“What ha’ ye done?”

A Catholic friend once told me of a Protestant who said that he doubted Catholics actually believe the doctrine of transubstantiation. This Protestant said that if he were proceeding up the aisle to receive what he believed were the body and blood of Christ, he would do so on his knees, his eyes ablaze and his hands atremble. Perhaps this is true, but I doubt he would have done any such thing. I believe he would have shambled up the aisle, picking his nose and scratching his butt, just like everyone else.

I believe his counterfactual prediction was wrong because he is built of the same warped timber as the rest of us, but I do not believe he was wrong to wonder about this apparent incongruity between what Catholics say and what Catholics do. I believe he was right to ask, “Why don’t you act like you mean what you say?”

He was right to ask this question, provided it was a question and not a sarcastic accusation of hypocrisy. What I mean is that he must have asked the question with his mind open to the possibility that Catholics do believe what they say, and that they are acting in accordance with these beliefs, but that these beliefs and behaviors are connected by crooked ways.

Some of these ways may be crooked like a politician, but others may be crooked like a brook, or a path, or the branch of a tree.

* * * * *

We have all been accosted by an atheist who accused us of hypocrisy with this sort of counterfactual argument. His counterfactual antecedent was, of course, that he was, arguendo, a Christian. It came out this way:

“If I believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God . . .

Having placed himself in Christian shoes as a “thought experiment,” the atheist then ratiocinated down a line of mechanical inferences to some behavior that was either absurd or already endorsed by the atheist on other grounds. For instance,

“ . . . I would give my worldly possessions to the poor and lead a life that would make John the Baptist look like a luxuriating gourmand.”


“ . . . I would support universal health care, pacifism, an increase in the minimum wage, and the construction of footbridges and welcome stations up and down the lower Rio Grande.”

Of course the point of this farce was to persuade you that a Christian must be a freak, a leftist, or a hypocrite. Take your choice! There is no fourth option! There is no crooked way!

No doubt every Christians is a hypocrite to one degree or another. I know that I am. And that is why it is good that I am periodically chastened by the question, “why don’t you act like you mean what you say?” But when this happens, I must not be surprised or embarrassed to say that my beliefs are connected to my behaviors by crooked ways. The only question is whether these ways are crooked like a politician or crooked like a river.

* * * * *

It was the discussion following Thomas Bertonneau’s recent post that set me to thinking about hypocrisy, reaction, and the logic of crooked ways. For those who haven’t read the post, it has to do with a conservative college student who was officially reprimanded for complaining that, as a conservative college student, she labored under a tacit odium. Naturally, the ensuing furor demonstrated the truth of what she had said, while it at the same time called forth a vigorous denial from the college president.

This provoked some interesting comments, which I encourage you to read, all of them having to do with life under the odium theologicum of academic leftism.

This odium is real, but in my experience it is also fairly mild. Some of this mildness is due to the fact that witch hunting takes time that can be more profitably spent chasing the greased pig of academic celebrity. Some of it is due to the fact that this particular witch has never called down hail on anybody’s crops or soured the milk in anybody’s cow. I wouldn’t know how to begin! So, as an academic with a reputation for unsound opinions, I am certainly not clubbable, but as a toothless old coot I have never done anything that deserves clubbing to death.

I wonder if this is anything to be proud of. If I actually believed what my writings suggest I believe, would I not act up in ways that would cause the censors to reach for their clubs? If I actually believed that we are in the midst of der Untergang des Abendlandes, would I not be busily organizing underground cells and stocking the catacombs with sardines, bottled water, and the collected works of Thomas Carlyle?

Why don’t I act like I mean what I say?”

* * * * *

One dispiriting answer is that I am hypocrite who scrounges admiration with genteel grumbling. This possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand. Oliver Wendell Holmes told us that

“All generous companies of artists, authors, philanthropists, men of science, are, or ought to be, Societies of Mutual Admiration.” (Autocrat of the Breakfast Table [1858])

Perhaps there are, likewise, ungenerous companies of artists, authors, misanthropists, and men of science, who form Societies of Mutual Desperation. If there are such ungenerous companies, Holmes has a deflating idea about their defining trait.

“I think a little extra talent does sometimes make people jealous. They become irritated by perpetual attempts and failures, and it hurts their tempers and dispositions.”


Or, as Nathaniel Hawthorne observed after visiting an obscure London art gallery,

“There is very little talent in this world, and what there is . . . is pretty well known and acknowledged. We don’t often stumble upon geniuses in obscure corners.” (London, 1855).

* * * * *

What all of this means is that writing cantankerous blog posts may be very well in its way, but  is by itself neither salubrious or redemptive unless connected in some crooked and and riverine way to deeds.  One doesn’t wish to face Saint Peter in the condition of the wretched Tomlinson in Kipling’s immortal poem

“‘Ye have read, ye have heard, ye have though,’ he
                   said, ‘and the tale is yet to run:
‘By the worth of the body that once ye had, give
                    answer—what ha’ ye done?”

