Mailvox: the ethics of hypocrisy

RE asks about the hypocrisy of the religious:

I am a longtime reader of your blog, which I have found to be very helpful over the years.  Also, your book the Irrational Atheist is a God send.   I hoping that you would give me your take on something.  I recently had “discussion” with my older brother on religion. My brother stated “religion is bullshit, its made up by man, its full of hypocrites.” He further explained the reason he doesn’t go church or practice his faith in anyway is because everyone that goes to church are hypocrites.

I am sure every church has its large share of “hypocrites”, but I feel he is being unreasonable.  I know it can be difficult to find the right place to fellowship with others, but I still find value in going to church, praying, and reading the Bible.  Can you please provide me another or your intelligent and witty rebuttals to his concern? 

First, relatively few of the religious, or anyone else for that matter, actually fits the proper description of hypocrisy, which is defined as follows:  a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.

Most people do not feign to having principles they do not really possess, but rather, fail to live up to the standards of those principles. What RE’s brother fails to realize, as do most people who regularly observe hypocrisy around them and make a meal of decrying it, is that professing ideals and failing to live up to them is not usually an indication that the profession is false, only that the professor has failed.  While it is possible for such failures to be a sign of the profession being false, it is far from being conclusive evidence of it.

Failure is not, in itself, necessarily indicative of hypocrisy.  Moreover, it makes no sense to accuse most Christians of hypocrisy, in that Christian theology expressly and specifically declares that all, without exception, are fallen.  No one is perfect.  No one is worthy.  One can more reasonably question if a self-righteous person is actually a Christian than to claim his self-righteousness is indicative of his hypocrisy being a consequence of his religion.

As for a rebuttal, I would suggest the following: the only reason you think they are hypocritical is because they have standards.  Why do you believe that a complete absence of standards is more indicative of good character than apparent hypocrisy? I mean, say what you like about the tenets of Christianity, dude, at least it’s an ethos.