Biblical, Patristic and Magisterial Teaching on Usury (Michael Hoffman, 2013)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from, Usury in Christendom: The Mortal Sin that Was and Now is Not, 2013.

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No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.1 (Matthew 6:24)

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?…He that does not ask interest on his loan, and cannot be bribed to victimize the innocent. (Psalm 15:1, 5)

The upright man is law-abiding and honest…He never charges usury on loans, takes no interest, abstains from evil…It is Yahweh who speaks. (Ezekiel 18:5, 8-9)

Orthodox icon of Thucidides & Aristotle (Transfiguration Monastery, Meteora)
Orthodox icon of Thucydides & Aristotle (Transfiguration Monastery, Meteora)

“The natural form therefore, of the art of acquisition is always, and in all cases, acquisition from fruits and animals. That art, as we have said, has two forms: one which is connected with retail trade, and another which is connected with the management of the household. Of these two forms, the latter is necessary and laudable; the former is a method of exchange which is justly censured, because the gain in which it results is not naturally made, but is made at the expense of other men. The trade of the petty usurer is hated most, and with most reason: it makes a profit from currency itself, instead of making it from the process (i.e., of exchange) which currency was meant to serve. Currency came into existence merely as a means of exchange; usury tries to make it increase (as though it were an end in itself). This is the reason why usury is called by the word we commonly use (the word tokos, which in Greek also means breed or offspring); for as the offspring resembles its parent, so the interest bred by money is like the principal which breeds it and it may be called ‘currency the son of currency.’ Hence we understand why, of all modes of acquisition, usury is the most unnatural.” (Aristotle, Politics, Book I, Part 10, 350 BC)

To understand how extreme is usury, let us recall that God did not intend that His people would be indebted for ten or twenty years even if the loans were interest free. Under the Biblical concept of Jubilee, no indebtedness would last longer than the sabbatical seventh year. In the year after the last of seven such sabbatical years (7 x 7 = 49 years + 1), a Jubilee was to be declared and all debts cancelled. Jesus Christ declared that He came to proclaim the Jubilee (the “acceptable year”).

Usury is derived from the Latin word usura, defined as “a sum paid for the use of money” (Oxford Latin Dictionary). The Fathers are unanimous in regarding all interest as usury, and, therefore as a species of robbery: “Whatever exceeds the amount owed is usury” (St. Ambrose, De Tobia).The condemnation of interest taking was part of the unanimous consensus partum…It was not until the 16th century that ‘usury’ was redefined as high interest rates.

USURY AND THE FATHERS OF THE EARLY CHURCH

St. Clement of Alexandria: The issue of usury made its first appearance in Christian literature in Clement’s Paidagogos (circa 197 AD), an instruction for new converts on Christian conduct in daily matters. Concerning the ‘just man,’ Clement quotes Ezekiel: ‘His money he will not give on usury, and he will not take interest.’ This subject is taken up again some years laeter in the second book of his major work Stromateis.2

Tertullian: He considers the subject of interest in his treatise on the theology of the New testament, Adversus Marcionem, where he teaches that the Gospel does not abolish the law of the Old Testament, it exceeds it. Tertullian writes of the just man, “He hath not…put out his money at interest, and will not accept any increase—meaning the excess amount due to interest, which is usury.”3

St. Cyprian of Carthage: Offers proofs in his Testimoniorum (Ad Quirinum) that interest taking is prohibited by the law of God.4

Council of Elvira: In the early fourth century, Canon 20 of this Council prohibited all clerics and laymen from participating in the sin of taking interest on loans, under penalty of excommunication.5

St. Jerome: In his Commentaria in Ezechielem he stated that the prohibition against usury among the Israelites had been made universal by the New Testament. He affirmed that all interest on money is forbidden. “One should never receive more than the amount loaned.”6

St. Hilary of Poitiers: In his Tractatus in Psalm XIV: “If you are a Christian, why do you scheme to have your idle money (otiosam pecuniam) bear a return and make the need of your brother, for whom Christ died, the source of your enrichment?”7

St. Basil the Great: In his second Homily on Psalm 15 (LXX): “This sin is denounced in many places in Scripture. Ezekiel accounts the taking of interest and receiving back more than one gave as being among the greatest evils,8 and the Law specifically forbids this practise: ‘You shall not charge interest to your relative or your neighbor.’9 And again the Scripture says, ‘Guile upon guile, and interest upon interest.’10 A certain Psalm says, regarding a city that prospers amidst a multitude of evils, ‘Interest-taking and guile are never absent from its snares.’11 And now the prophet identifies this very thing as the characteristic of human perfection, saying, ‘They do not lend money at interest.’

“…for those who set rates of interest, their money is loaned and bears interest and produces even more…It is from this tendency to multiply that this kind of greed derives its name …loans are said to ‘bear’ interest on account of the great fecundity of evil…The offspring of interest one might even call a ‘brood of vipers’…you should have nothing to do with this monstrous creature.”12

St. Basil then launches into an extended admonition against borrowing money, on the responsibility to repay a loan, and the virtues of frugality and living within one’s means. He further states: “Listen, you rich people, to the kind of counsel I am giving…on account of your inhumanity…If you must seek a return on your investment, be satisfied with what comes from the Lord…You should expect the characteristics of philanthropy from the true Philanthropist. As it is, the interest you receive back shows every characteristic of extreme misanthropy…”

“Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you,’ and ‘do not lend your money at interest;’ these commandments from the Old and New Testaments13 were given so that you might learn what is for your benefit, and thus depart to the Lord with a good hope, receiving there the interest upon your good works, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and dominion forever and forever.”14

St. Gregory of Nyssa: In Contra usurarios (ca. 379 AD), he calls down on him who lends money at interest the vengeance of the Almighty. He further states, “…lending at interest can be called ‘another kind of robbery or bloodshed…since there is no difference in getting someone else’s property by seizing it through covert housebreaking and acquiring what is not one’s own by exacting interest.” St. Grgeory describes the lender at interest as a “poisonous serpent” and an evil, beast-like spirit. Referring to the words of the Pater Noster prayer of Jesus Christ—“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”—Gregory asks, “How can you pray like this, oh usurer? How can you make a request from God in good conscience since he has everything and you do not know how to give?”

In De beneficentia, St. Gregory excoriates evil-doers who hypocritically practice outward acts of piety such as fasting. In doing so he employs terms associated with usurers: “Renounce dishonest profits! Starve to death your greed for Mammon! Let there be nothing in your house that has been acquired by violence or theft. What good is it to keep meat out of your mouth if you bite your brother with wickedness…What kind of piety teaches you to drink water while you hatch plots and drink the blood of a man you have shamefully cheated?”

St. Gregory of Nazianzus: For this saint, the usurer is a sinful parasite, “gathering where he had not sowed and reaping where he has not strawed” (Oratio). Cataloguing a list of mortal sins, Gregory of Nazianzus states, “One of us has oppressed the poor, and wrested from him his portion of land, and wrongly encroached upon his landmark by fraud and violence, and joined house to house, and field to field, to rob his neighbor of something, and been eager to have no neighbor, so as to dwell alone the earth. Another has defiled the land with usury and interest, gathering where he had not sowed…” (Oration 16)

St. Ambrose of Milan: In his aforementioned work De Tobia, written in 380 AD, he declared that the taking of interest on loans of money is equivalent to murder. He declared usury to be a mortal sin in De officiis ministrorum and De Nabuthe. In De bono mortis Ambrose stated that usurers will suffer eternal damnation. In De Tobia  Ambrose described the usurer as a “monster” and “devil” even when lending at 1% interest (“the hundredth”): “Money is given, it is called a loan; it is termed money at interest, it is designated capital; it is written down as debt; this huge monster of many heads causes frequent executions; the usurer names the bond, he speaks of the signature, he demands security, he talks of a pledge, he calls for sureties; he claims the legal obligation, he boasts of the interest, he praises the hundredth…The devil is a usurer…the Savior owed nothing but He paid for all…The usurer of money…exacts his hundredth…the Redeemer came to save the hundredth sheep, not to destroy it.”

This “devil” epithet is etymologically justified. As we have noted, in Old Testament Hebrew Neshek, from the root NShK means to “bite” and signifies usury; Nahash, from the root NkHSh denotes serpent.

St. John Chrysostom: The saint taught that usury was shameless: “What can be more unreasonable than to sow without land, without rain, without plows? All those who give themselves up to this damnable culture shall reap only tares. Let us cut off these monstrous births of gold and silver, let us stop this execrable fecundity.”

St. Leo the Great: In his encyclical Ut nobis gratulationem, of 444 AD: “Some people put out their money at usury in order to become wealthy. We have to complain of this, not only with regard to those in clerical office, but we likewise grieve to see that it holds true of lay people who wish to be called Christians. We decree that those who are found guilty of receiving this turpe lucrum (shameful gain) should be severely punished.”

St. Augustine of Hippo: The saint denounced the sin of interest on money in De consensus evangelistarum.

Charlemagne: In 789AD, Charlemagne in his Admonitio Generalis prohibited usury by all people, laymen as well as clerics, throughout the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, citing the following authorities: “(1) the Council of Nicea, (2) the above mentioned letter of Pope Leo, (3) the Canones Apostollorum, and (4) Scripture.” The Catholic Council of Aix-la-Chapelle promulgated Charlemagne’s Admonitio Generalis as church doctrine.

In Charlemagne’s Capitulary of Nijmegen of March, 806, he defines usury in clause 11 as “claiming back more than you give; for instance, if someone has given 10 solidi and asks for more than 10 in return, that is usury.” Clause 16: “Lending (foenus) consists in providing something; the loan is fair and just when one demands no more than what he provided.”

Charlemagne imposed heavy fines for usury.

King Alfred the Great: He ordered that the charging of interest on loans of money was illegal throughout England. Those who received revenue from usurious loans were to forfeit their property. Christian burial was denied to them.

St. Edward the Confessor, King of England: “Usury is the root of all evil”15 As monarch, St. Edward (ca. 1003-1066), the last Saxon King of England, banished all who charged interest on loans. Usurers who remained in England were subject to the confiscation of their property and declared to be outside the protection of the law (i.e., outlaws).16

Unanimous Teachings of Popes and Councils Before 1500

The unanimity of the Early Church Fathers brought about a crystallization of hostility to interest-bearing loans into numberless decrees of popes, councils, monarchs and legislatures throughout Christendom. The Canon law was shaped in accordance with these prohibitions, which were enforced by the Council of Arles in 314 and the Council of Nicea in 325: “Because many of the Ecclesiastical Order, being led away by covetousness and desire of base gain, have forgotten the Holy Scripture which saith, ‘He gave not his money upon usury,’ do exercise usury, so as to demand every month a hundredth part of the principal and one half of the principal for interest, or contrive any other fraud for filthy lucre’s sake, let him be deposed from the clergy and struck out of the list”17 (Council of Nicea, Canon XVII).18

Although it is claimed ny apologists for usury that the Nicean Council only condemned usury among clerics and not the laity, Canon XVII also quoted Psalm 15: “Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? He that hath not put out his money to usury.” Psalm 15 does not qualify God’s criterion for who shall dwell with Him. Anyone who practices usury will not be admitted. It was not by accident that the Council of Nicea referenced Psalm 15’s total rejection of any usury practiced by anyone.

The 12th Canon of the Council of Carthage (345) and the 36th Canon of the Council of Aix (789) declared it to be sinful for anyone to charge any interest on money. Every great assembly of the Church, from the Council of Elvira in 306 to that of Vienne in 1311, condemned lending money at interest. The fount of Canon Law in the Middle Ages totally banned all interest on loans.

A few months before his death, Edward’s usury-free England, “was a rich and prosperous kingdom… Later generations did right to appeal to the good old laws of life which refused to die…” King Edward was canonized in 1161. His feast day on the traditional Roman Catholic calendar is October 13.

NOTES

  1. “Mammon is derived from the Aramaic word for riches (mamona) occurring in the Greek text of Matt. vi. 24 and Luke xvi. 9-13, and retained in the Vulgate. Owing to the quasi-personification in these passages, the word was taken by medieval writers as the proper name of the devil of covetousness…From the 16th century onwards it has been current in English, usually with more or less of personification, as a term of opprobrium for wealth regarded as an idol or as an evil influence” (Oxford English Dictionary).
  2. Ante-Nicene Fathers 2, pp. 233, 366.
  3. Ante-Nicene Fathers 3, pp. 372-373.
  4. Ante-Nicene Fathers 5 p. 546.
  5. If any clergy are found engaged in usury, let them be censured and dismissed.  If a layman is caught practicing usury, he may be pardoned if he promises to stop the practice.  If he continues this evil practice, let him be expelled from the church.” http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/Canon%20Law/ElviraCanons.htm
  6. Commentary on Ezekiel, Translation by Thomas P. Scheck
  7. NPNF 02-09
  8. Ezekiel 22:12
  9. Deuteronomy 23:20
  10. Jeremiah 9:6 (Septuagint)
  11. Psalm 55:12 (Septuagint)
  12. On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (SVS Press, 2009), pp. 89-90; 95 (emphasis added).
  13. Matthew 5:42; Psalm 15:5 (Septuagint).
  14. On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (op. cit.), pp. 97-99.
  15. Leges ecclesiasticae.
  16. Leges Edwardi Confessoris (ca. 1130), cap. 37, De usaraiis.
  17. The phrase “a hundredth part of the principal” connotes a 1% interest rate.
  18. In The Rudder, Nikodemos the Hagiorite interprets this Canon: “Various Canons prohibit the charging of interest on money, but the present one expressly ordains this, to wit: Since many canonics, or clergymen, being fond of greed and shameful profits, have forgotten the saying in the Psalm of David which says that the chosen man is one “who hath not lent out his money at interest,” meaning the righteous man who is destined to dwell in the holy mountain of the Lord, or, in other words, in the heavenly kingdom, and in lending money have been exacting a percentage charge from their debtors, consisting, for example, of twelve cents, or pennies, say, per hundred (or per dollar), which was an excessive interest — because, I say, clergymen were actually doing this, this holy and great Council deemed it right and just that if hereafter any clergyman should be found to be charging interest, or treating the matter as a commercial proposition, or turning it to his own advantage in any other way (while pretending not to charge interest, that is to say, when lending his money to those in need of it, yet agreeing with them that he too is to receive some part of the interest and profit accruing from the money, thus calling himself, not a lender, but a sharetaker or partner), and be caught doing this, or demanding a commission (or half the percentage, which would amount, in this case, to six cents, or six pennies, instead of the twelve comprised in the full amount of total interest, i.e., of interest at 12%), or should invent any similar means of making a shameful profit, any such person shall be deposed from the clergy and shall be estranged from the canonical order. Read also Ap. c. XLIV.”

