The Twenty-First Century War on Judgment: The Loser is Not Only The Individual, But Society Collectively.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
17 February 2014
Within Christendom today, the necessity of proper judgment is misunderstood, misrepresented, and often roundly rejected, in contradiction to the words of Jesus Christ and the context of divine revelation as a whole.
When we look at the sad state of contemporary society in the West, with its rapid and seemingly unstoppable, terrifying downward moral spiral, there are a number of problem areas that can be identified as culprits of what many see as the onset of its looming demise. One of these areas, perhaps the most significant, is the loss of the sense of the seriousness of sin. As a symptom of this loss in recognizing the deadly, destructive nature of sin is the notion that one may never make judgments about what is right or wrong; that one may never bring another person’s grave sin to their attention; that one must never speak out, but rather is always to silently tolerate the intolerable.
Further, within this bubble of false tolerance, there is prevalent among Christians the notion that nobody has any “right” or duty whatsoever to labor to instill Christian values in others and the world. We are often told that the Christian must not “impose” his or her ideas on anyone else. Everyone has a “right to their opinion,” they say. Under the yoke of silence, Christians are, then, powerless to change society, to heal it and to purify it with the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit, since the truth must remain unspoken, undefended, hidden.
As an example, a nurse whose duties include saving the lives of children, recently posted on Facebook the content of a conversation she had with another, unnamed nurse who works at Planned Parenthood. While the first nurse is engaged in saving young people’s lives, the other nurse is engaged in ending them.
As a result of that post, a stream of comments soon ensued. Among them was one that went something like this: “I’m not in favor of abortion, but we must not judge others. Planned Parenthood does lots of good in the world, like providing counseling and contraceptives. Who am I to tell someone what they should do with their own body? After all, Jesus Christ said “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (Lk 6:37).
In this one, short, specious and bizarre but not uncommon comment, there are a number of serious problems. First, within the context of abortion, we are not talking about what someone “does with their own body” but what they do to other people with their body; namely, the intentional killing of innocent, unborn human persons. Second, adhering to the notion that Planned Parenthood “does lots of good in the world” because they counsel couples is akin to raising the many tyrants in history who are responsible for the deaths of millions to heroic status because they handed out some candy.
But what about the words of Jesus? Did our Savior ever condemn all types of judgment?
One problem we find in contemporary Christianity is that some Christians who read the Bible do not read it well. That is, they fail to interpret Scripture in its entire context. Additionally, they fail to read Scripture in union with the living body of the Church. Last, they reject or ignore the authority of the Church, the Magisterium, who alone is divinely authorized to interpret Scripture authentically. That, of course, is not to suggest that well-meaning Christians should not read and interpret Scripture at all, but it is to say that when Scripture is interpreted in an individualistic and isolated way in rejection of the Church whose soul is the Holy Spirit, and who formally canonized the scriptures within the context of her divine liturgy, all kinds of serious problems quickly develop.
Another problem is that uncatechized Christians tend to pass wrong ideas among themselves, spreading errors from one person to the next. One of those errors is precisely what we’re discussing here: the widespread misunderstanding about the necessity of making objective judgments and engaging in fraternal correction when necessary.
It must also be admitted that people are easily prone to accept what is easy, even if it’s wrong, as opposed to doing the more difficult and right thing. Let’s face it, it’s easy to “zip our lips” and turn our heads the other way, as opposed to charitably doing what we can to hinder the sins of others. There’s often no immediate risk or challenge found in ignoring sin—although the long term risk may be the imperiling of one’s soul and the souls of others.
War on Judgment: Is All Judgment Condemned?
But back to the question: Did Jesus condemn all types of judgment? Nope. On the contrary, Jesus himself calls us to judge properly and with charity for the sake of building up the kingdom of God and to help, aided by God’s grace, to heal individuals and society. Fraternal correction for the good of another is an act of charity that is encouraged by Jesus and by the authors of the New Testament.
First, let’s take a look at Luke 6:37. If we back up to v. 27, we find that the words of Jesus regarding judgment are given within the context of love of enemies and exercising the virtues of mercy and forgiveness. Further, if we read all the way to v. 42, we find that Jesus does not condemn all forms of judgment but rather hypocrisy.
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”Lk 6:42
And what happens when we fail to remove the beam from our eye, lead a life of holiness, and properly judge what is right and wrong, that we may see and walk with the light of God? In that case, the blind lead the blind, and both fall into a pit (Lk 6:39).
In Luke chapter 6, Jesus cannot be condemning all forms of judgment because he admonishes us to remove the splinter from a brother’s eye only after our own sight is restored to clarity. When we see clearly, we can then help others to do the same, which is all about charity and love, all about building up the kingdom of God.
In Luke chapter 17 (1-4), we read that Jesus said this to his disciples:
Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard!If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.
Those are very strong words stressing the crucial importance of speaking the truth and forgiving others. Jesus teaches a proper balance in judging. We are to be forgiving and merciful; we are never to rashly judge or jump to conclusions due to faulty assumptions. We are not to nitpick one another for minor faults of human weakness. However, nowhere in the context of Scripture do we find a condemnation of proper, careful and charitable judgment.
In Matthew 18:15 ff., Jesus commands us to reprove another who sins, with the final arbitrator as the Church. In this chapter, Jesus gives to his Church the power to bind and loose; that is, he confers upon the Church authority over all matters of faith and morals.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “sin is a personal act” and we “have responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: by participating directly and voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; by protecting evil-doers” (Article 1868).
Sin “creates a proclivity to sin,” engenders vice, and “results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil.” Sin “tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself” (CCC 1865). “Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them” (CCC 1869).
It is important to point out that much of the refusal to speak the truth is fueled by a fear of not only speaking the truth openly, but also of first judging our own actions, sins and so forth, and of cleaning up our own lives. To be Christian is to be courageous.
The Church has always taken the words of Jesus with the utmost seriousness. In her words of truth, we learn the fullness of Jesus teaching on proper judgment, the deadly nature of sin, and its effects on individuals and society collectively. We learn that we are called by God to be a People of God whose lives are governed by free and loving obedience to the truth; and whose actions and words are to always be ordered toward building up the kingdom of heaven.
Peace in Christ.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.