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Judge Not

Blaming others wrongly absolves oneself of responsibility.

by James Leroy Wilson
June 30, 2005

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Judge Not

In an interview given in late 1999, the late author Peter McWilliams, himself an atheist, had this to say about Jesus Christ:

Actually the fundamental teaching of Jesus was really quite brilliant. His fundamental teaching was: until you make yourself absolutely perfect, don't judge another. Don't take the speck out of your brother's eye; take the beam out of your eye first. … Let he who Is without sin cast the first stone. Then he lays up the attitudes, which is this incredible system of people being perfect that no one can actually achieve. Therefore no one is going to be perfect according to Jesus's plan, and no one has the right to judge anyone. So [Christians] have all these people not only judging, but also using it as the basis for laws, which is a complete perversion, a 180 degree distortion of what Jesus taught.

I thought of what McWilliams said when I read this from Mark and Louise Zwick in The Houston Catholic Worker:

At a recent gathering of Catholics who had had several intensive reflective sessions together, the participants were asked to comment upon the impact of the meetings and how they had changed them personally or deepened their faith. … [The group leaders] were quite surprised that almost without exception the written responses completely avoided the personal reflection. They were instead rather bitter attacks on other people in the Church: "If only those people would do this or stop doing that..."

Isn't that the tendency in all of us, regardless of the organization? We may not judge other people individually, but we do judge what the collective does. The problem it isn't the individual gay person, but the liberals who are trying to take over. Or the problem is the hardliners and hypocrites. Don't judge Uncle Bob who works on Wall Street, but do loathe "corporate greed." We lash out at the "consumerism" and "materialism" in our culture, but can't judge Tina, the sweetest person you'll ever meet, who just bought a brand new SUV. We follow what Jesus says by not condemning individuals, but we do get to judge "society" for indulging in particular sins. "No, I'm not saying I'm perfect either, but…"

Even more so, we like to judge systems. There is greater moral separation in doing so. To judge is to stand above and apart from that being judged. This isn't always wrong; in the realm of ideas it is essential. But especially when judging systems, we tend to absolve ourselves of responsibility. The problem is the Vatican bureaucracy … the problem is that there is no independent commissioner … the problem is that there is no ethics policy … etc.

Combine the condemnation of groups and systems together, and you get, "The problem is the liberal Supreme Court."

Willi Schlamm once said to William F. Buckley, "The trouble with Communism is Communism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists." Communism can not work, and this is not a moral judgment on humanity. Achieving its ends even somewhat well requires from absolutely everyone a level of selflessness and self-sacrifice that no one can attain - a level not found in human nature. When Schlamm said that the problem with capitalism is capitalists, what he meant is that, unlike communist distribution, there is nothing inherently unworkable in a system of voluntary exchange. The deficiencies of the system are in the ethics and abilities of the buyers and sellers, but not with voluntary exchange per se. But on the other hand, it is the very deficiencies of the human character that makes the free market preferable to any form of command-and-control economy. After all, those character deficiencies do not up and disappear when certain people are put in charge of everyone else. As Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

If any system requires "the right people" to be in charge in order to work, then the system itself is flawed. In recent weeks, there has been a tremendous backlash against the Supreme Court. Ironically, however, the Court isn't being condemned for "judicial activism" (except by those who don't know what that is). In fact, with the Gonzalez v Raich decision on medical marijuana, the Court is criticized for not overturning the will of the people in Congress assembled. And in Kelo v. New London, even though New London sought to take land from unwilling homeowners in order to give to private developers, if the Constitution is strictly interpreted one can not make the case that New London violated it. Strictly speaking, the Fifth Amendment's constraint on eminent domain powers applies only to the federal government, not state and local government. By not striking down a law of Congress, and by not interfering in local affairs, the Supreme Court was actually behaving quite conservatively.

The anti-Court outrage today is different in kind to the outrage at Court-imposed forced busing and Court-imposed legal abortion. In both cases, the Court showed restraint. But you wouldn't know it by the backlash. You'd think that it was the Supreme Court that decided to ban medical marijuana. You'd think that it was the Supreme Court that plotted to turn homes into condos against the wishes of the homeowners. You'd think that everything would be just fine if we had a few more Justices like Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas. But you'd be wrong.

The Supreme Court did not fail us. If anything, these decisions only go to show that neither the Constitution nor democracy protects individual rights and freedoms. There may be some rumblings that enough people are finally angry enough to do something. Government in the United States may have finally crossed the line, and maybe the people are mad as hell and won't take it anymore. If so, great. It's about time.

But if not, if the outrage will die down and people will forget, we must remember that there is little use in judging others. If you are asked questions like, "What's wrong with America," "What's wrong with your church," or "What's wrong with your company" remember that the only part of any enterprise or organization that you can truly control, change, and improve, is yourself.

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