 

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The Truth about the Holy Mountain and its Monks (Dr Panagiotis Grigoriou, 2001)

NOTE: This article is taken from the Sunday Typos, June 10, 2001. It was written to refute Monk Michael’s accusations. Dr. Gregoriou is a Neurologist-Psychiatrist and director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital.1 In this article, Dr. Gregoriou validates Monk Michael’s claim that there are Hagiorite monks who have mental disorders, see psychiatrists, and take psychiatric drugs. http://www.psyche.gr/lgreekdiasyndpsyttheo.htm

ΝΟΣΟΚΟΜΕΙΟ
Halkidiki General Hospital.

I was motivated to write this article when I read the Monk Michael Hatziantoniou’s interview with the journalist Peter Papavasileios (see the magazine “E” in the Sunday Eleftherotypia, April 22, 2001).

The reason I thought of myself to be a “substantive qualifier” is that I’ve practised psychiatry for 20 years. For the past 12 years, I’ve been the Director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital in whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls in terms of health coverage.

With my position, I know very well the question under dispute (the use of psychiatric drugs on Mount Athos). Moreover, the fact that I have regularly visited Mount Athos since 1974 (I was then a graduate student at the Medical School of Athens University) permits me to know the people and things of the area quite well.

Ιατρικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών
Medical School of Athens University

Firstly, why did the news use the pompous title with the exclamation that “They Take Psychiatric Drugs on Mount Athos?” For a prudent and impartial reader, it has the same “originality” as “They take antibiotics or antihypertensive or anti-rheumatic medications on Mount Athos.” Psychiatric drugs are also medications that relieve and help the people who need them. I don’t understand why particularly on Mount Athos the mentally ill should not take psychotropic drugs. Is it not a shame to be excluded from the therapeutic means of modern medical science?

Fr. Michael rents his garments: “I cannot bear this situation,” he says. He maintains that anyone can cure their mental symptoms with personal effort. Something that is heard daily amongst the ignorant: “Banish your anxiety, pull the sadness from your soul, throw it out,” etc. Similar views proceed either from ignorance or out of some unconscious fear against mental illness and psychotropic drugs. If such counsels were effective then the existence of our psychiatrists would probably have been unnecessary.

Prozac

Another “scandalous revelation” Fr. Michael makes—that Hagiorites are visiting psychiatrists—pertains to the same spirit! But are we psychiatrists such defiled beings that all sensible and virtuous people must avoid us “so as not to be defiled?” The fact that Hagiorites visit psychiatrists constitutes an occasion of praise, not reproach. If they didn’t visit psychiatrists then they should be accused of medievalism and criminal omission.2

RESPONSIBILITIES

I stress here that the attitude of some religious people—even spiritual fathers—who claim that anyone who lives in God should never resort to psychiatrists or psychotropic drugs is, in every respect, incorrect.3 They believe that psychiatrists wrongly assume responsibilities that belong exclusively to God and the spiritual father. The Hagiorite monks, following the vibrant spiritual tradition, avoid such absolutes. They recognize the difference between mental and spiritual problems. Like all other diseases, they consider mental illnesses result from defects and the corruption of post-Fall man. They do not identify mental illnesses with outside demonic influences. The respect of the Hagiorites towards the proper use of its results is an example of wisdom and ampleness of spirit.

If I understood correctly, Fr. Michael implies amongst his contradictions that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems. He also insinuates that some Hagiorites (I wonder what percentage?) who regretted becoming monks were trapped in the system and because they were prevented from leaving the monastery occasionally they killed themselves or set themselves on fire.4 Then the abbots, in order to deter their escape from Mount Athos, issue them psychotropic drugs to bend their will and make them thoughtless, subservient zombies! Yet, Fr. Michael doesn’t complain that he had such a treatment when he decided to abandon his monastery. Contrary to what one not acquainted with such things might imagine, the way of life on the Holy Mountain is not disease producing but rather psychotherapeutic.

Thic Duc
On June 11, 1963, a Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Duc shocked the world when he burned himself to death in public as a protest against the Vietnamese government, a gesture known as self-immolation.

The reference to famous boxes with mysterious contents is naive at the very least. The monasteries obtain their drugs from pharmacies, usually from Thessaloniki, because they don’t operate a pharmacy on Mount Athos. The medication orders for the needs of 80-100 people (with a large percentage of elderly) for a period of one or two months apparently have some volume and should be packed well in “boxes” to reach their destination safely. Usually, these boxes contain drugs of every kind and a portion of them are psychotropic drugs. Let he who doubts ask any pharmacy serving a population of 2,000 residents and let him learn what the current monthly consumption of psychotropic drugs is and a percentage of all drugs, but also an absolute number inserted in boxes and let him calculate their approximate volume. It should be taken into consideration that a significant portion of these drugs are consumed for the extraordinary needs of the numerous visitors as well as the hundreds of laymen who work on the Mountain.5

DISORDERS

Mount Athos is also entitled to have its mentally ill. It would be very unnatural if they didn’t exist since the percentage of those in the adult population who exhibit mental disorders at any given time has been estimated at around 15% for residents in the Western hemisphere.

Besides, as we know, one does not require a bill of health to become a monk, nor is a monk expelled from his monastery when some serious illness appears.6 Mount Athos is not an unrealistic place, nor does it aspire to present an outward image of an “elite” community, like the “caste” of Eastern religions or Gnostics or whatever else. The Athonite State, Panagia’s Garden, is an open space, social and genuinely human; a struggling society journeying towards God. The sick have their place and even honour in such a community! Where else would the remaining healthy monks show their love, patience and ministry if not to those who are beside them even if they happen to be sick?

Caste system

I cannot tolerate that Fr. Michael—the author of the article—professes the popular unscientific opinions: “Don’t go to the crazy doctor, he will make you completely crazy and you will be stigmatized for life!” Or, “Don’t take psychiatric medicine, they’re narcotics, you’ll become dependent and you’ll be rendered a vegetable!” Such positions need no response, this would be futile.7

As a doctor, my ascertainment is that the mentally ill on Mount Athos are treated more correctly, more scientifically and more effectively than whatever in the outside world.8 The monastic family surround the suffering brother with much care, love and tolerance and spare neither expense nor labor to ensure the best possible treatment and aid.9 He is provided a treatment rarely seen in today’s society, with respect to mental illness, the suffering monk’s soul and his dignity—a treatment that preserves the patient’s self-esteem.10 It should be made clear that in no way is an incompetent person involved in the treatment process. They follow the indication on the medication from the specialist physician, which is prescribed under the responsibility of the rural clinic in Karyes. Also, the administration of drugs and the assessment of the patient’s clinical progress are not made by upstart monks. Most of the monasteries have at least one or more doctor-monks with extensive experience who have impressed me with their scientific competence and awareness.11 The long existing journey of mentally ill Athonite monks is many times better than those who have mental illnesses in the world, where human dignity is trivialized with confinement in psychiatric asylums or the taunts of their fellow villagers.12

The Town of Karye
The Town of Karyes

Fr. Michael’s inappropriate parallelism of Bedouin doped out on hashish and the Athonite monks is an unfortunate verbal exaggeration.13 It might have been worthwhile before the interview was published to have a psychiatrist (of a trusted newspaper) examine the text and question whether Fr. Michael’s allegations have any scientific standing. I am certain that he would have agreed with me that the anti-psychiatry opinions usually belong to uneducated people.14

SCANDAL-MONGERING

Regarding Fr. Michael’s “showcase” allegation, Mount Athos does not claim to be a society of perfect men.15 Moreover, he stresses in the last paragraph of the interview (essentially negating everything previous): “The majority of monks are very nice guys! The love, they look at you with clean eyes. I speak for the majority because there are certainly a very small number of monks who have a pure heart…” If this is the case then what is with all the scandal-mongering throughout the rest of the interview? He did not clarify for us from the start of the interview that he was only speaking about a few exceptions! He allowed us to believe that this is the picture of Mount Athos in general. According to Fr. Michael, what is the real and representative showcase of Mount Athos? The 5-10 likeable mentally ill patients, 5-10 unruly monks and the one monk who set himself on fire? Do we not wrong the 2000 struggling monks who live imperceptibly with ascesis, a pure life and hard work, and are happy and normal?16

We were distressed in seeing the exceptions generalized. The error of one was aggrandized and expressed while the virtue of the many was hushed up. The Hagiorites know this and it is natural and imperative for them to take precautions. We accuse them of hypocrisy because they protect themselves? What family would voluntarily surrender the proclamation of their son or daughter’s deviation to public vilification and shaming? By protecting the reputation of the person who erred, as well as the family’s reputation, from the sneer of the voracious publicity, we hope to heal the wounds. Otherwise, “the last error becomes worse than the first.” Mount Athos is a community of true love where the erring sinners are neither ostracized nor pilloried or stoned.17 They are consoled and covered as suffering brothers and they are “economized” with sympathy and spiritual treatment so they are induced to “repentance and come to salvation.”

Elder Makarios

Fr. Michael’s interview saddened me. He light-heartedly accuses holy people—humble and obscure to the general public—but accomplished in the heart of whoever knew those who apparently “raised themselves as charismatic figures” to captivate souls! It is a shame for a monk to offer his brothers and fathers as victims to the Moloch of publicity in exchange for the silver pieces and the honorary title of “debunker” and “whistle-blower” who apparently tells everything out right. The monastic life starts out with promises of obedience, humility, and devotion to the brotherhood. Self-projection and self-complacency are not included in these promises. In searching for the deeper “why”, I would say that Fr. Michael’s position against the Holy Mountain, in a psychodynamic interpretation, serves as a personal apology.18

Finally, I want to reassure and cheer up those who were perhaps troubled by reading the publication of “E”. No! The Mountain is not a “concentration camp,” nor some “mental hospital” for dissidents.19 The Kassandres and those appearing as benevolent dirge singers have no place here!20 Mount Athos did not lose the “rota”, it is not sinking! The Holy Mountain continues to sail correctly as it has for centuries. For over a thousand years, the rowers stand vigilant night and day at their oar. The Captain—the Lady of the Mount—holds the steering wheel firmly and the compass firmly shows God’s Kingdom. It is not shipwrecked and it collects castaways!

AthosMap
The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks.

NOTES:

