungry Christians are by nature and inclination. The Inquisition and the Crusades were many things: the first a toxic confluence of religion and political power, the latter far more a series of defensive wars than the militant evangelism they are purported to be. But in both cases, historical facts are conveniently ignored while these remote events serve as convenient straw men for those committed to castigating Christianity in every age and every place.

But there is another, more common, motive behind such charges of hypocrisy. Religion in general, and Christianity in particular, are not simply benign, quirky notions without consequence, such as believing in alien spaceships or in your fairy godmother. Religious conviction has consequences–consequences which require personal decisions which often go counter to our natural inclinations. Although generally dismissed as mere superstition by secular skeptics, religious faith demands that we change, and conform our lives to the dictates of morality and–particularly in the case of Christianity and Judaism–be accountable to a personal God. The religious person asserts, through both his faith and his actions, that behavior has consequences beyond that easily foreseen. Such a testimony can prove threatening to those who would prefer that their actions and lifestyles be unassailable, no matter what their impact on them personally, the people around them, and society in general. Christianity is, furthermore, by its founding and nature an evangelical faith, seeking to actively call men away from self-centeredness toward the goodness and mercy of God through personal change and repentance. But this proactive endeavor is–unsurprisingly–threatening and uncomfortable for many, even when done for the best of motives.

Faced with the implication that their lives may not meet the highest of standards, and with the uneasy feeling that, if there is a God, He (or She) may not necessarily be all that pleased with their life and choices, it therefore behooves those who reject religious belief to in effect shoot the messenger. If the Christian can be demonstrated to be no different than non-Christian–motivated therefore only by self-interest and the lust for power and control–then their message can be more easily dismissed as simply another form of psychological manipulation or power-play. Those of the secular persuasion naturally assume–cynically but consistently–that Christians cannot be motivated by the desire for the best for others and for the society in which they live. Hence, when Christians assert that some personal or societal behavior or policy is in fact destructive for either the individual, or society, or both, they must be dismissed as hypocrites who are merely following their own cynical wishes to gain power for personal or political gain.

But the Christian, in the purest sense of the word, is in reality driven truly by different motives, brought about by an inner transformation achieved by faith. The car may look the same on the outside, but the motor has been completely re-engineered. Christianity is an inside-out job, wherein God changes the heart, setting us on a course to transform our motivations and desires to those closer to His own. The inner change can be striking, and often is: new perspectives, new priorities, new insight, new rejection of things once accepted unquestionably. But while the heart may change radically, the outside changes with painful slowness, as old habits and behaviors persist.

Christianity is not really about self-betterment or mere behavioral change, but is rather an exchange: a heart transplant, if you will, where something of the God-life begins to live within the spirit of a man. There is, as a result, a conflict: the mind and emotions still following another, older set of rules, while the spirit slowly, almost imperceptibly changes those rules. To the outsider, this may appear to be hypocrisy, with the Christian acting out of sync with his or her stated beliefs–as all do to greater or lesser degree. But this discord is in reality the antidote to hypocrisy: not changing the outside to hide the inside, to deceive and mislead, but rather having the inside changed, leading to inexorable and lasting transformation of the whole man. For true hypocrisy is to change only the outside, to improve oneself through self-sufficiency, strength of will, or even religious observance. For such change is incapable of changing the heart, leaving it instead still self-absorbed, self-centered–and ultimately self-destructive.

But don’t expect those who reject the moral claims of religion and faith to abandon their claims of hypocrisy any time soon. For if, in some perfect world, Christians lived up to their high standards and morals without fail, those who now cry “Hypocrite!” would find us even more hateful than they do now. To hope or believe otherwise is truly a pipe dream.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

10 thoughts on “Fishocrites

  1. My sister has an hypothesis, that goes like this.

    If you have one or two bumper stickers (doesn’t matter what they are–“Luray Caverns” or “Defend the Right to Arm Bears”), you’re ok, you just have opinions or a history of family car trips.

    If you have more than two (doesn’t matter what they are, either), then you’re a nut.

    As for hypocrisy, I’d point it out more often, but the log in my eye keeps getting in my way.

