Hypocrisy21 February, 2008
First off, let me say that I had planned to write this months ago. I am writing this now (in part) because of the rant Poodles posted over at Atheist Rants. She wrote about the financial difficulties of family members and the lack of support from the church. The reason (in part) I am writing this now is because it was not an easy essay to write. Why was it not easy? because I, too, am a hypocrite.
How am I a hypocrite? Well, I don’t have much of a problem with my son (17) dating. I have a big problem with my daughter (15) dating (when she was six, I had her sign a contract promising she wouldn’t date until she was 31 (for the record, she can now date (with full chaperonage (is that a word?) by my wife or me))). That is hypocritical. I tell my children to keep life simple, yet mine has gotten so confused (at times) as to drive me to medication. I am not alone in this hypocrisy. My sister railed against drunk drivers, yet she (while drunk) got into a Jeep with a drunk driver. She railed against people who don’t wear seatbelts, yet when the drunk rolled the Jeep, she was thrown from the vehicle because she wasn’t. I know of no people who are not, to some extent, hypocrites. We all say one thing and (on occasion) do another.
I refer to this as (small ‘h’) hypocrisy. Then there is (big ‘H’) Hypocrisy — the kind of Hypocrisy which damages individuals, institutions and nations. Examples of Hypocrisy abound: MTV lamenting the lack of modern protest songs while refusing to play the ones out there; George W. Bush asking for unity while single-mindedly pursuing a policy of fragmentation. These are examples of Hypocrisy.
And then there is religious Hypocrisy.
Some years ago, my wife co-owned a residential cleaning business. Her partner was a local (definition of a local in the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys: when two meet, the find out HOW they are related, not IF they are related) and came from a very Catholic family.
My wife’s partner’s sister (for simplicities sake I will call her Carol (not her real name)) Carol had ‘gotten into trouble’ and been, well, not forced to marry her daughter’s father, but it was ‘strongly suggested’ that she do so. Their marriage was an odd one, but they were able to buy a house and stay afloat. Then her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Because of the lack of health insurance, he was diagnosed late, and basically came home to die.
Death took about four months. Four months when he could not work. Four months when he wracked up hospital bills. Carol asked for help from the state: denied because they owned their house. She asked for help from the church and was told (not in so many words) that they were not destitute enough. My wife and I were able to help with food and the occasional tank of gas. Other friends and some relatives also helped.
When Carol’s husband finally died, she asked her priest to perform the give last rites and perform the funeral and the priest said “No.” This was the priest who had taught here catechism class. This was the priest who had married them. This was the priest who had baptized their daughter, taught her and performed the first Holy Communion. Why would he say no?
Well, about a month before the cancer diagnoses, Carol had promised $10.00 per week to the church. She had been unable to keep up the payments (her food budget while he was dieing at home as about $10.00 a week) and, because she had broken her promise to the church, the saints, the pope, Jesus and Mary, she and her husband were unfit to have a Catholic funeral. She found another priest to perform the rites.
At about the same time this was happening (give or take a year), Saint Patrick’s Day fell during Lent. Saint Paddy’s Day is a major celebration in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The bars open at 6:00am. The cities (which don’t have the money to fill the potholes) paint green lines on the streets for the parades. Our local archbishop waived Lenten promises for that day for all Irish-Americans so the ones who gave up alcohol could drink, and they could all partake in corned beef and cabbage (or the local cheap variant, ham and cabbage (bleah!)).
So aiding a family with a dieing father is too much to ask (they could sell their house, right?). Performing last rites and a funeral is too much to ask because she couldn’t afford the promised donations. But lifting Lenten restrictions for a party is perfectly alright?
Hypocrisy. Big ‘H’ Hypocrisy. I have been told again and again that churches, organized religion, help the poor, the destitute, the widows, the children, the hungry. I have been told that the charity of religious groups give them a waiver when it comes to the occasional lapse (sodomizing altar boys, driving children to suicide, marrying 16-year-old girls to men twice their age, love bombing a girl for 18 hours because she listens to Michael Jackson).
The Bible tells Christians to be charitable, help the poor. How to explain this disconnect? I’ll be honest. I don’t know. My gut tells me it may be bound up in the power and money structure of organized religion. If anyone has a coherent explanation, please, let me know.
Poodles: the scary thing is (as this story shows) even asking may not help.