I suppose that some judgments in some exceptional cases are more helpful than hurtful. Most people recognize that negative judgments are damaging, but I submit that the same is true for positive judgments. Why? Because they are usually false, or partial truths at best. They are judgments based on appearances. Better options are available to us, and these options allow us to love and accept others in truth instead of judging them by misleading appearances.
Our judgments get in our way: they obscure us from listening accurately to what people say, they shadow the way we see how events occur, and they clutter our attempts to communicate with people. Everyone makes judgments; often our judgments are partially, mostly or entirely wrong. Obvious judgment problems come from using and promoting stereotypes, prejudice and bias that blind us to the truth about individuals we encounter. The truth can be hard to see because of so many ways that our judging tendencies twist our perceptions.
Christians have the additional problem of being warned not to judge in certain matters and to make proper judgments of themselves and others. All people are addicted to judging. Perhaps we can understand why this is so and have some help to avoid creating problems by our frequent misjudgments. I will address three questions: Why are we addicted to judging? Why are even positive judgments so much of a problem? How can we judge appropriately and minimally instead of compulsively and harmfully?
Why are we addicted to judging?
Judgments give us the assurance that we know what is going on, who is good, who is bad, and how we can stay on the course we need for our own well-being. As a rational evaluation of people, things, actions, or ideas, the act of judging is not a bad thing. The brain seems built to judge. Judgments (like generalizations) can be an efficient way of identifying the world around us in patterns. The problem is not that we judge, but that most of our judgments are wrong because we see only how things appear to us. We think that we know the full reality when we see only a few details. Perhaps we would like to suspend our many judgments of other people and their actions (and of ourselves), but we are compulsive. Why are we addicted to putting labels on everyone and their actions?
I have a theological guess that we are addicted to judging because we each face a final judgment before God. Other reasons can be guessed at, but I favor this one because everyone will be judged, and Christians are warned to leave off judging each other because of that impending judgment by God (e.g., 1 Cor 4:5). The warning against making judgments of each other is grounded in the ultimacy of God’s judgment of us—the only judgment that really matters. Whether we are conscious of this final evaluation or not, everyone will be judged by God in the end. We are constantly concerned with that moral burden of having to answer to God for our lives, so it seems that we watch ourselves and others in terms of judging what is right and wrong. We praise those who are doing better than us; we condemn those who are doing worse than we are. We assess ourselves by the standards we think we should live by. This is the action of the conscience as an internal, culturally influenced judge (cf. Rom 2:14-16). We want to assure ourselves by the conscience in comparison to other people that we are doing right. This is our strategy to survive before God’s judgment—we practice by judging ourselves and others. Consequently, we hear judgments constantly from others and ourselves, like the air we breathe.
Part 2 of this series analyzes the troubles caused by both negative and positive judgments we make.
Part 3 proposes a strategy to accept and interact with people instead of inappropriately judging them.