A Great Divergence

There is one divergence of opinion that is causing a massive, sweeping degree of polarisation, not least within Christianity. It involves our capacity, or even our perceived imperative to judge. Jesus seems to have gone one way with this. Paul seems have gone another.

Rather than continue to play out some bizarre theological hissy fit between them (there are countless other writers doing that already), I’d like to examine the idea on a more pragmatic plane.

While “judgement” is sometimes used to describe some kind of final and decisive castigation or ostracism of someone — especially when deeming someone’s actions deeply abhorrent — I want to back it up to a less extreme posture.

Judgement is the running soundtrack in our heads that evaluates us based on the people around us. And it works in the reverse, too — it’s the comparison of other people to ourselves.

These two (sometimes competing) soundtracks have a huge bearing on our self-image and self-esteem.

Here’s the issue: the former is altercentric, where the most important thing is other people’s ideas/impressions/opinions. The latter is egocentric, which seeks to impose our ideas/impressions/opinions as the standard for everyone else.

Both of those are off the mark!

They are using human standards. While we are informed that we cannot know the mind of God, we are also instructed to never stop trying.

And we are given a whole lot of instruction to avoid putting human nature on a pedestal.

A lot of people seem totally comfortable living in a way that defies transcendence. Instead, they rely on basic human nature. Casual disparagement of the way people look, sound, look, act, talk and (apparently) think is lazy — intellectually, emotionally and ultimately spiritually.

Human standards are insufficient for judgement.

People are generally terrible guessers. And flippant judgement requires some huge ones. Indeed, please be careful calling people who are casual and frivolous in their judgement “Christians”. This is the abuse of a religious perspective, not the embodiment of it.

Now, there are some aspects of the human condition which we must evaluate, both for ourselves, and for the people who trust us. We must choose our affiliations carefully. We must use diligent analysis when deciding to whom we will extend our trust, and to whom we will not.

These are on the other side of the equation.

They have real bearing on our selves, our identities, our reputations. How somebody outside of our contact lives mostly does not. (For example, passing judgement on strangers, including celebrities, is a miscarriage of any form of justice.)

There are attitudes and actions which are legitimately dangerous. Bringing attention to them is important. But adding to the noise and confusion isn’t going to achieve that. Indeed, ever thinking that we’re solving problems by throwing rocks at them is highly misguided!

Regardless of whether you prefer Jesus’ take, or Paul’s, we do not have the responsibility to judge the world. We don’t even have permission. We certainly don’t have the tools.

Using that as a baseline, I believe we can begin to restore sense to the judge vs. judge-not dilemma.

Ultimately, Christ-followers do not value judgement over grace. People who call themselves Christ-followers might. But they’re fundamentally, deeply, tragically wrong.