Monday, November 3, 2014

Of Hypocrites and Holiness: the Struggle for the Survival of the Ideal in our Institutions

In this world, the tired moniker attributed to anyone who claims to uphold a moral standard but who cannot live that standard perfectly is  "hypocrite."
Obviously, all of us want to see the integration of our authority figures:our  leaders,governing bodies, and even our first teachers-our parents-"practice what they preach." It is as imperative to the mission of any institution as it is to evangelization and catechesis within the family.
But is this stringent notion of perfection possible in a fallen world?
To say no is discouraging, and to say yes is woefully disappointing.
But, if not, what does this say about how we govern the church, with all its very challenging moral standards that strike the Gentiles of day (and the faithful alike) as rigorously opposed to their moral malaise?
We are all on our way to holiness, and, in the meantime it is we same folk that are bequeathed the necessary social institutions that characterize a civil society.
As an idealist with enough disillusion to make me peppered with a certain bit of realism-I sometimes question my own expectation of perfect integrating my beliefs and actions.
In society, we blame church leaders and politicians for constantly professing a law that even they seem to not believe is possible to attain.
Does that make them "hypocrites?"
All too often this is in fact, the most applicable term and we should not be afraid to apply this word when necessary.
However, analogously, as a parent there has been many a time the words coming out of my mouth as I instruct my children serve to sear my conscience because I know I am asking more of my kids than I expect of myself and imposing standards that I cannot even master.
Some parents think that they cannot ask their kids to do something they would not do.It is with this fear of having "hypocrite" thrown at them that we have lost many a parents' authoritative voice,and thus, have an epidemic of undisciplined youth.Some of these youth are now the adults, these authority figures....
It is in fact a great safeguard God has built into parenthood-this desire to challenge our kids to the very best-because in effort to not be hypocrites, we are continually challenged ourselves every time we admonish our children.
We demand greatness and because of that, we must ourselves aspire to it as well.
But what happens when the authority figure misses the mark?
I have asked the question myself  whether any authoritative body,whether it be  judges at city hall or parents at the dinner table, should even expect integration of our idealistic laws because to do so would either cause the demise of authoritative bodies as they "come down to realistic level" or it would cause a posturing of triumphalistic phariseeism in the ordinary folk who would be aspiring to appease authority they are subject to.
How do we avoid the breakdown of authority if authority cannot live in continuity with what they impose on their subjects?
Being that we need to uphold the authoritative infastructures of society because their importance outweigh even the accusations leveled at them, it seems there is no way around the that dissonance that routinely separates ideal and reality.
Perhaps the better question is if we should allow authorities to *make*  laws based on our weaknesses and our almost certain moral failures? Or if we continue to make rules that are out of the reach of those subject to them?  
As frustrated as I become with myself and with the sometimes careless, "true" hypocrisy of institutions around me, I have asked too what would happen to authority as we know it if institutions over time changed laws to reflect current laxity of our mediocre, depressed culture?
This approach would never cease to erode society.
And very quickly it would accomplish anarchy.
This decisive time is coming in our age as it has to so many other great nations before us and yet the Dionysian intuitive calls out from the inmost core of us all when we see the rational Appolonian distort his own virtues into placing the law above human good.
The question must remain always active within the sphere of its interpretation, but never go so far as to corrode the the principle on which the law is based.Laws may be changed because a new application of it becomes necessary, but when the proposed new law is directly contrary to the principle virtue of its parent law, we have rupture, not continuity.
Authentic development of both civil and ecclesial law comes as result of understanding  how to apply principles to a constituency who is far from the mind of their leadership,not changing the principles because no one can live up to it.Any new interpretations should foster momentum *towards* the virtue of a just, preceeding law.
The institutions we serve will endure long after we are charged with the responsibility to uphold them.We serve something greater than ourselves.
And often, in the name of mercy, we aim to placate mediocrity when we ignore what is known about the trajectory of human behavior and the likely outcome of natural human tendencies.Instead of allowing the failure to be named what it is, left understood and dealt with as an exception rather than the rule, we lower the proverbial bar and diminish the imagination of our youth by vaccinating them against utilizing their natural (and supernatural) aspirations for greatness.
Authorities both secular and in the church have a responsibility greater than many of its lay citizens can ever imagine.Certainly there are those who are two-faced, who speak out both sides of their mouths and then laugh about how they manage to pull it all off over tea.
These are hypocrites; persons who could never learn how to authentically interpret laws because they cannot even integrate their own rationale and behavior.Hypocrites do not uphold the law simply because they do not care to.

Then there are those of us who are simply poor mortals serving something greater than us and timeless; who care deeply for what they serve and give all they can until they have given it all.These servants who strive in good conscience to reform what within their institution is sour because they believe in its overall goodness.They are not hypocrites.
Instead of leveling this overly used accusations against,well-everyone, perhaps we should consider that some service occupations demand more than any human can consistently live..and these occupations endure because those serving them give all they can in their corner of the world and in their time until their efforts simply exhaust or affect change if necessary.
Let us admire the latter for what they did give to society for as long as they could give it.Because of them, ideals endure beyond their own time and place.
Those of us who are parents have our own authority to uphold.It challenges us to be consistent when we rule mightily over our kids'eating habits while still bringing soda in the house for ourselves.The kids will inevitably accuse mom of not doing as she pontificates, and, if mom loves her kids enough to want them to eat better, this will motivate mom to change.This lifts up the struggling sloth within all of us rather than instilling our sloth in our kids.
While we would do well to remember all persons of authority serve some institution greater than the individual who happens to be presently in the office of service,we also should know that our institutions will only fair as well as the authorities materialize the values they uphold with their lives.
And so the structures of our institutions must remain conservative in its demands while still dealing with individuals on an individual basis.

I have learned the importance of upholding the image of a strong institution whenever possible-whether it be marriage, church, state, or schools.
And I continue to learn the hard way how to be the most authentic interpreter of the values necessary in my own family institution.

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