If I had been the Holy Spirit’s editor when he was inspiring the Bible, I would have recommended that he not include that New Testament verse where Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matt. 7:1). Better still, I would have recommended keeping the verse but adding a clarifying commentary so that it could not be misused by American moral liberals of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. I would have had Jesus speak a few more words, beginning with, “Please, don’t misunderstand me . . ."
Moral liberals—I mean the kind of people who believe, among other things, in sexual freedom, abortion, and same-sex marriage—have been preaching an ethic of non-judgmentalism for more than a half century now, and they have won vast numbers of converts. According to this ethic, we must tolerate all attitudes and behaviors that do no direct, obvious, and tangible harm—harm to others, that is.
It’s your life
For if you are eighteen years of age or older, and you wish to do things or think things or feel things that harm yourself, well, that’s up to you. You are the owner of yourself. It’s your life, your body, your mind. You are free to do what you like with your own property as long as you don’t hurt your neighbor.
As a result of this ethic of non-judgmentalism, we Americans have learned to tolerate a great deal of bad morals, bad manners, bad music, vulgarity, profanity, obscenity, pornography, blasphemy, etc. The two most recent achievements along this line have to do with our latest metaphysical fad, transgenderism. Americans are now expected to abstain from judging that you’re mistaken or even mentally ill if you believe that you’re a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body.
We even tolerate—and, if we are thoroughgoing liberals, we applaud—reckless parents who encourage their seven-year-old boy to believe he is a girl. We are quickly learning to have no objection when a man uses a women’s restroom or a woman uses a men’s restroom.
Three kinds of non-judgers
I have known three kinds of people who contend that the “Judge not" statement of Jesus is an endorsement of something like the liberal spirit of tolerance. One kind is made up of non-Christians. People of this kind are religious skeptics (atheists or agnostics) who never read the Bible, not even as literature. Yet on this particular issue they claim to understand the mind of Jesus better than do Christians.
A second kind is just barely Christian (or should I say “Christian"?). Intellectually they dwell in the suburbs of atheism, but they are not quite ready to move downtown. They hesitate to completely renounce the Christianity they embraced, or semi-embraced, in their childhood. And so, while being moral liberals, they are happy to persuade themselves that Jesus, were he so fortunate as to be living in the USA in the twenty-first century, would give his stamp of approval (with perhaps a few minor qualifications) to sexual freedom, abortion, and same-sex marriage. It is easy to understand that Christians of this modernistic kind are delighted when they remember this “Judge not" dictum of the New Testament.
A third kind are genuine Christians who honestly misunderstand what Jesus meant. People of this kind allow that it’s okay to make negative judgments regarding external behavior, but they insist that we must abstain from judging internal motives. We may say that a man did a bad thing, but we mustn’t say that he’s a bad man. Only God can judge the heart.
We judge all the time
There is, of course, a sense in which this is true. God alone can judge the value of a person’s whole life. Only God, viewing both the inner and outer man, can say, “Hitler was a good person" or “Hitler was a bad person." But as for the motives and intentions of this particular moment or this particular day, anybody may judge. Judges and juries make these judgments every day all over the world. And so do you and I in our routine interactions with other people.
But because people of the third kind, these good Christians, are so reluctant to make negative judgments, they give aid and comfort to the two other kinds mentioned above.
When we don’t use a skill, even a skill that was once highly developed in us, the skill gets rusty; it atrophies. You used to play a lot of tennis; you haven’t played in a number of years, and now you find that you’re not very good at tennis anymore. So is it with making value judgments. Americans, due to a half-century or more of non-use, have grown unskilled at making sound value judgments.