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.