License to ... Be a Hypocrite?

License to ... Be a Hypocrite?

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The other day I was listening to the same witty, thought-provoking radio show I tune in to every morning. It's called Mornings with Brant. The show is syndicated, so it may very well be in your area. You should check it out.

So Brant brought up a recent article from the Washington Post about what psychologists call "moral licensing." Here's an explanation from the article of the phenomenon:

We drink Diet Coke — with Quarter Pounders and fries at McDonald's. We go to the gym — and ride the elevator to the second floor. We install tankless water heaters — then take longer showers.

In an a very compelling follow-up to his discussion of the article, Brant asked people to call in and talk about how they engage in moral licensing. There were some pretty interesting, honest responses.

All those people calling in — it gave me pause. I started to take an honest look myself at all the ways I engage in this particular form of cognitive dissonance.

I was slightly unnerved:

  • For starters, I used to be almost evangelistic about budgeting and saving money. I once hosted a budgeting get-together to talk with friends about the benefits of budgeting and self-denial and wise money management. But over the past year and a half I've let things slip. Because of what I like to call "extenuating circumstances" — read: "getting overwhelmed from losing my job and beginning grad school" — I haven't been living on a budget, and my savings has subsequently dwindled.
  • I'm inclined to think that our culture is over-medicated. We in our modernist age tend to think we can escape, via medication and various medical treatments, all of the physical consequences of being human. Yet here I am, currently taking Lexapro for depression and anxiety. I'd like to get off it, in the near-ish future. But to be honest, I'm scared about trying.
  • I'm convinced we millennials are becoming increasingly isolated from one another because we mediate so many of our relationships through technology. But I'm on Facebook. As in, I'm typing this blog post and I have a Facebook window open. Which I check every five minutes.

You see what I mean.

I wasn't expecting that morning, as I was preparing for my day, to be confronted by the chasm that stretches between how I want to and am convicted to act and how I actually act. To have to consider the idea that I am, to dispense with euphemism, a hypocrite.

What? Me?! I'm not a hypocrite. I'm ... I'm Matthew John. And Matthew John is no hypocrite.

So goes my inner monologue.

Particularly troubling is the fact that I so often judge people for not adhering to my standards for right action — all the while making excuses for why I don't uphold those same standards.

Houston, we have a problem.

Eventually, I must give up on manipulating my self-image and admit that, yes, I'm as depraved as the Scriptures tell me I am. But genuinely acknowledging my hypocrisy isn't such a bad thing, I find. In a way, it's kind of freeing.

Not a cathartic kind of freeing, but a paradoxical freeing that comes from confessing that, try as I might, I am fundamentally unable to remedy my depravity. Such a confession brings me to the place where, once again, I admit my deep-down need for Christ and His gospel.

And all that from a morning radio show. Thanks, Brant.


So what about you? Do you engage in moral licensing? Let me rephrase that: How do you engage in moral licensing? And what is your relationship to the spiritual discipline of confession?

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  • Comment by  Chris:

    I'm inclined to think that our culture is over-medicated. We in our modernist age tend to think we can escape, via medication and various medical treatments, all of the physical consequences of being human. Yet here I am, currently taking Lexapro for depression and anxiety. I'd like to get off it, in the near-ish future. But to be honest, I'm scared about trying.

    While I would agree that a not-insignificant number of people go for the quick fix of a pill (or alcohol or whatever), I don't think it's wise to include depression in this scenario.

    Depression is a medical condition and is deeply rooted in brain chemistry. Your insinuation is akin to saying, "I'd really like to get off insulin for my juvenile diabetes" or "I'd really like to not get rabies shots because I was bit by a rabid dog."

    I hope that you can get off the medication; these things often have nasty side effects that can be just as frustrating. But please let your decision be made by good medical science and discussions between you and your healthcare provider, not by a desire to avoid medicine because it's "the easy way out."

    (Please pardon me if I'm overanalyzing or if I appear callous. I've just seen a lot of stuff in the discussions here on Boundless that has implied depression and other mental issues are simply matters of chosen behaviors or not simply making good choices or not being faithful enough.)

  • Comment by  Ronnica:

    I'm definitely a hypocrite.  But I'm working on it.

    Just this weekend I was conversing with my roommate about how it was bad that she wanted to use less electricity in order to first save money and then help God's creation.  Then later in the same conversation I gave essentially the same priority order for my desire to give up fast food.

