Moving beyond “don’t judge”

I don’t particularly like the idea that we shouldn’t judge other people. It’s a maxim taught to children, and the Golden Rule refers to the dangers of judgement.

Yet that’s not really the problem, or a reasonable solution. Humans instinctively judge and categorize new things, places, and people. To truly live up to the idea that we shouldn’t judge others, we would need to rewire significant parts of the brain. Judging others has no good or bad value attached to it.

The two aspects that I think are most important, and should be part of a more detailed lesson to youth, are the dangers of warped judgements, and the emphasis that we put on judgements.

Said plain, the core is judgements that are influenced by racism, sexism, homophobia, or other ideologies that devalue humans and make them lesser individuals. Additionally, if we value personal judgements over other facts, we run the risk of placing a person under a very skewed spotlight. This is much like the difference between prejudice and discrimination- one can have prejudicial views but do not believe they are important enough or appropriate to turn into action.

This may seem like splitting hairs, but I think it’s important to explore why judgement can be a dangerous thing. The simplicity of “we shouldn’t judge people” masks an important lesson about devaluing people and using a warped view of the world.

“Who am I to judge?” a Unitarian Universalist sentiment

I’m currently reading James Carroll’s superb New Yorker feature on Pope Francis I, “Who Am I to Judge: A Radical Pope’s First Year.” It’s still early, but it is becoming increasingly clear that Francis is a great example of why Unitarian Univeralists include in their six sources “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

Overall I’m very critical of the Catholic Church. I find its politics counter to a modern, egalitarian society. I find its opulence hard to reconcile with its focus on the poor. I find its resistance to contraception use a contributing factor in the HIV/AIDS crisis. So after the stubborn ideology of Benedict, it was understandable to come into the papal election with very low standards.

Yet Francis has risen above all the things that have dragged the Church down into the mud. Many times in his nine months as Pontiff I’ve silently nodded my head to a news story quoting him. He’s put social justice on top where it’s supposed to be, and acted more like a real person than the infallible theocrat he could have easily been. He spends time denouncing bigots rather than being one himself. It was nice to see Francis shrug off an accusation that he is a Marxist by saying even though he is not one, he doesn’t view it as an insult.

Overall I feel his greatest contribution is to the first UU principle, the belief in “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.” A key lesson we can draw upon from many faiths is the idea that the core of a person is more important than their gender, ideology, wealth. Francis doesn’t feel it’s his place to judge gays (even though, as Pope, many would say that is precisely his place), as long as they are good and honest people. Or atheists, as long as they are good and honest people. Ultimately we can learn far more from Catholic acts and practice than from all their doctrine. What individual priests do in their local communities is more important to learn from than a papal bull on abortion.

It is refreshing to see a religious authority talking about things that are important to creating a better society, when many preachers would rather demonize and hate groups. Perhaps it will set an example for other faiths to consider and reevaluate their priorities.