When to be a Hypocrite


When do you find yourself with competing hypocrisies in your life? I was intrigued by one of the comments on my blog last week. Dan wrote, “I have learned in life that a case can be made for a good kind of hypocrisy: doing the right thing on the outside even when our desires or motivations on the inside do not match.” I liked the way this comment challenged the view I hear so much today; that I’ve-got-to-be-true-to-what-I-feel-or-I’m-a-hypocrite feeling. It stands in contrast to the kind of hypocrisy that comes when we don’t live  externally according to values we claim to hold. At times we may find ourselves torn between the kind of hypocrisy that comes when inner feelings and outer actions are misaligned and the other kind of hypocrisy that comes when we don’t live what we believe in spite of our feelings. In the tension between these hypocrisies there is an invitation to deep inner work.

I heard of a therapist who challenged a married client around his genuine feelings of love for another woman. –You’re doing a great job feeling, she said, but now you need to think. And you really need to consider what you are going to do. Are you going live with the tension of this inner feeling and maintain the commitment to your wife? Or are you going to break the commitment to your wife to pursue the feeling?– The client needed to decide which hypocrisy to tolerate: living with a misalignment between inner feelings and outer actions or living with undoing a promise made: commitment to the genuineness of an inner experience or commitment to a vow.

Is it an easy choice to make? No! Because either choice may feel hypocritical. One feels internally disingenuous and the other feels like a rattling conflict of interest. This is where many folks rely on religious and faith institutions to lend us some boundaries in difficult situations like this. The Christian tradition is no exception. Some clear answers are provided for situations when inner experiences threaten to undo us. Jesus called his followers to all sorts of uncomfortable behaviors that may have felt (or feel) out and out unnatural to many folks. And his disciples ranged in their reactions, just like today. But it can be easy to punt to the answers our faith brings (and thus avoid religious hypocrisy) without really looking at and facing the sometimes agonizing tension of the other hypocrisy.

I have seen a lot of clients start with an insistence on not being a hypocrite, only to find out that it isn’t that easy a state to avoid. Often, the therapy process helps the client develop clarity around what the choices are and then choose based not only on the wish to avoid inner or outer hypocrisy, but on values, principles, commitments, and yes, sometimes feelings too. At its best, therapy supports the client in living in the tension that results. And that is the very place where we can crack open the deeper mysteries of gritty, uncomfortable relationship with God that leads to authentic humanity.

So, are you willing to face the tension of hypocrisy?

I investigated, and Dan’s comment was inspired by NT Wright’s book, Small Faith Great God, p.96.


  1. Great post. I live with this tension everyday of having feelings for one thing and wondering how those fit into a biblical world-view and lifestyle.

    For those wondering, that tension is between same-sex attraction and a life the bible describes as inconsistent with those attractions. So before the judgements start to fly about how I should live my life, nobody has had to think about these things more than I. And I’ve decided to follow faith that the bible is God’s world for us and me may have a better idea of how to go about living life.

    Again, introduce the conflict/tension of having gay-feelings yet not engaging them. Like your post, it is nothing short of difficult and at times, feels inconsistent with where “culture” says I should go.

    Just remember, anything worth having folks, is worth fighting for…your identity, your marriage, your connection with God and whatever else life throws at you.

    It’s my hope that I’m conforming my entire being (sexuality included) into a life of faith that will seek to honor God and not myself.

    I hope this is helpful to someone….

    1. Hi, I think you are really courageous to put your own struggle out to share with others. I hope you find the support you desire in a Christian church community. There are a couple of good church communities in the D.C. area (not sure about Baltimore) that are openly accepting and supportive of loving couples regardless of heterosexuality or homosexuality. Whether or not that is the kind of support you desire, I thought I would at least mention it for anyone reading.

  2. What you beautifully describe is the tension between trying to justify following one’s impulses, such are feelings, and one’s principles. I love your invitation to crack open the deeper self because we often don’t realize what our guiding life principles really are until we face the “hypocrisy” you describe. I often “discus” with my kids that our feelings arise without our conscious permission or request, they are just there, instantly responding to every situation. Because of this, they are usually poor guides for healthy behavior. However, if we pause, and do as you suggest, we can see them not simply as impulses to follow or resist, but clues to understand our true self clear from the many misleading filters we often apply when using more conscious thought. The married client could see is attraction to another, not as a question of yes/no to infidelity. Instead, his feelings for the woman are asking him to consider why he is not content with his current life. Willingly facing that tension is priceless advice. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Wow. Great post. I will be chewing on this one for some time. The post and the responses I have read feel like a feast for the soul.

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