In today’s ambience of philosophical and moral relativism in which we live, whenever we criticize objectively immoral actions or behaviors such as abortion, homosexual acts, adultery, and so forth, we often hear someone citing the words of the Divine Saviour, “Judge not.”1
The Absurdity of Not Judging
Yet a literal and out of context interpretation of these words leads to an absurd conclusion. For if we could not judge the actions of others, that would be tantamount to denying that moral principles can be applied in practice, even though they must be accepted in theory. The final consequence is that morality would be rendered meaningless as a standard to guide human actions. That leads to the most complete subjectivism — a free for all in which everyone does what he fancies.That also causes people to completely lose their moral sense; and it is perhaps one of the causes of the amorality of our present age.
Since religious people become insecure facing the “judge not” argument of the Gospel, let us examine more closely what it actually means.
Does the Gospel Forbid Judging?
Judging others is condemned in a part of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus teaches us how to proceed in order to attain perfection. After dealing with the Beatitudes and condemning murder, adultery, perjury, and commanding us to love our neighbor and avoid ostentation, Our Lord deals with judging others.
He forbids judging others unfairly and maliciously, as this will turn against us: “Judge not, that you may not be judged, for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.”2
It would be hypocritical to condemn others for faults in which we ourselves incur, without first seeking to eliminate them in our own behavior: “And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”3
Objectively Immoral Actions Should be Condemned
When it comes to secondary defects or ambiguous actions that lend themselves to various interpretations, we must be ready to avoid interpreting them negatively as much as possible. However, when faced with actions clearly contrary to the principles of morals, or scandalous actions, we must not fail to make a strict moral judgment.
This is what Saint Augustine explains when he analyzes this passage of the Gospel: “I suppose the command here to be no other than that we should always put the best interpretation on such actions as seem doubtful with what mind they were done. But concerning such as cannot be done with good purpose, as adulteries, blasphemies, and the like, He permits us to judge; but of indifferent actions which admit of being done with either good or bad purpose, it is rash to judge, but especially so to condemn.”4
And in another sermon the saint presents another aspect of the question saying: “Concerning those things, then, which are known to God, unknown to us, we judge our neighbors at our peril. Of these the Lord hath said, ‘Judge not, that you may not be judged.’
But concerning things which are open and public evils, we may and must judge and rebuke, but still with charity and love, hating not the man, but the sin, detesting not the vicious man but the vice, the disease more than the sick man.
For unless the open adulterer, thief, habitual drunkard, traitor, or proud man were judged and punished, in them would be fulfilled what the blessed martyr Cyprian hath said, ‘He who soothes a sinner with flattering words provides fuel for his sin.’”5
Judge According to the Truth
The Gospel precept is not, therefore, that we abstain from judging and condemning those acts that are objectively bad, but that we do it according to the rule given by the Savior Himself: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge just judgment.”6
Therefore, those who quote the Savior’s words in order to impose a state of complete amorality in which no one would judge anyone, and accept, in practice, the worst moral outrages in an attitude of complete subjectivism and moral relativism, are simply wrong.