    And even more hypocritical, I still haven't given it up.

  • Comment by  Marie:

    I agree that the American population is, in general, overmedicated. However, that does not mean that no one needs medication. I have depression, and when the various medications I tried did nothing, I stopped. I'm glad you're aware and don't want to rely on medication, but please don't be afraid to stay on it if it really helps. It's not a big deal if you need to keep taking it, but if you do try to get off it and it doesn't work, please don't hesitate to go back on it. I'm just really passionate about people finding help for their mental illnesses, and for some people that is absolutely going on medication. I manage with regular therapy and great friends.

    I make a lot of excuses. I think I'm better at it than I used to be, but I still have a long ways to go. Budgeting and finances are areas I could really work in. I tell myself that I don't need to budget because I don't have money, so whatever I have goes to bills, gas, and food. But if I budgeted better, if I spent time trying to save money, especially on food, I might actually have money to save or be able to donate more like I wish I could.

  • Comment by  MizattA:

    The Original Post said

    "I'm inclined to think that our culture is over-medicated. We in our modernist age tend to think we can escape, via medication and various medical treatments, all of the physical consequences of being human. Yet here I am, currently taking Lexapro for depression and anxiety. I'd like to get off it, in the near-ish future. But to be honest, I'm scared about trying."

    I think way too many people think we are over medicated today compared to how many people would be screwed in life and unable to function without it.

    I am Bi-polar(and no its not a fake made up disorder to try to excuse not turning to Christ like some people want to claim or an excuse for actions that if I wasn't diagnosed with I would have to blame myself for its a real dis-order that is due to an actual chemical imbalance God gifted my brain with when I was born) Without Medication I would probably be dead or in jail by now. Even with my meds and God by my side and when things are going fantastic there are certain months of the year I get depressed beyond reason.

    Not to mention that the suicide rate people of all ages has highly increased over the last 20 years. Life has become a lot more stressful and is hard for a lot of people nowadays which causes depression. Without meds to help we could be a lot worse off when it comes to body counts then we currently are even with Christians. Depressions is not just based off sin issues that if we turn to God our depression will just go away.

    Not everyone has the Luxury of being Mood swing or depression free or having the luxury to have everything bounce off them and stay happy all the time no matter how much God is in their lives. Some people are stuck being screwed in life when it comes to stuff like that by Gods design of their body.

    There's a lot more medical problems with people today then there was with people 50/60 years ago as well, which means more medication is necessary.

    That being said. I am inclined to say that when it comes to how people watch movies and use music in today's society is a lot of morally licensing.

    I also think that a lot of Christians commit major moral licensing issues when it comes to issues of things like Abortion. For example a women sued her doctor because he refused to give her a legal morning after pill after she was raped claiming that he as a Christian felt that if God was going to get her pregnant from a rape that she deserved to be forced to raise it. There are Christians who have been fired from Pharmacy jobs and sued for not giving people their birth control medicine or even selling over the counter condoms. Then we turn around and claim how irresponsible people are for having unprotected sex when just as many Christians have taken measures to prevent people from trying to have sex responsibly.(even if it might not be by Gods standards in terms of pre-martial sex if they are not Christians than by their standards. They by where God has them in life at the moment are doing the right thing and trying to be responsible and trying to force them to live Gods way goes against what the bible says and God calls us to do. There's a specific verse in the bible about leading by example but by no circumstances forcing others against their will to do what God says. Also how does a Christian know if someone is married or not when they go up to the counter for birth control pills or condoms? The bible does not claim that married people cannot have sex with condoms or Birth Control pills. How are we to judge other Christians doing something that is not against what the bible says?)    

  • Comment by  Leah:

    How is the point about Lexapro "moral licensing"? I mean, there's a difference between taking medication for every little cough and sniffle, compared to taking medication for significant health issues.

  • Comment by  RachaelStarke:

    After returning from a week of camping, totally devoid of digital or social media, my kids' first request was to get on my laptop and play Webkinz. I said "No! You're not going to come back from all that outdoor time and jump straight back to the computer!"....

    as I stood in front of my laptop, catching up on Facebook and my RSS feed....

    My kids are still pretty young and didn't notice. But my husband did. He was gracious and just muttered something about "irony".


  • Comment by  CraigM:

    It's not hard to get off of Facebook.  Just delete your account and then go have dinner with some actual friends.  You can still write your long-distance friends with, you know, that ancient form of communication known to the over-30 set as "email."  

