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Friday, 28 May 2010

Judgementalism

Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matt 7.1-2)
How often do we see this verse quoted in response to Catholic blog posts? Criticise the public actions of a politician or a high-ranking ecclesiastic and you can be sure that someone will say that you should not be "judgmental". Should bloggers cringe in shame at failing to observe the teaching of Our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount? I think we can reasonably take a deeper look at this.

We cannot "judge" someone in the way that God judges us. (He will judge us, by the way.) We do not have the right to make such a judgement, or in fact the information on which to base it. Only God knows the subjective state of an individual's soul. So even if we consider the infernal columns' brutal repression of the rising in the Vendée, the Mexican campaign against priests such as St Christopher Magellanes, the shooting of the intellectuals in Mao's China or Pol Pot's Cambodia, Lenin and Stalin's atrocities (or indeed the Nazi concentration camps) it is still only God who can judge the individual's state of soul. Nevertheless, we can and should judge all of those publicly known horrors as objectively evil.

In the case of politicians who have voted in favour of abortion, embryo experimentation, assisted suicide, and passive euthanasia, we are entitled to look at their voting record and to make an objective judgement that what they have voted for is wrong, and call them to account for it. A public figure, making public decisions, in the public square, may be subjected to reasonable judgement as to the rightness or wrongness of their public actions. The political life of the country would not function without the people being able to express their opinions in such matters.

Within the Church, the same distinction applies. In recent months, a number of bishops have resigned from their office because of public judgement passed on their public actions or their failure to act. Inside the household of the faith, aware of Our Lord's words, we pray and beseech Our Lord to forgive "whatever sins they have committed through human frailty" and ask Him to judge them mercifully. In doing so, we are aware of our own sins and of the warning of Christ:
And why do you see the mote that is in your brother's eye; and see not the beam that is in your own eye? Or how do you say to your brother: Let me cast the mote out of your eye; and behold a beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of your own eye, and then shall you see to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye. (Matt 7.3-5)
The media, including Catholic blogs, can do a service for society and the Church in exposing crimes, lies, and failures. To do so is not to contravene the teaching of Our Lord but to follow a less-quoted verse from the Gospel:
But if your brother shall offend against you, go, and rebuke him between you and him alone. If he shall hear you, you shall gain your brother. And if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to you as the heathen and publican. (Matt 18.15-17)
St Paul also gave some clear instructions to St Timothy on the question of judging the public actions of others:
I charge you, before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead, by his coming and his kingdom: Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. (2 Tim 4.2-5)
Quoting Our Lord's words "judge not..." can be an easy way to cover up public failures, whether in teaching, governing, or the safeguarding of children. Forming a reasonable judgement, on the basis of good information, is not only a right, but a duty of a Christian concerned with the common good. The challenge which Christ lays before us is to distinguish in our minds and hearts such objective judgement from any pharisaical judgement of another's soul.
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