Judging Inconsistencies

Recently, I’ve been listening to the Unbelievable? podcast, available on iTunes. In my usual, borderline OCD manner I had to start listening beginning with the oldest podcast available, so I started listening to episodes from the end of 2007.

On one such episode, they had a guest on the show who was a Reiki healer named Beverly. While there were a number of things that she said that I took issue with theologically, one of the things I wanted to cover today was with regards to a discussion she had with a Christian on the program regarding God’s judgment.

Beverly seemed to struggle with the idea of God judging anyone and claimed that He loves everyone equally. The way she described her position, it seemed as though she was equivocating between judging and being judgmental. It seems to me that there is a very important distinction between those two concepts that Beverly was missing.

Her question was something to the effect of; how could a loving God pass judgment on anyone? She seemed to think that judging and loving were contradictory ideas. However, if one thinks this through for just a moment, we can recognize that this idea is virtually impossible to live out consistently and have a fulfilling or productive life.

I don’t recall the name of the Christian on the show, but she asked about Beverly’s feelings regarding child rearing and whether or not she agrees with the idea of teaching, disciplining or correcting her children. While Beverly agreed that we should do these things, she repeated that she couldn’t see how we could “judge” our children if we truly loved them.

Once again, she seems to misunderstand the distinction between judging and being judgemental.

She went on to say that rather than judge children, we should simply love them and teach them a better way to do things. I’m not sure she recognized that her own statement was a statement of judgment. Did you catch it, yourself?

How can we teach our children a “better way” unless we judge that the way they are doing something is inferior to the “better way” that we wish to teach them? Unless we pass judgment on something, we can not determine that something else is “better.” The very idea that one thing could be better than another is, itself, a judgement of both things.

To put this in the vernacular used by Greg Koukl in his book, Tactics, this idea commits suicide. It is self-refuting. You can’t claim that one shouldn’t judge and then judge that another way to do something is “better.” When you recognize the self-refuting claim, the claim itself becomes basically absurd.

Judging is not the same as being judgmental. The former is no more or less than an assessment of something (hopefully and honest assessment) and the latter tends to refer to the idea of devaluing the person rather than a particular thing.

For example, by refusing to speak to someone because they have a different belief about God would be judgmental. Disagreeing with them and allowing a friendly discussion about differing beliefs about God would require judging. In order to have a discussion, I would first have to make a judgment about whether I believe what you do. If I don’t, we can discuss why. That does not make me judgmental, however, because I am not attaching the difference of beliefs to you as a person. That is often referred to as an ad hominem because it is a value judgment of the individual rather than a behavior, belief or proposition.

Let’s be very careful about whether we are accusing someone falsely of being judgmental. Let us also be very careful not to be judgmental ourselves. If we disagree with a belief or a behavior, we should feel comfortable discussing the belief or behavior without attacking the person who holds the belief or behavior. As Christians, regardless of how one lives or what they may believe, we are all made in the imago dei or “image of God.”

Have you been told you were judgmental for disagreeing with someone? Have you judged, or been judged, in an ad hominem fashion? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us.

Grace, love and peace.

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