Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Why do they hate us? Reason 2 - Hypocrites

To continue with the subject of why people might be hostile towards Christians....

A second reason is a strong feeling that the Christian church is riddled with hypocrisy.

My text for today is from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Early in the story Jane's aunt introduces her to the principal of the boarding school to which she is to be banished, Mr Brocklehurst.

…I looked up at – a black pillar! – such, at least, appeared to me, at first sight, the straight, narrow, sable-clad shape standing erect on the rug: the grim face at the top was like a carved mask…

There is no mistaking the fact that this man is a vicar, or that he is forbidding.  He then humiliates her with a series of questions about her religious practice, and explains to her aunt

Humility is a Christian grace, and one particularly appropriate to the pupils of Lowood; I therefore direct that especial care shall be bestowed on its cultivation among them. I have studied how best to mortify in them the worldly sentiment of pride; and only the other day, I had a pleasing proof of my success. My second daughter, Augusta, went with her mama to visit the school, and on her return she exclaimed: “Oh dear papa, how quiet and plain all the girls at Lowood look; with their hair combed behind their ears, and their long pinafores, and those little holland pockets outside their frocks – they look almost like poor people’s children! "And" said she, “they looked at my dress and mama’s, as if they had never seen a silk gown before.”

Later, on being questioned by Rochester about him, Jane says

I disliked Mr Brocklehurst: and I was not alone in the feeling. He is a harsh man; at once pompous and meddling: he cut off our hair; and for economy’s sake bought us bad needles and thread, with which we could hardly sew…. He starved us when he had sole superintendence of the provision department, before the committee was appointed; and he bored us with long lectures once a week, and with evening readings from books of his own inditing, about sudden deaths and judgements, which made us afraid to go to bed.

Characters like Mr Brocklehurst abound in 19th century fiction - unctuous, self-righteous religious men who preach piety and humility for others but practice cruelty and avarice for themselves, who dress their poor charges in cheap cloth while their own families wear silk gowns.

These days church ministers have fewer opportunities to patronise and humiliate the poor, since that is now the job of State officials.  However, the view of church leaders as hypocrites is fuelled by some of our highest profile Christians.  When televangelists preach conversion and then insist the first duty of the convert is to tithe, we are naturally suspicious.  Our suspicions are confirmed when one of them is literally caught with his pants down, or his fingers in the till, or both.

1 comment:

Luke said...

This is sadly true.