In the discussion of William Gillette’s lost of faith, in the biography of him I’m reading, there was some discussion of how something that pushed him to give up the faith was that he was disgusted by the Mallory brothers, one of whom was a protestant minister, because they posed as pious but were only using the public appearance of virtue in order to profit from patronage of their theater by devout Christians who were otherwise suspicious of the theater (because theater has tended to be vicious for the last several millennia).
Now, while I only have the book’s work that the Mallory brothers were pious frauds, I don’t have reason to doubt it. So let’s assume that they were. That gets a rational person absolutely nowhere with regard to the faith. It makes no sense to infer from the existence of pious frauds—that is to say, people who are merely pretending to be pious—that piety is bad. If a person is going to try to assume the guise of virtue in order to cheat people, how can he do this other than by pretending to be what is generally regarded as virtuous?
Moreover, the reaction—a dishonest man lied about being virtuous, therefore I reject all attempts to be virtuous—is not only nonsensical, but it makes the moral indignation that generally accompanies this meaningless. If there’s no point in trying to be good, then it doesn’t matter that the hypocrites weren’t trying.
There’s a bizarre sort of childishness to this reaction. I mean that in a literal sense—”If he’s not trying then I won’t either” is something children do say. Oddly, it’s almost never about the sort of things that actually should be reciprocal or abandoned. Part of raising them is teaching them to get over this sort of reaction and to try to do what’s right because it’s right, and to rationally evaluate their circumstances and make good decisions, even if someone else is being an idiot.
Which reminds me that I really need to get around to reading the book The Faith of the Fatherless.
3 thoughts on “Hypocrites Prove Nothing”
“It makes no sense to infer from the existence of pious frauds—that is to say, people who are merely pretending to be pious—that piety is bad.”
The inference we make isn’t ‘piety is bad’, it’s ‘piety is fradulent’, especially so as this is a common pattern of behaviour. Furthermore, piety isn’t good in itself, it is goodness which is good in itself, and we see goodness displayed just as much, if not more so, by the non-pious.
Piety is a virtue like honesty. What you said makes as much sense as saying “honesty isn’t good, goodness is good”.
And no, the impious don’t display lots of goodness. A lot of life experience has taught me that the impious merely think very highly of themselves and excuse everything that they themselves do wrong.
Honesty is generally (but not universally) virtuous, but piety is not. Some of the most pious people are amongst the least virtuous, as can be seen from the examples of Islamic suicide bombers and those involved in the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal. But even if the pious aren’t blowing people up or molesting children, they can still live lives which fail to benefit anyone else in the slightest. At best, piety is neutral; at worst it leads to the worst kind of evil.
Incidentally, even the dictionary agrees with me, as the second definition given for ‘pious’ is:
‘Making or constituting a hypocritical display of virtue’
If your ‘virtue’ has become a byword for hypocracy, maybe think again?