The last thing I said to my ethics class today:
“One thing we can all learn from Nietzsche’s disdain for Christian morality, regardless of whether or not you think he is right, is profoundly psychological: our condemnation is usually a guise for jealousy.
If you take yourself seriously you might not like this but it seems like there is an inverse relationship between the things I feel disdain and hatred for and the things I wish I could do myself. That is, my condemnation of another person’s actions are often a reflection of my own heart. The very thing I am condemning you for is the very thing in my own heart I really want to do, but can’t – either because I lack the means ($) or because of social or religious pressure (I believe it’s wrong or my church believes it’s wrong).
So then, how do we get these conflicting feelings out? We often project what we feel are our “illegitimate” secret desires onto other people who have actually acted on those desires and then we can safely condemn them without condemning ourselves. Whew, at least I still know it’s wrong, even though I want to do it myself. We condemn them for having what we secretly wish for ourselves. We call this jealousy. We are jealous that we can’t have what we want. But if we were given the chance (someone gave me a bunch of money, I knew I wouldn’t get caught, my guilt wouldn’t condemn me) we might find ourselves chomping at the bit to have it or to do it.
Gregg Ten Elsof in his great little book, I Told Me So, actually has a great example of this. He always wanted a nice car. But since he couldn’t afford a nice car he told himself that having a nice car was a waste of money, that it was superficial, perhaps even unethical. But deep down, if he had the chance, he would love to have a nice car. His growing condemnation of people with nice cars just kept proving over and over that he really wished he could have a nice car.
What this means is that if we could just overcome our insecurities, our judgments of other people could be a valuable mirror into our own souls. What is it that you find yourself reacting harshly against? Perhaps you have a legitimate disdain for it. Maybe. Or perhaps you have a secret love for it that your belief system or social circles simply won’t allow.
Sound a little too much like pop-psychology?
I think Jesus might actually speak to the same thing. He says in the Sermon on the Mount:*
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
What stands out to me is that sawdust and planks are made of the same material. They are in fact the exact same thing. The material that is in the eye of the brother is the same as the material in you. Now that is the epitome of hypocrisy. No wonder Jesus warns us to take the sin out of our own lives before attempting to condemn the same sin in another. When you see the sin in another, check first to make sure that what you are seeing is not just a mirror into your own soul.
Perhaps Jesus understood the self-deception of our hearts. Perhaps I am completely reading into Jesus’ words. Either way, I think it is still true.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2
*I love the irony of finding commonalities between Christ and the self-proclaimed Anti-Christ