We have an inbuilt hatred of hypocrisy, but too often are blinded to our own hypocrisy. Which is why Christ’s pithy illustration has such stinging power.
In the fury at Boris Johnson’s admission that he attended a ‘work event’ in the garden of No.10 during the height of lockdown, the rage at the hypocrisy of it, it is easy to miss the real log in the eye: the lockdown rules themselves. Of course, it was safer for No.10 staffers to party in the garden than for them to be working together inside the building. Of course, under intense pressure and huge workload those staffers deserved the opportunity to kickback in the sunshine with a glass of wine. And, of course, it was gross hypocrisy to do so when the rest of the country was being told it could not do these things: the rule-makers should not be rule-breakers. But the problem was the rules.
It was those rules that told us to stay inside most of the day – when being outside in fresh air was a better defence against the virus. It was those rules that made it illegal to meet with friends or see a dying loved one or get married or go to church. It was the rules that exacted an especially heavy cost upon the young and the poor. The rules were always wrong, morally, and as is increasingly evident they were also wrong epidemiologically. The partygoers in the No.10 garden knew they didn’t make sense and ignored them – the hypocrites!
Bad rules have a tendency to make hypocrites of us all because they are difficult or unreasonable to follow. Case in point, Sir Keir Starmer now being accused of hypocrisy after photos of him having a beer with party workers emerged. While some doubtless followed the rules punctiliously (God bless the Queen!) there were surely many more who criticised the actions of others while bending the rules themselves, and justifying themselves as they did so. Hypocrisy is a very weaselly thing.
Should Boris resign? Probably. Do bad rules result in hypocrisy? Inevitably. ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they both not fall into a pit?’ (Luke 6:39) Absolutely.