Marlowe's Shade

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Spengler on "Hypocrisy"

From Asian Times.

A report came out recently from France on the mental health of Frenchman, and it is not good. Excuse some of us if we are not shocked.

IT IS official: the French are a nation of depressed pessimists, wracked with self-doubt and unable to see a positive future.

This gloomy portrait of the current state of Gallic morale - or rather the lack of it - was made public yesterday in a damning report by France’s prefects, the country’s top administrators.

"The French no longer believe in anything," the report said. "That is the reason that the situation is relatively calm, for they believe that it is not even worthwhile expressing their opinions or trying to be heard any more."

The country’s 100 prefects went on to use the words "lifelessness", "resignation", "anxiety" and "pessimism" to describe the attitudes they believe prevail in France today.

This all fits in with today's theme from my journal entry. If anyone knows about vanity and existential depression, it's the French. Christians like myself would attribute this to the French mania for eliminating God from public and private life. Before long we are pointing out the plagues of disease that blighted grapevines and humiliating military defeats that occurred since the French Revolution and before long a real tone of schandenfreude starts to enter the discussion. This is of course unseemly for Christians. Hypocritical even. And this hypocrisy of Christians is Spengler's subject for today.

...apart from the saintly, only the unashamedly wicked are guiltless of hypocrisy. The rest of us pay homage to standards that we do not uphold in practice. For the sake of filial piety we honor parents who well might be unpleasant people, and uphold civic virtues that our leaders honored more in the breach than the observance. The fact that we acknowledge virtue even when we pursue vice makes civil society possible.

For the sake of domestic harmony we tell lies daily. We do not tell our wife that she looks fat, or our child that he is a dullard, or our aged mother that she is a nasty old harridan. The first recorded lie of this genre was told by God in Genesis 18:12-14. The matriarch Sarah laughed at the angels' prophecy that the elderly Abraham would father a son; God interrupted, and told Abraham that Sarah thought that she (rather than he) was too old. Thus hypocrisy has divine sanction.

It is true that sexual repression makes one miserable, but so does sexual license, the more so if one is female. Sex is not the problem, contrary to Sigmund Freud. The problem is life. When Faust tells Mephistopheles that he wants to experience life with all its joys and sorrows, the devil answers pityingly, "Believe me - I've been chewing on this hard cookie for thousands of years, and from cradle to grave, no one has ever been able to digest this sourdough." Life by definition is a failure. First you will grow old (if you are lucky) and then die. Family, religion, culture and nation offer consolations in the face of death, within limits.

Vanity, vanity. The French are depressed because they are seeing how the cookie crumbles (Sartre tried to tell them that decades ago), yet by calling the faith they abandoned long ago hypocrisy, they've burned that bridge as well.

The healthy instinct of the public, which prefers the fantasy ideal of happiness to modernist truth telling, illustrates why hypocrisy only deserves two cheers. We cannot tolerate the continuous disappointments of family and civic life, without the hope of something better. Bible Belt Christians are not merely hypocrites but also sinners. They do not only go against the rules, but also against their conscience. Religion does not presume human perfection, but a longing for perfection. That longing is what makes it possible to chew Mephisto's sourdough. It is not surprising that throughout the industrial world, all but the religious have given up on family life.

Hypocrisy and self-satisfaction are the banes of American Christians, although a lot of that dross was burned away in the televangelist scandals of the 80's. A more humble and compassionate Church as started to emerge, pretty much unheralded. Spengler doesn't go out too far on a limb to hold out hope to a miserable Frenchman. I get the uncomfortable feeling that he has left that to someone else, who would extend a hand in humility and love through a veil of smug hypocrisy.

Boy, I don't envy that guy!

papijoe 7:17 AM