Friday, September 06, 2013

On Judging Others

An earlier essay on "judgment" here.

The Bible contains an interesting statement: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." (Matthews 7:1)

Of course people judge others all the time.  There are whole institutions built upon the activity of judging.  As long as there has been community life, some form of law, and a process for judging and punishing the violators, has been in existence.

I don't think the Bible is talking about that kind of judging.

We all know a certain kind of person in our circle of acquaintances who doesn't let go of any opportunity to complain, whose eyebrow is almost always raised in approbation, who sees the older generation to be a burden, the younger generation to be immoral, the folks of his own generation to be good-for-nothing, who sees any new technology or tool as something which will encourage laziness, distraction or lack of virtue, who is extremely hard to please and is easy to annoy, ...

I think there is an old English word for such an individual: "censorious". Other synonyms include: critical, severe, carping, disapproving, scathing, disparaging, judgmental, cavilling, condemnatory, fault-finding, captious.

It is stressful to be around such a person.

I think the Bible is trying to put the fear of God in an individual with this unlikable trait. Anyone who asks such an individual to be more forgiving, charitable or otherwise "chilled" will find, to their surprise, that this individual does not consider himself judgmental, but rather, the provider of a useful social service by taking every opportunity to correct others, whether or not they are inclined to be corrected.

In such a person's estimation, society needs to be saved, and he is one of the last saviors left. Without him, there would be anarchy, licentiousness, immorality, a breakdown of the social contract, a total absence of manners, war, food left on the plate, a piece of underwear worn for two days in a row, and so on.

If we try to convince this individual that one should "pick one's battles", "let it go", "let things slide", "enjoy life", "live and let live", "not be a drill-master", or simply, "relax", this individual would not be found enjoying the conversation. He would classify us as a defender of immorality and sloth, and to let go of his judgmental-ness would be tantamount to his giving up his very reason for existence.

To tell someone their opinion is wrong is still tolerable, but to ask someone not to have an opinion about something, or even worse, to keep quiet about it, is taken as an abridgment of free speech. "How dare you?"

The Bible recognizes this ailment, and therefore instead of directly confronting the malcontent, indirectly scares him. After all, the incessant complainer knows within him that he is no paragon of perfection either. Just that he manages to keep his shortcomings hidden while these precocious others are so shameless as to parade their flaws as if they were almost proud of them.

So the "censorious" one is sought to be restrained from his favorite activity by telling him that his flaws are also going to be judged, so he better lower his brow and thereby others' blood pressure.

Beyond that, I don't know. Perhaps eventually God does judge those more who are judgmental. But given that God is the ultimate judge of 'em all, is it divine to judge, or not to judge?

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