Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Judging and Being Judged

We all know the statement appearing in what is called the Gospel of Matthew "judge not lest ye be judged."  No doubt this particular unqualified admonishment (there are so many others in the Bible) is now rendered differently.  Something along the lines of "you should not judge other people because then they'll judge you too and you wouldn't like that" would be my guess; something earnest, simple, plain and uninteresting.

But however it is stated, I find it a curious bit of advice, if advice it is meant to be.  I also think it's advice we've taken far too seriously.

Why is it wrong to judge?  Why is it undesirable to be judged?  It is of course unfortunate to judge poorly and offensive to be poorly judged, but what we're being reproached for or warned against is judging, not doing so stupidly or unfairly.  Did Matthew or whatever person or persons who wrote these words simply take it for granted that when we judge we do so ineptly or maliciously?  Or did they object to judging itself--like throwing the first stone?  Is judging something that's peculiarly the purview of God, like vengeance?

Departing ever so sadly from exclusively biblical considerations, I'm uncomfortable with the implication that judging itself is objectionable in some manner.  Judging intelligently would be useful, I would guess, like thinking.  "Think not lest others think of you"--could that be intended?  It seems oddly defensive, as if we fear being thought about.  What do we have to hide? 

The fact is we make judgments all the time, and must do so as living creatures in an environment with other living creatures and limited resources and opportunities.  Provided we judge well, there's nothing wrong with judging, but if we judge poorly then there may be problems.

There's a short article in Philosophy Now by Terri Murray which prompted this post, entitled "Is Judging Islamic Culture Possible?" She seems to believe it is possible to do so, and even to judge other things.  As she is an academic, I find this comforting.  I get the impression from the article that others in the academy may object, however.  This would confirm certain suspicions I have received second-hand (from college students of my acquaintance) who have told me that judging is wrong or that they're being taught that judging is wrong.

Judging is apparently most wrong in connection with people or things who are not people just like us or are not things that we have and know.  Not only is it wrong, but it is impossible.  We just can't know what it's like to be someone who is not just like us, and have no business treating them as if they were just like us, at least for purposes of judging them or what they do or think.   If it seems odd to you that something which cannot be done is wrong, it seems odd to me as well.  But it serves us right, because in considering it odd we are making a judgment.

This is a point of view which would seem to radically discount the worth of education or learning of most kinds, so it's rather strange to learn that it is apparently one that is espoused by certain educators.  Indeed, the claim that we cannot or should not judge would seem to be one that requires a judgment.  Further, if the claim that we should not judge is valid, it would have to be considered a good judgment and have to be acknowledged that good judgments can be made and have value (they are at least better than bad judgments).  Thus those who make such claims again ride the merry-go-round they seem to enjoy riding so much, despite the fact others point out that is what they do.

But once we get on the merry-go-round it doesn't stop, unfortunately.  If we can't or shouldn't make judgments about others, we excuse the very many others who make judgments; their judgments cannot be judged good or bad, whatever else they may be.  So if a person makes judgments that certain other people are evil or inferior, or should not be tolerated, it's not possible for us to say they do wrong.  There's no way to question their judgments.  What do we say in response to their judgments?  That they shouldn't make judgments just as we shouldn't?  But why shouldn't they?

One of the quirks of being human is that we actually contrive every now and then to be stupid and self-destructive.  What is truly remarkable, though, is that we not only are diligent in finding ways not to make sense, but consider ourselves to be most profound or insightful when we don't make sense regarding matters we think of as extraordinary--beyond the normal, dull world where actual problems arise and may be addressed and make judgments as a matter of course and necessity.  We seem so righteous when telling ourselves we are incapable of judging or should not judge others, it's difficult to believe we're not right.  It is of course an added benefit that nobody can maintain that we're wrong.

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