    If you have an honest medical condition -- depression -- rather than "depression" (which is what a lot of 20-somethings have) you should follow your doctor's advice and stay on the meds.  If you're not so sick that you actually need the meds to cope with life (IE--you have "depression",) then you shouldn't be on them in the first place.  You're either wrong to be on the meds, or you're wrong to want to get off of them.  

    This is about poor choices, not hypocrisy.  

  • Comment by  LibbyHutfles:

    I agree with Leah!  I have lived with pain for a very long time, after going to PT, surgeons, neurologists, cortisone injections, etc it was determined a small amount of Neurotin would help me make it through...and it does.  I was ashamed at first, because of my med preaching.  But since it helps, I am thankful for it.  

    I am too critical with myself and my weight.  I am at the maximum for my height before being considered obese.  I know I need to lose 30 lbs, but I just can't stick to it.   Let me rephrase, I just don't and that makes me mad at me.

  • Comment by  James:

    I agree with some of the people who have commented on your statement regarding over-medication.  There are some serious health issues that require medication, but I also think that there are more issues that can be controlled by removing things from your life to alleviate the stress, depression, etc.  In my opinion, I think that's where you were going with that statement.  But enough about a statement that those with something to prove will beat into the ground.

    I enjoyed your article and agree that not only as Americans, but as "Christians" (I use that term loosely since the world sees Christians a completely different way than how they would like to be viewed) we tend to lead lives of moral licensing, better yet let's call a spade a spade, we're hypocrites.

    There are many examples that I can throw out there that I myself used to do and some I even still struggle with.  Christians and non-Christians like to judge those who abuse drugs and alcohol, yet I see "Christians" taking their smoke break or putting a dip in their mouth (I was guilty of both) or I see so many overweight "Christians" in the Church it's ridiculous (gluttony is a sin).  Doesn't the Lord call us to take care of our bodies, and yet "Christians" use their hypocrisy to say "I'm not as bad as that person", or "at least I'm not doing that."

    I thank you for writing this article I hope that somebody will walk away from this article wanting to change at least one hypocrisy in their life.

    And Brant rocks, glad I'm not the only one who listens to him.

  • Comment by  Katrece:

    Depression is a real, medical condition that can be caused by chemical imbalances.  Also, depression can exist outside of a chemical imbalance.  

    Life has been incredibly difficult  at other times in history.  It's not just been in the past 20 years that people have faced more stress.  Many wars have been fought; people have lived in far worse conditions than most people currently do in the Western world.  By God's grace believers and nonbelievers can overcome their circumstances and battles with depression.

    God knew the amount of persecution He would/does allow believers to suffer.  Also, the amount of stress with which anyone deals.  I don't think we can say that all of the sudden some people can't overcome their circumstances.  (Of course some people, not all, need medication to do so) Think about the amount of persecution Protestant Christians received from Catholics.  Also, Foxe's Book of Martyrs shows how many people endured horrendous circumstances.

    I have a seizure disorder and at times my brain goes a little crazy.  Is it related to something more than I can control?  Yes.  However, I can choose how I respond in those circumstances.  I must choose to more fervently seek God's help and strength during those times.  The medication I take doesn't always prevent a seizure.  When it doesn't I have to fight becoming depressed.  I can choose whether I will be depressed about not getting to drive because of the seizures.  That  choice is not impossible to make because of a medical imbalance.  Some of David's psalms express his struggles with despair.  But he overcame them with God's help!  Also, thanks to modern medicine, many people are able to better manage their depression.  

  • Comment by  SavannahLyon:

    Wow. Talk about a smack in the face, and it's only 11am. I've only been up for an hour! I blog about discipleship parenting and judge others who just don't seem to 'get it' about the importance of the job of the parent, and then spend the majority of my day on facebook "working" (or blogging) and by the end of the day I realized I haven't really put in any effort to disciple my child or teach her anything.

  • Comment by  Leeandra:

    I don't think that taking Lexapro for depression is in any way hypocritical.

    Seriously, what's the whole concern about "overmedicating" (other than from a physiological standpoint)?  If I have a headache, sure I can survive just fine with nothing, but I take some aspirin and I'm in a much better mood because I'm not in pain.  

    I must have missed the part of the Bible where Christ said it's a good thing to suffer needlessly.  

