Religious hypocrisy is the act of professing a religiously motivated belief, emotion, or moral value, while acting in a way inconsistent with those statements. People are usually charged with hypocrisy when they either insist that others do something that they themselves do not do, or else condemn others for acting the same way as they themselves do.
Often what is most frustrating about hypocrisy is not the actions themselves, but the fact that the hypocrite refuses to acknowledge any contradiction between their words and actions, or may even try to hide certain actions. This is a blatant form of intellectual dishonesty.
Hypocrisy causes many theists to either avoid institutional religion or to deconvert.
It is hard to objectively determine if theists are more hypocritical that atheists, or they are comparable in this regard.
- Teaching the New Testament is an infallible moral standard while often ignoring its teaching on divorce, treatment of wealth, assisting the poor, taking oaths, etc.
- Preaching against homosexuality while participating in homosexual relationships (e.g. Ted Haggard)
- Telling people to tithe or give to the poor, while accumulating great wealth.
- Waste money on church buildings while people are homeless.
- Preaching "turn the other cheek" and denying abortions while also supporting the death penalty and preemptive wars.
- Teaching thou shalt not steal while stealing from parishioners.
There are many possible causes for hypocrisy. A hypocrite may be an outright fraud, promoting a cause he or she doesn't at all believe in. A hypocrite may be experiencing cognitive dissonance, or somehow try to rationalize an action by giving an excuse ("It's OK when I do it, because...").
In some cases, a hypocrite who commits a "sin" may be unable to stop doing it and cleanse their conscience, because of addiction or coercion, because they just enjoy it too much, or because it is a one-time error that is too terrible to forget about. In those cases, unable to escape their feelings of guilt, the hypocrite may condemn that sin even more strongly in public, as a way of atoning for it.
Religious leaders telling adherents that they must set a good example to others may be counter productive because they may try to present a good public image while privately continuing to do wrong. Hypocrisy may allow an adherent to have the advantages of group membership while not incurring the cost of changing their behavior.
Many religions set an impossible standard, such as "never have lustful thoughts", so the theist is forced by their own nature to be a hypocrite.
One counter argument, which uses the no true Scotsman fallacy, is:
- "Christianity should not be judged on the basis of those who claim to be its adherents, when, in reality, they practice the opposite of what it teaches. [...] Christians are often accused of being hypocrites. However, the Bible clearly indicates that those who practice hypocrisy really aren't Christians at all, but will be judged to be non-believers and sent to hell."
"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
"But what is scandal? Scandal is saying one thing and doing another; it is a double life, a double life. A totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money…’ A double life. And so many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others."
- — Pope Francis