In recent weeks I have read several articles dealing with the issue of being judgmental in today’s society. It seems that the whole concept has become a four letter word, and I believe that in a rather whimsical way this gets to the heart of the matter. Judgmental is literally not a four letter word, it is actually a ten letter word and these extra letters remind us that everything cannot be reduced to sweeping generalizations as is the tendency today. The human journey is ultimately quite complex, beautifully complex, and if we are to fulfill our destiny sorting through those complexities is essential.
In order to truly be human it is necessary that we make judgments on a daily basis, actually constantly throughout each day of our lives. God has created us in His image and one of the most basic ways in which this is manifest is in our ability to make judgements. The human person is alone in creation as the only species that truly has the capacity to choose the good. Many animals have amazing abilities built on their instincts, but none of them can truly make a judgment in the manner of a human person. When we abdicate our capacity to make judgments, in reality we abdicate that which makes us human.
At the root of our modern proclamation that we must avoid being judgmental at all costs is the choice to ignore these basic realities of our humanity. It seems certain that those who tend to label any moral choice as being judgmental have not stopped to reflect more deeply on what they are really saying. I do not believe that they intend to shun the basic human faculty of making choices. More properly they seem to be acknowledging that we of course make choices but at the same time they advocate a world where there is no right or wrong choice. This stance ultimately negates a moral code and leaves us with a world where all choices are of equal value. If all choices are of equal value, is there any real basis for making choices at all?
Certainly the negative connotation which being judgmental can have is a real aspect of our human reality which should be avoided, but the popular generalization that all judgment is bad must be avoided as well. In the context of this issue of the CET regarding matters of conversion and faith it is truly impossible to even contemplate significant changes in the direction of our lives if we never make judgements regarding the world we encounter. The idea that all judgement is bad is truly nonsensical if one begins to reflect more deeply on the connotations of such a stance. In order to live as those created in the image of God one of the basic elements of our lives is that we make judgments regarding our surroundings.
One of the fundamental elements of today’s demand that we should be non-judgmental in all things is the idea that there is no right or wrong, good or bad, true or false in any aspect of our lives. If we take this to its logical conclusions the whole construct begins to collapse. Rather than giving in to the concept that making a judgment must necessarily equate with being intolerant, we as Christians are called to make judgments about our lives in light of the truth that God has revealed to us. At the root of this is the belief that goodness, beauty and truth are real and that we who are created in God’s image are charged with the life long quest of seeking these eternal truths. In this context to be judgmental is ultimately to be discerning about our own lives and the lives of others. It is a profound act of love to be willing to speak the truth and guide another person to their ultimate destiny. May we embrace this very human challenge with great strength and remind the world that judging is really an essential element of loving each other.
// This reflection by Bishop Joseph E. Strickland appeared in the May 2016 issue of the Catholic East Texas magazine. //
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