I flushed the old reading list yesterday and put up a completely new one (see left and down). For one, I heartily recommend Faking It (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003) by William Ian Miller, a law professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Role-playing and double-mindedness pervade daily life and are not rare things in Church life either. But there are also many positive aspects (not really insincere at all) to "faking it" in social encounters and rituals. The book gives new meaning to the phrase "All the world's a stage."
Consider the variations on hypocrisy denounced by Jesus, reviewed in Chapter 2 (p. 9-19): ostentatious alms (do not your alms before men), motes and beams (first cast the beam out of thine own eye), stoning adulterers (he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her), and exaggerated formalism (favoring sabbath prohibitions over healing the sick or afflicted). These behaviors are still commonplace, and not just in religious communities or settings. But these scenarios are not as simple as they appear: Isn't giving with a flawed motive arguably better than simply hoarding one's wealth? Beggars certainly think so! And religious practices have formal aspects for legitimate reasons — balancing the letter and the spirit is often a matter of tricky personal judgment in any context (religious or otherwise) where rules must be enforced. There's a sense in which religious hypocrisy is a charge too easily made. Crying hypocrisy is often cheap moralizing, trying to give our lazy selves an undeserved pat on the back for doing nothing more than finding perceived faults in others.
And is there such a thing as commendable piety anymore? This struck me the other day when I used the word "piety" in a comment over at BCC — I used it descriptively and almost sincerely, but it still sounded perjorative. Have we become so cynical that all piety is viewed as insincere? I think "piety" is a tainted word now, superceded by reverence or humility. Here are Miller's comments on false piety (p. 18):
The terrain of religious observance is the ground upon which hypocrisy first grows. Well into the early modern period, hypocrisy is understood to be a vice of false piety, and accusations of it played a major role in battles between letter and spirit, form and substance, inner and outer forms of devotion. . . . Ritual is especially problematic, because in much ritual the form is the substance . . . .