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Do Christians Have a Right to Judge the World?

06/24/2010 01:52 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The ancient Jews believed that justice itself was judgment, that rather than pointing the finger or commercializing someone else's sins all over the tabloids, we should promote justice. Let me explain. If we don't like war then our role isn't to be anti-war, rather it's to be pro-peace. If we want to change the minds of others then we intentionally live out the very things we believe in rather than judging the things we don't.

If we believe in love then we go into places where there isn't any and promote it. We don't venture into those corners and judge whether it is without love, that doesn't help. If we believe in hope, than we promote that, because we know hopelessness doesn't have the last word. We embrace people for who they are rather than judge them. Rather than sitting around and finding people to blame, how about we see justice as a better way to respond? The tendency in judgment is to assume our worldview is the right one. Judgment is afraid of the dark. It is afraid of what it does not know. Its trepidation lies in its inability to embrace diversity. It lacks generosity.

Jon Kabat-Zinn once said:

"Generosity is another quality which, like patience, letting go, non-judging, and trust, provides a solid foundation for mindfulness practice. You might experiment with using the cultivation of generosity as a vehicle for deep self-observation and inquiry as well as an exercise in giving. A good place to start is with yourself. See if you can give yourself gifts that may be true blessings, such as self-acceptance, or some time each day with no purpose. Practice feeling deserving enough to accept these gifts without obligation-to simply receive from yourself, and from the universe."

We judge others and ourselves because we have forgotten in what it looks like to be generous towards the potential of another. Judgment is a kind of amnesia that blinds us from the need to be people of generosity.

Judgment, much like cigarettes, can kill.

Judgment also puts everyone below the judge.

There is a hierarchy that is visible and subconsciously assumed when one is the victim of another's judgment. It does seem Christianity get characterized as the religion that predominantly is first at the firing line. Unfortunately, some of Christianity has a history that agrees with that assertion. The Apostle Paul in one of his letters chastised one of his communities for judging others. It also gets spoken of in terms of an end-of-the-world scenario where all of humanity goes either to heaven or hell. I think its important that this was ancient rhetoric for how we choose to live our lives in the here and now. If we sit and judge others we are promoting hell on earth, if we creatively and relevantly band together and find ways to promote healing through justice then we endorse heaven on earth.

The Greek word Paul uses for judge is the same as the word for divine judgment. What he is essentially saying is that when you choose to point the finger it's as if you are claiming you are God or God's ambassador. When we judge others for their life or lifestyles we essentially say know better than them. This isn't to say that there aren't right or wrongs, but when we spend our time focusing on the wrongs we also end up saying that our answers are the only good answers, the answers that everyone else should follow.

Christianity must change in this or be forced to stay in this generalization, but from what I know, this is not the where the whole of Christianity wants to be. Maybe Christianity can learn from other religions to experience the death of judgment and the resurrection of justice.

But what about other religions? What are their thought on judging others?

The Buddhist worldview is that judgment is ignorance, because judgment ignores the difficulties of another. Compassion bridges the distance that judgment might have created, according to the website of the Berkeley Buddhist Priory in Albany, California:

"Compassion is really just the opening our hearts to suffering without allowing our judgments to get in the way. If someone is suffering and we judge them, this closes our hearts and fills our mind with harsh opinions. Compassion does not mean we do not see the mistakes others make; it means we have sympathy and understanding for their difficulties, knowing we are not really different from them."


Tsedeq is the Hebrew word for justice and righteousness and author Paul Marshall defines justice as "right relationships among all things in the created order of things. When we judge others we have a hand in betraying the ability to have right relationships. Justice is the desire to sustain right relationships. It is the dream of the world working together in harmony restoring beauty where beauty used to be. Justice is the ability to see good in the world and finding creative ways to empower its maturity.

In Islam, judgment is tied in with justice similarly to the concept of Tsedeq. Nisa {4:58} says, "Verily, Allaah commands that you should render back the trusts to those, to whom they are due; and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice. Verily, how excellent is the teaching which He gives you.

Here, we are told to judge with justice. That they way we judge attitudes, behaviours, ethics is by promoting the opposite of what we might think is wrong. For example, this does not mean we stand in front of abortion clinics and judge others. It means if we believe that abortion is wrong than we live in a state of non-abortion.

Judgment distances us from others.

Judgment prevents us from embracing the frailty of our humanity. Judgment is afraid of compassion, because compassion denies that judgment should have the last word. Judgment is simply glorified hegemony with a 'holier-than-thou' twist. In James 5:9, James, the alleged brother of Jesus writes this to his community:

Don't speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize each other and condemn each other, then you are criticizing and condemning God's law. But you are not a judge who can decide whether the law is right or wrong. Your job is to obey it. God alone, who made the law, can rightly judge among us. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to condemn your neighbor?

James doesn't really sugar coat it here. He demonizes judgment by calling it evil. He even takes the whole judging thing to whole another level, he tells his listeners that judging isn't theirs to do but God's. The assumption then is that when one judges another they too are essentially playing God.

So where is God in all this? He is for justice or judgment (I call it no-justice). God is present in the gap between justice and no-justice. We tend to polarize where God might be based on a rubric of right or wrong, making God an active participant in our over-extended need to bi-polarize him in our understanding of how he might work. Rather than one or the other, God is in the gap between the two. If God is there, than we too should be present with him.

Justice sees what could be and does everything in its power to make sure it happens.

Judgment needs someone to blame for what is happening.

Justice is dream language, judgment is nightmare language.

Justice is born out of love and potential.

Judgment is birthed out fear and the need to uphold the status quo. Justice is love incarnated into impossible situations with the belief that something can change. Judgment simply stands by and waits for something to happen. One is healing and the other destructive. Justice is setting things right. It is the belief that people, places and things are worth saving. It does whatever it can to make the world a better place to be. Are you a person of justice or judgment?

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