I was raised by the TV as much as I was raised by the church. Maybe that’s for better. Maybe it’s for worse. I don’t know. All I do know is that I was not only entertained by the TV but educated by the TV. I learned from the TV. The TV taught me ways of behaving and ways of thinking.
One thing the TV taught me was to not be too critical of people who were doing their best. I learned this from an episode of the 80s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. In this episode (which I saw who knows when or where; I certainly can’t remember those details), Arnold is upset when he discovers his school teacher works nights at a men’s club. The teacher addresses this with a short speech in class in which she tells the students about Diogenes searching for honest men and women with a lantern. She suggests that Diogenes would have been better served to search for someone “striving to be honest”. It’s been decades since I saw that episode, and while I forgot most of the details (like Diogenes’ name), I never forgot the basic idea. I also managed to track it down. You can see the speech in question at the 27:37 mark (sorry I couldn’t time stamp it for you; WordPress apparently doesn’t allow time stamping on DailyMotion videos, and that’s the only place I could find that episode).
Now that is certainly an uninspired source. And it might even be a shallow or silly or stupid source. But I still think the idea is good. I think it is true that we should evaluate people not on what they are but on what they are trying to be.
And I think that idea also contributes to this popular notion of the church or Christians being hypocritical. It is true that Christians are or at least can be hypocritical at times. It is true that there is hypocrisy in the church. It was that way from the beginning. The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 2 that Peter fell into hypocrisy and brought Barnabas into that hypocrisy with him. And that’s just one example of many. If you want to be Diogenes, if you want to search the church with a lantern, you will find hypocrisy.
But there is not only one type of hypocrisy. There is actually two. There is the hard or intentional hypocrisy, the hypocrisy in which someone purposefully practices something different than they preach. And there is the soft or accidentally hypocrisy, the hypocrisy into which someone falls because they are weak. Arnold’s teacher is an example of the second kind. So is Peter. And so is much of the purported hypocrisy in the church. Do we have people in the church failing to live up to the standards they proclaim? Yes we do. But we also have people in the church striving to live up to the standards they proclaim. Should we be Diogenes to those people? Should we look down on those who strive and fail? Arnold’s teacher didn’t think so. She thought there was something good about those people despite their failures, that those people ought to be understood, accepted, maybe even commended. I agree, and I’m willing to live that way. If you are striving, I won’t be Diogenes to you; I won’t search you too close or judge you too harshly. Any chance you could do the same for me and my spiritual family?