Hypocrisy and religion

I firmly believe that hypocrisy is fundamental to being a human being. I suspect that everyone reading this has, at one point or another in their lives, done something that ran counter to their beliefs or their stated ethics and morals. As a parent, I’m quite sure that there will come a point where I say to my children “do as I say, not as I do.” And when there isn’t one-to-one correspondence between our actions and our words, that’s hypocrisy.

But just because I believe that everyone is fundamentally a hypocrite, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t different types of hypocrisy. After all, bad habits are hard to break, psychological conditions may be impossible to compensate for, etc. And I hold intentional hypocrisy as fundamentally dishonest (and thus unethical and/or immoral) as opposed to unintentional hypocrisy.

But there’s a kind of hypocrisy that I hold in utter contempt – religious hypocrisy. If you are a strong believer in a religion but don’t always hold to its tenets when they become “inconvenient,” too hard to handle, or because you want to avoid responsibility for your actions, you’re either deluding yourself that you are actually a strong believer, or you’re a hypocrite.

And so, today I have Exhibit A in religious hypocrisy.

I don’t know if you’ve followed the Morrison sextuplets, but the couple had a problem having kids on their own, went to a fertility specialist, and then found that they were going to have sextuplets after some fertility help. But instead of selectively reducing the fetuses down from six to a more reasonable (and safer for Mom and babies) number like two, three, or four, they decided to have all six. And so Mrs. Morrison gave birth to six very pre-term babies. At 21 weeks.

Unfortunately, one of the sextuplets died just yesterday, and the others have a very small chance of surviving. If, by some miracle of modern medicine, even one survives, the chance that it will be a healthy child and adult is almost nil. There are just too many things that go wrong when born at 21 weeks (full term is 40 weeks, BTW).

You know why the parents decided to risk all their potential children’s lives, right? Because they’re Christians. Here’s what they say, in their own words:

[The clinic doctors] said that reducing the number of fetuses [early in the pregnancy] would increase the chance of survival for the the remaining fetusus as they develop, and would decrease the chance of long-term health risks for the babies that were carried to term. However, we knew right away that this is not an option for us. We understand that the risk is high, but we also understand that these little ones are much more than six fetuses. Each one of them is a miracle given to us by God. He knows each one of them by name and we will trust Him absolutely for their lives and health. (link to source)

Why does this qualify as religious hypocrisy? To put it simply, they believed it was part of God’s plan that they have sextuplets, but seem to refuse to extend that “God’s plan” logic to why they didn’t conceive naturally in the first place. Couldn’t it have been God’s plan that they not have kids at all? And if they ignored God’s plan for them by going to a fertility clinic to get help with kids, then there was no reason not to continue ignoring God’s plan by selectively reducing the number of fetuses to a managable number less than six. Or, if it was God’s plan that they get fertility help, then maybe it was God’s plan that they selectively reduce the number of fetuses. The Morrison’s trusted God abolutely regarding their sextuplets, but that trust was remarkably lacking when they couldn’t get pregnant without help.

Given everything is in God’s hands, claiming that some aspect of your life is yours to control (infertility, in this case) instead of God’s, but then shoving the consequences of your decisions back onto God by claiming the consequences were God’s plan is just a way to ignore your responsibilities. And the hypocrisy of it stinks worse than a roadkill skunk on a hot summer afternoon.

For the five remaining sextuplets, I hope they survive. As a parent, I would never wish the death of a child (never mind six) on anyone, and I’m quite sure that I cannot truly comprehend the Morrison’s feelings right now. And I hope that Mr. and Mrs. Morrison turn into great parents. They may have flubbed the first decision regarding the safety of their children (by not selectively reducing the fetuses), but they deserve a second chance.

And with a little luck, they’ll come to accept the responsibility for their decisions regarding their children, including their decision to have them in the firstplace, instead of shoving that responsibility back onto an unknowable God.

[Crossposted: The Daedalnexus]

9 replies »

  1. Now that I think about it, I’m not terribly sure why the Church condones “fertility help” while at the same time considers birth control a sin.

    Well…. Actually, if you think of the Church as a living organism rather than a static idea, this so called “hypocracy” makes a lot of sense. Reproduction at all costs.

    Hmmm. Maybe it’s the same reason the Dems want to legalize a bazillion illegal aliens? To increase their power base? 🙂

  2. Is it really hypocrisy, though, when it would require far more intelligence than they clearly have to parse the irony of what you describe?

    Maybe it’s not hypocrisy. Maybe it’s just stupidity.

  3. There’s so many problems of inconsistancy with the concept of the Christian God that I don’t understand why anyone believes he exists at all. If you’ve got a psychological need for belief in a God (I am, in some respects, one of these individuals), at least choose one (or several) that’s internally logically consistant.

    I’ve written one essay about it on my own site (here) and I have another one churning about in my brain that’s even a simpler logical argument than my original one.

  4. Point of order: The Catholic Church considers some forms of fertility treatment, IVF, for example, an abomination. The results of IVF are also considered an abomination.

  5. Oh, I just went and read a bit more of the story, and the clinic that managed their cycles appears to be completely incompetent, and should probably have its license yanked.

  6. Well said, well argued. But instead of finding them despicable I see a fertile ground for a real American theology. Don’t argue against God. Argue for a God consistent with values that predate the concept. Christianity doesn’t have anything to do with accepting God’s will absent action. Paulism does, and that’s what most so-called Christians practice. However, if you stick to the words of Christ, the ones recorded within the first hundred years of his death, you find an ethic inconsistent with any kind of economic system in which inequality is perpetuated, where joining an army is considered a sin, where a faith in God is a faith in the abilities of man. Christianity was hijacked by the Romans 17 centuries ago. The “Bible” didn’t arrive in modern form until about 10 centuries ago. Neither one has very much to do with the work to be done today.

  7. Argyle,

    Okay, but how? What you’re essentially arguing for – and since I’ve made a very similar argument myself for years, I’m very sympathetic – is that we toss the Bible. The parts that you want to save here make for a very thin book. A huge improvement, yes, but as much as I like the idea, it requires a pretty hefty magic wand.

    Not that any of my own solutions don’t, also….