Monday, August 4, 2008

George Eliot on Hypocrisy

I'll consider using this George Eliot quote in my Gospels class this fall (along with this description of the Pharisees):
"There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them. He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratification of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs. If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally in us all, to whatever confession we belong..."
The assumption that all Pharisees were hypocrites is obviously problematic from a historical perspective (what about Paul?). Also pernicious is the assumption that all hypocrites are of the "coarse" variety. As long as we maintain an image of the hypocrite as a turbaned stick figure, the "other" from ancient Palestine, we can avoid reflecting that Jesus' warnings might possibly have some relevance to ourselves.

Back to Eliot, who continues her description of Mr Bulstrude with, perhaps, my favorite Middlemarch quotation:
"There is no general doctrine which is not capable of eating out our morality if unchecked by the deep-seated habit of direct fellow-feeling with individual fellow-men."
Both quotes are from George Eliot, Middlemarch (Penguin Classics, 619).

3 comments:

Isaac said...

Thanks for this. I might have to pick up a Eliot book. What's a good one to start with?

Jim said...

A great reminder!

I love to watch people try to act out the story of the pharisee and tax collector in the temple. They turn the Pharisee into such an unlikeable character!

I have to remind them that when Jesus told the parable, it had a surprise ending. If you're going to act out the story, make your audience love and admire the pharisee, and get annoyed by the other guy. ;)

We admire and try to emulate the wrong people sometimes - because, after all, we can't see their hearts...

d. miller said...

Hmm...George Eliot recommendations...I'm not sure what to suggest. I think Eliot is great. She's a master of description and character development, but takes her time in the telling, and you have to be willing (or curious) to find out about 19th century English life along the way. So you could start with the short novel, Silas Marner (read it a long time ago; don't remember much about it), but the subject matter of the much longer and more complicated Middlemarch happens to overlap more closely with my own interests.

(Another reason I'm fascinated by Eliot is because of her role in introducing liberal German philosophical/theological and biblical scholarship to an English audience. For example, she translated Feuerbach as well as David Freidrich Strauss's Life of Jesus.)

So I guess I would say, dive in and let me know what you find!