It seems these days that moral outrage is able to muster only the feeblest of responses, perhaps because outrageous behavior has become so commonplace we have come to expect it. Just recently a high profile Catholic, who also happens to be our nation’s vice-president, publicly officiated at a “gay wedding” in willful contempt of the clear and explicit teachings of his own Catholic faith. Any response from the American bishops has been largely muted if one discounts a bland, vanilla statement issued by the USCCB which passively recommended that it might not hurt to pray for our public officials. It would seem that even bishops are no longer willing to call out egregious public scandal by a prominent Catholic figure for what it is for fear of being labelled as “judgmental.”
Modern society has developed a severe case of “judgment phobia” which insists that no one is ever allowed to judge another’s actions. At the same time we have made a high virtue of judging other people’s motives. The PC media today is filled with pejorative adjectives such as “hateful,” “violent,” “extremist,” “intolerant,” “right wing,” and the loathsome “Christian” used to tar adversaries. The rhetoric of the left is routinely peppered with such monikers to describe anyone remotely suspected of harboring anti-social motives. And the more of these clever adjectives you can string together in attributing the most sordid motives to your foe, the more fashionable your piece will be. After all anyone who has the temerity to disagree with “progressive” social opinion ought to be called out for the Neanderthal he must truly be at heart.
But ask yourself, which is the worse form of judgmentalism: judging an action which basks in full daylight or judging someone’s personal, often invisible motives? It seems a rank hypocrisy to harshly judge some baker’s motive as “hateful” for refusing to prepare a “gay wedding” cake while pretending that no one should ever make any definitive judgment about the moral or social value of sodomy. Not only has that timeless American principle of “live and let live” been thrown overboard but one has judged the intentions of a hapless baker to be “hateful” without a shred of evidence.
But is judging such a bad thing that we need to avoid it like a plague? The fact is that one of the things defining our human state is our need and ability to make judgments. Freedom absolutely depends on this right. Who am I to judge? A human person whose very existence as a free agent is inexorably linked to the act of making judgments day in and day out. Accusing a person of being judgmental is like accusing them of breathing. See how long you can go without doing it.
Now, in fairness, not all judgments carry the same weight or value. That is why we need to be exceedingly careful when making judgments about others. Are our judgments rash or without a reasonable basis? Have we walked that mile in the other person’s shoes? And there are different types of judgment as well. Christianity has always differentiated between judging persons and judging actions. To judge an action is not de facto to judge the person, but judging motives invariably leads to personal judgment. The person who acted may have insufficient knowledge, mitigating circumstances, prior experiences, traumas, or be under undue pressure. Even if an act is clearly wrong we cannot assume that the person acted out of evil intent.
Only a higher power can weigh all the many potential variables which can influence an individual’s behavior. That is why it is wrong to judge the person, because we have no way to know and rightly judge their motives. But an irrefutable action can be judged based on some objective criteria. The nurse who smothers her pain-wracked patient out of the most sincere and genuine compassion is still committing murder. The action itself has a moral dimension which is absolute. Murdering patients is always wrong, regardless of any subjective motivations leading to it.
The American bishops could easily have said something like, “the vice-president, acting perhaps upon a misguided conscience, has nonetheless engaged in a grave act of public scandal. We cannot condone his actions in any way as representing Catholic teaching and, in fact, submit that he should make a public apology and attempt to repair any damage he has incurred by his unfortunate action.” Notice that such a statement does not judge the culpability of the person but still makes it clear that this particular action is morally reprehensible. Hate the sin, love the sinner. But in loving the sinner don’t pretend that the sin is of no consequence. Its effects will ripple throughout society and do extensive damage if left unchallenged.
As humans we must all make judgments about our own actions and even certain actions by others that may affect society, and especially children. But is seems ironic that the same progressive voices who vociferously defend moral relativism, the belief that an act’s morality depends solely upon personal circumstances, are the very ones so willing to pass judgment on the motives and intentions of any who disagree with their view of morality. Even as they disdain to judge certain acts as right or wrong, yet they willfully make snap judgments about the personal motives of those who believe in absolutes (i.e. those radical, extremist, superstitious, hateful, regressive, religious nuts). By judging individual motives over and above concrete actions one is, in fact, judging persons ~ and.nudging society perilously close to that twisted mindset described as “thought crime” by George Orwell in his chilling novel 1984. When straying from plain facts so as to intrude into the minds of people one has never even met, the time has surely come to ask one’s self, “Who am I to judge?”
Fran Pierson +a.m.d.g.