I was exposed to two flagrant cases of it yesterday. The real thing tends to drain your energy rather than anger you. The most common use of the word, failing to live up to the standards you profess, is not hypocrisy. More on that later.
The first example was a man who led a meeting I attended yesterday. He was speaking about being a lay volunteer in the Catholic church. He began by stressing the importance of humility, of emptying yourself to let the Holy Spirit take over, and then he spoke about himself and his achievements for one and half hours.
The second case was a man I have known for decades and has, for his entire life up until now, proclaimed a certain set of values. And then abandoned them all in less than a year and a half.
Both cases were depressing and i came home unable to work up any enthusiasm for anything for a long time afterward.
But it got me thinking (again) about hypocrisy. Because Jesus told us that the Pharisees were hypocrites and that they said one thing and did another, we have tended to think of a hypocrite as someone whose actions are at odds with their professed beliefs. But that is only s symptom. The real source of hypocrisy is not believing in anything at all.
That was what was is so depressing about the two cases I mention above. Neither man is aware of himself as a hypocrite because neither is acting against beliefs that actually mean anything to them. Our classic notion of a hypocrite—Mr. Burns running for office on The Simpsons—knows he is lying and consequently makes some effort to hide it. Real hypocrites have no notion. There is no point in even trying to explain it to them.
The word hypocrite derives from the Greek word for actor. We recognize the hypocrite because he says one thing but behaves differently but there is a difference between a hypocrite and an impostor. An impostor is merely something other than what he says he is but strip away the fake role and there is a real role the person genuinely believes in. A real hypocrite is just an actor; there is nothing but the fake role.
(And yes, I do think that is what the Gospel of Matthew is accusing certain Jewish authorities of his time of doing. Matthew, whoever he was, looked at the Pharisees after the destruction of the temple and concluded that these people were just trying to keep a system of religious practice alive even though its very core, the temple, had been destroyed. What Matthew wants us to conclude is that the practices were no longer tied to any real beliefs but are just people acting as if they still had beliefs. No one has to agree with him, although I do, but that is his point.)