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License to … Be a Hypocrite?

Genuinely acknowledging my hypocrisy isn't such a bad thing.

The other day I was listening to the same witty, thought-provoking radio show I tune in to every morning. It’s called Mornings with Brant. The show is syndicated, so it may very well be in your area. You should check it out.

So Brant brought up a recent article from the Washington Post about what psychologists call “moral licensing.” Here’s an explanation from the article of the phenomenon:

We drink Diet Coke — with Quarter Pounders and fries at McDonald’s. We go to the gym — and ride the elevator to the second floor. We install tankless water heaters — then take longer showers.

In an a very compelling follow-up to his discussion of the article, Brant asked people to call in and talk about how they engage in moral licensing. There were some pretty interesting, honest responses.

All those people calling in — it gave me pause. I started to take an honest look myself at all the ways I engage in this particular form of cognitive dissonance.

I was slightly unnerved:

  • For starters, I used to be almost evangelistic about budgeting and saving money. I once hosted a budgeting get-together to talk with friends about the benefits of budgeting and self-denial and wise money management. But over the past year and a half I’ve let things slip. Because of what I like to call “extenuating circumstances” — read: “getting overwhelmed from losing my job and beginning grad school” — I haven’t been living on a budget, and my savings has subsequently dwindled.
  • I’m inclined to think that our culture is over-medicated. We in our modernist age tend to think we can escape, via medication and various medical treatments, all of the physical consequences of being human. Yet here I am, currently taking Lexapro for depression and anxiety. I’d like to get off it, in the near-ish future. But to be honest, I’m scared about trying.
  • I’m convinced we millennials are becoming increasingly isolated from one another because we mediate so many of our relationships through technology. But I’m on Facebook. As in, I’m typing this blog post and I have a Facebook window open. Which I check every five minutes.

You see what I mean.

I wasn’t expecting that morning, as I was preparing for my day, to be confronted by the chasm that stretches between how I want to and am convicted to act and how I actually act. To have to consider the idea that I am, to dispense with euphemism, a hypocrite.

What? Me?! I’m not a hypocrite. I’m … I’m Matthew John. And Matthew John is no hypocrite.

So goes my inner monologue.

Particularly troubling is the fact that I so often judge people for not adhering to my standards for right action — all the while making excuses for why I don’t uphold those same standards.

Houston, we have a problem.

Eventually, I must give up on manipulating my self-image and admit that, yes, I’m as depraved as the Scriptures tell me I am. But genuinely acknowledging my hypocrisy isn’t such a bad thing, I find. In a way, it’s kind of freeing.

Not a cathartic kind of freeing, but a paradoxical freeing that comes from confessing that, try as I might, I am fundamentally unable to remedy my depravity. Such a confession brings me to the place where, once again, I admit my deep-down need for Christ and His gospel.

And all that from a morning radio show. Thanks, Brant.

So what about you? Do you engage in moral licensing? Let me rephrase that: How do you engage in moral licensing? And what is your relationship to the spiritual discipline of confession?

Copyright 2010 Matthew John. All rights reserved.

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