I just stumbled across a comment on this post on the Brothers Judd blog which made my jaw drop:

Is there anything scarier than a human being armed with a moral code that he can live up to without being a hypocrite?
Posted by: David Cohen at February 7, 2005 10:07 AM

Think about that for a moment. Cohen is (if I understand him correctly) saying that a proper moral code is, by necessity, one that people are incapable of following. Morality has contradictions and ongoing frustration built into it at the foundation, and as a result people are never going to be judged good.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Christianity.

A moral system that is appropriate for human beings is built on standards that are consistent with human needs and abilities. Because of that, it will be possible for humans to live up to the standards prescribed by such a code. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it won’t be impossible in principle.

My immediate reaction on being told I should adopt a moral code that it is impossible to live up to is to reject the code as flawed. I refuse to assume the obligation of doing the impossible.

Anne adds:

That last sentence particularly struck me, because it is at the root of so much human misery, not necessarily religious in nature. So many people grow up instilled with obligations and moral rules that are impossible to fulfill. Pleasing unpleasable parents, saving people who can’t be saved, preventing things that can’t be stopped, trying to rescue everyone in need.

It’s one thing to pursue these goals with the understanding that 100% achievement is impossible, but to do the best you can because it helps, or because you want to help others. But it’s very easy to fall into the rut of “How can I be happy when there are still people out there suffering?” or “Why can’t I make my father love me?” and allowing that despair to consume you.

Trying to attain impossible goals is doomed to failure from the get-go, and at some point masochism and/or self-sabotage comes into play. People stay in this rut because they feel they don’t deserve the accomplishment in question. Since it’s impossible anyway, they continue to suffer and endure what they perceive as “earned” punishment. Women who repeatedly choose men who abuse them are one example of this phenomenon in the concrete world. But it has more subtle manifestations that can sometimes be seen below the surface of certain kinds of social nihilism.

One Response to “Hypocrisy and Morality”
  1. Anne Haight says:

    As I commented when you mentioned this to me the other day, “I thought the whole point of a correct moral code was that it was consistent.”

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