    Also, on the ordering a diet soda with a Big Mac meal--no, of course subbing the diet soda for the regular doesn't make the meal "healthy", but it does cut a couple hundred empty calories.  

  • Comment by  TimJC:

    Looking at some of these comments and taking issue with them, then wanting to set the perspective straight with my own justified bias...because for some reason everyone MUST know my thoughts and recognize the truth as I have seen it. Yes! That's my form of moral licensing. I can judge someone so easily just by picking through their typed words, when I know that I myself am a much different person inside than on paper.

    Another example of hypocrisy in my life: my brother is totally sold on Evolution (the fine-tuned process) and he will seemingly stereotype all Christians who adamantly believe in a literal six day creation, discrediting anything else they say. In other words, if you believe in Creation, everything else you believe about the Bible must be wrong/misinformed and he doesn't want to hear it (that's my take anyway). He's a theist and not into the emotional, lovey-dovey side of Christ. Most of the rest of my family is kinda the opposite, one even falling into the "fanatical" camp. Needless to say, there have been heated discussions.

    So, while I watch them judge each other, I'm judging them both! I think my brother is too scientific in his approach to the Bible, diminishing God's glory, and I think some of the others are just parroting Christian speak and not daring to question God on anything. (Almost like the belief is the end in itself. He said to seek understanding, not fit a mold. He's the potter, and He's always right anyway, so no love lost. But I digress.)

    This puts me in a pickle sometimes. I feel like the middle man. I try to placate both sides, but what I really end up doing is playing both sides until I sound like the patron saint of gray areas or something. I've learned it's not my job to "fix" other people, directly or indirectly. I need to attend to my own character first.

  • Comment by  ZD:


    Mr. John, I know what you meant by the over-medicated comment. Please don't feel guilty about the depression medication if it is necessary.

    I was born with a genetic inability to naturally absorb B12 vitamins. I also don't regulate vitamin D correctly. I also have neurally centered chronic Lyme disease. All of which to say, I have legitimate reasons why I suffer from depression. So there are things I can take to help that. I don't feel guilty about that at all, they are things out of my control.

    Without these things, there is also the fact that depression feeds on itself. If you have acquired clinical depression some other way, just the fact that you are depressed will continue to make you depressed.

    However, there are things in my control that can make this worse or better. And I can turn to easy-out medication for that if I'm lazy. I can stay up too late watching movies and wake up with a splitting headache. Advil. Or Tylenol. I can stay at home and neglect friends and then feel lonely. Deproloft. I can feel sorry for myself and pig out on snacks till I'm sick. Acidophilus. Or Pepto Bismol. So, yes, I can be quite hypocritical about over-medication. That doesn't make the problems I'm trying to deal with less real. I am lonely. I don't have many friends. I don't feel well. But I can either try and solve them the right way, or I can try to escape.

    Being clinically depressed is not a sin. Needing meds to keep functioning isn't sin. It is just a result of living in a broken world. Wallowing in depression and using meds to run from your increased symptoms is sinful. We all have this sort of weakness. Like you said, it merely demonstrates how much we need our Lord.

    Mr. John, Yeshua does love you. He forgives you for your failings. He understands your weakness. But it is even more than that; He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). He knows what you are going through. If you will trust Him, He will strengthen you, comfort, and lead you (Isaiah 40:11,31).


  • Comment by  AmyRN:

    As a nurse, I cannot even begin to guess at the number of patients that have a diagnosis of depression and are taking medication. I agree that depression is a very real disease and there are absolutely people that need medication. I don't dispute that at all. However, the number of people that are diagnosed without psychological analysis and the speed at which physician's hand out antidepressants is alarming. Ideally, patients suffering from any psychological disease should be combining therapy/counseling with medication. I applaud Matthew for wanting to be off medication if he can successfully make use of therapy and other coping skills. And while there is a true medical difference in the neurotransmitters in patients with depression, for some of the population, it's simply poor coping mechanisms or not addressing the root of the depression/anxiety.

    My moral licensing? Being a nurse and not taking the absolute best care of my own health. I justify it by saying that I'm in school or more focused on my patients. Most nurses don't get adequate sleep, eat nutritious meals, drink enough water, or make it a priority to de-stress. It's unfortunate and I've been repeatedly faced with this lately, so I'm pretty sure God is shoving it in my face for a reason. :)

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