  1. A google search of Dr. Grigoriou’s name in Greek only produces results in connection to this article. There is no photo, articles or a record of him anywhere in Greece other than in relation to this article. Other doctors with the same name do not have the same credentials as listed here. There is a Dr. Panagiotis Dimitrios Grigoriou in the UK, GMC # 7015533. His primary medical qualification is listed as Ptychio Iatrikes 2006 National Capodistrian University of Athens and he is obviously not the same person as the author of this article.
  2. According to the contemporary spiritual fathers of Greece, all neuroses stem from the guilt of unconfessed sins. The monastery is a hospital where the sick go to be healed. However, if daily confession and revelation of thoughts, combined with frequent Holy Communion and the Jesus Prayer isn’t helping the monk, will a psychiatrist be able to help the individual monk more than his own spiritual father? Hierotheos Vlachos writes, “Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science and treatment. It differs clearly from other psychiatric methods, because it is not anthropocentric and because it does not do its work with human methods, but with the help and energy of divine grace, essentially through the synergy of divine and human volition… I know that the term `psychotherapy’ is almost modern and is used by many psychiatrists to indicate the method which they follow for curing neurotics. But since many psychiatrists do not know the Church’s teaching or do not wish to apply it, and since their anthropology is very different from the anthropology and soteriology of the Fathers, in using the term `psychotherapy’, I have not made use of their views. It would have been very easy at some points to set out their views, some of which agree with the teaching of the Fathers and others of which are in conflict with it, and to make the necessary comments, but I did not wish to do that. I thought that it would be better to follow the teaching of the Church through the Fathers without mingling them together. Therefore I have prefixed the word `Orthodox’ to the word `Psychotherapy’ (healing of the soul), to make the title “Orthodox Psychotherapy”. It could also have been formulated as “Orthodox Therapeutic Treatment”.(Orthodox Psychotherapy, Introduction)
  3. Most contemporary spiritual fathers are not against their spiritual children going to psychiatrists and, in certain cases, taking psychotropics. See http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/11/elder-epiphanios-theodoropoulos-on_11.html However, some spiritual fathers do not agree with monastics seeing psychiatrists or taking psychotropic drugs.
  4. It is amazing that Dr. Grigoriou, with all his experience, is unaware of the vast amount of research in his field on the subject of blind obedience, authoritarianism, cult-like mentalities, and the emotional and psychological abuse that exist in such oppressive atmospheres. Evidence shows that these things lead to neuroses, PTSD, and various other mental illnesses. Studies on the emotional and psychological effects of confinement and feeling trapped are also in abundance.
  5. Dr. Grigoriou does not clarify if these medications are administered to laymen by monastics that are licensed professionals, or if these professionals have up-to-date training.
  6. This statement is not true, at least for the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. There are numerous stories in circulation about the numerous monastics Geronda Ephraim sent packing on Mount Athos. The reasons ranged from not doing obedience, causing to many scandals, becoming a danger to themselves or others, homosexual incidents, or just so deluded that something really bad could have happened if they were allowed to stay. Geronda Ephraim has also sent a number of novices home from Arizona for various issues. As for prerequisites, homosexuals are generally not allowed to become monks. Geronda Ephraim has said it’s like inviting the devil into your monastery, and without going into specifics, he has hinted at the damage such men have caused in monasteries on Mount Athos. Also, people with mental illnesses are gently discouraged from becoming monastics in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries and are usually told it would be better for them to remain and struggle in the world.
  7. Monk Michael did not say those things in his interview. Perhaps Dr. Grigoriou heard read them in some of his other writings?
  8. As a layman who visits the monasteries and witnesses the front stage behavior—without actually living in a monastery or being a monk and witnessing the back stage behavior—Dr. Grigoriou is not in a position to make such a catch all statement. Monastics who make statements like this usually have a PR agenda.
  9. Sick monks—either physically or mentally—have all had their own experiences of neglect from their brother monastics. One who has to stay in his cell may be forgotten and not have meals brought to him, or the person who tends to them may get caught up in another obedience and not show up to help, etc, in some cases remaining in a dirty diaper for a day or so before his monk-attendant comes to change his diaper and bathe him. A monastic suffering from some ailment may not be able to go to a doctor for a long period of time due to whatever circumstances, thus prolonging the suffering. At other times, the Geronda may say do patience and one has to endure. Again, one may have been given specific instructions for recovery and the Geronda will cut it short, saying it’s not necessary, you’re fine and you have to work, now go.
  10. Again, Dr. Grigoriou is trying to paint an unrealistic utopia experience for ailing monks. Fr. Makarios of St. Anthony’s Monastery, AZ is a perfect example of how this is not always true. After he received his head injury and remained in a somewhat vegetative state, it put a strain on the brotherhood. Some of the younger monks giggled and mocked some of his newly acquired idiosyncrasies, especially during the services when he would stand up abruptly and say insensible things or pass wind in church throughout the night. Initially, Geronda said, “What use is he now? He has the mind of a baby,” and wanted to send him home. However, he did not send him away because he felt obliged to keep him (Fr. Makarios’ father is a priest who helps out at Geronda Ephraim’s nunneries). Of course, there was economia given to him due to his mental incapacitation but not all his brother monks had patience and understanding towards him. The reality in a monastery is once you start losing your usefulness you are made to feel like a burden. Woe unto those who get old and have nothing to contribute to the monastery; even more so if they need to take other monastics from more useful jobs to help them in their daily routine.
  11. In many of the monasteries, the doctor monastics do not keep up-to-date with their training. Thus, many times one finds a doctor with an outdated degree. Of course, the basics don’t change much but would you trust going to a doctor who graduated from university in say 1990, never had a practice, and has not kept up-to-date on his training or the new breakthroughs in science and medicine nor had his license renewed?
  12. Again, this is a far stretch of a statement. A perfect example would be the monasteries here in North America where fat-shaming is quite common among the monastics. The following information is not written to center anyone out or further fat shame individuals, but to point out that these things happen in the monasteries just as they do in the world. Furthermore, there is a complex link between obesity and mental illness and fat shaming is a method of stigmatizing. In the beginning, Fr. Germanos was constantly the brunt of jokes and taunts about his weight (both to his face and behind his back). In the mid-90’s, when Fr. Germanos was visiting Archangels Monastery in Texas, Geronda Dositheos walked up to him and said, “Do you know what we use to do to fat kids in school?” and he bumped his stomach into Fr. Germanos’ stomach. Also in the mid-late 90s, while Fr. Germanos was looking for property in New York, Geronda Ephraim gave many homilies to the Fathers in Arizona. In a couple of homilies, he’d joke about Fr. Germanos with his cheeks puffed, arms outstretched indicating fat, and wobble his body back and forth. All the Fathers would break out in laughter at this display. Though Fr. Germanos was not present for these homilies, he’d hear his brothers laughing and mocking him years later when these cassettes were digitalized and all the monasteries were given the DVDs. Another time, Fr. Germanos had forgot to erase his data from the treadmill they bought for the monastery. Fr. Kassianos, Fr. Michael and Fr. Kosmas had to move it from the living room up to the attic to make room for pilgrims and read the data which included his weight. These monks then joked about it and revealed to the other fathers, including Geronda, how much Fr. Germanos weighed. As time went on, stress-eating and high dessert diets increased in the other monasteries and the other superiors and second-in-commands also started to increase in weight and size; many hitting the 300lb + mark. As the other monastics’ weights increased, the teasing of Fr. Germanos decreased. Once, when the subject of how much weight all the abbots have been gaining came up, Fr. Germanos said jokingly, “It’s because you all judged me.” Taunts and shaming exist in the monasteries and neither the physically deformed, the handicapped or mentally ill are spared. Of course, those who become offended are given this explanation, “We do it out of love, not malice.” But in what universe can this be considered monastic, let alone Christian conduct? Sarcasm, contempt and mockery are not indications of brotherly love nor the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  13. It’s not a far stretch. For example, when Fr. Gergory was a hieromonk at St. Anthony’s Monastery, he drank skullcap, St. John’s Wort, and various other nerve relaxant teas around the clock. And he walked around like he was zoned out and doped up. Other monastics that have a blessing for sleeping pills or herbal remedies to help them sleep also have similar demeanors. The monastics who have a blessing to take Lorazepam for anxiety attacks, panic or stress also have similar doped out demeanors. However, the monastics who take antihistamines with pseudoephedrine are a little more alert and tweaked out (though in some monasteries the use of allergy medicine with pseudoephedrine is no longer blessed. This is because some monastics were abusing the medicine and taking it even when they had no allergy symptoms).
  14. Dr. Grigoriou opens his article with his credentials, familiarity with Mount Athos and the fact that there are Hagiorite monks on psychotropic drugs. These things, he states, make him a “substantive qualifier” to address Monk Michael’s interview. Now, Dr. Grigoriou suggests any psychiatrist is quite capable of analyzing the subject. Someone in Dr. Grigoriou’s position must be aware that many Greek psychiatrists are atheists and have biases and predispositions against Christianity, especially the monastic life.
  15. The deeper issue is when the showcase and external image of a monastery become more important than the individual monastics. How often does the showcase image lead to harm (either of a monastic or a laymen)? To what lengths will a monastery go—lying, perjury, gaslighting, cover-ups—what illegal activities will it commit, to ensure that its image remains spotless? And how do these methods damage individuals?
  16. This is a classic example of monastic minimization of serious issues. Not to mention, Dr. Grigoriou is actually stigmatizing the mentally ill by indirectly calling them “abnormal,” when he states that the other monks are “happy and normal.”
  17. Ostracizing does occur in monasteries. This usually happens when a monastic is not doing obedience or toeing the line. Many times, the superior may instruct the members of the brotherhood to ignore this individual, do not talk to him/her, walk away if this individual tries talking to you, etc. Ostracizing also occurs when one is punished in the Lity or given only rusks or one piece of fruit for a meal while everyone else has a full meal. Ostracizing erring monastics is suggested as an instructional technique by St. Basil the Great, St. John of the Ladder and many other Church Fathers.
  18. This resembles a spiritual father’s reproach to his spiritual child; the wording is attempted to instill guilt. The author is playing the Judas card; a classic amongst the Elders. A similar tactic was used in the HOCNA circles when former monastics started revealing the homosexual abuses perpetrated by their Geronda, Fr. Panteleimon Metropoulos. Ad hominen and straw man attacks and arguments were used against the former monastics that were sexually abused and raped. Gaslighting and dismissing them as deluded liars and Judas traitors was a common tactic used. In the last century, similar methods were used in other Orthodox scandal stories against the accusers/ whistle-blowers. In many of these situations, it eventually came to light that the accused were guilty and they ended up in prison or defrocked.
  19. The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks. (See Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, 1935, p. 26). Up to early 1900s, Ammouliani was a dependency of Vatopedi Monasteryof Mount Athos. In 1925, the island was given in the refugees’ families who had come from islands of Propontis (Marmaras Sea), after Asia Minor Disaster. The population of the island was developed quickly and today the island has over 500 residents. Nowadays Ammouliani is a touristic place with frequent transportation with the opposite coast.
  20. The Cassandra metaphor(variously labelled the Cassandra ‘syndrome’, ‘complex’, ‘phenomenon’, ‘predicament’, ‘dilemma’, or ‘curse’) occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The Cassandra metaphor is applied by some psychologists to individuals who experience physical and emotional suffering as a result of distressing personal perceptions, and who are disbelieved when they attempt to share the cause of their suffering with others. In 1963, psychologist Melanie Klein provided an interpretation of Cassandra as representing the human moral conscience whose main task is to issue warnings. Cassandra as moral conscience, “predicts ill to come and warns that punishment will follow and grief arise.” Cassandra’s need to point out moral infringements and subsequent social consequences is driven by what Klein calls “the destructive influences of the cruel super-ego,” which is represented in the Greek myth by the god Apollo, Cassandra’s overlord and persecutor. Klein’s use of the metaphor centers on the moral nature of certain predictions, which tends to evoke in others “a refusal to believe what at the same time they know to be true, and expresses the universal tendency toward denial, [with] denial being a potent defence against persecutory anxiety and guilt.” (See Klein, M., Envy and Gratitude- And Other Works 1946–1963)
  • Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
    Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]

The Confidence Game: What Con Artists Reveal About the Psychology of Trust and Why Even the Most Rational of Us Are Susceptible to Deception

NOTE: The following article was written by Maria Popova and was taken from https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/01/12/the-confidence-game-maria-konnikova/

“It’s the oldest story ever told. The story of belief — of the basic, irresistible, universal human need to believe in something that gives life meaning, something that reaffirms our view of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.”

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“Reality is what we take to be true,” physicist David Bohm observed in a 1977 lecture. “What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true.” That’s why nothing is more reality-warping than the shock of having come to believe something untrue — an experience so disorienting yet so universal that it doesn’t spare even the most intelligent and self-aware of us, for it springs from the most elemental tendencies of human psychology. “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence,” Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman asserted in examining how our minds mislead us, “but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.”

The machinery of that construction is what New Yorker columnist and science writer extraordinaire Maria Konnikova explores in The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time (public library) — a thrilling psychological detective story investigating how con artists, the supreme masterminds of malevolent reality-manipulation, prey on our propensity for believing what we wish were true and how this illuminates the inner workings of trust and deception in our everyday lives.

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Art by Edward Gorey for a special edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

“Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours,” Carl Sagan urged in his excellent Baloney Detection Kit — and yet our tendency is to do just that, becoming increasingly attached to what we’ve come to believe because the belief has sprung from our own glorious, brilliant, fool-proof minds. Through a tapestry of riveting real-life con artist profiles interwoven with decades of psychology experiments, Konnikova demonstrates that a con artist simply takes advantage of this hubris by finding the beliefs in which we are most confident — those we’re least likely to question — and enlisting them in advancing his or her agenda.

To be sure, we all perform micro-cons on a daily basis. White lies are the ink of the social contract — the insincere compliment to a friend who needs a confidence boost, the unaddressed email that “somehow went to spam,” the affinity fib that gives you common ground with a stranger at a party even though you aren’t really a “huge Leonard Cohen fan too.”

We even con ourselves. Every act of falling in love requires a necessary self-con — as Adam Phillips has written in his terrific piece on the paradox of romance, “the person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams”; we dream the lover up, we construct a fantasy of who she is based on the paltry morsels of information seeded by early impressions, we fall for that fantasy and then, as we immerse ourselves in a real relationship with a real person, we must convince ourselves that the reality corresponds to enough of the fantasy to feel satisfying.

But what sets the con artist apart from the mundane white-liar is the nefarious intent and the deliberate deftness with which he or she goes about executing that reality-manipulation.

Konnikova begins with the story of a lifelong impostor named Ferdinand Waldo Demara, who successfully passed himself off as a psychologist, a professor, a monk, a surgeon, a prison warden, the founder of a religious college, and even his own biographer.

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Ferdinand Waldo Demara (Photograph: Corbis)

Considering the perplexity of his astonishing ability to deceive, Konnikova — whose previous book examined the positive counterpart to the con, the psychology of thinking like Sherlock Holmes — writes:

“How was he so effective? Was it that he preyed on particularly soft, credulous targets? I’m not sure the Texas prison system, one of the toughest in the United States, could be described as such. Was it that he presented an especially compelling, trustworthy figure? Not likely, at six foot one and over 250 pounds, square linebacker’s jaw framed by small eyes that seemed to sit on the border between amusement and chicanery, an expression that made [his] four-year-old daughter Sarah cry and shrink in fear the first time she ever saw it. Or was it something else, something deeper and more fundamental — something that says more about ourselves and how we see the world?

It’s the oldest story ever told. The story of belief — of the basic, irresistible, universal human need to believe in something that gives life meaning, something that reaffirms our view of ourselves, the world, and our place in it… For our minds are built for stories. We crave them, and, when there aren’t ready ones available, we create them. Stories about our origins. Our purpose. The reasons the world is the way it is. Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find the explanation. A confidence artist is only too happy to comply — and the well-crafted narrative is his absolute forte.”

