Speaking about homosexual priests, Pope Francis recently said, “Who am I to judge?” I don’t believe he was at all approving of homosexual practice, but that is beside the point. The point is the media went wild. Headlines all over the internet echoed the Pope’s statement. These days, tolerance and non-judgementalism are virtues. The Pope’s statement was virtuous and apparently one that many people wanted to hear.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.” These words of Jesus are often lifted out of context and hurled at Christians when they are making a moral argument, especially when the argument goes against the moral sentiments of the person quoting Jesus. It is worth noting that Jesus, in the same passage, tells those with a log in their eyes to remove the log before they try to remove the speck from their brother’s eye. He doesn’t say they shouldn’t remove the speck at all, but that they shouldn’t do it until after they have removed the log from their own eye. And, in the same passage, he tells us not to throw our pearls to pigs or to give dogs what is holy – which of course requires judging who is a pig and who is a dog. Again in the same passage, we are warned to watch out for false prophets, who can be recognized by their fruits, which requires us to judge the goodness of their fruits.
Jesus is really warning us against hypocrisy: ignoring our faults while proclaiming those of others. He does, after all, explicitly call the log-in-the-eye-speck-remover a hypocrite. The correction, however, is not no judgment, but rather self-judgment first (“then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”). Contrary to Jesus’ intentions, this famous saying has become a maxim against any kind of judgement.
So, let’s try this saying on as a maxim. Also in the news recently is the story of kidnapper Ariel Castro, found guilty of holding three women captive and repeatedly raping them for years. He was given life in prison. I noticed comments on this story to the effect that Castro should receive like treatment in prison and that he should have been given the death penalty rather than a life sentence. What I didn’t see anyone saying was “Who am I to judge?” or “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” There was unconditional condemnation and judgement all around. They simply know what Castro did was morally reprehensible and cannot help knowing it.
If you think “Judge not” is a universal maxim meaning you should never judge, try it on for size in the case of Ariel Castro. If it suits you well in that case, you’re welcome to it. If it doesn’t, then I encourage you to think twice before you quote it. Are you simply giving preference to your own notion of morality? Do you have any foundation for your moral beliefs beyond mere opinion? Are you judging those whom you label as intolerant and judgmental, in violation of your own maxim?
One thing is certain, it will do no good to quote the maxim “Judge not” to The Judge, God Himself. Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2). In this warning, Jesus refers to a higher Judge, a Judge of those who judge. Elsewhere, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:24-29). If you want to escape judgment, don’t say “judge not”, rather, believe!