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Saturday, January 30, A.D. 2010
Judge Lest Ye Be Mugged

Yesterday, commentator M. rebuked my hesitancy (well, refusal) to obey divine and clerical commandments not to judge on “The March, A.D. 2010.” My difficulty with this issue is one of my most significant problems with Christianity, and it has been a recurring theme in my thoughts and in my posts. M. wrote:

“It just seems absurdly mad not to judge everyone and everything. ...What does it really mean to refrain from judgment toward others without being reckless in one’s actions?”

The compulsion to judge is incredibly strong, isn’t it?  That is why it is so important to resist.

What I have been in the process of learning for a long time is that this compulsion distorts and constricts one’s own soul.  We judge in order to exclude.  We exclude because we are afraid.  We are afraid because we lack love.

It’s revealing, I think, that you feel that refraining from judgment toward others will lead to “being reckless in [your own] actions”.  What exactly are you afraid will happen if you stop judging?  That you might be too recklessly compassionate?  Too recklessly understanding?  Too recklessly moved by another’s plight?

Maybe you’ve heard this one: “When Christ returns to judge the world, will he say to you ‘Well done, you good and faithful servant’, or ‘Hey you, get out of my chair’?”

My advice: Try leaving the judgment to a higher authority, who is far better qualified for it than any of us—with our puny intellects, shrunken hearts, and blindness toward what is in other people’s souls.  Rest assured that he is up to the task, and that the universe will unfold as it should.

Or, to put it succinctly: “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

I started to respond in the comments thread, but I decided to make the rejoinder its own post. Such will be convenient for me, as I am about to leave to spend a chilly day in the woods near Frederick, and then I need not post something silly and trivial from YouTube.

Dear M.,

Thank your for your comment. I have heard that one; my mother was always fond of reminding me that there were no vacancies in the Godhead. I never appreciated the humor (well, not much). More so, I see such judgmental non-judgmentalism as excusing bad behavior. Bad actions ought to be called such, and their perpetrators often (though not always) ought to be called out.

I hear comments similar to what you wrote all the time from Christians, and I honestly find them rather unintelligible. I suppose that Christ calls us to be agents of love (as the metropolitan preached), but I refuse to love without limits—meaning, to love without judging. You wrote, “We judge in order to exclude. We exclude because we are afraid. We are afraid because we lack love.” I do not think that we judge in order to exclude, but our judging often has that effect. For example, if I judge that Mr. Smith is a drunken liar with lecherous tendencies, I will likely exclude him from my life, and I’ll encourage any potential victim of his that I know to exclude him, as well. This does follow from fear, as you wrote. For we exclude as a manner of defense (for ourselves and for those whom we love). We wish to shelter ourselves and our loved ones from danger, and it is our judgment that judges people as dangerous or harmless.

Does this fear follow from a lack of love? Possibly. It certainly means that we prioritize certain goods above loving someone that we find dangerous or harmful—goods such as our own well-being and that of our loved ones. Is this a rejection of Christ’s call to love our enemy? It may well be so, and on this point, I have severe reservations about the sanity of the gospel.

I think that we should love from a position of strength—we ought to aim to help others without endangering ourselves. I certainly do see the beauty and the honor of self sacrificial loving, but I only judge such self sacrifice worth it if what is gained is more important than what is lost. As bourgeois as it is, I do a cost-benefit analysis—from my limited and ignorant perspective, of course, but that is all that I have—for the universe as a whole. So, it makes sense to me for a man to die to save his city, but it seems outrageously unjust for a man to give his life to indulge the murderous lust of a depraved soul. Christians might say that God only asks what he himself does—self sacrificial love as imitatio Christi. God in his wisdom obviously knows what is right, but it just seems that, in God’s economy, it must have been worth it to redeem creation by the ultimate sacrifice. For it portends the final triumph over evil, and that is quite a prize. With Christ, however, we believe in such redemption. When Christians open themselves up like fools to dangerous predators, are they certain that such will pay off? What is gained? Is it martyrdom to indulge the wicked? Lacking cosmic redemption and renewal, I would rather see justice be done.

You wrote, “It’s revealing, I think, that you feel that refraining from judgment toward others will lead to “being reckless in [your own] actions”.  What exactly are you afraid will happen if you stop judging?  That you might be too recklessly compassionate?  Too recklessly understanding?  Too recklessly moved by another’s plight?”