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Art by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Konnikova describes the basic elements of the con and the psychological susceptibility into which each of them plays:

“The confidence game starts with basic human psychology. From the artist’s perspective, it’s a question of identifying the victim (the put-up): who is he, what does he want, and how can I play on that desire to achieve what I want? It requires the creation of empathy and rapport (the play): an emotional foundation must be laid before any scheme is proposed, any game set in motion. Only then does it move to logic and persuasion (the rope): the scheme (the tale), the evidence and the way it will work to your benefit (the convincer), the show of actual profits. And like a fly caught in a spider’s web, the more we struggle, the less able to extricate ourselves we become (the breakdown). By the time things begin to look dicey, we tend to be so invested, emotionally and often physically, that we do most of the persuasion ourselves. We may even choose to up our involvement ourselves, even as things turn south (the send), so that by the time we’re completely fleeced (the touch), we don’t quite know what hit us. The con artist may not even need to convince us to stay quiet (the blow-off and fix); we are more likely than not to do so ourselves. We are, after all, the best deceivers of our own minds. At each step of the game, con artists draw from a seemingly endless toolbox of ways to manipulate our belief. And as we become more committed, with every step we give them more psychological material to work with.”

What makes the book especially pleasurable is that Konnikova’s intellectual rigor comes with a side of warm wit. She writes:

“Religion,” Voltaire is said to have remarked, “began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.” It certainly sounds like something he would have said. Voltaire was no fan of the religious establishment. But versions of the exact same words have been attributed to Mark Twain, to Carl Sagan, to Geoffrey Chaucer. It seems so accurate that someone, somewhere, sometime, must certainly have said it.

The invocation of Mark Twain is especially apt — one of America’s first great national celebrities, he was the recipient of some outrageous con attempts. That, in fact, is one of Konnikova’s most disquieting yet strangely assuring points — that although our technologies of deception have changed, the technologies of thought undergirding the art of the con are perennially bound to our basic humanity. She writes:

“The con is the oldest game there is. But it’s also one that is remarkably well suited to the modern age. If anything, the whirlwind advance of technology heralds a new golden age of the grift. Cons thrive in times of transition and fast change, when new things are happening and old ways of looking at the world no longer suffice. That’s why they flourished during the gold rush and spread with manic fury in the days of westward expansion. That’s why they thrive during revolutions, wars, and political upheavals. Transition is the confidence game’s great ally, because transition breeds uncertainty. There’s nothing a con artist likes better than exploiting the sense of unease we feel when it appears that the world as we know it is about to change. We may cling cautiously to the past, but we also find ourselves open to things that are new and not quite expected.

[…]

No amount of technological sophistication or growing scientific knowledge or other markers we like to point to as signs of societal progress will — or can — make cons any less likely. The same schemes that were playing out in the big stores of the Wild West are now being run via your in-box; the same demands that were being made over the wire are hitting your cell phone. A text from a family member. A frantic call from the hospital. A Facebook message from a cousin who seems to have been stranded in a foreign country.

[…]

Technology doesn’t make us more worldly or knowledgeable. It doesn’t protect us. It’s just a change of venue for the same old principles of confidence. What are you confident in? The con artist will find those things where your belief is unshakeable and will build on that foundation to subtly change the world around you. But you will be so confident in the starting point that you won’t even notice what’s happened.”

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Art by Maurice Sendak for The Green Book by Robert Graves.

In a sense, the con is a more extreme and elaborate version of the principles of persuasion that Blaise Pascal outlined half a millennium ago — it is ultimately an art not of coercion but of complicity. Konnikova writes:

“The confidence game — the con — is an exercise in soft skills. Trust, sympathy, persuasion. The true con artist doesn’t force us to do anything; he makes us complicit in our own undoing. He doesn’t steal. We give. He doesn’t have to threaten us. We supply the story ourselves. We believe because we want to, not because anyone made us. And so we offer up whatever they want — money, reputation, trust, fame, legitimacy, support — and we don’t realize what is happening until it is too late. Our need to believe, to embrace things that explain our world, is as pervasive as it is strong. Given the right cues, we’re willing to go along with just about anything and put our confidence in just about anyone.”

So what makes you more susceptible to the confidence game? Not necessarily what you might expect:

“When it comes to predicting who will fall, personality generalities tend to go out the window. Instead, one of the factors that emerges is circumstance: it’s not who you are, but where you happen to be at this particular moment in your life.”

People whose willpower and emotional resilience resources are strained — the lonely, the financially downtrodden, those dealing with the trauma of divorce, injury, or job loss, those undergoing major life changes — are particularly vulnerable. But these, Konnikova reminds us, are states rather than character qualities, circumstances that might and likely will befall each one of us at different points in life for reasons largely outside our control. (One is reminded of philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s excellent work on agency and victimhood: “The victim shows us something about our own lives: we see that we too are vulnerable to misfortune, that we are not any different from the people whose fate we are watching…”) Konnikova writes:

“The more you look, the more you realize that, even with certain markers, like life changes, and certain tendencies in tow, a reliably stable overarching victim profile is simply not there. Marks vary as much as, and perhaps even more than, the grifters who fool them.”

Therein lies the book’s most sobering point — Konnikova demonstrates over and over again, through historical anecdotes and decades of studies, that no one is immune to the art of the con. And yet there is something wonderfully optimistic in this. Konnikova writes:

“The simple truth is that most people aren’t out to get you. We are so bad at spotting deception because it’s better for us to be more trusting. Trust, and not adeptness at spotting deception, is the more evolutionarily beneficial path. People are trusting by nature. We have to be. As infants, we need to trust that the big person holding us will take care of our needs and desires until we’re old enough to do it ourselves. And we never quite let go of that expectation.”

Trust, it turns out, is advantageous in the grand scheme of things. Konnikova cites a number of studies indicating that people who score higher on generalized trust tend to be healthier physically, more psychoemotionally content, likelier to be entrepreneurs, and likelier to volunteer. (The most generous woman I know, who is also a tremendously successful self-made entrepreneur, once reflected: “I’ve never once regretted being generous, I’ve only ever regretted holding back generosity.”) But the greater risk-tolerance necessary for reaping greater rewards also comes with the inevitable downside of greater potential for exploitation — the most trusting among us are also the perfect marks for the player of the confidence game.

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Art by Maurice Sendak for The Green Book by Robert Graves.

But the paradox of trust, Konnikova argues, is only part of our susceptibility to being conned. Another major factor is our sheer human solipsism. She explains:

“We are our own prototype of being, of motivation, of behavior. People, however, are far from being a homogeneous mass. And so, when we depart from our own perspective, as we inevitably must, we often make errors, sometimes significant ones. [Psychologists call this] “egocentric anchoring”: we are our own point of departure. We assume that others know what we know, believe what we believe, and like what we like.”

She cites an extensive study, the results of which were published in a paper cleverly titled “How to Seem Telepathic.” (One ought to appreciate the scientists’ wry sarcasm in poking fun at our clickbait culture.) Konnikova writes:

“Many of our errors, the researchers found, stem from a basic mismatch between how we analyze ourselves and how we analyze others. When it comes to ourselves, we employ a fine-grained, highly contextualized level of detail. When we think about others, however, we operate at a much higher, more generalized and abstract level. For instance, when answering the same question about ourselves or others — how attractive are you? — we use very different cues. For our own appearance, we think about how our hair is looking that morning, whether we got enough sleep, how well that shirt matches our complexion. For that of others, we form a surface judgment based on overall gist. So, there are two mismatches: we aren’t quite sure how others are seeing us, and we are incorrectly judging how they see themselves.”

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Art by Maurice Sendak for a special edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

The skilled con artist, Konnikova points out, mediates for this mismatch by making an active effort to discern which cues the other person is using to form judgments and which don’t register at all. The result is a practical, non-paranormal exercise in mind-reading, which creates an illusion of greater affinity, which in turn becomes the foundation of greater trust — we tend to trust those similar to us more than the dissimilar, for we intuit that the habits and preferences we have in common stem from shared values.

And yet, once again, we are reminded that the tricks of the con artist’s exploitive game are different only by degree rather than kind from the everyday micro-deceptions of which our social fabric is woven. Konnikova writes:

“Both similarity and familiarity can be faked, as the con artist can easily tell you — and the more you can fake it, the more real information will be forthcoming. Similarity is easy enough. When we like someone or feel an affinity for them, we tend to mimic their behavior, facial expressions, and gestures, a phenomenon known as the chameleon effect. But the effect works the other way, too. If we mimic someone else, they will feel closer and more similar to us; we can fake the natural liking process quite well. We perpetuate minor cons every day, often without realizing it, and sometimes knowing what we do all too well, when we mirror back someone’s words or interests, feign a shared affinity for a sports team or a mutual hatred of a brand. The signs that usually serve us reliably can easily be massaged, especially in the short term — all a good con artist needs.”

In the remainder of the thoroughly fascinating The Confidence Game, Konnikova goes on to explore the role of storytelling in reality-manipulation, what various psychological models reveal about the art of persuasion, and how the two dramatically different systems that govern our perception of reality — emotion and the intellect — conspire in the machinery of trust. Complement it with Adrienne Rich on lying and what “truth” really means, David deSteno on the psychology of trust in work and love, and Alice Walker on what her father taught her about the love-expanding capacity of truth-telling.

 

Self-Deceptive Hypocrisies: The Complacent, the Self-Righteous, and the Cynical (Béla Szabados and Eldon Soifer, 2004)

NOTE: This article is the second of three on the aspects and roles of deception. It is taken from the 14th chapter of Hypocrisy: Ethical Investigations.

Hypocrisy - Ethical Investigations cover

“The hypocrite will suppose himself to be the one who is acting genuinely and cannot but utterly reject the reproach of hypocrisy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer1

“One puts oneself into mauvaise foi as one goes to sleep and one is in mauvaise foi as one dreams.” Jean-Paul Sartre2

Introduction

One argument for the claim that no deception or insincerity is necessary for hypocrisy has its source in the observation that some hypocrites are the last persons to know that they are hypocrites. Such people seem surprised, even astonished, when reasonably accused of hypocrisy, and not all of them feign such surprise. Now the argument goes that deception is a matter of having certain intentions, and we do have knowledge of our own intentions. Therefore, people who are engaged in deception must know that they are. Thus if hypocrisy always involved deception, then hypocrites would always know that they were engaging hypocrisy. Since they do not, there must be some hypocrisy that does not require deception.

This picture is misleading in that it assumes an overly narrow conception of deception. We should not accept the claim that deception is necessarily a self-conscious matter, requiring certain intentions. First of all, people can deceive by mistake, simply because they do not know how others will interpret their words or actions. Thus we clearly need the distinction between deceiving in fact and attempting to deceive.3 Suppose though, as may well be the case, that we can adequately distinguish accidental cases from deliberate ones, and maintain that the agent must know when s/he is deliberately deceiving others. It would still be premature to say that unselfconscious hypocrisy cannot be a form of deception. It is possible that such hypocrisy involves, not deception of others, but rather self-deception, which may not similarly involve knowledge that one is engaged in deception.4 Perhaps a culpable failure of self-knowledge could explain cases in which one is genuinely surprised to hear reasonable accusations of hypocrisy. If one is allowed to include the possibility of self-deception, then one can acknowledge the existence of cases in which people are genuinely surprised to learn they have been hypocritical, without thereby conceding that there can be cases of hypocrisy that do not involve deception.

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But should one be allowed to include self-deception as a sort of deception giving rise to hypocrisy? Some writers seem to reject the possibility outright. For example, in his discussion of hypocrisy, Saul Smilansky writes, “We might of course have a case of self-deception, but such matters are not our concern here.”5 But surely one is entitled to a principled reason for excluding self-deception. Judith Shklar is one writer who attempts to provide such a reason. Shklar argues that allowing self-deception to count would result in a regrettable proliferation of accusations of hypocrisy. She incisively asks, “Is every self-deception, insincerity and inauthenticity hypocritical, even when these are states of mind and not acts to deceive others? … Could anyone escape being a hypocrite if we see hypocrisy through such eyes?”6 Part of the point here is that such a conceptual conflation between self-deception and hypocrisy results in seeing it everywhere, in an inflation of hypocritical anti-hypocrisy, in a victimization of people by targeting them for constant moral critique. Such a view unsettles the delicate balance between individuals and society by licensing constant suspicion of others and relentless social critique of individual blemishes. Furthermore, the term becomes useless as a tool of moral criticism if it can be applied to everyone. To prevent these undesirable developments, Shklar thinks we need to distinguish hypocrisy from self-deception and other forms of insincerity by stipulating “acts designed to deceive others” as a necessary feature of hypocrisy. Unless we do this, “hypocrisy” is severed from its moorings and becomes available as ad hoc ideological insult. Hence it can no longer be part of the language of responsible moral criticism.

There is much that is true in what Shklar claims, but she is not careful enough in drawing her conclusions. When looked at carefully, they do not after all provide a compelling reason for thinking that the basis of hypocrisy can never lie in self-deception.

First of all, Shklar’s remarks seem to have been intended against a background view that all self-deception involves hypocrisy. Some writers do indeed seem to have endorsed this view,7 on the basis that people engage in self-deception so as to be able to pretend to themselves that they are morally better than they really are, which smacks of hypocrisy. We do not accept this view, however. For one thing, there are obvious counter-examples. If one deceives oneself about the chances of one’s winning the lottery, for example, that is hardly a compelling case of hypocrisy. So even leaving aside Shklar’s concerns about the moral implications of accepting such a conflation of self-deception with hypocrisy, there are compelling reasons to reject it. This does not affect our claim, however. Our claim that some cases of hypocrisy are also cases of self-deception in no way logically entails the claim that all cases of self-deception are cases of hypocrisy.

