Saturday, June 27, 2009

Is Hypocrisy Unpardonable?

Writing about the sad revelations of marital infidelity by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Joe Carter of First Things writes:
Sanford may very well turn out to be guilty of hypocrisy if he refuses to resign. But he is repeatedly being refereed to as a hypocrite for the wrong reasons by people who are apparently ignorant about what hypocrisy is.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines hypocrisy as “The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.” The British literary critic William Hazlitt once explained, “He is a hypocrite who professes what he does not believe; not he who does not practice all he wishes or approves.”

By all appearances, Sanford does indeed believe in marital fidelity. His failures so far are due to his behaving in a way that does not comport with those values; a matter not of hypocrisy but of moral inconsistency. Such consistency is essential—particularly for democratically elected representatives—for establishing and maintaining trust. This is why private behavior has such public implications. The marital infidelity of a elected officials strong signal they are untrustworthy: If a man cannot be trusted to keep a sacred vow to an intimate, how can I trust him to keep his word to me, a stranger?...

Sanford believes that there is an objective moral standard and that his sin (his word) was a result of his external actions being inconsistent with his internal beliefs. Many of his detractors, however, believe that because all moral standards are subjective and internal, behavior can’t be objectively immoral, it can only be inconsistent...

The problem is not with pointing out moral inconsistency, which can aid a person in readjusting their level of integrity. The problem is that this approach rewards those with low moral standards. Anyone with high moral standards is likely to come up short, thus opening themselves to the charge of being morally inconsistent (or in their mangled use of the term, a hypocrite). But I would prefer to have politicians who fail to live up to objective moral standards than to to have those who think no such standards exist.
Read the entire article HERE.

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