In 2017, National Geographic ran a report on the science of why people lie. In the article, researchers candidly acknowledged, “Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.” While this passage may seem like a depressing picture, this honest assessment of our deprived condition illuminates our need for God.
Jesus alludes to the dark nature of humans rather frequently in Scripture. In one scene, as he was gaining popularity and a sizeable following, St. John records that all the people were willing to trust and accept him, but Jesus wouldn’t return the favor and trust them. Why is this the case? St. John tells us in the next verse, “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man for her knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).
Here, Jesus refrains from putting his trust in the people because as the Son of Man he has access to something no one else can see – their inner thoughts. This is how he “knew” man and what was in man. In fact, in three other instances, St. Matthew describes how Jesus “knew their thoughts” (Matthew 9:4, 12:25, 16:8). Jesus’s window into one’s inner thoughts gives him the ability to see the nefarious motivation that grips the human soul. This so much the case that Jesus referred to his well-meaning followers not as good men, but rather as being ensconced in evil (see Matthew 7:11). With Jesus’s view into one’s soul, the “real” person is seen and his warped human nature is exposed. Because Jesus has direct access to human’s deep-rooted ideas, he is in a perfect position to diagnose and eventually heal the corrupt human condition.
Given that the secular world is fixated on positive thinking, it’s easy to lose sight that the Christian assumption declares that our thoughts that guide our desires and behavior are fundamentally flawed (a.k.a., sin). Even modern psychology confirms this fact. In her book, A Mind of Its Own, psychologist Cordelia Fine systematically proves that people’s internal thought process is really guided by selfish, and dubious motives. Deep down we know that our thoughts are disoriented. How do we know this? Imagine people could know your real thoughts – and the motivation behind your thoughts. Most people would be uneasy with this scenario as it would reveal an embarrassing spectacle in which our faulty motives are projected for all to see.
While, yes, our thoughts are warped, left unchecked these flawed thoughts lead to crooked actions. Human depravity was vividly displayed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as people degenerated into mobs that looted, pillaged, and killed others to survive. Moreover, when we do notice moral deeds in the public sphere they are often laced with grandstanding and virtue signaling – meaning the primary reason a person does a virtuous deed is to enhance their social image. Rather than authentic virtue where one sacrifices his well-being to stand up for a moral cause, volumes of psychological observation reveal that people primarily get involved in a moral cause merely to reap the rewards of enhancing their social status.
A recent report showcased how those seeking attention will often project a fake victim status merely to gain notoriety as a virtuous person.
With the world’s response to covid we are witnessing virtue signaling run amok in which people attempt to appear as a noble hero, when, in fact, it is nothing more than a moral acting game. There have been numerous instances where those in the media have removed their masks the moment they think the cameras are turned off. We also witnessed one comical scene in which politicians rushed to put a mask on when they realized they’re about to go on camera. These windows into reality reveal not virtue, but rather a covid theater so as to appear morally superior to others. In this state, people act like they are performing sacrifices for the “common good” but in fact, are merely ushering in a cold bio-medical security state full of mass-scale restrictions that will eventually eliminate human free will.
Jesus’s disdain for virtue signaling is most clearly depicted in his interaction with the Pharisees. What did Jesus call the so-called perfect Pharisees? He called them hypocrites, blind guides, and white-washed tombs (see Matthew 23: 13,15,16, 27). To comprehend why these words reveal virtue signaling we have to understand that in the ancient world hypocrites were associated with actors. A modern reading assumes the word hypocrite refers to a person who tries to hit the mark (says one thing) yet fails over and over (does another thing). Yet, this modern view of hypocrite is naively mistaken. The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word “hypokrites,” which refers to a stage actor. In the ancient world, the actor literally wore a fake mask to display to the audience that they were pretending to be someone other than themselves. Therefore, Jesus presents the Pharisees as public performers engaging in simulated sanctity as they were pretending to be perfect when, in fact, they were far from it. Their acting game is visually articulated when Jesus used the phrase “whitewash tomb” to describe the Pharisees. A whitewash tomb on the outside looks nice and shiny but open up the inside and it’s ugly and full of death. The description is fitting as the actor is trying to look grand on the outside all the while hiding their inner malice.
The next thing that annoys Jesus is when one believes their God-given authority makes them immune to flaws. His message to the crowd to do whatever the Pharisees tell them, but not to do what they do clarify this distinction(see Matthew 23: 2-3). While they have legitimate teaching authority, the actions of the Pharisees were highly suspect and couched with a prideful refusal to admit failure. It is a historical fact that the Pharisees declined to receive Sacramental baptism (see Luke 7:29-30). Why? Because you don’t need to take a bath if you think you’re not dirty.
In one particular scene when the Pharisees tried to twist the meaning of the law against Jesus and his disciples, Jesus saw right through their cunning strategy. He then went on to expose their nefarious condition. “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition” (Mark 7:7)
Then, Jesus expanded his message to teach the crowd an important lesson on discerning human authenticity:
“Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile” (Mark 7: 14-16).
Here, Jesus paints an image of the fallen human condition. Instead of using God’s law to form the people into God’s holy image, the Pharisees misconstrue and manipulate the law for their own benefit. Jesus bluntly calls out the Pharisees for exploiting God’s sacred decrees to boost their title while exerting god-like power controlling how others should live. Jesus cautions that such high-level rulers are often corrupt, drunk on power, and, consequently, lead people down a dark path of destruction.
As the adage goes – the more things change, the more they stay the same. Do we see how world and church rulers today are over-stepping their authority to micro-manage and control how others should live? Let us recall Archbishop Vigano’s warning that we are beginning to enter into a “health dictatorship” that seeks to control major facets of one’s life – much like the power hungry Pharisees.
Powerful people’s desperate attempt to appear as a hero all the while acting like a villain is a tired theme played throughout time. Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot all claimed that their revolution would help the little guy, when, in fact, it ended up enslaving the little guy all the while enriching the communist rulers.
What Jesus is getting at is there exists an obvious selfishness behind a powerful ruler’s agenda. And here we enter into the dark nature of man.
Jesus emphasizes how the litany of human vices is rooted at “the heart of man” In biblical terminology, the heart is the center of the person and the source of every decision that manifests itself through one’s soul. Jesus links true defilement not on the external actions but rather on the internal mode of the “heart.” And given human sin, this “heart” is often clogged with degrading motives. Therefore, fallen man hides his evil intentions and actions by outwardly appearing grand but inwardly revealing a distorted soul that desperately needs help.
In these instances when Jesus strips away the veneer of lies and distortions in people, he is actually doing us a favor in showing us how faulty and broken our world is precisely so we can cling to him. In realizing this, one must abandon the knee-jerk reaction to giving full compliance to the scripted messages of world leaders and instead make the difficult, yet wise pivot in adhering to God’s message.
While it’s easy to become jaded on our fallen condition and the overall state of the world today, Jesus shows us that he is the one and only solution to mankind’s warped depravity. Let us continue to entrench ourselves in the Catholic faith, and, in turn, Christ. The more we do this, the more our fallen world will be rescued from above.