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Shklar has a somewhat different reason for rejecting the claim that all self-deception is hypocritical, however, and this reason deserves consideration. She argues that, while hypocrisy is prima facie bad, self-deception, like deception, is neither always bad nor always blameworthy. It is for this reason that calling all self-deception “hypocrisy” would lead to a regrettable expansion of moral criticism to cases which are not in fact blameworthy. Yet Shklar is again being too hasty to suggest from this that hypocrisy must involve “acts designed to deceive others” rather than self-deception. There may be another way to restrict the accusations of hypocrisy. Indeed, we believe that self-deception is sometimes culpable and sometimes not, and that it is only culpable forms of self-deception that can give rise to hypocrisy. By restricting the concept in this way, we can accommodate cases that appear to us compelling instances of hypocrisy grounded in self-deception, while still avoiding the problematic proliferation of accusations of hypocrisy Shklar is worried about, since not everyone who engages in self-deception would qualify as a hypocrite.

In the following sections, we examine a number of cases ranging from Victorian England back through David Hume to the biblical King David. In discussing these cases, we identify separate forms of self-deception that carry with them distinctive types of hypocrisy. Indeed, we argue that what distinguishes cases of hypocrisy from cases where there is no hypocrisy is distinguishes cases of hypocrisy from cases where there is no hypocrisy is often the feature of self-deception. This lends support to our claim that all hypocrisy does indeed involve deception—so long as we allow self-deception to count as a form of deception. Finally, we discuss the bearing self-deception has on the important question of moral culpability in cases of self-deceptive hypocrisy.

Before embarking on these discussions, however, we want to consider a distinction that may be useful to better appreciate how self-deception may aid and abet complacent, self-righteous or cynical attitudes. This is a distinction between pan- and local hypocrites.

PAN- VERSUS LOCAL HYPOCRITES

"So, Heep...have you any excuse for your appalling behaviour?"
“So, Heep…have you any excuse for your appalling behavior?”

Classic literary hypocrites such as Moliere’s Tartuffe or Dicken’s Uriah Heep have a whiff of Platonism about them in that their hypocrisy and deception, like that of Plato’s “perfectly unjust man,” extends to their entire character. Let us call these characters pan-hypocrites. On the other hand, the reach of local hypocritical pretence, unlike that of their exotic pan-cousins, does not extend to a person’s whole life or character, but is confined to some special area or segment of it, say, sex, religion, or political correctness. Such local hypocrites may in general be as moral or altruistic as others, yet when it comes to certain areas or aspects of their lives, they are perhaps more inclined to deny or disavow hypocrisy precisely because they are right to believe that they are generally decent people. Therefore, casting aspersions on their entire character—i.e., accusing them of pan-hypocrisy—deflects them from further self-examination and provides them with material for complacent or self-righteous assessment of themselves. They cannot recognize themselves in such a wholesale condemnation, and dismiss it, perhaps saying, “I am basically a decent person and this vitriolic moralistic critic has no idea what sort of person I am.” Hence, the charge of pan-hypocrisy, where what is at issue is local hypocrisy, may engender complacency about one’s moral standing. Alternatively, such wholesale accusations may in turn fuel cynicism about other people’s motives, as well as lead to further attempts to deceive others to protect oneself from unfair criticism, possible embarrassment or shame.

Before turning to a detailed examination of the role self-deception may play in fostering complacent and self-righteous attitudes, let us look at a case of local hypocrisy involving the deception of others. Consider, for example, the case of a generally moral, and erotically overcharged teacher in a small town. Suppose she believes that if part of her inner core—consisting of her intense, unconventional sexual desires and behaviour—is detected or exposed, then this would make important others think she is unworthy of respect. Motivated by her desire to keep their respect, she sets out to deliberately mislead people about her inner core—by pretending to conventional sexual attitudes and behaviour—when it appears to her that the people whose respect she wants to gain or retain would judge it as out of line. In thus deceitfully seeking their respect, such a self-conscious hypocrite may in general be moral, even altruistic, since she need not do others down by getting that respect—just getting that respect in such and such ways, and wanting to get it through deceit, is enough to make her a plausible candidate for hypocrisy.

Observe, however, that her hypocrisy does not invade her entire life or character, but is confined to the domain of her sexuality where she feels especially vulnerable in light of the conventional sexual mores of the small community she happens to inhabit. If the teacher is now charged with being a pan-hypocrite, she will be rightly indignant and it would be natural for her to deflect the particular criticism, whatever its merit, by indignantly justifying herself in terms of her good character in general and/or probing the character flaws of the accuser. Now if the self-aware local hypocrite is prone to such indignation, then the self-deceived local hypocrite is liable to be even more so, since s/he is not (fully) aware of his or her hypocrisy. The likely result is a further entrenchment of the disposition to complacency or self-righteousness.

Russian Orthodox monk with pistol (left). Japanese Buddhist monk with sword (right).
Russian Orthodox monk with pistol (left). Japanese Buddhist monk with sword (right).

The distinction between pan- and local hypocrites and its importance in moral criticism is implicit in Joseph Butler’s discussion of self-deceit and hypocrisy. The relevant passage is worth quoting in full, since it is psychologically perceptive in its observations, offering insights as to how self-deception may play a role in complacent and self-righteous attitudes, as well as giving good advice for the practice of moral criticism:

“In some there is to be observed a general ignorance of themselves, and wrong way of thinking and judging in everything relating to themselves; their fortune, reputation, everything in which self can come in: and this perhaps attended with the rightest judgment in all other matters. In others this partiality is not so general, has not taken hold of the whole man, but is confined to some particular favourite passion, interest or pursuit; suppose ambition, covetousness or any other. And these persons may probably judge and determine what is perfectly just and proper, even in things in which they themselves are concerned, if these things have no relation to their particular favourite passion or pursuit. Hence arises that amazing incongruity, and seeming inconsistency of character, from whence slight observers take it for granted, that the whole is hypocritical and false; not being able otherwise to reconcile the several parts: whereas in truth there is real honesty, so far as it goes. There is such a thing as men’s being honest to such a degree, and in such respects, but no further. And this, as it is true, so it is absolutely necessary to be taken notice of, and allowed them; such general and undistinguishing censure of their whole character, as designing and false, being one main thing which confirms them in their self-deceit. They know the whole censure is not true; and so take it for granted that no part of it is.”8

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Note then that the moral critic who mistakes local hypocrisy for pan- hypocrisy is not only a shallow observer of human nature, but is guilty of the logical fallacy of composition: s/he infers, perhaps carelessly or maliciously, from what is true of an aspect of an individual’s character to the entire character. On the other hand, if the local hypocrite thus accused complacency infers from the fact that basically s/he is a good person to the claim that there is nothing amiss with the particular aspect of his or her character or conduct in question, s/he is guilty of the fallacy of division.

Keeping these observations in mind, we are now perhaps better prepared to turn to our discussion of cases of complacent, self-righteous, and cynical hypocrisy, and how they may relate to self-deception.

COMPLACENT HYPOCRISIES: PAST AND PRESENT VICTORIANS

The morality and attitudes of Victorian England are often condemned as intrinsically hypocritical. While we have serious reservations9 about the attribution of a collective mindset to an epoch or passing wholesale moral judgment on it, there may nevertheless be several distinct reasons for thinking “the Victorians” to be hypocritical. At least one reason has to do with their failures to live up to their stated ideals of chastity, charity, hard work, and so on. In some cases, no doubt, the Victorians put forward these ideals without sincerely believing them, or while making exceptions of themselves, in a straightforwardly hypocritical manner. We will argue, however, that are least sometimes Victorian hypocrisy is based on pervasive self-deception of a sort we will refer to as “complacent hypocrisy.”10

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Judith Shklar, ever suspicious of accusations of hypocrisy, questions whether the Victorian middle classes really were hypocritical at all. She defends them thus: “They wished to be what they proclaimed everyone ought to be. To fail in one’s own aspirations is not hypocrisy. In fact the Victorians really believed in chastity, monogamy, thrift, charity and work. If many did not achieve these, many others did at considerable psychic cost. Self-repression and emotional silence, however, are self-inflicted wounds, not social crimes or hypocrisy.”11 Shklar goes on to observe that “only their refusal to admit that the endless slums of Mayhews London existed—that is, only their complacency—was hypocritical.”12 The suggestion is that the Victorians were hypocritical in that they chose to ignore, or pretended in public not to know of, the existence of suffering and evil right in front of their eyes—well, a bit further. This is supposed to be very different from their attitude to chastity, monogamy, thrift, work, since these ideals they believed in and worked towards even if they failed to achieve them. With regard to these ideals, the Victorians made no attempt to deceive others. Hence, even if there is self-repression, there is no hypocrisy, no social crime.

If, however, we look more closely at the instance of the Victorian attitude toward the Mayhew slums, which Shklar acknowledges as hypocritical, we may see more parallels than she recognizes between it and the cases where she denies hypocrisy exists. It was in the interests of the Victorians to ignore, been an obstacle to their belief in progress and social redemption through work and thrift. The slum-dwellers and their children worked long hours a day, yet their conditions and prospects were desperate. Acknowledging this fact would have unsettled their cheerful and easy optimism. This hypocritical complacency consisted in the pretence that things were socially better than in fact they were—in the teeth of the existence of the vast slums of Mayhew. They allowed them to think better of themselves than they deserved, for example by thinking that they were helping to maintain a just society, and that they must be entitled to whatever material advantages they had because material advantages accrued justly to whomever earned them through hard work. Thus their complacency involved an element of self-deception, which served the self-interested purpose of allowing them to maintain a positive outlook about themselves and their society.

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But now consider the Victorian attitudes concerning chastity and monogamy. It is possible to trace these attitudes to a belief concerning the relationship between the body and the mind or soul. Victorians appear to have thought that the body, with all its urges and emotions, simply got in the way of the purity and rationality of the mind/soul. Women were thought to be particularly tied up with their bodies in the form of emotions, and thus unable to reason as clearly as men. Men, on the other hand, were prone to sexual desires, but fortunately these could be mastered, to the point where the ideal was not to feel such unpleasant urges at all. In short, Victorians wanted to identify themselves only with the pristine purity of mind and soul, and become almost entirely separate from their bodies. Indeed, physical bodies were considered so shameful by some that even the “legs” of pianos had to be covered up in some “respectable” homes.

In order to convince themselves that they really were these pure rational or spiritual beings, Victorians had to ignore a large amount of evidence to the contrary. They had to refuse to acknowledge things such as their own sexual desires, and the fact that both men and women perspire (and do not merely glisten), and they had to turn a blind eye to transgressions such as their frequent secret peccadilloes.

Dudley street, seven dials: 1872

There is a parallel then between Victorian social complacency in pretending that the Mayhew slums did not even exist, and their spiritual state: the “Mayhew slums” may be seen as analogous to the sexual slums of the Victorian soul. In both cases, acknowledging the evidence would have required them to give up their cherished self-conceptions. It may be argued that if the attitudes toward the Mayhew slums count as hypocritical complacency, so does their apparently sincere pretence to chastity, monogamy, etc., in spite of flourishing of subterranean prostitution and brothels, which they conveniently managed to ignore or be oblivious to. In both cases, self-deception is involved in a culpable way, being used to allow one to maintain a more flattering view of oneself than one deserves. If the objects of self-deception, that is to say, what we deceive ourselves about, connect up with our self-conceptions, then it is not difficult to see that, to protect our self-conception, we would ignore, neglect or suppress evidence that suggests that all is not well with our smug, self-satisfied self-image. Hence a complacent hypocrite is likely to deceive him/herself that “God is in his heaven and all is well with the world and my moral character,” ignoring or not taking sufficiently seriously the demands that moral principles press on us. Such culpable self-deceptions usually have as a collaborative companion the suspension of one’s self-critical faculties.

hYPOCRITE

It is worth noting that, in the cases described here, deliberate deception of others may play no role in the hypocrisy, although of course they may be deceived indirectly if a person projects his/her false but genuinely believed self-image. The techniques/mechanisms of wilful ignorance, biased interpretation, selective focusing, or rationalization, together with a natural inclination to an easy conformism, may be the resources out of which social hypocrisy is generated. If this is so, then to speak of self-deception as isolated from one’s behaviour, as a mere state of mind, while seeing hypocrisy as connected to one’s actions, is misleading. As we have seen, Victorians’ actions and behaviours are revelatory of their self-deceptive hypocrisies and of their complacent self-image—the former serving as a device for protecting such a comforting moral self-image. Their culpable epistemic negligence, their not looking, or refusal to look and acknowledge matters/evidence that had the potential to disconfirm or invalidate their smug moral self-conception, was productive of an attitude of pervasive complacent hypocrisy. Such middle-class Victorian complacency is iconic of their age as well as ours—since our Mayhew slums are the urban and Third World poor, the native reserves next door.

HYPOCRISY QUOTE

What we have argued so far is that there can indeed be forms of hypocrisy that do not involve direct acts of deceiving others, and thus that the attempt to draw a sharp separating line between hypocrisy and self-deception does not work. We also suggested that the attitude of complacency is one fertile ground for self-deceptive hypocrisy. Thirdly, we struck the chord that resonates throughout our piece, and which we develop as we go along, that concepts such as self-deception are not homogenous but have diverse forms which need careful discussion and illustration. We suggested that in complacent hypocrisy, self-deception takes the form of epistemic negligence in seeking out, facing up to, or appreciating, evidence that would undercut or conflict with our comfortable moral self-image.

SELF-RIGHTEOUS HYPOCRISY: HUME’S GRIEVING FRIEND

If self-deception is heterogeneous, and if certain distinctive attitudes are fertile soil for self-deceptive hypocrisy, does self-deception take more active forms when motivated and sustained by more aggressive attitudes? An affirmative answer to these questions can be discerned in cases where a hypocrite supposes him/herself to be the one who is acting genuinely, and cannot but utterly reject the accusation and reproach of hypocrisy. In such cases, hypocrites not only suppose that all is well with their own moral state, but manufacture and believe their own propaganda when confronted with reasonable accusations of hypocrisy.

half truth and white lies

To unboggle the mind then, consider a Humean case. “A man that has lost a friend and a patron, may flatter himself, that all his grief arises from generous sentiments.”13 Suppose now that he proceeds to denounce Smith, to whom the dead man was also a benefactor, saying that Smith’s grief is hypocritical: “It is the loss of money, not the loss of a friend, that really makes you grieve.” We believe that such a morally self-righteous man is a good candidate for a hypocrite who thinks himself to be sincere, and we will call this sort of hypocrisy “self-righteous hypocrisy.”

