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.