|Jesus and Nicodemus by Crijn Hendricksz|| |
Although lying is among the Ten Commandments, there is no separate mention of or parenthesis for being a hypocrite. In fact, there is a subtle but very vital difference between the two. Lying usually has a purpose. It may be used to confuse, to negate, sometimes even to protect or avoid hurting other people's feelings. There are indeed different categories of lies (according to St. Augustine there are eight in total) and they have been called different names, such as white lies, noble lies, perjury, vicious lies, deceiving lies, lies of omission etc.
As in any question of morality, there are no absolutes, and it comes down to personal judgment. Pretty much, all of us lie one way or another and if you say you are the exception, you are probably lying. In some occasions and at certain times, lying is not that bad, sometimes even necessary. If I was able to save somebody's or my own life with a lie, I would do so without blinking. If I had to forsake religion and creed in order to save myself and my family, I would not play the stubborn hero and would prefer to live a liar than die a martyr. Sorry, Calvin.
But hypocrisy is a different matter. While for lying you present pieces of untruth and misleading or false information, hypocrites use lies for more global reasons, such as creating a false appearance. Pretense is done with the specific objective of appearing other than who and what one is. Lies are instances of falsehood, whereas hypocrisy often relates to lifestyle. A hypocrite outwardly appears to be a decent citizen, while in fact, he is full of vice and evil intentions. She may smile, but it is a fake mask. In such cases, hypocrisy is a double lie. It uses pretense to mask and hide evil.
There are obviously different levels of hypocrisy as well. Some may prefer to show themselves as rich, by wearing expensive-looking clothes and going to fancy restaurants, while in reality they hardly have a penny to their name. They would prefer that others not see them as they are, but as a false and contorted image of being well off. They usually subscribe to the idea that the grass is greener on the rich person's lawn.
However, the worst type of hypocrisy is of the moral kind. By this I mean those who preach morality while being and/or acting in exactly the opposite manner. We have so many cases where people claim to be good and respectable but it is merely a facade, a mirage. They do not practice what they preach and this should undermine their authority, but unfortunately many followers are so blinded that they often forgive the preachers their sins. What bothers me is not necessarily their act, because everybody lies and cheats and commits evil acts, but that they claim to be pure and good and holier than the rest despite evidence to the contrary.
When it comes to questions of religion, John Calvin, one of the principal reformers of the Protestant faith, was upset that many a protestant in times of turmoil pretended to be Catholic while secretly holding on to their Protestant beliefs. Calvin claimed that they were Nicodemites, based on the Jewish priest Nicodemus who had sympathies for Jesus but did not openly profess his beliefs. This process of dissimulation, of concealing one's true beliefs is the other type of hypocrisy.
Regarding the circumstances where Protestants had to face prison terms, torture and even death for professing, I believe it was too much to ask them to lay down their lives, especially considering that Calvin himself remained safe and sound in exile while he was judging and condemning others. In such cases, as I mentioned earlier, I find it more than acceptable to lie in order to save one's hind.
So to summarize, I believe that hypocrisy is much worse than lies. Lies may have various functions and reasons, whereas hypocrisy is mere deception and benefits no one in the end. Hypocrites are often the ones that lead a whole life of lies and deception and one day, sooner or later, they will get entangled in the mesh of falsehood and will have to face the truth.