However, before we can confidently say “Hypocrite,” such a man has to be marked off from someone who is merely thoughtless. To rule this out, let us add the following: His wife wondered aloud how it is that when an even better friend, but poor and thus no patron, had died years earlier, her husband grieved but his grief was not paraded so much as for his patron. He overhears this and the observation disturbs him. There is a dim recognition of its truth. Yet he refuses to entertain the idea. He dismisses thoughts about really makes him parade his grief so much. When doubts recur, he persuades himself that money does not really enter into it, that he is not that sort of person, and so on. And then he goes to the funeral where he denounces someone else, perhaps rightly, as a hypocrite. Such a self-righteous hypocrite feels morally inferior to others, and thus tries to compensate for this by making invidious comparisons between the quality of his own grief and that of others. Hence the hypocrite and the self-righteous anti-hypocrite may have much in common.

These additional features also rule out the idea that our man is merely ambivalent or conflicted about what really explains grief. At one stage, he is not sure whether it is the loss of a friend that entirely explains his feelings. At the next stage come deliberate, perhaps wilful, shift of attention away from a disturbing thought or interpretation unfavourable to oneself, then more or less clever efforts to explain away doubts, to persuade oneself to believe in the construal favourable to one’s moral self-image. All these attempts at moral cosmetics and spin-doctoring are natural enough, for no one who is morally concerned the least bit likes to think of him/herself as the sort of person whose grief at the death of a friend is merely regret at the loss of an income, that is to say, grief for oneself.

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So, to depict a comprehensive picture of the roles that self-deception can play in instances of hypocrisy, we must recover for attention the frequent complexity and dissonance of inner experience and its manifestations. Our man’s state of mind is a complex one. The fact that he thinks himself to be sincere, that he is grieved by the loss of his friend, is to be taken into account when describing his state of mind. On the other hand, the fact that he has intermittent doubts whether that alone accounts for the extreme show of his grief or whether patronage figures in it as well, must also be brought out in an accurate description of his state of mind. His attempts to persuade himself that patronage had nothing to do with his parading his grief, while in the case of the other fellow in the same situation, patronage had everything to do with the show of grief, are two features of self-righteous, self-deceptive hypocrisy: invidious comparisons of oneself with others, and accusations of others, accompanied by self-justification. These facts are reasons for saying he is insincere.  So, he is not entirely insincere, or if you will, his sincerity is insincere. He tries to appear better than he really is by scapegoating the other!

Orthodox Priest in BDSM gear.
Orthodox Priest in BDSM gear.

While an argument has been made for self-deception, it may not yet be clear how hypocrisy comes into it. Just as all cases of hypocrisy are not also cases of self-deception, so not all cases of self-deception are cases of hypocrisy. This point calls for bringing out features that help us mark off the mere self-deceiver from the self-deceptive hypocrite. To begin with, note our grieving man’s self-righteous denunciation of Smith, a man like himself in relevant ways. Recall his accusations of Smith as a hypocrite: “It is the loss of money and not the loss of a friend that makes you grieve so much.” Here we witness our man setting himself up as a paragon of purity of heart, when in fact he is also a blatant offender in this particular instance. The use of double standards, a frequent symptom of hypocrisy,14 suggests that he is culpable for his failure to reflect on his own motivation, and for pretending to himself, and indirectly to others in his audience, that he is a genuine griever for a friend, to be differentiated from those others who merely grieve for themselves. This is a variation on one large theme of hypocrisy: to advocate the acceptance of a moral standard or rule publicly and hold others to it, yet more or less unwittingly break it when it is to one’s  own advantage. When the use of double standards is pointed out to such a hypocrite, s/he engages in special pleading and self-justification, pretending to him/herself and to others that the standard does not apply to him/her since his/her case is different. One who is merely self-deceived about one’s motives for grief does not have this public dimension as a feature—such a person does not morally denigrate the other, to lift him/herself up.

DAVID’S THOUGHTLESS COMPLACENCY

Today, St. David's behavior would earn him the titles of "peeping Tom" & stalker.
Today, St. David’s behavior would earn him the titles of “peeping Tom” & stalker.

The self-deception involved in hypocrisy need not be active i the sense of self-justification and rationalization. Consider the biblical case of King David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba and sent off her husband to battle to be killed.15 Nathan brings this offence to light, and in effect charges David with having done wrong by his own principles. Is the offence here hypocrisy?

The parable told makes it evident that David’s conduct involves the use of a double standard, yet he is unaware of it due to a culpable failure at self-reflection and self-examination. Nathan says to him,

There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up; and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveler unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was to come to him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come unto him.16

The biblical account continues:

And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had not pity. And Nathan answered Thou art the man.17

kings-david-and-solomon-by-the-hand-of-nicholas-papas

This example shows how even generally good people can be self-deceptive hypocrites. King David committed an injustice without even taking notice of it, without condemning himself, yet he was morally outraged that someone else had done a similar thing. There is a clear-cut use of a double standard involved in the case. There is both a rigorous moral standard for judging and punishing the other, and a convenient forgetting to apply such a standard to one’s own case. Self-deception of this sort often works in the service of self-regard, of complacency. The assumption of the complacent is that all is well in one’s own moral house, in one’s own spiritual state. This sort of smug moral self-satisfaction deters and deflects the crucial tasks of self-examination and self-criticism, and proceeds to the examination and criticism of others. In the latter task such people display an assiduity to collect all the relevant evidence and bring moral principles to bear upon the case with insight and perspicuity—their grasp of moral standards is thereby evident. What we have here is a culpable failure of self-knowledge. The lack of the relevant self-awareness is motivated by an anxious desire to seem good or better than others. One is too lazy or reluctant to look, anxious that one’s own moral identifications are at risk.

CYNICAL HYPOCRISY AND SELF-DECEPTION

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Thus far we have argued that, in several types of cases where there is no deliberate deception of others, hypocrisy hinges crucially on culpable self-deception, and thus that the claim that hypocrisy always involves deception of some sort is more defensible than has often been thought. In this section, we put forward the additional suggestion that even in some clear case of hypocrisy involving deception of others, self-deception may also play a role.

One pervasive image of the hypocrite is that of what has been called the “cynical hypocrite.” Such people are supposed to plan the inconsistency between preached ideals of conduct or motivation and actual conduct or motivation, and to be fully self-conscious of their aim to gain an undeserved moral reputation. Literature is generously salted with such hypocrites, from Moliere’s Tartuffe, through Shakespeare’s Iago, to Dickens’ Uriah Heep. Such hypocrites present themselves to others as they are not, seeming to work toward benefiting others, while making it explicit to themselves that they are really aiming only to expand their own authority. The lucidity and self-awareness of such people is the very opposite of self-deception,18 since their very success depends on their not ignoring or distorting the evidence about themselves which they observe in other people’s reactions.

However, contrary to such literary depictions of the hypocrite as a larger than life, extremely knowledgeable villain, such “cynical” hypocrites are liable to end up self-deceived, even if they do not in the first instance deceive themselves. Since this is surprising and often missed in discussions of the topic, let us note how it is likely to happen.

Having a reasonable degree of self-knowledge requires that we take the reactions and observations of others about ourselves into account. Self-knowledge in this sense is not tantamount to introspection, but grows out of material also provided by people we interact with. Now if the self-aware hypocrite, fully conscious of what s/he is doing, is reasonably successful, then the evidence potentially provided by the reactions of others will be relevant and bear upon the persona or role s/he presents to them, rather than to his/her genuine commitments and evaluations. Hence the evidential resources for self-knowledge that might be provided by others are not available to such a hypocrite. By isolating themselves thus, these so-called cynical hypocrites are likely to slip unwittingly into self-deception—they are vulnerable in precisely the area where they have been thought strongest.

But why have such hypocrites been called “cynical”? Where is the “cynical” in this description of hypocrisy? It seems to be missing altogether, since there is no reference to central features of a cynical attitude, namely, the distrust or denial of the apparent goodness of human motives, especially those of others, and the display of this attitude by sneers, sarcasm, and the appraisal of others’ actions in the worst possible light. Such an attitude again is fertile ground for self-deceptive hypocrisy, since it leads to a one-sided, narrow view of human motivation that results in blind spots and a refusal to appreciate the rich complexity of human action and motivation. The cynical hypocrite may be reading his/her own suspicions about his/her own motives into those of others, covering up his/her own particular faults by spreading those faults to human beings at large. Such hypocrites are, of course, as likely to be mistaken about their own motivation by taking this pervasively negative view, as they are about others’. This form of hypocrisy is best distinguished from the lucid, self-aware hypocrite, since a cynical attitude is not something that we are necessarily aware of.

MORAL CULPABILITY AND SELF-DECEPTIVE HYPOCRISY

The idea of self-deceptive hypocrisy, while intrinsically interesting, raises important questions concerning the assignment of blame and responsibility. In general, we seem to be confronted with a moral quandary. If hypocrisy involves self-deception, then to some extent hypocrites do not really know what they are doing. It might be thought that, to the extent that they are ignorant of what they are doing, they are not really culpable, since we tend to assign culpability on the basis of the agent’s degree of knowledge of what s/he is doing. On the other hand, it might be thought that the self-deceived hypocrite, far from being a candidate for exculpation, is even more deeply inculpated. Since s/he is a hypocrite and self-deceived about it, s/he is committing multiple wrongs, and therefore twice condemned, once for each vice.

But these general considerations fly too high over the moral landscape. Perhaps the only general relevant moral consideration here is that if the self-deception is culpable, and it may not be, then the moral blameworthiness is greater. But assigning blame is a case-by-case affair, requiring looking at and seeing the particular details of each moral situation. If, for example, the complacent Victorian, aware of the plight of the hardworking poor, refuses to discuss or implement urban renewal, s/he is culpable when s/he hypocritically preaches social progress through sheer work and thrift. Such a person knows better, yet pretends to the contrary. Concerning the self-righteous we might say that they are culpable for the motivated deflection of evidence that counts against their rosy self-appraisal and their hurting of others through accusations. And the more evidence the cynical hypocrite has for the damage his/her perspective causes to his/her personal relationships, the more s/he is culpable for causing it.

CONCLUSION

Elder Ephraim Arizonaa

In this chapter, we have been exploring the complex relation between hypocrisy and self-deception. We identified three attitudes that constitute fertile soil for self-deceptive hypocrisy. After briefly discussing the conceptual problem inherent in the idea of self-deception hypocrisy, we argued that such hypocrisy is not only possible, but also a common fact of life that makes the moral life even more difficult. We claimed that the idea of self-deceptive hypocrisy is not the idea of some one thing, but is heterogeneous and takes diverse forms. Then we proceeded after making a distinction between pan- and local hypocrites, by way of description and example, to discuss the roles that self-deception plays in complacent, self-righteous and cynical hypocrisy. These roles range from culpable ignorance or thoughtlessness, through wilful ignorance and biased interpretation, to rationalization. We pointed out the risk of ending up self-deceived, even in the cases of self-aware, deceitful hypocrisy. Finally, we argued that self-deception can be culpable and it is only cases of culpable deception that contribute to and enhance the blameworthiness of self-deceptive hypocrisy.

NOTES

1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, translated by N.H. Smith, 1955, p. 164.
2. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, translated by Hazel Barnes, 1956, p. 68.
3. Note that the intention to deceive may not result in any actual deception. People might “see through” the attempted deception, and it may be that nobody is actually fooled.
4. For some work on the problem of self-deception, see Herbet Fingarette’s Self-Deception; Bela Szabados, “Self-Deception,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy (1974); the essays in Mike Martin, ed., Self-Deception and Self-Understanding, 1985; Annette Barnes, Seeing through Self-Deception, 1997; and Alfred Mele, Self-Deception Unmasked, 2001.
5. Smilansky, “On Practicing What We Preach?” p. 78, footnote 2.
6. Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices, p. 47.
7. Joseph Butler, J.J. Rousseau and I. Kant seem to subscribe to such a view. See Butler’s Sermon, “Upon Self-Deceit,” from Fifteen Sermons Upon Human Nature; see Rousseau’s Letter to D’Alembert; also see I. Kant, The Doctrine of Virtue, pp. 94-95.
8. Butler, pp. 153-4.
9. For a refreshing recent view of “the Victorian” as post-modernists whose “hypocrisy” is really nothing but the ability to cope and live with often incompatible social and moral demands, see A.N. Wilson, The Victorians, 2002.
10. This terminology follows Crisp and Cowton. See “Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness,” p. 345.
11. Shklar, pp. 54-55.
12. Ibid.
13. David Hume, “Of Self-Love,” Appendix 2 to An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, in Philosophical Works, Vol. 4, ed. T.H. Green and T.H. Grose, 1882, pp. 269-70.
14. We discussed the relationship between double standards and hypocrisy in more detail in Chapter 11 of this book.
15. We discussed this case in Chapter 1 of this book.
16. Nathan’s parable to David. Samuel 2:11-12.
17. Ibid.
18. Herbert Fingarette seems to draw a rather sharp distinction between hypocrisy and self-deception. He exclusively disjoins the two claiming that the former has explicit spelling out or full consciousness as a feature, while there is no spelling out or full consciousness at all in the latter. See Fingarette, pp. 56-57 for a sketch of what he takes to be cynical hypocrisy.

Passias Crust

Hypocrisy and Deception (Béla Szabados and Eldon Soifer, 2004)

NOTE: This article is the first of three on the aspects and roles of deception. It is taken from the 14th chapter of Hypocrisy: Ethical Investigations.

