Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Judging vs. Admonishing

Here’s a quick guide, the careful application of which would negate roughly 90% of modern arguments.

Judging: To form an opinion or make a statement pertaining to the inherent worth of a person or the state of their soul. Forbidden.

Admonishing: To inform a person that what he has done or is currently doing is wrong and that he needs to stop, including warnings of what might happen if he doesn’t. Commanded.

So simple, yet I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else make the distinction (kudos to you if you have!). This is the easy response to “stop judging me!” “I’m not judging; I’m admonishing. Big difference.”

Admonish the Sinner is one of the seven spiritual works of mercy. Our Lord Himself commanded us to admonish the sinner (Matt. 18:15), as did St. James (James 5: 19-20), and I'm sure there are plenty of other passages that I'm missing. 

So, when someone tells you not to judge them, remember that you aren’t judging; you’re admonishing. If they tell you to stop admonishing them, just say no. You don't have to be afraid of saying 'no,' you know.

Now, I suppose the response is that in admonishing you are also judging, because you are judging yourself to have the authority or necessary righteousness to admonish. Well, in the first place, I do have the authority and necessary righteousness by dint of the fact that I’m an adult human being with a fairly functional brain and the capacity to reason. That’s really all the authority or righteousness I need for that particular purpose. Admonishing isn’t a matter of moral authority; it’s a matter of simple awareness. You don’t have to be a qualified steamroller driver (‘steamrollerer’?) to tell someone “look out for that steamroller!” or even “I don’t think a steamroller counts as an amphibious vehicle.”

Moreover, even assuming you are a steamrollerer, the fact that you sometimes make mistakes or use your steamroller to make obscene prints when your boss isn’t looking doesn’t mean that you can’t recognize someone else’s mistakes and point them out. If you say to your co-worker “look out! You’re headed for Mr. Mannheim’s car!” it would be unreasonable of him to say “who are you to correct me? You squashed that family of endangered squirrels last week!” and just keep driving.

“No, steamroller joy-rides are a bad idea!”

Admonishing is telling someone “you’re doing something wrong and you need to stop” or “you did something wrong and you need to repent.” It says nothing about the state of either person’s soul; it’s simply a bald statement of fact. Statements of fact are completely unaffected by a person’s moral status. “The world is round” did not suddenly become false whenever Stalin said it. Likewise, “rape is wrong and you shouldn’t do it” remains true whether it’s said by Mother Theresa or Margaret Sanger.

Likewise, there’s a big difference between saying “you’re going to Hell!” and “you could go to Hell for that.” The first makes a statement about the person; the second about the action, just like “you’re gonna die!” and “that could kill you.” Part of admonishing includes warning of what could result. “Murder is a mortal sin that could land you in Hell” is a perfectly legitimate statement for at Christian to make. “You’re a murderer and I hope you rot in Hell!” is not.

All of this is a long way of saying “No, America, Christians aren’t violating our own religion when we tell you that killing babies or trying to have sex with people of the same gender is wrong and you shouldn’t do it. You’ll need to come up with a better response than ‘don’t judge me.’” 

Vive Christus Rex!

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