Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Monday, November 17, 2008


I am uncertain when this particular concept gained the near total enjoyment of people's attention it now possesses. As with many things, the importance and prevalence of the idea of judging could very well be artificially inflated in my current environment. For many reasons, I hope so. Nevertheless, it's something that takes up an inordinate amount of people's time and mental energy.

No one likes someone who nags. And it's with good reason that the person whose favorite activity is wagging their fingers at others finds himself with very few friends, and a veritable horde of enemies. So as far as that goes, I am with today's culture in agreeing that Negative Nancies are no fun.

What seems different, though, is this peculiar horror of "judgment". I also note that spell-check argues against the medial "e" in that word, which, if substandard, was the way I had learned years ago. Why do they change these things on me? I digress. Back to the subject at hand. Some clarification of terms is relevant here. People are never judged in a positive fashion, to the modern mind. I cannot judge Jack Robinson to be a good and upright man, or Abigail Fiddleswick to be a paragon among mothers. It is perhaps peculiar to our pessimistic outlook (an unduly pessimistic one, I think) that any and every judge must not find in the favor of the accused. It isn't that we find it impossible to label someone good or praiseworthy, but that the peculiar faculty of judgment precludes finding a positive result. That might seem like a semantic quibble, but it is instructive.

What are the roots of this phenomenon? My favorite canard, relativism, of course. But it'd be boring if I just harped on that yet again. And besides, in this case, there's another major contributing factor worth investigating, and that's the modern emphasis on feelings rather than facts. We really can't take criticism any more. And I should know, as I'm one to gripe mightily about any criticism of what I do. But in most cases, I do not demand that my critic cease what they are doing, or that they are in the wrong for doing so. Counsel can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow, but what medicine isn't? We can no longer believe that a prof gave us such a poor grade on a paper. Don't they know how hard we worked? And don't they know what a top-notch student we are? We've been told all our lives that we're special, and we believe it. So when we do fail, there must be some explanation than doesn't consist in "ourselves". We don't want to hear negative things because they conflict with the ways we are taught to think of ourselves. Everyone is wonderful, and the best part of life is getting together and singing about how wonderful we are.

On the face of it, this perspective is rather disturbing. We are cautioned not to judge any people, as, it is solemnly asserted, such is the province of a judgmental person, that is, a knave. Who, then, would be good? Presumably, the person who forms no judgments, the person who holds no particular opinion. I think this is a view held with some fervor, if by a majority. In some respects, it might explain the pathological need to move to the "center" or the "middle" on a given issue or concept. This is not the same as an Aristotelian golden mean or anything like that. More and more, this manifests itself in a categorical rejection of any proposed solution which would stray to either side in a debate. Politics, of course, furnishes us with the most obvious examples of this, but in other fields too, any action which tends towards one side is viewed as "partisan" and "divisive" by some. At the heart of this, I think, is a retreat from a serious engagement with life's issues.

Even those who adhere to the philosophy of the middle at all costs do so inconsistently, though. I daresay they would never tell a battered woman "Well, try and see his side of things." At least I hope they would not. It is ultimately a philosophy of convenience rather than total conviction. So there is evidently some moderation yet in moderation. That is hopeful.

It is much the same with the no-judgment folks. In many cases, what they want is not a wholesale removal of the discriminating faculty, but a highly selective application thereof. They do not want to be judged themselves, and/or they do not want a given group to be judged in a certain way not consonant with their worldview. We are not permitted to say that homosexual marriage is wrong; the other side, however, is free to call the former whatever mean names they please, and disrupt their church services, and harass them on the streets, and rip crosses from their hands and stomp on them. In such cases, the faculty of judgment is not only quite obviously present, but also hyper-stimulated.

In the sphere of exegesis, this gets really tiresome when it comes to the axiom "Judge not lest ye be judged." We are sternly cautioned by the no-judge-um crowd that we cannot call a given act or proposition wrong; to do so would be to judge, which Christ has warned us not to do. Yet this cannot possibly work. For He also warns us sternly to admonish a sinner of his sin. If we do this not, we are held accountable for that person's soul. So using the modern solution to being faced with two seemingly contradictory injunctions, we choose the one that makes us feel better, right? Heh. Or we could try and read it as a consistent whole, without being cherry-pickers. If we are to admonish the sinner, we must be given permission to know whether or not something is sinful. What we are not permitted to do, however, is to pronounce God's judgment on a soul, the final judgment. We can say that it is a sin to steal, or to break any other commandment, and we would be right. We exceed our mandate, however, when we say that a person who has stolen will undoubtedly go to Hell. So the way the entire passage is understood in the modern world is totally off-base.

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