Hypocrisy - Ethical Investigations cover

“We often do good to be able to accomplish evil with greater immunity.” La Rochefoucald1

“When we and the hypocrite have learned how hypocrisy is exposed, we might have to cope with the second order hypocrite, the double-bluffer who has learned how not to act like a hypocrite.” Gilbert Ryle2

INTRODUCTION

That hypocrisy necessarily involves deception has struck some writers as so obvious that it has been put forward without argument as a shared basic intuition.3 Indeed, hypocrites are commonly characterized as falsely professing to be virtuously inclined; as assuming a false appearance of virtue or goodness while dissimulating their real character or inclinations; as feigning virtue that they do not have, or pretending to be more virtuous than they really are. So there is good reason to think that deception is essential to hypocrisy.4

Nevertheless, it is possible to have doubts about this conventional picture. Perhaps it is shaped and nourished by an overly narrow diet of examples, which are ultimately unrepresentative of the broad range of hypocrisies. Perhaps deception is characteristic of only a small, albeit striking, range of cases. It is in this spirit that some philosophers have lately denied the necessity of any sort of deception or insincerity for hypocrisy, arguing for example that persons who openly admit to not practising what they preach are still correctly called hypocrites.5 In this chapter we examine such arguments and claim that, even though they point to neglected  or unnoticed parts of the conceptual landscape, they sabotage their very goal by oversimplifying the nature of deception and the various roles it can play in hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy and Gluttony confront a wandering monk.
Hypocrisy and Gluttony confront a wandering monk.

HYPOCRISY AS INCONSISTENCY

Those who deny that deception is essential to hypocrisy generally offer an account of hypocrisy that centres on inconsistency—on a failure to live up to one’s own principles. The etymological history of this usage, as we have seen, goes at least as far back as the accusation of Jesus against the Pharisees that they are hypocrites because “they do not practice what they preach.”6

Several philosophers have followed this usage and, since inconsistency does not imply deception, these philosophers need not take deception to be essential to hypocrisy…

Pharisees

Dan Turner offers an account of hypocrisy that focuses on “disparity pairs,” such as words versus deeds, pretended beliefs versus genuine beliefs, or beliefs versus desires.7 Turner claims that this model of properly restricted disparity pairs captures shared basic intuitions about hypocrisy, without legislating away conflicting ones, and “is enough to generate most, if not all, of the central structure of the notion.”8 Turner sees it as a virtue of his account that it does not presuppose or entail any sort of deception or insincerity, nor that hypocrisy is always a bad thing.9

Although there are noteworthy differences in the details of these accounts of hypocrisy, our primary focus is the negative claim they have in common: that hypocrisy need not involve deception or insincerity of any sort. We will argue that this claim is mistaken. For one thing, we will argue10 that philosophers who focus on an account of hypocrisy as inconsistency have difficulty explaining how hypocrisy differs from what appear to be distinct forms of inconsistency, such as weakness of will, change of mind, or mere forgetfulness. It is instructive in this context to note how readily such accounts blend hypocrisy with weakness of will. Consider, for instance, what Thomas Hurka asserts in the following passage: “In a common form of hypocrisy, you believe the moral principles you state and wish you could live up to them. But you can’t—you’re weak willed.”11 First, however, let us consider some of the examples defenders of the inconsistency accounts of hypocrisy put forward in support of their conception. We will argue that, when cases are treated with sufficient depth, it emerges that only the cases that involve deception at some level are clear candidates for hypocrisy.

OUT-OF-THE-CLOSET HYPOCRITES & OTHER CASES THAT APPEAR NOT TO INVOLVE DECEPTION—BUT DO

Dan Turner offers an argument in the form logicians call modus tollens for the conclusion that hypocrisy need not involve deception. First, he states that “if hypocrisy is a form of deception, then there can be no ‘out-of-the-closet’ hypocrites.”12 He goes on to say that there are, however, “out-of-the-closet” hypocrites. Therefore, hypocrisy is not a form of deception. Clearly, the force of this argument depends on the claim that there are “out-of-the-closet” hypocrites. The expression is used by Turner to describe people who openly and “freely acknowledge that they do not always practice what they preach.”13 Such alleged hypocrites are intended to provide a contrast to hypocrites who conceal their failure to practise what they preach, who are still in-the-closet.

The expression “out-of-the-closet hypocrite” is provocative, for it resonates with the figure of speech now used to describe homosexuals who are open about their sexual orientation and publicly identify them as gay. Since they no longer conceal their sexual identity, they no longer pretend to be what they are not—hence, they no longer hide in-the-closet.

The analogy only needs to be explicit to see that it is misleading. A gay person, whether s/he is in- or out-of-the-closet, is still gay. It is far from clear, however, whether a person who openly and freely declares that s/he does not practise what s/he preaches is still a hypocrite. This is a crucial dissimilarity, and Turner owes us a much more compelling case for the existence of “out-of-the-closet hypocrites” before helping himself to this analogy.

Modus Tollens

Turner provides two examples which he thinks are appropriately described as “out-of-the-closet” hypocrisies, as hypocrisies without any sort of deception or insincerity. One of these, which concerns a vegetarian who sometimes eats meat, we will consider in a later section.14 For now, consider Turner’s case of a cigarette smoker, who says, “I admit I am a hypocrite because I smoke, but I also want to urge you not to smoke; it is a terrible thing that no one should do.”15

The first interpretation of this case that comes to mind might be that the person involved is a nicotine addict. As such, the case can be generalized to include addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or whatever. An addict who desperately needs a fix may say, in the middle of getting that fix, “Whatever you do, don’t get yourself into this mess by becoming addicted,” thereby apparently satisfying the requirement for “out-of-the-closet” hypocrisy.

rehablitation-addiction-recovery-

Yet we would argue such cases are not plausible as hypocrisy. There are relevant differences between addiction and hypocrisy. One is that calling someone a “hypocrite,” laden as that term is with moral overtones, suggests that the person could have behaved differently, and could have practised what s/he preaches. An addict, on the other hand, can preach but cannot practise. As Crisp and Cowton observe, “it may be that the smoker is addicted to nicotine to the point that she really cannot do anything about it. In this case, she would be misusing the term ‘hypocrisy’ … If the smoker is unable to give up, then she cannot be required to give up, then she cannot be required to give up, since ‘ought’ implies ‘can,’ to use Austin’s phrase.”16

If this is correct, then the defender of the inconsistency view needs a case where a person says, “I’m a hypocrite because I do what I’m telling you not to do,” but the reason for doing it is not that one is unable to do otherwise. But then what is the reason the person does what s/he advises others not to do?

One other sort of case worth considering here involves people who are not strictly addicted, and could do otherwise, but are in the habit of acting in a particular way. A useful example along these lines is that of “a teacher who tells his pupils not to put their hands in their pockets because it looks slovenly and ruins one’s clothes and yet always has his own hands in his pockets.”17

Presumably we would not say such a teacher is “addicted” to putting his hands in his pockets. But it is not obvious whether the teacher “could have done otherwise.” Bad habits are hard to break, although presumably not impossible. Perhaps this case is not different in essence from the case of the addict after all. If that is right, then the critics have again failed to provide a case in which a person could have lived up to his/her stated principles but does not. Of course, establishing the conditions under which people could have acted differently than they did would require us to address the issue of free will in a way that lies beyond the scope of this project, but if we are right that hypocrisy must involve the ability to have done otherwise, then we do not yet have here a compelling case of hypocrisy without deception.

Even if we ignore the “could have done otherwise” argument, there are other reasons for thinking that people who do not practise what they preach are not necessarily hypocrites. For one thing, hypocrites are typically after social approval, cultivating the appearance of being principled persons by their preaching. The admitted miserable condition of the addict or habit-bound person is, by contrast, an object lesson as to why people should not smoke (or perhaps more convincingly, should not do crack-cocaine).

ClassicalDrugUse1109WEB

Finally, the inconsistency between the addict’s statements and behaviour may be more apparent than real. If the statement “Don’t smoke” is taken to be an elliptical way of saying “Don’t start smoking” then the addict’s ongoing behaviour is not after all contrary to the universal prescription. The addict may believe that it is acceptable for those who are already addicted to cigarettes to continue to smoke, but not acceptable for those who are not to start. But if this is the general proposition, then the addict’s behaviour in continuing to smoke does not after all contradict his/her stated principles, (the addict is not, after all, starting to smoke), and thus there need be no inconsistency.18 Although such people might commonly be referred to as hypocrites, we argue that this description may be inaccurate even if we count mere inconsistency as sufficient for hypocrisy, let alone if, as we maintain, use of the term should be reserved for cases in which there is deception of some sort involved.

Of course, to say that hypocrisy and addiction are distinct is not to say that it is impossible to be both a hypocrite and an addict. We are not referring here to con artists who pretend to be addicts to embezzle funds, say, from the Addict’s Aid Society. Indeed, such a person is not really an addict at all, and may not be a hypocrite either.

The Smoking Monk (Mount Athos)

Rather, the hypocritical addict is a person who uses his/her public confessions of failure and apparent concern for others, to establish his/her reputation as a crusader against smoking or to deflect blame or criticism from his/her own conduct. The simple addict engages in self-disclosure when s/he openly admits to not practising what s/he preaches. The hypocritical addict uses such openness to conceal motives s/he thinks others would find unworthy of respect or unacceptable. Such people come out-of-the-closet only to hide in another, perhaps more difficult to detect, closet. This is indeed a compelling case of hypocrisy, but notice that it also involves some sort of deception or insincerity. While in standard cases of hypocrisy, the deception often consists of concealing the gap between the preaching and practice, the “out-of-the-closet” sort of hypocrite, we suggest, has learned how such standard hypocrisy is detected or exposed, and how not to act like a standard hypocrite. S/he openly acknowledges the gap, yet continues to deceive or be insincere about his or her motives or inner core. Hence, these addict/hypocrites, when properly described, direct attention to a neglected range of hypocrisy and help us to better understand the concept, but do not provide an example of hypocrites who are not deceivers.

Tartuffe

A classic example along these lines arises in Moliere’s play Tartuffe (the alternate name of which is The Hypocrite). The title character is a man who pretends to extreme religious piety so as to work his way into the home of a man named Orgon, where he is not only fed and sheltered, but generally fawned upon and treated as an honoured guest. Tartuffe takes advantage of his host’s hospitality, and even goes so far as to make advances on Orgon’s wife, Elmire. Orgon’s son, Damis, reports this scandalous behaviour to his father, in Tartuffe’s presence. The key passage for our present purpose is Tartuffe’s reaction, speaking to Orgon, when thus accused:

Yes, brother, I am wicked, I am guilty, A miserable sinner, steeped in evil, The greatest criminal that ever lived Each moment of my life is stained with soilures; And all is but a mass of crime and filth; Heaven, for my punishment, I see it plainly, Would mortify me now. Whatever wrong They find to charge me with, I’ll not deny it But guard against the pride of self-defence. Believe their stories, arm your wrath against me And drive me like a villain from your house; I cannot have so great a share of shame But what I have deserved a greater still. Ah! Let him speak; you chide him wrongfully; You’d do far better to believe his tales. Why favour me so much in such a matter? How can you know of what I’m capable? And should you trust my outward semblance, brother, Or judge therefrom that I’m the better man? No, no; you let appearances deceive you; I’m anything but what I’m thought to be, Alas! And though all men believe me godly, The simple truth is, I’m a worthless creature.19

Is Tartuffe being hypocritical in this passage? If deception is crucial for hypocrisy, then it might seem the answer has to be no, since what he says is true. He tells Orgon that he is a scoundrel—which we know to be true—and further warns Orgon not to be taken in by appearances, because he is anything but the godly man he is thought to be. Now if all this is intended as a genuine confession, then it seems there cannot be any hypocrisy involved on Tartuffe’s part. However, there is reason to think this is not after all a genuine confession. First of all, the very fact that Tartuffe does seem to be a thoroughgoing scoundrel makes us suspicious of any sudden transformation, and his later behaviour in the play (e.g., by again trying to seduce Orgon’s wife) confirms these suspicions. Even more telling, however, is Orgon’s reaction to Tartuffe’s speech. Orgon takes this confession as yet one more indication of Tartuffe’s piety. He not only gets angry at Damis for accusing such a saintly man of wrongdoing, but tries to earn Tartuffe’s forgiveness for the slur of his character by offering him the deed to his home, and his daughter’s hand in marriage. Since Tartuffe’s entire success is based on playing upon the sensibilities of his gullible host, it seems most likely that Tartuffe intended his speech to bring about exactly the sort of reaction it did. In that case, he says things that are true, in the confidence that they will not be believed, and will be viewed instead as a poignant demonstration of the virtue of humility.20

tarttuffe-28-1024

If this reading is correct, does the resulting situation amount to hypocrisy? It certainly has the element of trying to obtain a better reputation than one deserves, and thus we are surely tempted to consider this speech hypocritical. But again, what Tartuffe says in this passage is true. Accordingly, this might seem like exactly the sort of test case we were looking for. This appears to be a case of hypocrisy without deception, unless one merely stipulates it away, claiming it is not hypocrisy solely because it does not have this feature taken to be essential.

