“The best way to know people is to find out what they lie about.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes

zn3iiAs you may or may not already know, I was a Christian fundamentalist for a few years when I was a teenager. I attended a lovely Pentecostal Church that changed my life. Although I eventually outgrew fundamentalism, I have no regrets. The spiritual experiences I had there were real and powerful, albeit (to this day) entirely inexplicable. The community I found there was also, I hasten to add, equally real and equally powerful. I met a lot of wonderful people. And I’m happy to report that many of these Christian fundamentalists have remained dear friends to this very day, despite deep differences and daunting disagreements.

You can find plenty of delightful people in the fundamentalist movement. But you’ll also find an extraordinary number of hypocrites. Seriously, the percentage of hypocrites I met within that movement was far higher than what you’d find within the general population. Now, don’t get me wrong: hypocrites are to be found everywhere, and we are all, to some extent, hypocrites. As such, it would be a mistake to assume that conservative Christians have a monopoly on hypocrisy. Because clearly they don’t. Even so, hypocrisy is not evenly spread out in our society. There are some places wherein you find a far greater concentration of hypocrites than elsewhere. For instance, people who are into open relationships, polyamory, and swinger culture lie through their teeth about how often these arrangements fall apart. All failures are explained away in an ironically Protestant fashion: namely, as the failure of individuals to rein in their evil tendencies (in this case, towards jealousy and possessiveness). But blaming all of the problems of poly or non-monogamous couples on jealousy and bad communication is like saying that all of the problems of capitalism, neoliberalism, and globalization are simply a function of a few bad apples and a handful of corrupt CEOs—viz., it’s a suspiciously convenient way of explaining away some rather serious structural problems. Pointing to a few happy exceptions to the rule is equally problematic for the same reasons.

Be that as it may, whenever you locate a subculture that seems to contain a high concentration of hypocrites, it’s useful to ask why this is the case. The body-obsessed gym culture is a case in point. I got into this scene for a little while in my twenties and found just as many hypocrites there as I had among the ranks of the fundamentalists. And the reasons are, I think, strikingly similar: both movements posit goals and ideals which are inherently flawed and unrealistic. The only way you can possibly come close to living up to the physical ideal presented by the body-obsessed gym culture is by lying through your teeth and cheating like crazy (e.g., taking steroids, developing a serious eating disorder, getting plastic surgery on the sly, etc.). We need goals. But if these goals are much too far out of reach—if they are (for most, if not all) unattainable—then they force us to choose between hypocrisy and despair, between faking it and giving up. When you find a high concentration of hypocrites in a particular subculture, the problem is invariably with the subculture, not the individuals participating in that subculture. There’s a reason why you find an especially high concentration of hypocrites among fundamentalists, gym-rats, and swingers. All three subcultures have declared war on human nature. And that rarely ends well.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)