By Jane Tawel
It may have started with people who call themselves Christians, those who bandy about the cut and pasted versions of Biblical truth without any regard for context or purpose; but it has become a national, perhaps worldwide epidemic. I’m talking about the illness we have passed on to each other, a weak, sickly world view in which we shut up and shut down other people by one inaccurate, ignorant, and ultimately immoral phrase. The phrase I am referring to is the simple exclamatory command: “Don’t judge me.” Christians who live in entitled first-world versions of the Man from Galilee’s ideas on God’s Kingdom on Earth, have made a fine art out of cutting and pasting bits of the Bible to suit their remodeled religion. In terms of castigating people that make them feel “judged”, they pull something out of context that Jesus said in Luke 6. They bandy about a verse to strengthen their position and to shame their brothers and sisters into letting them say, do, or vote any way they like. Simply bring up the fact that the person who supposedly put them beyond judgement (Jesus), according to that same Bible they are mincing into self-empowerment social media blurbs, will one day judge them on whether they behaved as He did, well, they would rather “unfriend” a fellow believer than contemplate the idea they might be wrong, in error, or, God forbid, sinning against God and humanity.
Although, not simply a Christian problem by any means, it is particularly sobering to see the current rage of people who call themselves “evangelicals” freely judging others based on political views or non-Christian beliefs and refusing to judge themselves first. They would do well to read all the verses that come before this verse on judging, such as the one that says, “lend money to everyone without expecting to be paid back” and the one on “you rich people are in for trouble”, let alone the “love your enemy” and “give to anyone who asks something of you”. But then, that would mean humbling ourselves, trusting that God actually provides and wants us to provide for others, and it would mean knowing that when Jesus said we will be judged in the way we judge others, we sure better start judging our own selves on what those who claim His name, say and do in His name. If I claim some kind of belief that truth is found in a book we call The Bible, then it is truly terrifying to read the bits about how Jesus and God judged the folks who claimed to be special chosen people of God. I have had to come up with a new name for myself after reading those bits, I’m a “wannabe sometimes but not always” seeker. Calling myself a “little Christ”, which is what Christian means, has become too fraught in this day and age. But judgement is a problem for all humans, whether a god factors in to it or not. We should start though with those who are claiming God exists and that they are His people.
If we believe that God loves us, then like any good Parent, God will judge us. I know this idea of raising moral children versus raising successful children, has passed from popularity among many first-world parenting philosophies, so if you are a person who believes your little child can do absolutely no wrong and that it is your job to use your power and influence to get them into schools or jobs or nations that they can’t get into on their own merit, then stop reading right now. However, if you believe that whether you are a parent or not, you have some moral responsibility in the world to do the right thing and encourage those you know to do the right thing, then please continue to judge me on my thinking here.
Morality seems to be an unpopular idea, even among the religious today. And yet, we each have this deep-seated, inherent desire for others to act in certain ways towards us. Even if we are confused about what it means or why, we want other humans to be moral. Morality always has an element of using good judgement to it. To simplify, we would all probably say that killing someone is wrong, unless you are a soldier or defending the life of someone. Most of us believe that stealing something that doesn’t belong to you is wrong, and that justice is served when the thief has to pay for taking what didn’t belong to her. Whether I eat fast food hamburgers or not is a little iffy-er, but I still should accept your judgement on whether it is good for my waistline or good for the environment. We define psychopaths or sociopaths as those who no longer have any sense of right or wrong, in other words, they have lost their ability to judge their actions according to accepted standards. Whether you believe in God or not, judgement is a part of living with other humans who have minds, feelings, abilities, relationships, and communities. We judge each other in terms of those things that we share as a species because everyone wants to survive just a bit longer. If we don’t have measuring rods or laws or course-correcting lessons not just on math and language but also on ethics and sustainable worldview, then we will simply fall down the rabbit hole of everyone thinking and doing whatever they want because any judgement of right and wrong is considered “judgmental”.
If you have ever been in any kind of relationship at all that you consider a “love- relationship”, then you will know that love is intricately entwined with good judgement. Loving a partner means that I tell her that dress doesn’t make her look as nice as that other one without the horizontal stripes. Or as much as it pains me when my husband tells me that I am the one who left the light in the kitchen on, AGAIN, I try to ignore his tone and think of his intent in saving energy, both for our budget (good judgment) and for the planet (better judgement). Using good judgement is what you want your child to do when he goes out on the playing field or on her first date. Using good judgement is what you want your surgeon to do; or your car mechanic; or your hair stylist.
Although we all hate the feeling of being judged, and will automatically try to thwart the efforts of someone else who is trying to correct us, most of us, when we calm down and are somewhat rational, will admit to sometimes at least being wrong. I personally, also hate the feeling I get when I create a conflict with someone else because I am “judging” them, and I will avoid this at all costs, except the cost of my relationship with them. Because I value truth almost as much as I value love, I will work towards both in my relationships. The level to which any one of us can accept judgement and give judgement with someone else, depends on the value we place on the relationship. The problem for religious people today is they place very little value on their relationship to each other and I fear, they also place little value on the God they claim to believe in. They have decided that by believing in God they are “saved” from judgement and it’s a one-time deal because someone else (usually Jesus, but sometimes God or Mary) will take on their mistakes, wrongs, and sinfulness. This is frightening if you actually read all of the Bible, what Christians call the “Old” and “New” Testaments. According to the one they call the Jewish Messiah, there could not be anything further from the truth. But even atheists and agnostics today seem to be gunning for a world where an individual’s actions have no consequences but the other guy’s actions are a cause for shaming, punishment, or worse. It is tragic that the very people who claim that even a fetus is worthy of God’s love, do not love their own sisters and brothers enough to judge them.
