I recently heard a sermon on Romans 14:1-10. The preacher spent most of the time giving examples of how judging others, very often for trivial matters, had harmful consequences for the persons judged. The sermon ended with a brief discussion of Romans 14:10, exhorting the listeners to refrain from judging others because the apostle Paul says that we will all stand before God’s judgment seat (verse 9) and each of us will give an account of himself to God.
This fear of judging others seems to be deep-seated among many Christians. I belong to a literature group which meets four or five times a year to discuss a novel of a member’s choice. The majority of the members give the impression of being uncomfortable if the novel under discussion contains judgments of any kind of a certain character’s life-style or behaviour or when a member makes critical comments on a character for his/her life style or behaviour. It seems that the members are brought up with an understanding that a good work of fiction will be purely descriptive with good plot, good metaphors, and good descriptions of the landscape and characters’ personalities, without containing any kind of moral judgment (Anthony Trollope will not be received favourably by most of my fellow-readers).
The contemporary culture and mind-set are deeply infected with a “do not judge others” mentality. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the “thought for the day” slot on Radio 4 recently spent three minutes of the four minutes allocated to him extolling the virtues of a good family life and illustrating the consequences of bad family life and family breakdown with example after example. However he ended his talk by saying that “I am only being descriptive, not judgmental” thereby, in my view, undermining the moral force of his exhortation in favour of family life. Surely if family life is important for the well-being of individual members of society and for social cohesion, then all actions which lead to family break-down and to the undermining of family life by individuals and government are to be condemned!
The recent report on the Rotherham child abuse scandal highlighted one crucial factor, among many others, which contributed to the child abuse being perpetuated on such a massive scale for so long in front of the watching eyes of social workers, officers of the local authorities, police officials and the sitting MP, namely the ‘do not judge’ mentality. These people turned a blind eye to what was happening because they sincerely believed that any kind of disciplinary actions against the culprits would amount to judging not only the Pakistani community in Rotherham but also the whole of Pakistani community in the UK.
What such a “do not judge” attitude illustrates is that most people have truly been indoctrinated into the contemporary view that ‘what is moral or immoral is entirely a personal choice and preference’ because there are no objective moral principles and standards.
My case against the preacher is not that most of what he/she said was wrong, but that his/her conclusion was one sided, leaving the congregation with the strong impression that a true Christian will refrain from passing any kind of judgment on others, especially fellow-Christians, no matter what. In Romans 14 Paul is exhorting believers against being condemnatory about trivial things of life such as choice of food, or which day to observe as Sabbath (incidentally, Christians in Nepal observe the Sabbath on Saturdays because Saturday is a public holiday officially whereas on Sundays most people have to go to work). Paul rightly points out that to indulge in such condemnations is to forget that all of us will, as sinners, stand before God’s judgment, that such condemnations only serve to create strife among the followers of Christ and may become a stumbling block or obstacle in our brother’s way. Christians are to strive towards peace and mutual edification in all possible ways . However Paul was never shy of making condemnations (and in this he was following Jesus), sometimes in the strongest possible language, when he came across seriously immoral and ungodly behaviour and life style.
Surely being followers of Christ does not entail that we should refrain altogether from passing judgments on others?
Puran Agrawal is a retired university lecturer with a longstanding and deep interest in philosophy and theology. He is currently engaged in research on some aspects of the moral philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre.