I’d always thought of hypocrisy as an essentially simple thing until the debate over ninth-month (or “partial-birth”) abortion. But there is hypocrisy and hypocrisy.
One kind of hypocrisy we are all familiar with: preaching one thing while cold-bloodedly practicing another. The notorious example is the televangelist who gets caught in a motel room with a girl. Or the politician who publicly weeps over his sister’s death from lung cancer, then turns out to have been chummy with rich tobacco farmers even after witnessing her agony.
Yet this kind of hypocrisy does reinforce the social norm. The hypocrite has already condemned himself by his own preaching. He’s defenseless when caught in his inconsistency.
But if some people don’t practice what they preach, there are others who, you might say, hypocritically preach what they practice. The stupid hypocrite sets himself up for a fall by feigning respect for the standard by which he will be judged; the smart hypocrite attacks the standard itself.
I really don’t think there is much honest disagreement about abortion. It’s killing. Its target is the inconvenient human being in the womb. But by pretending that this is a “religious” rather than a simple biological question, the new breed of hypocrite has managed to gain acceptance of abortion.
You can understand confusion and uncertainty over the tiniest embryos, but I always assumed that advocates of abortion would draw the line at practices that obviously destroy well-formed children, and inflict agony on them to boot. Draining out the brains, so that the skull can be crushed, so that the child can be killed without violating the law — well, you hardly need theological indoctrination to recoil from such cruelty.
Yet there are still people who profess to see nothing wrong with abortion, even at this stage. And by pretending that what they do or endorse is consistent with their own consciences, they escape the charge of barbarity. At least they’re “sincere”!
Are they? Then why don’t they frankly call what they approve of “killing”? We kill germs and cockroaches and cute little lambs, and we don’t shrink from saying so, because we regard it as our right to kill them. So if a “fetus” has no human worth, what’s wrong with killing it, and saying it’s killing?
No, the new hypocrite knows perfectly well that abortion is wrong, but finds it expedient to pretend otherwise. And the rest of us support this hypocrisy by presuming its sincerity.
Consider homosexuality. Everyone knows it’s a serious disorder; nobody wishes it on anyone he loves; a parent who tried to turn a child homosexual would be considered monstrous. But the new hypocrisy requires us to pretend that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality except “society’s attitude” toward it, which of course we are supposed to correct.
In fact the new hypocrisy is a necessary aspect of the “new morality.” There is no “new” morality. There is only the systematic pretense that sexual vice is not vice.
Under the new rules, you can be called a hypocrite for upholding old standards of virtue that you don’t exemplify perfectly; but you can’t be called a hypocrite for sinking into utter moral squalor, as long as you profess to believe there’s nothing wrong with it. So the defender of traditional morality is kept constantly on the defensive, since only he can be accused of hypocrisy.
It’s quite a clever system, because it works entirely to the advantage of one side, while the other side has been slow to figure it out. But it boils down to something simple and obvious.
If you set high standards, there is the danger that you’ll create an embarrassing gap between what you believe and what you do. The actual may fall short of the ideal; in fact it’s almost certain to do so, and you may look hypocritical when you’re only human.
But if you profess low standards, there’s no danger of such a gap. Your behavior is all too likely to meet your standards. If you openly advocate pedophilia, then the one thing you can’t be accused of when you’re caught in bed with a little child is hypocrisy.
One thing about the old hypocrisy: It was more innocent.