Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"From now on, sin no more."

The story goes that Jesus was hanging out in the temple courts and the scribes and the Pharisses brought him an adulteress. They told Jesus that this woman ought to, according to the old laws of Moses, be stoned to death and they wanted to know what he thought about it. (Look out, Jesus! It's a trap!) Jesus told them that they were welcome to do it, so long as they had no sins of their own. This let the air out of their judgemental balloons, and the crowd dispersed, leaving Jesus and the adulteress alone. Then, Jesus said this -- the part I think people forget:

Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on, sin no more.”

I reference this not because I think all of my readers are either religious or even Christian, but because I think the message here (I am Catholic, in the interest of full disclosure) is the right one. And, like it or not, Jesus is the model for most Western ethical thought. Religious or not, we have ingrained in our Western culture many of His teachings. So, I think the Biblical reference here is valid...

...but I think this message has been misrepresented and that this misrepresentation has created a generation (or at least a general philosophy) that thinks having -- or, even worse, speaking -- an opinion of the actions of others is being "judgmental."

I'm on board with Jesus, here. (I'm sure He is relieved...)  His thing is that we have no right to hurt, shun or condemn anyone who makes choices that disagree with our personal -- or institutional -- ethical beliefs. But, we do have a right to evaluate those choices and even to speak about them. He won't condemn her, but He will say, "It's wrong. Knock it off."

We have done a great job teaching our kids not to "be judgmental." But this shouldn't turn into, "Don't have or speak about ethical standards. Don't ever voice an opinion." I think, though, that it has. 

When Pope Francis, himself, said that he would not judge homosexuals, he got a lot of credit from people of all faiths or lack thereof. Some conservatives got mad at him for it. What he did reflects what his Direct Supervisor modeled: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" The flip side of this is that he didn't say he accepted homosexuality as okay behavior. 

He might have a problem with the actions of homosexuals, but he would never condemn them. He'd prefer they change their practices, but they are welcome at his table. He may not be taking it far enough for many, but the fact remains: this is an illustration of truly evaluating, but not "judging." (And, for the record, this has always been the stance of the Church -- Francis didn't revise the playbook, he just said it out loud. How others might have treated things is not on him.) 

Ironically, I find that people who trumpet the most about not being judgmental are the most eager to condemn those they deem to be judgmental. 

My message to young people who have (admirably) taken the idea of not being judgmental to heart would be: It's never okay to condemn anyone else (even if they condemn someone you don' t think should be condemned). But it is okay to say what you think. That's how we work out ethical standards. And not everyone who has an opinion or a preference is a bully or a "hater." "Bullying" and "hating" are strong words -- or, at least they used to be, until people started applying them to anyone whose opinions about people differ from their own. 

Do I think it is okay to be a prostitute? No. It's unethical and downright icky according to my standards. Would I refuse to have a pleasant conversation on a bus with someone I know to be a prostitute? -- would I refuse to offer her half of my umbrella in a rainstorm? -- would I let her shiver in the snow if my house were full of the best and most holy people? No, no and no. 

I'd wish for her to stop "sinning" but I would never condemn her. For me, the Model stands. 

There are those who would say I have no right to call her prostitution wrong; that this is how she chooses (unlikely, I say) to live her life and that I should not be "judgmental." Well, it all depends how you see "judgmental." It is easy to say, "Live your life any way you want. Who am I to judge?" -- it's easy and it is great for moral exhibitionism that get us pats on the back. It's a lot harder to explain to your friends why you have a prostitute in your house for a Christmas party. 

In such a non-judgmental age (and generation) I hear the phrase "horrible person" an awful lot. 

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