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Last night I was reading Divine Intimacy (Probably the wrong week, as I use the modern calendar and don't know how it relates to the "weeks after Pentecost" calendar) when I stumbled across the passage below. I suppose it little matters if I were in the right week or not as the reading had a great deal of meaning for me.

"Judge not, that you may not be judged" (Mt 7, 1). Charity to our neighbor begins with our thoughts, as many of our failings in charity are basically caused by our judgments. We do not think highly enough of others, we do not sufficiently consider their manifest good qualities, we are not benevolent in interpreting their way of acting. Why? Because in judging others we almost always base our opinion on their faults, especially in those which wound our feelings or which conflict with our own way of thinking and acting, while we give little or no consideration to their good points.

It is a serious mistake to judge persons or things from a negative point of view and it is not even reasonable, because the extisence of a negative side proves the presence of a positive quality, of something good, just as a tear in a garment has no existence apart from the garment. . . .

I have said before, and will continue to say--we should not judge people qua people ever. We should have no hesitation in judging their actions, words, or expressed thoughts. For example, it is not only justifiable, but positively charitable to identify a given piece of writing as scandal-mongering and rumor-spreading. Perhaps the individual is unaware of this stream in the writing. However, to call a person a scandal-monger is to reduce the person to a mere label. So too with all of the labels we too-willilngly attach to individuals--fool, anarchist, liberal, conservative, bigot, homophobe, etc. Judgment is reserved to God, and when judge another it is nearly always ugly.

The more I think about this, the clearer it becomes that our judgments should be narrowly confined and reduced to those absolutely necessary for our integrity and the integrity of our neighbors. We are too willing to leap to judgment as to motives and motivations and seeming undercurrents in thought.

Jesus warned us that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but rather what comes out of him (Matt 15:11) because what comes out of him comes from the fullness of his heart. If our mouths speak this judgment, our hearts are full of it and this judgment weighs heavily against us.

I love the Egyptian sign of the judgement of the dead. In the presence of Anubis, the God of the Dead, the heart of the dead person is weighed in the scales against a feather to determine the path of the afterlife. A heart thickened in, subdued by, crust over with judgment is likely to rapidly tip those scales.

It is not judgment to discern that staying away from certain people is more conducive to our spiritual betterment, but it is judgment to say that those people are evil. How can they be evil if everything God has made is good? They cannot BE evil, but they can constantly and habitually do evil. They must be led from their evil ways by one who knows better, but they cannot be led by one who sits in judgment on them.

Hence we must not judge people with a word or a label. We must learn to separate the person (always beloved of God) from the action (often detestable to God) and love the person unconditionally without judgment even as we condemn the action.

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This is a very good post and I want you to know that at least one reader agrees with you on this subject.

There is one minor piece I would not agree with. You wrote:

So too with all of the labels we too-willilngly attach to individuals--fool, anarchist, liberal, conservative, bigot, homophobe, etc.

Labels are not necessarily a bad thing in and of themselves. I label myself various ways as Roman Catholic, American, liberal, progressive, yet a reistered Republican, married, heterosexual, male, etc....

Labels can be a way of self-expression, and a handy identifier. Indeed, one could say, "I'm generally a conservative, but I agree with the liberals on this....."

It is true that some people are so unique that labels don't really apply, and such people may resent the efforts of others to put them in the opposing camp when they really represent a third option altogether.

Nevertheless, labels, in and of themselves are not always bad.

Certain labels are certainly wrong and intended as insults: dummy, freak, fag, or nigger, or whatever should not be used.

Nazi or brownshirt will generally be an insult except to a true Nazi. But there may be times when it is appropriate to say, "You're acting like a Nazi" or maybe, "Are you aware that your actions can be interpreted as nazi-like?"

Yet, I would agree with the basic premise that we should judge acts and words, and not the person. Rather than "You are a Nazi", it is better to say, "You seem to act with some nazi tendencies."

On a postive note, I liked this line from the passage you selected:

the extisence of a negative side proves the presence of a positive quality

I have always found that a person's greatest strength is often their greatest weakness. If this is true, the opposite is also true - their greatest weakness reveals their greatest strength.

For exmaple, Clinton may be a sex addict, but this is also because he is a warm, affectionate, charismatic person.

Bush may be stubborn and simple, but he is also loyal, steadfast and committed.


Dear JCecil3,

I can see your point and self-labeling is one thing. What I object to is attempting to dismiss an opinion, or far worse, an entire person by saying, "Oh, he's just a liberal."

No! and again no! He or she is first and foremost a being made in the image and likeness of God. No one is "just a _______."

But, as you point out there may be legitimate uses of neutral or non-pejorative labels, or even of positive labels, so long as we keep in mind that a person is far more than the labels we attach.

But your caution is well-taken. It doesn't improve my liking of labels any better. If one chooses to self-label, that must be left to the person, but I always find those labels difficult and dubious. Perhaps it is because I have so much trouble labeling myself. But chacun a son goût.

Thanks for your note.



Rats. I was going to dump on your categorical rejection of labels, and now you've spoiled it.

Still, I don't agree that "to call a person a scandal-monger is to reduce the person to a mere label." This goes back to the old argument of whether we can know whether the statement "X is a liar" can ever be true. If liars exist, then it is true for some X, and the question becomes whether we can identify such a person. If liars don't exist, then the word "liar" can never properly refer to someone who exists, so what exactly does it refer to when people use it?

Dear Tom,

My answer would be to say that liars, in fact, do not exist, but that people who tell lies do. The label "liar" is one that puts down another while we can hold ourselves superior to that person by having labeled them.

This is the crux of my objection to labels. Nearly everyone I know tells a lie now and then either of omission and commission. By that standard then everyone is a liar and the label itself becomes utterly meaningless while remaining demeaning. Unless you are referring to a medical diagnosis of pathological liar, which is another form of label which may or may not have validity, I would say that indeed, the label "liar" is a invalid state. It either attaches to nothing or it attaches to all--in either sense it demeans without substantive meaning.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 19, 2004 7:13 AM.

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