Indeed! When people refuse to judge, when they turn off their powers of discrimination, they cease to be as wise as serpents. They endanger themselves and those around them. That is what I meant by reckless. It is our responsibility to be cautious and to trust and to mistrust based on good judgment. This is even more so when we have positions of authority by which we must concern ourselves with the welfare of our charges. For foolish judgment (or the refusal to employ judgment at all) might allow the barbarians through the city’s gates. While the savages commit atrocities and spill blood through the streets, are we to sit in self righteous moral satisfaction, consoling ourselves with the sweet, luxurious thought that at least we did not judge? “Woe to the city, but my soul remaineth pure!” Such is irresponsible, such is nonsense, and such is abomination to civilized man, who must recognize that evil is ever waiting beyond the city walls.

As Solzhenitsyn wrote, the line between good and evil passes through every man’s heart, but one’s petty egoism and sinful inordinances are not my chief concern. I am more interested in evil that ends in major social disturbances—rapists, vandals, murderers, thieves, and the like. I begrudge no ascetic his purity of heart. I just demand that such practitioners of holiness do not endanger their society by the reckless preaching of not judging others. To judge is necessary for human life when one is not willing to give up everything to brutes in return for a promised beatific vision . . . and I think that even the saints would reckon that the heights of holiness must be sought and accepted voluntarily rather than forced on everyone by one’s fanatical striving toward moral purity.

You are certainly correct that the tendency and faculty of judging may be used to exclude inconvenient people, as well—or even morally innocent “dangerous people” (like lepers). I take this to be your point in “Too recklessly moved by another’s plight?” I am more sympathetic to the Christian idea here, and in these situations, sacrifice seems nobler and often worth it. It does not involve indulgence toward bad men but rather the willing co-suffering with the unfortunate. Christian charity shines its iconic splendor when a Christian dedicates his life and treasure in love and in solidarity with others. However, it seems that even such a vocation involves judgment. We just have to judge wisely, rather than perversely. That is what I want everyone to do.

To help a leper and to help a sociopath both require putting oneself in danger, but I see the former as understandable and permissible while the latter as moronic and scandalous. Of course, the Christian would reply that both such men have diseases (one of the body and the other of the soul), and we are called by Christ to minister unto the sick. I cannot or will not see them as equivalent.

Moreover, I wonder if one may be irresponsible with either form of ministry. If your family depends on you and if you endanger yourself to help someone in need, is such responsible? It seems that society works better when people are willing to answer the call to help others in need without question or calculation. Indeed, we honor those who do so for their virtue and for their readiness to sacrifice themselves. By inculcating a sense of mutual responsibility, we maximize a safety net that is very useful in challenging times (such as disasters). A nation of men that see themselves as their brothers’ keepers is a stronger nation, as long as such mutual assistance does not enable dysfunctional social parasites. Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno is an effective motto among good men.

For example, let’s say that a man, Mr. Farbe, has a large family that depends on him. One day, Mr. Farbe happens to be near a crisis in which he could be of assistance. Helping in such a situation would endanger him, but it would also help others. Even though Mr. Farbe has many life commitments, it seems right that he would attempt to help if he could. For it just happened, by chance or providence, that it fell to him to be an instrument of salvation at that moment. Given the vicissitudes of life, any one of us might have to play that part in such a scene, and society works better—meaning that more people survive and flourish—if everyone is willing to answer the call of duty when such conditions arise. One’s other commitments ought not to figure in one’s calculation of whether or not to get involved, as a healthy society would look after those needs if someone gave his life nobly in the pursuit of the common good.

In less urgent situations, I think that self sacrifice is a matter for careful discernment—and judgment. Only the virtuous and wise may assess such circumstances correctly.

Well, I have rambled from judging to good judgment. To return to the need to judge others, let me simply state that we are social creatures. We live among many other free agents, some of whom will us good and some of whom will us ill. To navigate life well, we must be able to discern one group from the other. Moreover, in our relations with each other, we must be able to assess people in order to accomplish anything larger than ourselves and our own actions. Whether I judge someone fit to be in my life or to keep company with my loved ones or whether I judge someone capable or incapable of various tasks will determine how I relate to that person. The command not to judge, taken in an absolute way, would be a form of self imposed blindness and deafness. Indeed, it is akin to a spiritual lobotomy. I fail to see how God could expect such willful impairment from his rational creatures.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, January 30, Anno Domini 2010
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