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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Of Hypocrites, and Wretches, and looming Precipices

(I originally published this article under the title "Of Hypocrites, and Bitches, and Looming Precipices ". I have updated it to its present form for verbally esthetic reasons. Seriously. It has lost nothing in translation.)

"How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye." --- Yeshua

A Hypocrite is defined as: "a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs."  The word hypocrite itself is derived from the Greek concept of the actor as a person who wears a mask designed to hide his or her real face while he or she pretends to be someone else. Anyone watching the current social and political theatre will immediately connect with the concerns about how real our political, religious, and other civic actors are. The frustration with what is being presented before us is real.

Our contempt for many of those presenting themselves before us can barely be contained. It is understandable that we are at times moved to curse them with all our psychological might. Remember that saying about "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me"? Well that does not apply here. Words have the power to stigmatize. They can hurt you. Hypocrite is an example of a word that can hurt. Despite the sentimental declarations of that well known song "Words Are Impossible"; words without love are still words with meanings. They can actually leave us with the feeling that something or someone has died, or is dying. 

There is such a thing as the connotative and the denotative use of language. Words have literal meanings, and they also carry cultural denotations. These are added meanings that evolve from how concepts are connected in our experiences. Consider the meaning of the word wretch as an example; literally meaning an unfortunate or unhappy person. The word can also be used to mean a despicable or contemptible person, as in "an ungrateful wretch". In this sense it has the same connotation as: scoundrel, villain, rogue, rascal, reprobate, criminal, or miscreant. We can all attest to the fact that words can be used to hurt us. We can't escape the damaging force of someone hurling the curse "Wretch!", or "Hypocrite!" at us. Like flying knives they bear sharp edges that can do real harm. Like the curses of old, we must either "duck" to escape their damaging effect or suffer the consequences.

The Prophets spoke powerfully against the hypocritical tendencies in their society. Their words applied equally to individuals, and to groups, and to the nation. The inherent wisdom of the warnings in Jesus' message sound loud and clear to us today. As individuals and as groups and as institutions and as a nation, we are solemnly warned against our propensity to judge others by standards that we only pretend to adhere to ourselves. We should pay attention to that warning whenever we demand justice for ourselves, while we dispense injustice to our neighbors.

We brutalize our neighbors, and then complain about police brutality. We demand that other nations comply with the standards of international morality; while we commit crimes against humanity. Extremist Christians and extremist Muslims criticize each other for atrocities that both groups have been, and still are guilty of. We say we serve a just God; while we make ourselves available to do the bidding of whoever will buy our allegiance. We say our religions are based on Love; while we worship gods, and declare the infallibility of scriptures that sanction genocide and other expressions of mass murder. We profess our love for, and our allegiance to a God we cannot see; while we actively hate our fellow humans who we can see, and hear, and touch, and taste, and smell. We sanctimoniously declare the fatherhood of God while denying the implied brotherhood of man. What hypocrites we are! What wretches we have become!

As hypocrites we have gone from wearing masks to donning blindfolds. This is the crux of the matter regarding the existential threat we face. The "log" in our eyes has made the "speck" in the eyes of those we criticize redundant. Our hypocritical statements do not matter because the deficiency of vision that results will be a reason for the demise of us all.  It is an existential altruism... a fact of life... that  "where there is no vision the people perish". (The Book of Proverbs) The blind leading the blind will only result in them both falling into a ditch… Into the beckoning precipices that lie in the path of those who depart from the straight and narrow path of righteousness.

The inherent idiocy of walking around in the chaos of the dark night created from our hypocrisy and wanton wretchedness, must be faced with humility. There is none so blind as those who celebrate the unwillingness to open their eyes to Common Sense and Truth. The precipice of mutual destruction is just a few steps away on the dreadful roads of our inhumanity toward one another. Those roads run through our civic lives wherever we may be. Roads in Ferguson, Missouri. Roads in New York, New York. Roads in Chicago, Illinois. Roads in Paris, France. Roads in Africa and the Middle East. Roads in Kingston, Jamaica. Roads in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

When the way to the City of Peace becomes instead a habitat of rogues, then what awaits us is the Valley of Destruction. We can all bet on that... Hypocrites, Wretches, and their unreasonable belligerence notwithstanding. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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