Shhh…don’t mention the s-word

One of the recurrent themes of my online presence recently has been that of judgement. Not in the eschatological sense, but more of an earthly sense. “Ooooh, you’re so judgemental” goes the cry. A quick scan through some of the comments on this blog will certainly bear this out.

Taking a black and white position on various issues renders one “judgemental”. The phrase amuses and irks me in equal measure. It is undoubtedly meant as a criticism, as it is applied to mean that one is negatively judging a person, not an act, however as I have repeatedly stated, there is a world of difference between abhorrence or distaste for an act and the extension of that abhorrence to the person. It is entirely possible to condemn an act without implicitly condemning the person. An example might be the mother or father with a child who is addicted to drugs. They would abhor the habit, despise the effect of dependency upon the child, whilst their love for their child would remain unaffected.

To call someone “judgemental” is highly ironic, because that is in itself a judgement. Is it so bad to be “judgemental”? Every single one of us is judgemental, whether we like it or not. Our whole lives are centered around a series of judgements concerning what is right and what is wrong. For some, like myself, this is extremely black and white. I hold fast to the principle of the sanctity of human life and thus I would never intentionally kill anyone, which is why amongst other reasons, I could never participate in abortion, IVF or euthanasia. It has been argued that this stance leaves me lacking in compassion, because my morality is not fluid –  I would not change my mind regardless of circumstance. This is apparently a bad thing, because, if you look at my comments, it means that allegedly I am raising myself up above other people, implying that I am somehow better. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, by stating one’s opinions, one will incur the wrath of others who take an opposite viewpoint and see an implicit criticism of their stance, however this is a different proposition to criticism of the person or individuals. Very often people use the lesser of two evils to justify a position, however that does not render the act a desirable one, in the same way that it does not judge the person who has participated in that act. In the vast majority of cases involving life issues, there are mitigating factors, these are not cold-hearted decisions, however that does not detract from the gravity of the act themselves.

I challenge anyone who claims that they are not judgemental. All of us are, whether we admit to it or not. We make judgements throughout our lives and on a daily basis. Some of these are trivial, others more far-reaching. We make judgements on politicians, on ideologies and dare I say it on people themselves. We make judgements on the moral characters of our leaders and public figures. Though I have not watched it, it seems that the popular Channel 4 programme, Big Fat Gipsy Weddings, has incurred a huge amount of judgement upon the lifestyles and personalities of the travelling community. If we see a pregnant mother smoking a cigarette most of us make a moral judgement, regardless of whether or not we have caught her having an uncharacteristic quick one-off puff, or as happened to my husband tonight, who was sat in front of a couple who chattered non-stop throughout a silent Mass discussing whether or not they wanted burger and chips later on, he certainly made a judgement, i.e. that they clearly weren’t regular church-goers, as indeed did the lady who glared at him, thinking that he was the culprit. All of us live our lives by judgements in terms of our actions and behaviour and we invariably raise an eyebrow if we see others acting in a manner contrary to our innate codes.

This is not the same prospect as judging the state of other’s souls however, or as has been suggested, looking down on others. One of the most misquoted passages of Christian scripture is “Judge not lest ye be judged”, which is used as stick to beat Christians who take absolute positions. As in all passages from scripture it needs to be contextualised. This is not a passage that is saying “never ever have an opinion on anything or anyone”, far from it. Indeed to state that Jesus was not judgemental is to misunderstand huge swathes of the gospels. Most of Matthew’s gospel is in fact concerned with judgements and how we should make them. It is the statement immediately following “judge not lest ye be judged” that holds the interpretative key:  “or with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” What we as Christians need to refrain from, is judgement concerning the final fate of anyone. We must leave intentions, motives, and final worth to God. We are not to confuse the judgment of the actions of people, with sitting in judgment over them as to their eternal fate, and furthermore we are exhorted to remove the log in our own eyes first, to make sure that we are not hypocrites, before we may make sound and righteous judgements.