What ha’ ye done, indeed?

24 thoughts on ““What ha’ ye done?”

  1. Pingback: “What ha’ ye done?” | @the_arv

  2. With respect…No!

    A hypocrite is one who does not believe but pretends to for gain, it is a religious “actor”. It is not someone who knowingly does wrong, that is everybody. Whenever an atheist tries to pull the “at least I’m not a hypocrite” card, feel free to call that a crock of horseshit.

    I’ve heard all kinds of “I would do blank” bluster from atheists and it is bluster. I even had one try and tell me he wished God did exist so he could tell Him a thing or two and he would gladly go to hell to prove a point. Anyone who has actually thought about that for a minute knows for a fact that that’s a delusional thing to say. It’s claiming to be tougher than any man that has ever lived because no one has been credibly threatened with eternal torment by even the worst merely human enemy.

    Why don’t I always act as I believe? I don’t know, why don’t you? Every man who knows himself knows he doesn’t live up to his own standards whatever those standards are. Hypocrisy is insincerity that is intentional and deliberate. The only way you can know a hypocrite is to know his heart and good luck with that Kreskin.

    I often think it’s the wrong approach with atheists to use this as an opportunity to declare our knowledge of our own unworthiness. That will seem like more posturing from his perspective and he may even be right. But the idea that if I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done that that is the only way I can possibly speak about right and wrong is a dirty, dishonest piece of nonsense that shouldn’t be tolerated.

    If an atheist tries to tell you that he lives up to his own standards he is either lying or has standards so low they aren’t fit for man. Don’t answer his objection, answer the reason why he’s objecting, the honest one.

      • Sure, we all do. Why is it whenever an atheist plays this card we get all self effacing? Is that the best response to a guy lying to you and himself? Might some cold sober honesty be better?

    • “Why don’t I always act as I believe?”

      We sin often because we often doubt. To quote Kristor, sin is enacted unbelief.

    • I have been called a hypocrite many times, and not just by atheists, but by fellow Christians as well. Even by close friends and family members. What I have found in numerous such cases is that my accusers genuinely do not know what the term hypocrite means. E.g., certain of these people have labeled me a hypocrite because I failed to live up to a standard over thirty years ago that I espouse today. The only way to avoid being labeled a hypocrite by such people, it seems, is to have never learned from one’s mistakes (which at the time one might or might not have realized were mistakes, it matters not) and to strive to do better and to espouse a different doctrine. I have even been called a hypocrite for avoiding the parental mistakes my own parents made while raising me and my siblings. I reiterate that lots of people genuinely do not know what the term hypocrite means. When I am confronted with the fallacy I generally take the time to point it out, but not always. It all depends on how much time I have, and to whom I am speaking.

      • I think a repentant sinner must guard against becoming a holy terror with respect to their particular sin, but he should not be cowed into silence and inaction by the accusation of hypocrisy. I don’t think it is hypocrisy to denounce a sin that has one in its grip, so long as one is struggling to break free of that grip.

    • Whenever an atheist tries to pull the “at least I’m not a hypocrite” card, feel free to call that a crock of horseshit.

      Atheists are the biggest hypocrites. If they truly acted on their belief, they would lie, steal and cheat at every opportunity with only one guiding principle: Don’t get caught. And they would never criticize the actions of any other person – there would be no basis for criticism because there would be no point to existence and therefore no point in criticizing.

  3. If I were a 9/11 Truther, privy to the knowledge that the US government murdered 2,996 of its own people in cold blood, I’d be desperately looking to relocate to another country before the next false flag event. And I’d do so very quietly, lest the government decide to make it 2,997.
    Which leads me to conclude that 9/11 Truthers are either disingenuous or very stupid.

    • So you’re saying 9/11 Truthers are crooked *like a politician*. The disingenuous ones, I mean.

      If you relocated to another country out of fear the government would knock you off for spilling the beans about its alleged involvement in 9/11, that would probably mean you are a coward, as well as a traitor to your countrymen. That you would do so “very quietly” might make you a hypocrite, I don’t know; it would all depend on what you espoused in the way of exposing (or not) evil and the evil doers for what and who they are.

      • Dave’s counterfactual doesn’t meet my criterion of being a real question, since he has already decided that these people are either hypocrites or fools. But his question is reasonable, particularly if put to a truther who is very public in their belief. I believe there is a “crooked way” (non-criminal) to connect belief in government complicity to public advocacy. One must simply believe that the atrocity was committed by an evil faction within the government, but that the government also contains a good faction that is more powerful (although strangely clueless). I call this the Good King Richard fallacy, from the tale of Robin Hood. When an American grows disenchanted with his government, he at first thinks that the problem is some phony King John. If he can only get word to Good King Richard, it’s donjon time for King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

      • In America, where (purportedly) the People are the government (and vice versa, I guess), some have denominated the good and more powerful faction the “silent majority.” I’ve probably grown too cynical in my old age, but to mangle a line from the 1980s movie The Right Stuff, I ain’t sure the damn thing exists.

