Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Humanist Take on a Christian Tenet

A tantalizing (for me) tip of a discussion occurred over in the Cocktail Lounge at The Denim Jumper. It may be hard to trace, so I should explain that it went something like this:

Poster: "I adhere to the policy of not judging others".

Me: "This policy of 'judge not, lest ye be judged" is an interesting one, since what do you do with people who ARE judgmental? Are you judgmental about them?"

Poster: "No, I pray for them."

That last short sentence was sufficient to throw me right back into that mired muddle of theological confusion that was my childhood. I didn't directly respond, to be honest because, at that point, I couldn't, so strong was the urge to submit meekly to something I found at first glance, impenetrable and therefore potentially ineffable.

I've subsequently lain awake trying to get a grip on this. (OK, so laugh, but it is still intensely shocking to me to recognise the possible fallibility of Christ. Indeed, I still remember very vividly the first time I came across such an idea - it was one of Howard Jacobson's novels, in which he berated Christ for purging the temple, regarding it as an example of absurdly self-righteous and misplaced anger.)

Anyway, I now think my response should perhaps have been..."So why does it occur to you to feel the need to pray for someone who does judge others? It must be, at the very least, because you are aware that they are committing a sin. But if you have labelled it a sin, then some form of judgment has taken place. Is it that this form of judgment, ie: simply labelling something, is acceptable, whereas enacting judgment in the form of experiencing moral opprobrium is not?

"It seems necessary to this scheme of things to draw a further distinction, this time between the experience of moral emotion and the acting out of moral judgment. In this scheme, it would seem that God takes the responsibility for experiencing the weight of moral emotion and delivering moral judgment, and humans, being the agents of God on earth, are responsible for enacting His judgment but without the attendant moral emotion."

Which all seems very healthy when it's put like that. And the poor old secularist may have a problem following this essentially good idea, since his inability to absolve himself of moral emotion by transfering it into some other space will probably mean that he will have to cope with handling it himself, and all the while hopefully still coming up with sound judgments that are based upon truth-seeking rational argument.

Not to say that I think it impossible...just in some ways harder.

And I don't think we should forget the possible downsides of alternative interpretations of the tenet. It could be that it is interpreted as preventing all forms of judgment, whether in the labelling, the emotion or the enactment of the judgment, and it is a very short step from this to the muddle of moral relativism and post-modernism.

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