I never fail to be bemused by those who claim Jesus didn’t judge because he was happy to consort with sinners. Whilst the second part is undoubtedly true, Jesus did not come to call the righteous and was often admonished for the company he kept, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers to name but a few of the so-called undesirables, what is clear, is that whilst retaining compassion for the individual, he always forgave the sin. So to the woman brought before him for adultery he said “neither do I condemn thee, go, and sin no more”. He was making a judgement that her previous life had been sinful, however he urged her to sin no more. This is not the same as “neither do I condemn thee, what you did was alright really and understandable in the circumstances…”

I love the tale of Zacchaeus, the tax-collector. Not only is this an example of Jesus consorting and embracing the outcast, of the casting aside the social conventions of his day, a modern day analogy would be going for tea with Nick Griffin, but also it’s a classic example of meeting the sinner where they are. Christ didn’t wait for Zacchaeus to come to him, he spied (or perhaps he knew) Zacchaeus was in the tree and came to meet him. This is one of the key elements of evangelisation. It’s meeting people where they are, acknowledging them in their journey and quest for grace, not waving about banners or statements of condemnation. But in all that, there is an acceptance by Zacchaeus that he is wrong, he is the sinner, Christ has already forgiven him before he makes his offer of reparation. Christ does not justify Zacchaeus’ actions, indeed he has already judged, however the important thing is that Zacchaeus is aware and prepared to concede that he has done wrong, without ever once seeking to make excuses for his conduct. Zacchaeus is not exempt from judgement.

The fear of imposing judgement can be inhibiting and paralyzing. One of the things of which I am frequently accused is of lacking compassion. I pray that the opposite is true. Compassion does not mean accepting all actions, lifestyles, beliefs or choices are equally valid. It’s understandable, after all this sentiment sounds kind, sympathetic, convincing and even loving. Jesus did after all, welcome everyone with open arms; when he stretched his arms open wide and died for the for the salvation of mankind, absolutely no-one was excluded from that sacrifice. No-one. If we accept the sacrifice, we have therefore accepted the reason why it was necessary, namely that big old s-word again, sin.

This is why we have to use our judgement as to what is right and what is wrong, whilst at the same time, accepting that we cannot stand in judgement upon the souls of others. We have to go and “sin no more” and without identifying what constitutes sin, how may we do this? God deals with sin, not by making allowances for it, excuses for it or lowering his expectations. He didn’t water it down, but in His perfect justice He showed us compassion, and He met His own demands on our behalf. Christ died to free us all from sin but we can’t be free from sin if we make allowances for it, or attempt to justify it. We have to repent, not make excuses for ourselves.

If we go back to Zacchaeus we see Jesus’ showing a perfect example of tolerance. Christ allowed Zacchaeus turn upside down the gossip and presumption that his townspeople had spread about him.  Then by Jesus going to his home, Jesus was welcoming Zacchaeus back into the community.  He was being inclusive. In our time, tolerance has a unique meaning.  It means being welcoming and accepting and inclusive, and, here’s the catch for our time: pretending that evil does not exist.  Contemporary society mistakenly defines inclusive to mean the sin as well as the sinner. Jesus is the pattern for how we are to be tolerant.  He did not whitewash the sins of Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus had already come to terms already with sin in his life, and Jesus confirms him in his reformed life, and leads the townspeople to see him differently. Jesus did not affirm the sin itself and therefore conversion, a recognition of sin, was a key part of Christ’s tolerance. Somewhere along the line Zacchaeus had changed his ways.

God tells us specifically that certain things are sinful, the problem is that a lot of people don’t like it, but we are not doing anyone any favours if we deny the reality of sin. St Paul tells us “Judge everything, hang on to what is good”.

One of my favourite on-line adversaries, is always screaming at me “you can have what ever batshit, bead-rattling beliefs you like, you just have no right to impose those beliefs on other people” *puts on Rolf Harris voice – can you guess who that might be”? 😉 * I vehemently disagree with not only the wording (obviously) but also the premise. The Church has every right, and more importantly, every obligation, to tell mankind of the danger of sin and the deadly consequences of indulging in it. That’s not “imposing morality.” It is the greatest demonstration of compassion.

In being given free will, we have been given a terrible and deadly choice. We can either choose God, or choose a path that will lead us away from him. I am not motivated by hatred. I am not intolerant in that I seek to stigmatise or criminalise no-one. I would not turn away a perceived sinner as I know that I am every bit as guilty. But, by the same token, I am not afraid to call sin for what it is, and that does not render me extreme or intolerant.

I am learning that by vocalising my beliefs, I am being scorned, reprimanded and amusingly enough called un-Christian, for stating that some things are wrong and sinful. I am labelled hateful, judgemental and self-righteous. None of this deters me from the identification of sin and though upset, I am not afraid to state the truth. Sin comes to kill and destroy us, to detach us from God. I don’t understand how it is compassionate to welcome and tolerate sin which threatens eternal death.

