Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hypocrisy


Literature is full of satirical and other corrective works about mankind’s hypocritical propensity. Shakespeare is full of hypocrites. One of the most expertly drawn is King Claudius in Hamlet. He pretends to be God’s honest representative on earth and yet on the inside he is murderous, adulterous and, by Elizabethan standards, incestuous. In short, he is the worst kind of scoundrel in the elaborate trappings of royalty. Iago in Othello is another out and out hypocrite. Even though this bigot is filled with lies, lust, manipulation and ambition, he is so skillful as a hypocrite that he boasts the nickname, “Honest Iago.”

The French are particularly good at identifying and portraying the hypocritical. Consider Moliere’s heavy-handed satire Tartuffe, in which the title character, an ostensibly pious priest, is actually lustful, greedy and thieving. American writers are quite good at nailing the hypocrite, too, as in novels such as Elmer Gantry and poems like “Richard Cory.” The title character of this latter work gives the impression of having everything that would make one happy, but in reality he is so miserable as to give up on life.

I can’t help but look into more ancient literature on the subject. One certainly finds it in Aesop, Boccaccio and Chaucer. Certainly we confront well-drawn examples of it in scripture. After ingesting the problematic pomegranate, Adam tried to hide. The fig leaf shorts gave him away to God, to whom no secrets are hidden. Interestingly, God seems to understand Adam’s hypocrisy and provides a buckskin outfit, having presciently shed first blood as a covering.

We also think of Tamar, who pretended to be something she was not in order to receive a lawful heir and King Saul, who tried to “clothe” David with his own armor, thereby crippling him. But David rejected this “mask” and succeeded against all odds by being himself—a shepherd boy with a shepherd’s weapons. He gave Goliath a headache no aspirin could cure.

Perhaps you remember prideful Nebuchadnezzar, who wore the mask of Godlikeness. “Look what I have done here in Babylon,” he said, not giving deity a second thought. So God stripped him of this prideful “mask” and showed him that, without God, he is no more than a beast of the field. Belshazzar had similar pride as his progenitor, demonstrating his “power” by drinking wine from Jehovah’s cups. That is when the writing on the wall cut through everything and stripped him of his kingdom.

Of course, in the New Testament, Judas was the ultimate hypocrite, even to the point of that betraying kiss. Peter’s hypocrisy was also exposed when he denied even knowing the Lord. Interestingly, he became a powerful preacher in the Book of Acts, though he still had a touch of hypocrisy concerning food. Paul set him straight on that one. In the Christian worldview, the sacrifice of Jesus is the covering for mankind’s bent towards hypocrisy. Scripture teaches that his followers are being conformed to his image and that God sees those who believe as pure through that sacrifice.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

How Tweet it is


Communication was not as instantaneous in 1956 as it is today, 60 years later. I started to work as a bicycle messenger for Western Union that year and I learned how the system worked. If a mother in El Dorado wanted to send some money to her son in Houston, she would come to our office and fill out the papers, handing over the money to be “sent” and a small fee. The teletype operator would then communicate with the Houston office and a messenger there would deliver a notification to the son’s address as specified that some money had “arrived” at the Western Union office and the son would go pick it up. Similarly, I delivered a lot of money order notifications in El Dorado and people were glad to see me coming.

Occasionally, however, some would get the idea that you could “wire” other things besides money. One lady wanted to wire a gallon of buttermilk to her son in California. I appreciated the kindness of the clerk as she explained to the lady that we did not actually attach things to a wire and send them along. But my point is that communication was a little more difficult 60 years ago than it is today. For example, I had occasion to deliver messages to the telephone company from time to time and witnessed an expansive switchboard, staffed by a dozen or so operators. The hum of voices in that place let you know that people were calling each other regularly in El Dorado: “Operator,” “Number please?” “That line is busy,” “Just a moment,” “That phone is out of service,” etc. These were the days before El Dorado had dial phones and people relied on the operator to connect them to their party.

Our pre-dial phone number was 2226J. I was with Pop, who was not a frequent telephone user, when he had to make a call home from a local lumber company. He picked up the phone and waited until he heard the kind voice on the other end say “operator.” Then Pop gave the number as he had it in his head, “Three deuces, a six and a Jack.” Apparently, the operator had no problem with his way of presenting the number and he was connected forthwith.

Sixty years later we have cell phones, e-mail and other Internet features such as twitter. These possibilities for instantaneous communication can and do get people into trouble. When I was a kid, “secure” communication meant going on a camping trip to the Ouachita River and talking to buddies, knowing that what was said on the river stayed on the river. If any of those communications were “leaked” the consequences were far beyond ostracizing, even to the point of exile and loss of reputation. Kids learned to be careful with what they said because of the severity of the consequences for breaching confidences.

Thus, we were thoughtful before speaking, pondering the possible consequences of our words. That is why I like good poetry. The artist struggles until the words are exactly right for expressing, as far as possible, an accurate sensory impression of what is in her head. Today, all of us, especially those who would lead, must think before speaking, writing or tweeting. How tweet it is!