Politics. Economics. Morality. Religion. And Everything In Between.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

On Judgment

Right now, I'm going to do something that may turn out to be really stupid. I'm going to rant against myself and those who agree with me. Why am I doing this while I still have plenty of different flavors of liberal to rhetorically dismantle? Well, I believe that we'd best not get ahead of ourselves, and that's exactly what we're going to do if we don't keep what I'm about to say at the front of our minds.

We need to be very careful about how we use judgement. I have been slinging it around like a rhesus monkey throwing poo at zookeepers just like everyone else in the blogosphere has. Unlike everyone else, though, I am a Catholic (and so are some of my readers). Therefore, I believe those of us who are in some way affiliated with the Catholic/Christian tradition should see what this tradition has to say about judgment before we reach for another handful of metaphorical poo.

Anyone who investigates Christian judgment will immediately realize two things: 1. God judges very differently than humans judge, and 2. We must judge as God judges, not as man judges. How do humans judge? At our best, we make impartial decisions based on a thorough, rational consideration of all the facts available to us. At our worst, we make reckless and undeserved condemnations based on our own selfish desires. God, however, is even better than an impartial judge. "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8, NRSV). Here and elsewhere in the New Testament, "love" is a translation of the Greek word "agape," which means a complete, unconditional, and selfless willing of the good of another (as I'm sure all of you serious, Classical, traditional Catholics know).

How, then, does such Love judge? It's a trick question: Love doesn't judge, it loves.

"This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come into the light so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come into the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God" (John 3:19-21).

God doesn't condemn us. He merely loves us with all His being, and those of us who fear His love out of our own perversion condemn ourselves by fleeing from Him and banishing ourselves from his life-giving grace. How, then, do we prepare ourselves to experience His light? Let us look to Matthew 25: 31-40, the only account of the Last Judgment in all of the Gospels, to see what criteria Jesus gives. The elect are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. The damned are those who did none of these things. I repeat, these are the ONLY criteria for salvation given in the ONLY account of the Last Judgment in the Gospels.

Love as God loves, and you will be saved. Fail to do so, and you will be condemned. It's that simple. Notice that, in Matthew, those who helped/did not help Jesus did not recognize him as such or give any religious motive for their service. They simply did it because they wanted to help someone in need. By helping the vulnerable from whom they could expect no aid in return, the righteous exhibited the unconditional and self-disinterested love that is God Himself. Thus, when God called, they were able to embrace him. Those who did not love, regardless of their beliefs or religious affiliations, did not know God, as my earlier quote from First John makes clear. They fled from His presence as darkness flees from light.

The main sin Jesus battles throughout his public ministry is not greed or lust but Pharisaism. He criticizes the Pharisees thirteen times in the Gospels and throws additional jabs at the Sadducees and the Scribes for good measure. Most of the people he associates with are either fishermen or stone-cold sinners like prostitutes, adulterers/adulteresses, and tax collectors. If Jesus came today, he would probably spend most of his time with construction workers, cohabiting couples, flamboyant homosexuals, and investment bankers and write angry tweets about people like you and me.

How often have we acted like the Pharisees? How many sinners have we cast from within our midst or never allowed entrance? Here's a more concrete question for you: how many teenage girls have gotten abortions because they were afraid to walk into Church with a baby bump? Granted, some of these people would have been lost anyway. REAL love that wills the complete good of another also wills that person's freedom from sin, and many sinners will still flee from such love. We don't need to make the truth hurt any harder than it has to, though.

Where does that leave us? Just love people, even those you find distasteful. Straight dudes, help that guy in your class who wears pink running shorts with his homework. Married folks with 10 kids, fix your cohabiting Christmas-and-Easter-Catholic cousin's car. Don't give them any crap about their lifestyle choices while you're doing it, either. Chances are they know EXACTLY where you stand. If you help first, they just might ask questions later, but if they don't, that's okay too. Until next time, readers. I guess it's about time for me to give my vegan friend a ride to Whole Foods...


  1. Elliott -- well done. Best line: "How, then, does such Love judge? It's a trick question: Love doesn't judge, it loves." You know that I love you and am always proud of you ... but, this made me extra-proud. Really.
    ~~ Mrs. B

  2. This is beautiful, really beautiful. I knew you had a superior heart to go with that brain of yours.