Matthew 7:1-3 of the King James Version Bible reads:
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
At first glance, this appears to be sage advice: in keeping with our own standards of anti-hypocrisy and forgiveness, it seems rather like common sense.
But as “judge not lest ye be judged” and its various incarnations has made recent numerous appearances on social media in the wake of the Josh Duggar scandal, a major philosophical and moral flaw concerning this doctrine has been ignored.
Primarily, the inspiration to avoid judgment comes not from a logical or even humanitarian standpoint, but from a selfish one: to avoid casting judgment is to keep yourself safe from the same fate. When many Christians use this verse in reference to events such as have been in the recent news, I can’t help but wonder what particular sins they wish to avoid judgment for. If an action carries with itself a moral or immoral implication, as judgment absolutely does, then surely our consideration in the use of judgment should be on itself, and not whether it may have negative reparations for us. This selfless duty seems patently obvious.
Moreover, these verses simply require the reader to abjure the consideration of whether or not judgment is in fact a social responsibility. In instances like Josh Duggar’s, where a man created a major social platform based on ideologies to which he did not adhere and intoxicated the public sphere with his own condemnation of various actions, the public backlash is, frankly, a responsibility of the polis: a kind of outrage is demanded on the part of the people that Duggar worked so hard to sabotage. If it is, in fact, against the will of god for his good followers to pass judgment, then surely it must be a conflict of some kind for Christians to sit on juries and vote on a “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict. This is, of course, the polite example: the easier one would be to note the thousands of years worth of judgments that Christians have passed on their fellow brothers and sisters, from atheists to women.
Most repugnant of all is this passage’s relegation of our moral sensitivity and right to a higher power. In this verse is contained not only the direct statement that man should not be a judge, but the implication that the only entity who can is god. This is nothing new for religion, but it must be reiterated at every opportunity: to judge not means that we sacrifice our ability to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong–not just as individuals, but as cultures, countries, and global communities. It means that no consensus, no justification, no reason however precise may transcend what another celestial individual has already predetermined to be right or wrong. Is this not the definition of tyranny?
Signing over our moral custody to this court (for which there is no appeal) is, simply put, a negation of our humanity and all we’ve accomplished. Without the ability to judge, we forsake not only our responsibility to fellow people to hold them accountable for their actions, but to ourselves and the generations before us who struggled in the attempt to codify our moral integrity. If “lest ye be judged” is enough to terrify a person into abnegating that right, then perhaps the problem lies not with the act of judgment but with the judged.
I refuse to scapegoat my social and moral obligation to scorn evil simply so I can avoid taking responsibility for my own potential evils in the end. That kind of intellectual and ethical cowardice is beneath my contempt–and I assume it is well beneath yours.