October 01, 2015

On judging

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 1, 2015

On judging

“Don’t be judgmental,” we are often told. Many people today take this to mean that we should not judge positions/ views as true or false, or right or wrong. With all due respect, these people are mistaken.

Yes, of course we shouldn’t be judgmental if by “judge” we mean to proudly dismiss another person as morally inferior (usually when compared to oneself) or we mean to damn that other person (to hell). After all, didn't Jesus say, “Don't judge”? It would seem that this sort of judging is God’s job, not ours.

But wait. When Jesus tells us not to judge, Jesus has more to say.

Here's the entire passage (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV):

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus continues: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

In other words, Jesus seems to be saying that if we judge another's behaviour or attitude or claim, we should judge ourselves by the same standard, and, after we've done that, then we should help others with their “specks.”  This seems very much to mean that Jesus is encouraging us to make at least some judgments.

Am I misinterpreting Scripture here? Well, let's look at context: what else does Scripture say?

Jesus also says this: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).  It appears, then, that there is another sense of “judge” which is our job, not just God’s.  By this sense of “judge” we mean the cognitive activity of making an accurate discernment.

This makes sense, surely.

There is more.

Consider the fact that Jesus calls us to forgive others. But to make sense of forgiving others requires the judgment—yes, judgment—that somebody has done something wrong.

Moreover, Jesus calls us to resist temptation and not do evil. But to make sense of resisting temptation and not doing evil requires the judgment—yes, judgment—that there is something wrong/ bad/ evil that we shouldn't do.

Furthermore, Jesus calls us to beware of false prophets. But to make sense of being aware of a false prophet as opposed to true prophet requires a judgment, namely, that one is right and the other wrong.

Clearly, some judgments are true and right: e.g., that the earth orbits the sun; that clean drinking water and food are necessary for good health; that we should try to alleviate the suffering of others (yes, the current refugee crisis comes to mind here).

Clearly, too, some judgments are false and wrong: e.g., that the earth is the centre of our solar system; that oil spills help animal life flourish; that it’s morally permissible for men to rape, enslave, and murder children (yes, the behaviour of ISIS and Co. comes to mind here).

Thus, contrary to popular opinion—and as odd as it may sound to contemporary ears—sometimes we should be judgmental (in the sense of making an accurate discernment).

Such judgment requires cautious, careful thinking plus patience and perseverance in collecting relevant information, pro and con. It also requires the recognition that our knowledge is fallible and non-exhaustive, though not impossible, and that we should show respect to those with whom we disagree.

Finally, it requires an honest heart, i.e., a willingness not merely to seek truth but also to live in accordance with it.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University CollegeThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

1 comment:

Climenheise said...

It makes sense to me that we are not to judge others -- that is, decide whether they will go to Heaven or Hell. It makes sense to me also that we will always judge each other in a looser or lighter sense of the word -- that is, observe each other and note whether the other is acting in a good or bad manner. To observe that the other is doing something wrong does not decide that person's standing with God. we may seek to counsel the other, and we should receive the other's counsel in return. Making sure that whatever we condemn is not really our fault so that we condemn the other because we can't face up to our sin.

Thanks for a careful and accurate rendering of the verses in question.