We hear it all the time. It’s a little phrase that’s crept into modern discourse and become a staple of college vocabulary. Holding pride of place in collegiate parlance among such esteemed utterances as “hashtag” and “totes magotes” is a phrase which, when spoken, holds the power to elicit unanimous approval over any action. All a person has to do is utter the three magic words…
“Don’t judge me!”
Being around college students every day (and being a recent grad myself), I’m all too familiar with this magical phrase. It seems to spring up everywhere:
• In the dining halls, when a friend chooses that not-so-healthy dessert – “Don’t judge.”
• In the library, when a classmate chooses to copy and paste from Wikipedia to fill in space in a paper – “Hey man, don’t judge me – I have like two other legit sources.”
• At a party, when an inebriated buddy decides to call his ex-girlfriend and tell her exactly what he thinks of her – “No judging, right bro?”
Let’s face it: “judge” is just a dirty word. The phrase “don’t judge me” is laced with unspoken subtext, and its utterance carries additional sentiments: “don’t think less of me”; “don’t think I’m a bad person”; “don’t think you’re better than me.” No one wants their actions criticized or condemned, so it only makes sense that the college campus has become a “no judgment zone.”
Doesn’t the Bible say not to judge?
To be fair, it’s pretty clear from the Gospels that we’re not supposed to judge one another. Jesus himself prohibits such self-righteous action when he says:
“‘Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get’” (Mt. 7:1-2).
It sounds like Jesus is pretty opposed to judgy-ness. For a modern example of this perspective, we need only look to the head of our Church, Pope Francis. It was during that highly publicized plane interview on the way back from World Youth Day Rio when he famously commented:
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
So if Jesus and Papa Francis are in agreement, what’s the big deal? What’s so bad about the phrase, “don’t judge me?”
Well, to put it bluntly: it’s making us morally stupid. But more on this later.
It’s certainly true that there is a strong Biblical message against condemning our fellow man. But the New Testament does not issue a broad prohibition on the very action of judging. On the contrary, the Scriptures tell us, “The spiritual man judges all things” (1 Cor 2:15). Huh? How can we both judge and not judge? Is there a contradiction here?
We can clarify this apparent contradiction by carefully distinguishing between disparate senses of the word “judge.” Greek, the language of the New Testament, is a much more precise language than English. In fact, there are ten different Greek words in the Bible which are translated as “judge.”
When Jesus exhorts the people not to judge, he’s using the Greek word krino, which can also be translated as “condemn” or “damn.” In 1st Corinthians, however, the author uses anakrino, which is also translated as “scrutinize,” “investigate,” “discern,” or “examine.” So while Jesus forbids us from “judging” others in the sense of condemning them, we are still called to “judge all things,” using our power of the intellect to investigate the world and discern the truth.
When defined in this way, “judge” isn’t such a dirty word after all. All of us make plenty of judgments on a daily basis. When we get dressed in the morning, we make a judgment about which shirt to wear. We judge which apples to buy at the grocery store, which music to listen to, and which candidate would make the best president.
“Judgers” by nature
The fact of the matter is, we have to judge (in the anakrino sense); it is part of our human nature as creatures formed in the image and likeness of God. And because we live in a world of right and wrong, of good and evil, of morals and values, we can’t help but form judgments about our own actions and the actions of others. It’s part of having a formed conscience and a working intellect, and it’s what we’re called to do as Catholics. Don’t believe me? Check out this sweet paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
As human beings, we can’t not judge actions as having a moral quality. The fact of the matter is, when someone says, “Don’t judge me,” they might as well be saying, “Stop being a properly functioning rational creature!” And who wants to do that?
The problem (and this is a BIG problem) is that that’s exactly what’s happening in our present culture of tolerance and moral relativism. We’ve gotten so caught up in not krino-ing that we’ve forgotten how to anakrino. We’re so afraid of offending anyone that we’re forgetting how to tell right from wrong. We’ve bought into the culture of “don’t judge me,” the lie that to form any opinion, positive or negative, about the actions of another, is wrong.
While we are never called to condemn or hate another person, we cannot throw all sense of moral judgment out the window because we’re afraid of coming across as intolerant. Because our forgetting how to make distinctions between right and wrong is exactly what the devil wants. He wants us confused, disoriented, and afraid to express any moral opinion. Because it’s in the “judgment free zone” that sin takes its firmest stronghold.
So what should we do? How do we truly hate the sin while loving the sinner?
It’s one of the most difficult questions of the Christian life, and it will only be answered through steadfast prayer. We must remember that God is the only true judge (in the krino sense), and it is never our job to condemn another.
Still, if we truly love our friends, then we cannot be afraid to offer fraternal correction – to help them see any obstacles in the moral life which may be putting their relationship with Christ in jeopardy.
Spinach in your teeth
Imagine that you just had lunch with a good friend who is heading to an important business meeting. If you noticed that he had a huge piece of spinach in his teeth, would you tell him? Sure, he may be embarrassed and even a bit offended – but in the end, you’ve prepared him to make a good impression in his meeting. Through fraternal correction, we can help our friends grow in virtue and holiness. We simply (and charitably – the crucial key) help them see the proverbial “spinach” in the teeth of their souls. In this way, we can help them prepare for the most important “meeting” of their lives.
When offering fraternal correction, keep in mind these tips:
• Be prudent about when you offer the correction. At a party, in front of all of his or her friends, is probably not the best time or place.
• Make sure whatever you’re going to say is said out of love, out of a true desire for their happiness (and not out of bitterness or any other self-serving motive).
• Ask yourself if the correction is going to help them become objectively holier (in God’s eyes), and not just more of the person you would like them to be.
Finally, we must love the person above all else. The man who says “don’t judge me” has most likely already judged himself – he has already recognized, at some level, the iniquity of his actions. Have compassion for him. In the simple yet striking words of Pope Francis: “We must always consider the person.”