        *Great article, by the way.

    • Or, the 9/11 truther could simply be betting on the numbers. 2996/300,000,000=0.001%. Pretty low odds you’d be caught in a false flag. It may not be worth the hassle of relocation.

  4. Pingback: “What ha’ ye done?” | Reaction Times

  5. This reminds me of one of “Mundabor’s” blog posts, commenting on the story of a bishop who had been exposed for keeping a mistress (or some such sexual sin). The bishop responded in his defense that he kept quiet about sexual morality in his preaching, to avoid the guilt of hypocrisy. Mundabor rightly noted that all the bishop had accomplished by this was to add official negligence to his sins.

  6. There are three things:

    A. What a person says
    B. What a person thinks
    C. What a person does

    Modern people calls “hypocrite” to people who present a difference between A and C. But this difference can be caused by two reasons:

    – 1) Difference between A and B (real hypocrisy).
    – 2) Difference between B and C (weakness, sin)

    The 2) situation is caused by the fact that people have standards that they strive for but don’t always manage to hold.

    If you have very low standards (as today’s non-religious people), you don’t have 2) so you can call everybody an hypocrite, disqualify them and feel self-righteous that you are not an hypocrite. It’s an easy trap.

    For me, people having difficulty to hold their standards is a good thing, because it means they have good standards, instead of following their instincts and calling that “a standard”.

    This is the dialectic approach but the accusation of hypocrisy is mostly rhetoric. So, next time an atheist calls you an hypocrite, answer him why he doesn’t give their wealth or the student positions to immigrants/black people/trans women, or drives a car while he believes in global warming or something like that. Be sure to offer him a card for the public transport and help for selling the car.

    • I agree. When Jesus used the word hypocrite, he meant a man who wanted the reputation for holiness, but not holiness itself. A hypocrite is a lot like a poseur.

  7. The only thing more contemptible than the man who doesn’t practice what he preaches is the one who merely preaches what he has already practised. The only sure way to avoid charges of hypocrisy.

  8. “Ye have read, ye have heard, ye have thought,” he said,
    “and the tale is yet to run:
    By the worth of the body that once ye had, give answer — what ha’ ye done?”

    This is amazing! Thanks for sharing that poem 🙂

    Weakness of will is a really important point in my thoughts. In fact, given that I disbelieve in morality, is maybe the central flaw of a person. Not thinking something through is also dangerous, but why didn’t you think? Because of a weak will. Lack of discipline.

    And it doesn’t even matter what your goals are — whether you want to be a good christian, or a good SS-man or a good egoist (follow your own long-term desires), you can always struggle with your own weakness.

    Isn’t that an interesting fact in itself? When a Christian sins because of weakness of will, you can say that he succumbed to demons and to his fallen nature. But those who are not Christians to begin with and pursue totally different goals have just the same problem. The SS-man who doesn’t work extra hard to kill innocents in the concentration camps hardly slows down because of the Devil’s temptation, eh? By the Satanic theory, if anything, all evil people should be super-disciplined at being evil…

    Ah, but one could say that just as the demons tempt one to evil, the angels tempt one to good? So the evil people are hindered by the angels? And are “weak” by “succumbing” to their _better_ nature, since they are not _only_ fallen but also in made in the image of god? Pardon my rambling, but these are interesting ideas to me … 🙂

    In the end, I don’t believe in the good-evil dichotomy that I use here, though. There are only desires and convictions — no true way to classify them as good or evil.

    So my question is, why is it so hard to follow one’s own long-term desires in a disciplined fashion and not procrastinate? And what to do about it ? What are your views, folks? 🙂

    • You are not the amoralist you think you are if you think there is something wrong with a weak will. A true amoralist is apathetic about apathy. But it is true that admiration for strength of will is the last step before amoralism, as we see in Nietzsche. “It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you give it your all!” But the resoluteness with which I do something is, of course, part of what I do, so if it doesn’t matter what I do, it doesn’t matter how well or how persistently I do it.

      What you call weak will is actually disorder of the will. When we say that a man “lacks the will” to exercise, what we really mean is that he “possesses the will” to rest. When we say that a woman “lacks the will to diet,” what we really mean is that she “possesses the will” to gluttony.

      • You are not the amoralist you think you are if you think there is something wrong with a weak will.

        Hear, hear.

        I call into question “amorality” itself. Perhaps complete and utter indifference to right and wrong, good and evil does in fact exist amongst moral beings, but I’ve personally never met a single human being possessing the characteristic. My sampling is admittedly very small in the grand scheme of things, but I take it, nevertheless, to indicate that “amorality” is extremely rare, as to be negligible. If it even exists, that is.


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