Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Judgement vs. Criticism: A Meditation

Here's how it went down:

I posted this on Facebook:

All Christians should take a shot at reading the Gospels. They're really quite enlightening. Some may be surprised to read that the Jesus guy they are always referring to never once condoned hate, judgment of others or violence in any form. In fact, rumor has it He was kind of against all of those things...

This was received favorably by most of my friends, both religious and non-religious. I had posted it as a reaction to some moron in the news pulling some kind of Westboro Baptist Church nonsense. 

Then, I posted, on Monday, about Game of Thrones -- about how I was tired of the show and books and that it had started to wear thin with me because (among numerous other things) I stopped caring about a character who was, to me, heinous and unlikable. 

I shared the link on Facebook and some agreed and some did not agree with my assessment of the show, which is to be expected (and encouraged). But one of my friends pointed out that, in her opinion, what I said about the character in the show (about his being heinous and, therefore, unworthy of my continuing attention) contradicted my previous Facebook post against being judgmental. 

Did it, I wonder? Maybe. Maybe not, depending on the unraveling of semantics. (By the way, to a guy with a linguistics minor, "semantics" are not, as they seem to be to some others, trivialities -- they are important, fine shades of meaning.)

To me, there are two semantic issues here: 1) I think that being "judgmental" and being "critical" are two different things; 2) At a certain point, calling a person heinous for his actions ceases to be "judgmental" and turns into pointing out the way things are. Some things, after all, are inexcusable and should (to me) cause some kind of lifelong damage to a person's reputation.

Point the first: 

Let's do the Jesus thing here. The most famous parable in the Gospels about people not judging others is when the crowd wants to stone the prostitute to death and Jesus tell them that the one without sin should throw the first stone. In other words, don't judge when you, too, could be judged for numerous things. But...these people wanted to follow the Hebrew laws and kill this woman for her sins. Jesus was implying: let God draw the conclusions about who is right and wrong and let Him deal out the comeuppances. It is not our right to kill a woman for being promiscuous. I'm on board with that. (Yet, it would seem certain locales in our criminal justice system are not, when they employ the death penalty.) 

Nor should we treat her cruelly or meanly because she is a prostitute. She is a person, and we should not be cruel to her because we disagree, morally, with what she does, even when what she does is illegal, on the books. We should not dismiss her as a person because of one (or even several) immoral activities. She could be a sweetheart of a woman, even though some might think she is yucky for several reasons. 

But, does that mean we shouldn't write blog posts saying that it is wrong to be a prostitute...or even to say, "You know, Ms. So-and-so is a known and previously convicted prostitute in our town, so I don't want her to teach in our middle school for fear she might corrupt our girls"?  

Is it unfairly judgmental to say: "So-and-so is a convicted child molester -- even though he 'did his time,' I will chase him away from my property where my kids play"?

Each of us must decide. 

Point the second: 

When is it okay to judge (or is it "critiquing") someone for his or her actions? Is it ever? The character in question in Game of Thrones had pushed an innocent child out of a window in order to stop the kid from reporting what he saw: the man having sex with his own sister; therefore, I did not like him and said he was one of the reasons I stopped caring about the book -- I didn't want to read about a guy like that, or, more specifically, that I didn't "buy" his turn-around to good-guyness. Judgmental? Perhaps I must concede... 

Is that the same as throwing stones? -- or as picketing military funerals with a "God Hates Fags" sign held aloft? I don't think so. I think the line of judgment is this: it is okay to have and to even speak an opinion if one thinks something is immoral; it is not okay to hurt people to make your point and it is not okay to ostracize, mistreat or be mean to someone who is, for example, gay, if you think homosexuality is immoral. It's not okay to not be friends with a gay man or woman simply because of his or her sexual orientation. That woudl be judgmental. However, "You are my fellow human and even possibly my friend, but I disagree with your actions" is being critical, not judgmental, to me. 

And, isn't that the way we all arrive at our conclusions as to how we think we should live our own lives? -- by being critical of the actions of others? I think, for example, that those who live just to make money are being foolish, so I am willing to just say so and I am willing to use said belief as a guide for how not to live my own life. Is that judgmental, or critical? 

How about Michael Vick, the controversial former quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles who ran a dog-fighting ring and who set losing dogs on fire as they dangled from trees? He served time; he did community service projects; he apologized; he donated money. As far as I know, he is no longer involved with these activities. Should he be free to live his life now? Sure. But am I judgmental to still think he is a horrible human being -- that anyone who could do that must be at least partly evil? Perhaps, but -- my line of judgment lies at the torture of innocent creatures. To me, there is no way to make up for that. If that is being judgmental, then I suppose I have to admit that I can be so. I cannot look, ever, with favor upon someone who has done such things. Torture or harm to the innocent is my deal-breaker. 

But it also might be fair to point out that it takes things like burning dogs or, say, committing rape to bring me to the judgmenal stage. 

I don't want to "stone" a guy like Vick. I don't want to see him suffer. I don't even want him to go back to jail. I don't want to hurt or ostracize him. I just can't think of him as a good person. 

Whatever we do with the semantics between "criticism" and "judgment" I do fear that an over-interpretation of the Gospel story could lead us into a world in which people think it is not okay to (appropriately and logically) express their opinions. 

Things do change. But I desperately want to believe that people will never decide that pushing children out of windows is an act that can be forgotten when deciding how one feels about the pusher, whether he is a fictional character or a person in the real world.

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