Who Are You to Judge?

It would be hard to pick the most intellectually irresponsible saying repeated ad nauseam in the public square today. Surely “don’t judge” would be among the top few and a decent model of modern idiocy. This particular contradiction is loaded with implications concerning our politics, ethics and societal breakdown. It is a great irony that most moderns so fond of repeating this licentious bit of folk wisdom do not realize that to make such a command requires judgement; and hypocritical judgement at that. To make this most absurd exhortation is to be clueless about the nature of judgement as it relates to the human person. To add insult to injury, these less than intellectually formed folks often use a misread of the Bible to reinforce their ill begotten point. They also skip over the right philosophical use of the intellect and jump straight to the only real support they have for this irrational slogan, their emotions.

We find ourselves in an age of absurdity where modern “authorities” revolt against true authority and judge that one of the worst things modern man can do is to judge. The guardians of political correctness viciously cleave to the false claim that there is a Biblical exhortation to “not judge” even as they deny the authority of Sacred Scriptures. In reality the Bible does not say not to judge, it says something quite different. In Mathew 7:1-5 as Christ imparts his Sermon on the Mount He addresses the topic of judgement in much more depth than to simply say “Judge not, that you be not judged.” St. John Chrysostom explains Christ’s intention here saying “He does not forbid us to judge all sin absolutely, but lays this prohibition on such as are themselves full of great evils, and judge others for very small evils.”

It is clear that Christ intends to warn us against condemning others and creating grudges as a false display of piety as Jesus continues “for with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Christ’s teaching here is clearly about judging rightly and not a law forbidding judgement, for if you judge rightly and your justice is tempered by mercy and forgiveness you are calling this same judgement down upon yourself.

In the Lord’s Prayer we beg God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are not just asking God to forgive us, we are expressly asking him to forgive us just as we forgive others and this requires us to use right judgement as we assess the wrongs done to us that we must forgive if we would like to be forgiven in kind.

In 1 Samuel 16:7 as Samuel is instructed by the Lord to seek a king in the house of Jesse, he stands before Jesse’s gallant son and thinks to himself that this is the king, but the Lord said to him “do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And so the Lord warns Samuel not to judge poorly by appearances but that like God, he ought to look into the heart of the matter to judge rightly, which is admittedly a difficult task as “we see through a glass darkly.”

Jesus makes this lesson amply clear in John 7:24 when he is admonishing the hypocrites for poor judgement and He says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.” Contrary to the moral idiocy of the politically correct to “not judge” Christ is exhorting us to judge, although He is calling us to judge rightly. The Creator of all the universe, the one who made us in His image and likeness made us with a free will to choose and an intellect whose highest functions and most profound uses depend on right judgement.

Perhaps the unbelievers who misquote the Bible to claim that Jesus said something he didn’t say will not accept the above explanation. It seems that their modus operandi is to use the Bible if they find it advantageous and deny it if they don’t. They have obstinately misquoted Sacred Scripture and these same folks have consistently misquoted our Holy Father. We should not be surprised, for in the same way they truncate Christ’s words, they have done the same with Pope Francis publishing his quote “who am I to judge” excised from its rightful context. He didn’t mean not to judge anymore then Christ, Pope Francis was giving us a lesson in right judgement and most of the world missed it.

The skeptical ignore the full measure of the scriptures to make their pleas against judgement, but they have also ignored the truth about the right use of the human intellect. Surely we would all agree that man has an intellect. To elucidate the nature and function of the human mind is essential to understanding the nature of judgement, even if it won’t sway our detractors. Aristotle makes clear the discovery that there are three acts of the mind. The first is apprehension, the second is judgement and the third act of the mind is reasoning. With a thorough understanding of these three acts, the nature and importance of right judgement can be discerned.

The first act of the mind is the simplest and requires using the senses to perceive and determine what things are. The right use of this first act is to apprehend things as they actually are and this act is developed by the liberal art of grammar. The aim of this act is to make sure that how we apprehend the things we perceive are clearly expressed by terms that are unambiguous.

The second act of the mind is to judge. We take the objects apprehended in the first act and put them in proper relationship to one another by way of making propositions. The right use of this act of the mind is to see how things sit together in a proportional relationship to one another. By making statements composed of two or more apprehended terms, using the second act of the mind we can judge the truth or falsity of our stated propositions. This skill is developed by the liberal art of logic and is put to its best use when truth claims are measured against the objective standard of reality.

The third act of the mind is reasoning. This highest act of the mind is to take things apprehended by the senses, put in right relationship to one another to form propositions to be judged as true or false and then to use reason to draw valid conclusions about the nature of reality. This highest intellectual skill is exercised by the liberal art of rhetoric. If the terms of the first act are clear and the premises drawn by the second act are true then it is possible that by the right use of reason, we might discover conclusions that necessarily follow from the careful work of the first two acts of the mind. These three acts in harmony require judgements in the middle before proper reasoning can take place.  To go beyond mere appearances and to the heart of reality and thus discover truth, righteous judgement must be used.

It is a most normal human thing to judge. It is unique to the human person, for no other creature on earth is capable of judgement. We are in fact duty bound to use our judgement countless times every day not only to survive, but to perform our personal and social duties dictated by the virtue of justice. The difficulty arises when we try to discover the distinction between good and bad judgements. If the preponderance of the great minds of Western Civilization and Christ Himself have it right and right judgements about the truth or falsity of propositions must necessarily precede the right use of reason, then clearly to “not judge” is to not reason and we lower ourselves to the level of beasts.

The modern world foolishly judges us wrongly by asking us not to judge. We have no choice about whether or not we will judge for it is certain that we will considering it is the second act of the mind which sits within the nature of intellect. Judgement takes place after apprehension and before reasoning. Our only choice is whether or not we want to put in the hard intellectual work to cultivate the ability to make right judgements. It seems most of the world has chosen intellectual sloth, we Catholics cannot afford to do the same, for the future of our very civilization grounded in Christendom depends upon it. Judgement is a thing for which we need not apologize unless we exercise it poorly like the persons who absurdly demand of us “don’t judge!”

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

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Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is the executive director of the 7 Institutes at the Veritatis Splendor HQ project. He is a senior fellow at The American Principles Project and a senior fellow at The Cardinal Newman Society. He is on the Teacher Advisory Council at Sophia Institute Press for teachers where he has written Catholic curriculum for the past 8 years, he also serves on the advisory council for Aquinas Learning. Steven is a writer and speaker on education, culture, and the Faith.

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