Jesus, on the Mount: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Confucius: “What you do not wish for your self, do not do to others.” Probably apocryphal Lakota chief: “Oh Great Spirit, grant me the wisdom to walk in another’s moccasins before I criticize or pass judgment.” I struggle with all of them.
I’ve been thinking lately about the judging thing, and how much of our culture is based on violations of the Sermon on the Mount. The entire Presidential campaign, for example, both parties. What kind of awful person would . . . fill in the blank. Buy companies and fire people. Hang out with Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright. What kind of awful monster must he be? We all know what those super-rich venture capitalists are, how morally depraved is their very profession. And what the heck is a ‘community organizer?’ Someone who tells poor people how to sucker us hard-working taxpayers out of our hard-earned dollars.
The Daily Show did a terrific bit from the DNC convention. I couldn’t find the link, unfortunately, but it involved their correspondents–Jason Jones, Aasif Mandvi, Samantha Bee–talking to Democratic delegates, and asking them to characterize Republicans, specifically Tea Party Republicans. The Democratic folks were saying ‘we’re inclusive, we don’t exclude anyone.’ And the correspondents would press them, ‘what are Republicans like,’ and they’d say, ‘red-necks, beer guzzling hicks with muscle shirts and tobacco stains down the front, intolerant, racists, homophobes.’ And on and on. Conservatives, of course, do the same; liberals are ‘latte-drinking, granola eating, Godless, Constitution hating, self-loathing anti-Americans.’ Just for grins and giggles, I googled ‘liberals are’ and ‘conservatives are,’ and my computer exploded from all the vitriol.
But it’s even more fun when it’s personal. Who doesn’t love a tasty morsel of gossip? Do you know what s/he did? Do you know what I heard?
What made me think about these issues is a news story I saw in the paper a couple days ago. It was interesting, it covered a local story, not one of any prominence. A thirteen-year old girl had been sent an I-phone by a thirty-one year old man, who asked her to take nude pictures of herself on it, and then send them to him. The girl couldn’t figure out how to use the camera function, and asked her mom, age thirty-five, to take them for her. So this woman took nude pictures of her thirteen-year old daughter, and sent them to a guy she described in the story as ‘a friend.’ And the guy and the mom had been been criminally charged in the case.
Why would the paper cover this case, this incredibly sad, but actually pretty minor case. No issues of general import were at stake, after all. Why is this news? Seen another way, though, of course it’s news, of course they covered it. My gosh, it’s amazing! An ickiness factor that’s off the charts. What was this woman thinking? What kind of Mom would act that way?
It’s an occasion to judge. It’s an invitation to self-righteousness. It’s news, because it’s so easy to condemn, well, everyone. The creepazoid ‘family friend.’ The no-moral-compass Mom. The thirteen year old would seem to be the victim here, but, come on, she had to know what was going on. The Mom said in the story, it was all okay, because the man had promised he wouldn’t have sex with her daughter until she was eighteen. Are you kidding me?
But how ought we, as Christians, or as Confucians, or as normal everyday moral human beings, how ought we to consider this story. One possibility is to think, ‘this has nothing to do with me, I’m just not going to think about it, glad the cops caught the guy.’ But another is to wonder what might be behind this story. What combination of past abuse and low self esteem and crushing poverty and horrible family history and, maybe, substance abuse and who knows what else, led this woman, the Mom, to the point where she could think taking that photo was something she could or should or would do? Can’t we see her compassionately? What about the guy–isn’t there such a thing as a cycle of abuse, abused children growing up to become abusing adults? Did the sins of his fathers land on his head? If he’s ill, can he be treated? And what about this child, this thirteen-year-old? What chance does she have? Where will she go, who will look after her, her mom being in jail? Maybe she lands in the system, and maybe that works out okay for her, but it sure doesn’t go well for everyone, and she’s got to have been damaged and harmed and vulnerable.
Aren’t they all ill? Can they be healed?
And yesterday, we saw the images, the horrible images, of rioting and violence and hatred and a deep-seated lust for revenge. And there’s plenty of judging to go around. Saw one commentator, unhelpfully suggesting that while all Muslims aren’t terrorists, all terrorists are Muslims. (Which also happens not to be true.) A major world religion was gratuitously insulted, and a lot of Muslims responded by rioting, maybe because they live in places with no hope and no opportunities and only their God, who was just attacked, to cling to. And, of course, ‘American’ is also a buzz word worthy, their minds, their condemnation–judging is what’s ubiquitous. Compassion much less so.
And we sit at home and watch reality TV, more incitements to judge, and watch police procedural dramas where we actually get to BE a judge, sort of. “I think the tall bearded guy did it. He looks sneaky to me.”
Am I saying I’m actually good at this not-judging thing? Oh, heck no. Yesterday, I called Terry Jones all sorts of horrible names. I judge all the time. It’s awful.
But Jesus wouldn’t require not judging of us if it were easy. It’s not. It’s the second hardest thing in the world.
And forgiving our enemies is even harder.