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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Same Coin

In our day "pharisee" (lowercase "p", since the uppercase version refers to a member of a Jewish sect around Jesus's day) is defined as "a sanctimonious, self-righteous, or hypocritical person."

So ... what do those terms mean? Well, the dictionary says that self-righteous means "confident of one's own righteousness". Of course, beyond that there is the sense of "smug" or "overly pious" or some other value judgment about this thing we call "self-righteous", but, in essence, the concept is the certainty that I possess within myself a satisfactory amount of righteousness.

Moving on, a "hypocrite" may not be quite what you might think. Many people use the term in reference to someone who doesn't practice what they preach. "Oh, you did drugs in school? So why would you have any grounds to tell me not to? Hypocrite!!" That's not a hypocrite. A hypocrite is "a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs." Thus, our fallacious version of a hypocrite doesn't apply if the person who did the dirty deed and then preached against it didn't claim virtue. So, for instance, "I did drugs in school. I'm telling you, because of my experience, you must not" would not be hypocritical because it doesn't make a claim to virtue the person doesn't actually possess. Indeed, it makes the opposite claim. "I'm not clean on this subject and I hope you will be."

Oh, and then there's "sanctimonious" which means someone who is a self-righteous hypocrite, so we don't need to go any further down that road, okay? It's the same thing as the first two.

Here's the interesting part. If a "pharisee" is someone who is a self-righteous hypocrite -- and that's bad -- how would one avoid such a condition? Well, there are two parts here. First there is self-righteousness, which is a failure to recognize one's lack of righteousness -- one's sin. Then there is hypocrisy which is a failure to recognize one's lack of righteousness -- one's sin. Oh, now, wait! That's interesting, isn't it? So, to avoid being a hypocrite, you would need to not claim virtue you don't have, and in order to avoid being self-righteous, you'd have to admit that you don't have the virtue you thought you had. The same coin.

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