On more careful consideration, however, it can be seen there is deception here after all. It is true that the words are literally true.21 Nevertheless, part of what is communicated through the speech is not true at all. Tartuffe is deliberately conveying the idea of someone who scrutinizes himself carefully for fault, and chastises himself soundly when he finds it, with genuine remorse. Yet he is none of this. He is indeed full of what the world considers fault, but even when he becomes aware of this, he has no interest in changing. He apparently believes that being a scoundrel is exactly the right way to be, especially if one can take advantage of others’ gullibility, to one’s own selfish advantage. Thus the appearance of remorse and humility that Tartuffe conveys in this speech is indeed deceptive, even though the words are literally true. And it is exactly this deception that provides an advantage for Tartuffe, gaining for him benefits that he could not obtain if people knew the truth. This does indeed seem to be a case of hypocrisy, then, but it is a case that turns out to support rather than undermine the account of hypocrisy as deception aimed at getting a better reputation than one deserves.22

Fr. George Passias
Fr. George Passias

So far, those who want to maintain that there can be hypocrisy without deception have failed to provide a compelling case. Some of the proposed cases, such as those involving addicts (or people with bad habits) who advise others to avoid the same predicament do not amount to hypocrisy. Other cases, such as that of Tartuffe, turn out to involve deception, though at a more subtle level than is immediately obvious. There are still other cases to consider, however.

Another group of people who do not practise what they preach consists of those who believe that rules that apply to most people do not apply to them. Although this seems to meet exactly the definition of hypocrisy as inconsistency, we will argue that such cases often cannot plausibly be considered hypocrisy at all. Consider, for example, a person who has special skills or abilities that make it unlikely that s/he will be hurt by actions that would be very risky for others. This is the point behind examples where people on TV say things such as “Don’t try this at home, kids,” or “Remember, I’m a trained professional.” But surely there is no reason to think such people are hypocrites. If the general rule is that “only individuals with characteristic x can or should do action a,” then a person who has characteristic x is not being hypocritical in saying to those who do not, “I am going to do this, but you should not.” Similarly, society may authorize some individuals to do some things that are prohibited to the general public. For example, emergency workers are entitled to drive through red lights when the rest of us cannot. If such emergency workers say as they drive by “I’m doing this, but you shouldn’t,” they are displaying the kind of inconsistency Turner and others identify, but surely nobody would think they were being hypocritical. Even if people are mistaken about their beliefs—even if they do not really have the skills that will shield them from injury, for example, or are simply deluded as to whether they are emergency workers, their failing to practise what they preach would not amount to hypocrisy. People who genuinely believe they are exempted from a rule in light of some specific characteristic are not being hypocritical if they act contrary to the rule while still recommending it to others.

What would make such an individual a plausible candidate for hypocrisy would be if that person’s reason for being exempted boiled down to nothing more than “I don’t have to do that, and you do, because I’m me and you’re not.”23 Besides failing any plausible version of a universalizability test of morality, a person taking such a stance is likely to be doing exactly what we are arguing is crucial for hypocrisy—engaging in deception. People who simply assert that they are special, and that ordinary moral rules do not apply to them, are not likely to have much credibility. Accordingly, people who think this way are not likely to make their views explicit. They will publicly endorse the rule, urging others to follow it as if they think it applies to everyone, and keep secret their belief that it does not apply to them. Such people are indeed strong candidates for hypocrisy, and their failure to practise what they preach is crucial for identifying them as such, but notice that they are also deceivers. They deceptively suggest that they think the rule applies to everyone including them, when they really think it applies to everyone except them.

Geronda Ephraim

We have argued that cases of “out-of-the-closet” hypocrites”24 are candidates for hypocrisy only if there is some sort of deception or insincerity also involved. Deception in hypocrisy often takes the form of concealing from others a breach between one’s preaching and practice. However deception may take other forms too. The modified versions of “out-of-the-closet” hypocrites we elaborated show that a person may acknowledge or confess a failure to practise what s/he preaches, and deceptively use this apparent “openness” to evade moral censure or blame. The deception here is about inner motive or intention and this suggests that people may be hypocrites, even though they practise what they preach—if they pretend to be motivated by certain considerations while in fact being motivated only by a desire to appear to be motivated by those considerations. Here again, however, it seems that situations can only properly be described as involving hypocrisy when there is deception present.

RIGGING ONE’S PRINCIPLES: “COUNTERFACTUAL HYPOCRISY”

There is another adaptive variation of hypocrisy that needs to be considered when searching for “hypocrisy of inconsistency” without deception. This variation involves people who make the actions of others a condition for practising, saying, “I’ll follow this principle only if others join in.” An example, provided by Saul Smilansky, is that of a person who says: “I am an egalitarian. If egalitarianism triumphs I would be willing to give up two-thirds of my salary in taxation. But until then, as long as the present social order persists, it is perfectly legitimate for me to pay only a quarter of my salary in taxes … I am all for changing the rules, but why should I now be the only one to pay?”25 Smilansky claims that, although such an individual readily admits she does not practise what she preaches, she “is no less a hypocrite than her more immediately recognizable partner”26 who conceals her actions so that the failure to practise what she preaches is not noticed. If Smilansky is right, perhaps we have here an example of a person who is hypocritical in light of inconsistency alone, without appeal to deception.

There are two reasons Smilansky cites to support his claim that this amounts to hypocrisy. The first is that “(with certain limited exceptions) one is obliged to practise what one preaches irrespective of the degree of acceptance of this preaching by others.27 This reason has a kind of Kantian resonance in that it suggests that principles are categorical imperatives, and anyone who qualifies them with “ifs and buts,” or compromises them by conditions, is already well on the way to the hypocrisy allegedly inherent in consequentialism. This reason, let us note, is only as sound as the Kantian theory it presupposes, and there are reasons for serious misgivings about the latter. Indeed, the difficulty of maintaining this approach is indicated by Smilansky’s need to qualify the assertion by allowing “certain limited exceptions.” He would, for example, allow deviating from the path one advocates when “doing one’s bit in the direction of one’s preaching, without the support or parallel action of others, would be more or less suicidal,”26 such as might be true of an advocate of gun control in “the Wild West or Beirut.”28 Similarly, he allows deviation from one’s preaching when “the achievement of the social aim depends on mass conformity, since one individual’s contribution, when it is quite certain that others will not join in, is insignificant or nonexistent.”29 After such qualifications, which we agree are necessary, the Kantian claim no longer seems as striking or powerful.

17352277

The second, and more powerful, reason Smilansky gives for believing that the person who says “I’ll do so if others join in” is a hypocrite will not in fact help the persons looking for an example of hypocrisy without deception. Smilansky claims that, contrary to appearances, there is deceit going on in such cases: “The deceit follows from the fact that there is a pretence of principle being declared, together with the knowledge that it is highly unlikely that the principle will be put to the test. Making the actions of others a condition for one’s actions pretty much guarantees that.”30 In other words, the person is in a sense stating a conditional of the form, “If others do x, then I’ll do x, too.” If one knows the antecedent is false, however, then it seems the only reason to make such a statement is that one hopes to gain a reputation for being willing to do x, without the cost of actually having to do it. We agree that in such cases there is a plausible, even compelling, case of hypocrisy, of a sort that might be called “counterfactual hypocrisy.” Note that, if the antecedent condition were miraculously to be met, such people might or might not carry through on their commitment to x. Although the one who does not do x when others have x’d is the clearer hypocrite, having made a blatantly false counterfactual statement, arguably even one who does do x when the circumstances call for it—perhaps to avoid further damage to one’s reputation—may be considered a hypocrite. This might be true, for example, if the person would never have made the statement in the first place, if s/he had realized there was a chance of actually having to carry through on it.

So we agree with Smilansky that people who make insincere counterfactual claims about what they would do if others behaved as we know they won’t are engaged in a form of deception and thereby qualify as hypocrites. But Smilansky seems to have described the case too broadly. Although he has identified an important and neglected area in which hypocrisy might arise, we believe that not all cases fitting his basic mould are in fact hypocritical in this way.

Consider again the case of the egalitarian who does not conceal his or her present practice, acknowledging that s/he pays only as much tax as presently required by law.  Suppose that s/he formulates the egalitarian principle clearly, and preaches in a manner that explicitly spells out the conditions for practice, as well as giving, so Smilansky himself says, “a principled set of reasons for not practicing what s/he preaches.”31 Consider then the above egalitarian, plus the following relevant new information. S/he knows that it is very unlikely that the preaching will be put to the test of practice in his or her lifetime, and says so. However, s/he works hard toward the realization of those conditions, investing considerable time, effort and money in the process. The “principled reasons” for not practising what s/he preaches are fairly applied and s/he does not demonize others who disagree. This person’s arguments suggest a genuine interest in a better society; s/he is not privileging his or her own role, but sees him or herself as one in a group of like-minded people. This person satisfies all of Smilansky’s requirements for hypocrisy, yet s/he seems like a genuine and realistic social reformer. We believe that it is the total lack of pretension in this case that makes us reluctant to label the egalitarian in question a hypocrite.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew kneel to kiss the Stone of Unction, traditionally claimed as the stone where Jesus' body was prepared for burial, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem May 25, 2014.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew kneel to kiss the Stone of Unction, traditionally claimed as the stone where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem May 25, 2014.

Smilansky’s basic sketch of the egalitarian-as-hypocrite is that of someone who not only conditionalizes his or her practice on the cooperation of others, but rigs those conditions in such a way that they in fact sabotage the goals of the principle itself. Furthermore, suppose that s/he flaunts the ideals, yet makes invidious judgments about those who live conventional lives—like him/herself—but do not avow egalitarianism. It is natural to see such a person a hypocrite, since in this case there is no pretension to principle and deceit going on.

To sum up our point then: To preach, not practise, openly admitting the breach, and conditionalizing one’s practice on the cooperation of others, does not necessarily involve deception, and does not as such amount to hypocrisy. Whether such a scenario adds up to hypocrisy depends on what these conditions are and how they are specified. If the latter are deceptive, we have good reason to suspect hypocrisy. In any event, there are diverse cases, requiring different treatment. For example, the successful practice of chastity does not generally require the cooperation of others, while bringing about an egalitarian society does. Accordingly, it is almost certainly hypocritical to say “I would be chaste if other people were, but they’re not, so I won’t be either,” but the comparable case of the egalitarian we have described need not be hypocritical at all. In any event, we have argued the cases of the “I will only if others do” sort are hypocritical only when the principles are “rigged,” and there is thus deception involved.

This-Church-is-Not-Full-of-Hypocrites

We have argued that the defenders of the “hypocrisy as inconsistency” theory have not yet provided a compelling case of hypocrisy, in which one could have acted on one’s stated principles and did not, that does not involve deception of some sort. We have yet to provide a positive argument to the effect that deception is required to distinguish hypocrisy from other forms of inconsistency, such as weakness of will, forgetfulness, or changes of mind. Before proceeding to this positive argument, however, we need to consider one more range of cases of potential counter-examples to our claim that hypocrisy does require deception. We will argue that these cases also involve deception, but that the deception involved is of a particular sort. In the next chapter, we consider the relationship between hypocrisy and self-deception.

NOTES

1. La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 1931.
2. Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind, 1949, p. 174.
3. See e.g., Eva Feder Kittay, “Hypocrisy,” 277-89.
4. On this view, all that remains to be done is to explain how hypocrisy is to be distinguished from other forms of deception.
5. People who argue in this fashion include: Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices; Dan Turner, “Hypocrisy”; Roger Crisp and Christopher Cowton, “Hypocrisy and Moral Seriousness,” 343-49.
6. Matthew 23:3.
7. Turner, p. 265.
8. Ibid., 266.
9. Ibid., 266 and 286.
10. In Chapter 14 of this book.
11. Hurka 266.
12. Turner 265.
13. Ibid. 264.
14. See Chapter 14, Sections D and E of this book.
15. Turner 265.
16. Crisp and Cowton, 345.
17. Ibid.
18. We owe this insight to Leanne Kent, a former student.
19. Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere, Tartuffe; Or, The Hypocrite, Act III, Scene 6 (Harvard Classics, Vol. 26, Part 4, on-line edition).
20. This technique was first laid out by the Apostle Paul who reproaches himself as “the first among sinners.” Orthodox Christian texts have continued this tradition for the last 2000 years. Geronda Ephraim is a continuer of this tradition: he reproaches and accuses himself in every letter and homily he writes. His devoted disciples, who are under blind obedience to him, believe that these accusations he makes against himself are a testimony to his humility and saintliness.
21. It is interesting to compare this case with cases of irony. In standard cases of irony, the speaker says something that is false, expecting the listener to take it in the opposite way, understanding that what is meant is not what is literally said, but the reverse. In the present case, the speaker again expects the listener to take what is said in the opposite way, but in this case the words are literally true, and the expectation is that the reader will invert it and come to a false belief on that basis.
22. Monasteries have received countless large donations by utilizing such techniques of feigning humility and self-reproach. This technique leaves such a deep impression on gullible lay people that it reinforces their belief that the abbots or abbesses are holy (especially if they’ve already been prepped by other pilgrims with miracle stories about these individuals). A common phrase heard is, “S/he’s so holy and yet so humble, what a saint!”
23. In not so many words, this is a very common statement in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. “Because I’m the Geronda (or Gerondissa),” is often heard by monastic disciples who confess logismoi or are scandalized by the un-monastic behaviors they witness in the abbots/abbesses. It is common for new novices who have not yet been completely broken by the elder to get scandalized easily by various behaviours that occur in the monastery; especially of the superiors and older monastics. This is natural because the young novices are continually reading monastic texts which censure different behaviours as unmonastic and many times these behaviours are quite commonplace in the monasteries from the head down. After a strict indoctrination process of being continually humbled (either verbally or other methods), long work hours, sleep and food deprivation, etc., the novice is either completely subjugated to the superior, or after a series of mini breaks, realizes the monastic life is not for them.
24. We discuss Turner’s other case, that of the meat-eating vegetarian in Chapter 14 of this book.
25. Smilansky, “On Practicing What We Preach,” American Philosophical Quarterly, (1994) 75.
26. Ibid., 77.
27. Ibid.
28. Ibid., 75.
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid., 74-75.
31. Ibid.
32. Ibid.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suppressive_Person
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suppressive_Person