Hypocrisy and the Evangelical Church: Not “Of” but “In”

by jdavidcharles

Deleuze and Guattari make a distinction in Anti-Oedipus between that of the cynic and the hypocrite. At the risk of doing some injustice to the text I am enough of a deconstructionist to gladly “mis-read” this distinction and use it for my own ends. The way I see the distinction is that the cynic tries to critique from outside, that is make the “meta” move and claim to be able to be outside the discourse and critique it. The hypocrite on the other hand critiques knowingly from inside the problem itself.

For example I am a vegetarian—I strive quite publicly for the fair treatment of animals and have a hostility particularly towards many forms of the “production” of meat in the US. I could withdraw from the issue as much as possible in order to be “on the outside,” i.e. grow all my own food, avoid any contact with companies as this would essentially support them implicitly, etc. This would be the move of the cynic. The cynic however runs the risk of thinking he’s gotten “beyond” the system—runs the risk of being delusional, of thinking he no longer is involved with hypocrisy. But there is no escaping one’s own finitude. To act as hypocrite, however, recognizes that one cannot move “outside” of one’s viewpoint, he radically embraces his own finitude. Thus I have decided to still purchase veggie-friendly-food at a restaurant that sells meat (even though this money will inevitably go to meat-production), not throw away everything leather in sight, eat cheese, etc. The point being is the hypocrite embraces his own shortcoming. He does so at the risk of “stopping shy,” it’s true, perhaps he could do more to engage in whatever cause he’s behind, but, hell, he’s only human and he’s doing what he can. Besides, he’d rather be aware of his own shortcomings then be ignorant.

I think this distinction applies pretty clearly to the state of the contemporary Christian church. Many churches attempt to withdraw, play the cynic—I think most vividly of the “Not of This World” bumper stickers on cars. Here is a clear case of attempting to move outside, withdraw from one’s own finitude and claim a superior position by which to “see” more clearly than others (the image I get is of the person above on a white cloud, cherub-kissed, harp in hand, looking down on all us “sinners”). The sticker fails to recognize any irony or hypocrisy in itself. However, this sticker is on an automobile, usually a gas-guzzler if you’ll forgive the stereotyping, purchased from a NOTW store at a local mall, and, in everyway, a clear sign of this world. Here the cynic is in denial over his or her own hypocrisy—s/he cannot account for any irony or dissonance of faith, but must rather feign withdrawal from the world as such in order to feel justified. The cynic NOTW-sticker owner uses an essentially hypocritical-paradoxical statement (not of this world but in it) as justification for “escaping” finitude and discourse.

The problem with this is things are messy. Sometimes issues are clear-cut but more often then not we reduce them to clear-cut cases for simplicity’s sake and at the expense of others. This seems to be central to the Christ-of-the-gospels’ message, namely that the religious institutions of the day were enacting morality at the expense of the meek, poor, and widowed. This also aligns with St. Paul’s distinction between law and spirit—the law (making things clear-cut) is a form of violence, a means of revealing sin, not our means of overcoming; the spirit is what we live in, which is to say we approach each situation with love, faith, charity and do the best we can—which is never enough and always falls short. Withdrawal essentially denies this moving beyond or outside the self. The NOTW brand of capitalist fashion-Christianity ironically is embracing a very harmful form of asceticism—they parade around in the world telling everyone they are withdrawn and therefore better.

Church, to me, is precisely the place where hypocrites come to meet. This is why I love a weekly Eucharist so much I think. Once a week a whole group of diverse hypocrites all come together to eat God (a God who became just one among us, a human being, and that we killed). The crux of the entire Christian faith seems to me to rest upon this paradox: Christ crucified for us. The Eucharist is more than a mere reminder mind you, it is a literal enacting of hypocrisy—that’s the point of real presence—we actually in some way kill and eat our God.

When people accuse the Eucharist as cannibalistic the correct response should be yes, we as humans eat our fellow man, and the divine-in-him—this is sin, but we should recognize it as such, we never escape it, never supersede it. We are always already sinners, but, by embracing it, by eating the flesh, we become more than mere cynics (those who insult, stereotype, withdraw and claim to be “other”) but hypocrites, those who insult and critique the world that is first and foremost ourselves. What separates the church from the world is not its sacredness or holiness as opposed to secularity but its radical acceptance and embracing of the secular, the other, its forgiveness and charity towards it, its capacity to love it—the authentic sacred is the embracing of the secular—an authentic Christian a hypocritical one.