Everyone knows hypocrites are the worst. And the worst of the worst is when a hypocrite dares to tell you what to do. There is something deeply offensive about being preached to by those who do not do what they say.
In the show Arrow, the hero is a reformed addict and partier who now fights crime. He finds out his sister is using drugs and confronts her. Her response? You have no right to judge me. Stung, he lets her go.
In an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, Bruce Jenner questioned why Kim was going to pose nude for some magazine. Kim and her sisters counter Bruce’s criticism by pointing out he posed for an adult magazine himself.
Drop the mic, walk off the stage while staring down the opposition. And Bruce had nothing to say in reply.
We think we do not have to listen to other people if they are hypocrites. We think they lack moral authority. But that is exactly the opposite of what Jesus commands. Here is what Jesus says about the Pharisees:
Matthew 23: 1-4 “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.’”
Instead of ignoring their words, Christ tells us to obey their words because they are in a position of authority. Far from being a get out of jail free card for us, their hypocrisy condemns them. The law they speak still stands. But note—Christ takes this way of using authority and subverts it among his followers. This is not how his followers are to act. Verse 11 and 12—“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
In the cases above, when one person is critiqued the first response is to point out how the other person has failed. Instead, we are to hold ourselves as accountable before the truth, especially the truth we preach. We submit to God, and see ourselves exactly on level with everyone else, and then we are able to approach each other in humility. Thus, when someone else critiques us, our first response is not to judge them in reply but instead to check to see if what they are saying is true. Because if it is, we are accountable for it.
Consider, as one final exercise, how Jesus’ command would change behavior on social networks. Imagine hearing from a supporter of gay marriage, “You are making gay people second class citizens!” Or imagine hearing, from a supporter of traditional marriage, “You are ‘loving’ people into their own destruction!” Instead of lashing back, think—what if they are right? Is it true? Be prepared to submit to the truth. Seek it more than anything. Once you are listening to the other side, then you can start finding creative solutions. Until that point, there is no communication, only gut reactions.
I started with how hypocrites are the worst. I take it back. Clearly, internet commenters are the worst.
Jonathan Krull is a visiting professor of philosophy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column reflects the views of the writer only.