Compassion is deep awareness and sympathy for another’s suffering. Compassion does not comprise of condoning a particular action and neither is the identification and  rejection of sin akin putting oneself on a pedestal above others. As a sinner I cannot sit in judgement upon another,  but neither must I “call evil good, and good evil, [or] change darkness into light, and light into darkness, [or] change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!” It’s a very difficult tightrope we must all walk.

If the identification of sin and a refusal to consciously commit a mortal sin, renders me “judgemental”, well I guess I’m happy to live with that. Whether or not that makes me “a nasty titsponge who hides behind a sickeningly pious exterior”, “batshit”, “clinically insane” and “a religious extremist” to name but a few of the choice insults, I shall leave for God to judge. I will not respond, other than to note that the  name-calling, public defamation and bullying that I have been subjected to recently from other Christians, are not the tactics of Jesus.

3 thoughts on “Shhh…don’t mention the s-word

  1. I think it can be difficult sometimes to be sure what may constitute a sin, and there is by no means a consensus on certain issues.

    To be a bit cheeky here, many people consider that marriage is the union between one man and one woman for life, and that despite divorce, any second marriage is adulterous. You have mentioned that you yourself are divorced and remarried. Presumably you do not consider this second marriage sinful yourself, but do you acknowledge that many Christians will consider it to be so, so long as you are making love to your second husband, while your first is still alive?

    Another example, usury used to be considered very sinful. How did it cease to be a sin (if it did)? Isn’t charging or paying interest on a mortgage technically still a sin? It certainly still bothers Muslims a quite a lot.

    So maybe it is not so appropriate for human beings to judge the sins of others after all.

    1. Your closing comment indicates that you misunderstood the post, which was concerned with the identification of sin, in order that one might avoid the occasion of sin.

      In terms of Catholic teaching, the catechism makes it extremely clear what constitutes a sin.

      With regards to your rather personal comment, prior to embarking upon this marriage, I was in receipt of an annulment from the Catholic Church, which stated that no previous marriage contract, was in fact in existence, something that was further confirmed when we were granted an apostolic blessing from the Holy Father for our current marriage. Without going into the technicalities regarding annulments, this is a formal process within the Catholic Church which examines whether or not a valid sacramental marriage ever existed. My current marriage, is in fact my only legitimate one.
      Before you write this off as being some sort of Catholic loophole, I would add that this process is open to Catholics and non Catholics alike, and is subject to set of stringent rules, by applying for an annulment one has to submit to the judgement of the Church whichever way it may fall, and all principles of natural justice apply.

      In my particular situation, not only did I have several grounds for a sacramental annulment, but also a legal one, given that my former attempted husband, had, unbeknownst to myself and the person who married us, been in a former marriage, and thus it was our “marriage” which was the adulterous one and certainly there were issues of consent. Most Christians would agree, that it was my former marriage that was not licit.

      Proof indeed that one should not judge, although one may make a call on what seems to constitute a sinful situation, however it is wise to know all the facts with regards to individuals.

      When it comes to your mortgage comment, most people are unable to afford to buy a house outright for cash. The key is not to over-stretch oneself, and not to buy a house for the glorification of man, or to use one’s financial resources in a way which will lead one to leading a life apart from God, but rather to use them for the glorification of God. A mortgage term will end, unlike rent, which means that at some point you will have extra fiscal resources to use in a purpose fit for God. One should not borrow money for things that one does not really need.

  2. Many thanks for your clarification. I’m sorry if my example regarding second marriages was too personal. Your situation was certainly complex, and clearly distressing. Certainly not a black and white matter of divorce and remarriage. Annulment is a pragmatic response to difficult human situations where absolute rules can lead to injustice when not tempered with compassion.

    I’m afraid I don’t find it as easy as you to define what may constitute a sin. Your definition of Usury sounds like an entirely subjective redefinition to suit the times. Its definition has certainly changed over the centuries, as it became more socially acceptable to pay/charge interest, and was legalised in the UK by Henry VIII, but at its most black and white, according to God it is fundamentally sinful to charge or pay interest, or to pay a fee to a money changer.

    I suspect right now a lot of people are judging the bankers! 🙂 . But this is wrong too I suppose(grumble grumble).

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