  2. Yet another excellent post.

    Christianity is not really about self-betterment or mere behavioral change, but is rather an exchange: a heart transplant, if you will, where something of the God-life begins to live within the spirit of a man.

    Not only are you are a gifted writer … you’re an even more gifted teacher.

    Please consider putting some of these posts into an anthology.

    .

  3. But after due deliberation, in a puff of perlucidity, it all became as clear as bong-water: If I turn from my religious ways, smoke some weed, fill my tank with hemp, and stop killing all those darn cats (spawn of Satan, don’t ya know!), world peace will be upon us–or whirled peas, if you are of the vegan persuasion. If you are still confused, take a deep breath, hold it as long as you can, then slowly exhale–aahh!–and it will all become clear to you as well.

    this entire post was brilliant, but alluding the the clarity of bong water? is there anything you’d care to admit, kind sir?

  4. Great post. I echo that you should consider publishing an anthology, I have a old med school roomie Ed Leap, M.D. who recently published an anthology using the firm booklocker.com and has been very pleased with the experience.

    Keith Green always liked to refer to the fish stickers and like as “Jesus junk”—which is about what it is. If its purpose is to identify ourselves as part of the “in” crowd to our fellow Christians, that’s not really necessary. If its purpose is to say to non-believers “we know more than you do!”, then it’s REALLY not necessary. If its purpose is a good-natured attempt to “witness”—it is really useless unless the people know our hearts and our walk, and if they do, then it isn’t necessary then either.

  5. Weighing in on this a bit late, but . . . I cast my vote, as well, for you to publish these treatises in an anthology. You state so clearly the truths with which we live–for better or, in some cases, for worse–that I would like to be able to read them again and again, over time.

    I’m reminded of a story, probably not strictly true, of a woman who was driving behind another car and clearly in a rage; traffic was too heavy for her to escape, and the light turned red. She sat there, waving her arms, offering one-finger salutes, obviously shouting (almost certainly, obscenities), and generally looking out of control.

    The police officer behind her finally turned on lights and siren and pulled her over. She was cuffed, taken to jail, put into a cell, and there she stewed for a while.

    Eventually, the officer returned and let her out of the cell, telling her she was free to go. He was most apologetic, but explained: When he saw the fish symbol, the WWJD bumper sticker, the “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” bumper sticker, and the decal of Calvin kneeling at the foot of the cross, he naturally assumed that the person driving had stolen her car.

    No, I don’t have any religious symbols on my car, either. Too aware of my imperfections, although I do try to keep my irritation under control, better than I did when I was younger.

  6. Pingback: AMERICAN DIGEST
  7. I recently have thought of the spiritual person as one who has grown tired of their hypocrisy, whereas the unspiritual is one who has not examined their own hypocrisy. Jesus said that you shall know the truth and that the truth shall set you free. Dr. Bob has well pointed out that a Christian, striving for holiness, is aware of their hypocrisy. Sadly, the athiest and/or the secular humanist live their daily lives with the ultimate hypocrisy of moral relativism, declaring things good or evil, right or wrong with no ground upon which to stand.

  8. BRIAN C.

    There’s a further step you can take, one an atheist friend of mine took a long time ago – admitting that moral relativism has no ground to stand on, but deducing from that the conclusion that it is impossible to declare anything an absolute good or an absolute evil. To him, human beings are not good or evil – they just ARE, existing without qualifications.

    I wish I could explain to him why that idea feels so fundamentally wrong to me, but since he won’t accept any argument that includes metaphysics and I can’t think of any objections that don’t bring ‘God’ into it, I’m screwed in that regard.

  9. Wow, Some pretty good writing. Being a doctor of theology (yes, a real one), I see the the writing on the wall, so to speak. Christianity is exactly where it needs to be at this point in time. Christ didn’t sup with the “wholesome”, but with the sick and depraved; for who of us is in need of a doctor when all is right and good with our soul? Heck, just don’t follow your neighbor’s example – and maybe you too will get a seat at the table.
    Dr. Joe

Comments are closed.