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Hypocrisy is the homage of vice to virtue.

I have heard that the word "hypocrite" comes from some Greek words that refer to a mask worn by an actor. Certainly hypocrites are experts at masking their true feelings. But the mask also represents an attempt to imitate someone else. And from that we get the quotation that appears in italics above.

The more virtue there is in a society, the more clever hypocrites must be in imitating it. The mere fact that people pretend to be kind, generous, tolerant, honest, humble, patient, and sexually chaste suggests that they have been influenced by others who genuinely exhibit those traits.

If an announcement should be made (and made convincingly) that any one of those traits had ceased to exist in reality, and that anyone appearing to possess that trait is merely pretending, then everyone wearing that particular mask could simultaneously drop the facade, and there would be little embarrassment to any of them, apart from laughing at the days when they thought it necessary to feign such virtue. There would be no further need to pay genuine homage to a virtue which no longer exists.

Unfortunately, that is a fairly accurate description of where we appear to be standing at the moment, in the unfolding of human history. The past few decades have, for example, seen the dropping of almost all pretence at sexual chastity. This movement has been regarded by some as a kind of honesty revolution, and by others as a rapid descent into hell. Whatever way you look at it, the vast majority of the Western world's population now seems to have agreed that whatever pretences of sexual chastity they once had, were just that... pretences. And so the mask of chastity hardly exists any more. There is no need to pretend to possess something that most of society has agreed is either non-existent, or that was only possessed by people who were themselves hypocrites in one form or another.

Here in Australia, there came another watershed a few years ago, with regard to the mask of racial and religious tolerance. It came in the form of Pauline Hanson.

She startled the entire nation (and a fair portion of the world) with the revelation of just how much the whole idea "tolerance" and a "fair go" had been just a mask, worn by much of the Australian population because they did not want to be seen as being politically incorrect. Pauline dropped her own mask, and started a domino effect that spread, first, through the ranks of the extreme right, then the Liberal-National Party Coalition, then to the Labor Party in the last election, and even to some of the independent parties, who struck deals not to oppose a hard line against refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

Masks dropped to the ground all over the continent, and people were surprised to learn that there were upwards to eighty percent of the country who would be happy to see refugees drown in the ocean, go back home and be killed by oppressive governments, or rot indefinitely in cages on Pacific islands or in outback Australia. Intolerance and racism had the numbers, and there was no longer any need for these people to pretend. Everywhere, the public now speaks openly, and with pride, of their hatred and indifference to refugees. Refugees are vilified daily in newspapers and on talk-back radio all over the country. A new "honesty revolution" has well and truly gripped Australia.

All of this does not necessarily mean that things like tolerance and chastity are totally non-existent. But it does tell us that gone are the days when virtuous people could coast on the momentum of the past. Token gestures of virtue are no longer enough to earn the respect of the masses, and they may actually be opposed by the masses (and the mass media).

In order to have any hope of reversing this sorry state with regard to tolerance, good people everywhere are going to need to unite and to demonstrate their goodness as they have never done so before. I personally believe that there is an avalanche of evil, which is picking up momentum, and it will take more than smiley faces and positive thinking to slow it down, much less reverse it. We must be prepared to literally die for what we believe... whether we do, in fact, ever die for our beliefs in reality. True virtue is like that. Virtue which only exists when it is expedient and when it works to our advantage or enhances our self-image is not virtue at all.

We are being challenged by the mask removers to either put up or shut up.

Tragically, the challenges are beginning to spread to other areas as well. Non-violent activists, for example, are now being told to accept violence as a more expedient solution to the world's problems. Only those with the deepest commitment to non-violence (i.e. a commitment to virtue as an end in itself, and not as a tool to achieve another end), will be able to resist the arguments.

Dishonesty of the worst kind is now becoming accepted as a necessary part of politics and business. People are speaking openly in defence of governments and other leaders who lie to win wars and elections, and to protect themselves and their own selfish, cruel, and indifferent way of life.

Christianity and all that it stands for is under attack too. In the teachings of Jesus Christ we find the roots of some of the world's greatest teachings about honesty, tolerance, non-violence, chastity, generosity, and all that is good. But goodness itself is becoming the new vice. Descriptions of people as "do-gooders" and "bleeding hearts" (a direct reference to a Catholic description of the love of Jesus) are now seen as terms of derision and contempt (rather than compliments), while the latest word to describe something that is popular and to be sought after is the word "wicked".

All around us, the masks are falling. And our own response to this great change is overwhelmingly ambivalent.

We rejoice at the end of hypocrisy. No longer will people be confused by the counterfeits. By all means, let us do away with false pretences. But we despair at the overwhelming opposition this has created against genuine virtue, genuine faith, genuine love.

We must not lose hope; but neither should we entertain false hopes. The battle is going to be a cosmic battle, whose true winners will not be judged by how many votes they can pull. The true winners will be those who remain true to the virtues that come from an eternal perspective, from God the Creator of the universe, and from his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

(See also WWFJD? and The Social Conscience Part 1.)

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