By Ellen Cicchitti
On Thursday Sept. 20, Dr. Joshua Schulz, associate professor of Theology, gave a public lecture in the Trexler Room of the DUC on the topic of religious hypocrisy, entitled “A Whitewashed Tomb: Should Catholic Hypocrisy Undermine Faith?” This lecture has come out of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report indicting the Catholic Church of the massive cover-up of decades of sexual abuse.
Schulz first used the Spotlight team as an example of the impact the start of the scandal caused. Back in 2002 these investigative reporters uncovered the sex scandals within the Boston diocese and wrote chilling articles about them. These detailed Boston Globe stories that illustrated the horrors of the sex abuse and the cover-up within the Catholic Church startled the United States and the world. This sort of scandal still occurs today. “Research has shown that the resulting scandal has been responsible for ‘significant and long-lasting decline in religious participation,’” Schulz said.
Because the Church’s compliance with the abuse is evidence of behavior opposite to the church’s ideals, the two arguments presented in this lecture state that religious hypocrisy should undermine people’s faith. The first one is called “Argument to Absurdity” and the second is “Argument from Betrayal.”
The Argument to Absurdity contends that hypocrisy is ineffective evidence of the irrationality of a doctrine or practice. Essentially, one can begin to doubt the truth of someone’s principles from his failure to practice them.
“For instance,” Schulz said, “if Nigel professes ethical vegetarianism but eats steak every Tuesday, we might for that reason conclude that ethical vegetarianism is not a rationally defensible moral doctrine, so that we do not have a genuine moral obligation to refrain from eating meat.”
According to Schulz, people can say that it is irrational to live up to the standards of a law or belief because it is impossible to do so, and if it is impossible to do so, then people have no obligation to attempt to be successful at living up to them.
The second argument, the Argument from Betrayal, states that institutional hypocrisy confronts believers with a tragic dilemma: hypocrisy requires people to sacrifice either their humanity to remain loyal to an institution or sacrifice their identity by abandoning faith. According to Schulz, only the latter is a moral option. “Argument from Betrayal speaks to our sense that hypocrites have betrayed their communities in deep and lasting ways,” Schulz said.
The argument also depends upon an extended view of the self, where we are made of two parts–the first nature, essence or our instinct to fulfill human flourishing, and the second nature, character, or our development of moral and intellectual habits over the course of a life. Two struggles can arise from that.
“The first involves conflicts between our first and second nature,” Schulz stated. “Gluttony undermines health, and infidelity undermines romantic relationships. The Greeks call this vice, and Christians call it sin, and both undermine human happiness because they represent an interior struggle between what we are and what we could be.”
The second struggle comes from the idea that, for the extended self, who we are is shaped in deep and irrevocable ways by our membership in communities which may be good or bad. Loyalty, in this sense, is inescapable and a moral hazard.
However, both of these arguments were then evaluated in the last part of the lecture, where Schulz stated that “an Argument to Absurdity is often weak, for three reasons.” The first reason says that the mere existence of everyday Christians counterbalances the lives of hypocrites, and that living a Christian way of life is morally possible, attractive and rewarding. The second reason against the Argument to Absurdity states that no principle tells people that following moral obligations is easy and that some people struggle with it more than others. The third reason says that because the way to grace begins with sin, a Christian moral life does not consist of pursuing moral perfection or in preserving welfare or purity. Christianity promises supernatural friendship and accompaniment for the repentant.
As for the evaluation of the Argument from Betrayal, there is a claim, Schulz said, “that the only legitimate responses to dilemmas of loyalty involve silencing one’s conscience or exiting a corrupt community.” There is a third option to the Betrayal argument, where one can expand one’s moral community, so he can identify with one that includes the corrupt community but is not exhausted by it.
“If hypocrisy occasions self-slaughter, true friendship is an occasion for new life,” Schulz stated.
This lecture is the first one in the second annual Philosophy and Theology Department lecture series.