John Bel Edwards vs. David Vitter.
While the names on the ballot change, the themes of our elections remain the same. Amidst our arguments about taxes, education, and abortion, the universal themes of humanity bubble up to the surface and become the unavoidable elephants in the room that sway elections.
What is the universal theme driving our gubernatorial election this year?
hy-poc-ri-sy – noun – the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.
Moral hypocrisy is political kryptonite. It weakens even the strongest candidates.
Grown ups don’t expect their leaders to be perfect. Alcohol. Drugs. Infidelity. Our mistakes make us wiser. Sin humbles us. Honesty and remorse are often rewarded with forgiveness.
But the stench of moral hypocrisy is harder to wash away. Hypocrisy triggers something deeper. Our souls seem to reject it at a spiritual level.
Human beings are inherently complicated and inconsistent. Most of us are hypocrites to one degree or another.
Why are we so repulsed by the moral hypocrisy of our would be leaders?
The Biology of Hypocrisy
Dr. Robert Kurzban, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tackles the biology of hypocrisy in his book, Why Everyone (Else) Is A Hypocrite: Evolution And The Modular Mind.
Kurzban explains that the human mind consists of many mental processes that were all formed by natural selection. Each mental process operates by its own unique logic.
The mind can be thought of as an iPhone full of individualized apps. Each app performs a different function. Some apps control our sight, muscles, and ability to process language. Others control the processes by which we make friends and select mates.
Kurzban explains that the notion that we have only one “self” is inaccurate. The apps of our mind are like different “selves” designed to accomplish different tasks. Human thought and action depends upon which app is running the show at any particular moment in time.
Because the part of the mind that is in charge changes over time, and because those different parts are designed to do very different things, human behavior is complicated.
The evolutionary biology of our brain explains why we often feel conflicted, why we have multiple competing motives, and why we’re inconsistent in the way we think and reason about fundamental issues of morality.
In short, hypocrisy is biology.
Rising Above Our Biology
According to the Pew Research Center, a staggering 84% of Louisiana residents identify themselves as Christian. Protestants lead the way with 49% followed by Catholics at 26%.
Jesus is more popular in North Louisiana than the Cowboys. He polls better than Leonard Fournette and crawfish. We have the New Orleans Saints. Commerce pauses on Good Friday. Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday.
It’s hard to overstate how deeply engrained Christianity is in virtually every aspect of Louisiana life. Even that which is now considered secular has Christian roots in our little state.
In many ways, the practice of Christianity is a life long quest to transcend our biology. Christ calls us to simply love our neighbor as our self. If we move in that direction, everything else just kind of works itself out.
The concept of loving our neighbor as our self is totally contrary to our biology. Yet 84% of us wake up each morning, striving in faith to overcome our DNA and just be good to one another.
Jesus identified moral hypocrisy as the greatest threat to his revolutionary vision of human relationship. Christ peacefully took crucifixion on the chin with divine grace and restraint. But when it came to moral hypocrisy, The Prince of Peace got pretty aggressive.
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer;’ but you are making it a robbers’ den.” And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant. Matthew 21: 12-15.
In that moment of anger, 30 plus years of being a country boy carpenter trumped divinity, and Jesus just lost it. AC/DC’s classic power rock anthem, Thunderstruck, should be playing in the background as Jesus starts turning over tables and throwing chairs. He is livid. And why is he so mad? Moral hypocrisy.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5.
AC/DC Jesus is back. “You hypocrite…” That’s aggressive language for The Prince of Peace. Again, we see Jesus indignant. And why is he so mad? Moral hypocrisy.
“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. John 8:4-9.
AC/DC Jesus turns up again. He passive aggressively beats back the crowd with what has now become a historically great one liner. Down goes moral hypocrisy.
It takes a lot of theological duct tape for modern day crusaders to piece together Christ’s likely stance on our current en vogue issues of morality. We don’t find stories of Jesus preaching against the wickedness of homosexuality. We don’t find him leading a charge to abolish the death penalty or institute a carbon tax.
Yet, over and over and over again, we find stories of Jesus aggressively lashing out against moral hypocrisy. It is one of the most consistent themes of the New Testament.
84% of us know these stories well. 84% of us recognize the great charge of our faith.
Transcend biology. Reject moral hypocrisy. Love our neighbor as our self.
Louisiana’s Electoral Blind Spots
Louisiana’s unique relationship with Christianity has led to an interesting political history.
Leaders like Huey Long and Edwin Edwards masterfully tapped into Louisiana’s Christian affinity for the poor and marginalized. Our Christian comprehension of sin and forgiveness led to electoral blind spots that allowed us to habitually overlook corruption because we thought the ends justified the means. These blind spots were exploited for decades and Louisiana suffered.
In the 1990’s, the pendulum of politics swung the other way. The political rhetoric shifted away from Christian populism and towards a handful of en vogue Old Testament tests of morality. If the right answers were given, then Louisiana voters overlooked public policy devoid of the New Testament.
Louisiana has an unfortunate history of overlooking hypocrisy on both ends of the political spectrum. Most of us would agree that our electoral blind spots have not served us well.
So here we are in 2015, on the eve of another important election.
Millions of dollars will be spent over the next few weeks defining our gubernatorial candidates. Robo calls. Television ads. Radio posts. Social media posts. Mailers. Bumper stickers. Billboards. The noise of our political process will become deafening.
Amidst all of that noise, we will be called upon to select a leader. Each of us will decide how we deal with the unavoidable elephant in the room.
If we consider ourselves part of the 84%, how do we logically and faithfully reconcile the moral hypocrisy of our would be leaders?
Are we called upon to turn over some tables and throw a few chairs?
Is our allegiance to a particular political party’s doctrine so strong that it prevents us from doing that?
Difficult questions require faithful answers.