I have been slammed hard with this “command” not to judge others for everything from saying Jesus would not have carried a semi-automatic weapon to correcting the post of a college advisor whose grammar was embarrassingly wrong. I have had to accept judgement, (after a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth), for everything from not graciously accepting a compliment to shoplifting. The thing is, I am not perfect, but I want to be. I honestly think most people at their very best, do want to be somehow “perfect”. I know that when my children judge me, it is because they love me. It is when they don’t have time for me, even in disagreement, that I feel unloved. I know that when my husband judges me, it is because he is trying to help me navigate something. Judgement from some one who loves us, is not a whip to hurt us, it is a life preserver to buoy us. We don’t have to agree with the judgement. We don’t have to accept the other person’s life preserver if we can actually see that there is a life boat or an island closer to us which provides a better way to get out of the deep end and move forward. We should however offer to pull them into the boat or onto dry land with us, though, if we think they are still flailing or drowning in their mistaken-ness. There are many people who don’t believe in using semicolons, and we can argue about it and never agree; but our judgement of the other person’s syntax is valuable, not something to unfriend each other over. We can disagree about whether smoking marijuana should be legalized or not and we can vehemently defend our own positions, but if I tell you that I am concerned about the amount of pot you are smoking before you are driving your semi-truck on the LA freeways, then, yes, I am “judging” you, but it is because I am concerned for your well-being (and the other drivers’ well-being as well, including my own). Judgement by people with a moral worldview is not the ultimate sin, it is a strength. Judgment means I care enough to speak out and speak up and if I am wrong, by all means, please judge me.
Judgement like love is not unconditional. This foolish and ultimately destructive idea is one of the worst consequences of lack of community and responsibility to others in our national, social, friend, church, or family groups. Love has conditions depending on how close we are in relationship to each other. Are you part of my immediate family? You are very close to me, and have earned the right both to love me and to judge me, and vice versa. Are you a friend? Less close, but still there will be many circumstances where I deserve your truth and correction and you will have to accept mine, like it or not. Stranger? Enemy? Least close of all but still, if you are right, you are right, and I am wrong, and I need to listen to your judgement as a fellow traveler on this earth. That is — If.
Where Christians have especially gone off the rails is this “If” clause that is found throughout their Good Book. The Bible is full of covenantal language, both in terms of God and humans and humans and each other. In other words, relationships are contractual, consensual, consequential. That is why love will always involve judgment. We have done God a great disservice in thinking that because we say He exists, He will not judge us. My husband believes I exist, but if he stops caring about how I love him or act or speak to him, then I will wonder where he is really going on those afternoons he says he is meeting a client. I believe that my father “existed” but I judge him nonetheless for running off with another woman and leaving my own mother and four little offspring of his behind. My judging him, doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven him, but if I never judged him in the first place, then what is the meaning of forgiveness? The same is true for a “loving, forgiving” God. Without judgment, God is neutered and neutral and that makes the whole idea of a god, meaningless. Love without judgement is as impossible as zero plus zero equaling twelve disciples or tribes of Israel. My believing that Jesus can love the world without judgement is as impossible as my believing that I can stand up right now, cut off my arms, and then fly out my front door and fly on up to the moon. And yet, Christians convince themselves this is exactly what will happen; that someday even without any skills or apparent abilities, without even trying all that much to live in certain ways; we will sinlessly fly off to a heaven, just because God loves us so much, He will “save” us no matter what we do. I have to envy the atheists here. To be a moral judge of others and themselves, without any hope of God or future life or reward other than doing the right thing, is at least respectable, and at most, very brave, honest, and kind. It is proof that no matter what, love is both natural and essential to human beings. And so is judgement.
The thing is, we are not to judge those we have not worked at loving. Judgement without truth is frequently a result of understandable human error. Judgement without love, is often acceptable, but ultimately is what Jesus really means when He said, “with the same measurement you judge, you will be judged”. In other words, how much love do I serve along with my judgement?
In the way I love you, I will be loved. The same should be true for judgement. The admonishment by the Great Teacher is not, to not judge, but to judge in the way you want to be judged. Christians are a group that believe in judgment happening someday somewhere by Some One, so we need to stop this silly deflection of “don’t judge me. Jesus will judge us and those who claim to know Him will be judged more strictly than those who don’t. (Luke 12, Matthew 23). So, if you love your Christian brother or sister, you will judge him or her and ask for their judgement. Otherwise you do not care about them, let alone love them. You certainly don’t love them as much as you appear to love all the enemies that you judge harshly. And we can’t deny it, because our judgement of people we don’t know or barely like or don’t like at all, or don’t worship with or don’t vote like, is ALL over social media.
I judge my family, that small group of humans that I love the most, and perhaps I am a bit hard on them; but this is because I love them so intensely and I want them to be the best kind of human being it is possible to be. It is not because I am always right and they are wrong, it is because when I judge them, they might think about what I say and they will even be forced to return the favor and judge me. If they do listen and make a judgement one way or the other about what I say, in that way, we both can possibly course-correct or change something, or avoid a consequence that we might not like after all. And though it may sting more (a lot more) when the people I love judge me than it does when the people I like judge me or even when people I don’t like judge me; even though it is more hurtful it is more helpful. It is important for my well-being, even my survival, that what I say and do, what I believe and espouse, are all hung in the balance of other human beings and judged. That is the only way we can continue to evolve and grow, as a species and definitely as a church or community or as individuals who claim they believe in a moral universe. Judgement is the only way that we will continue to exist and perhaps it is the way we will get even better and thrive.
If someone doesn’t love me enough to judge me, then they don’t love me enough to care about what happens to me — today or in eternity. So please, if you care about me — judge me. And if you will let me, I will do the same for you. Please, judge me.