Getting It Wrong

Red InkBeing judgmental has negative connotations. It implies an unfounded sense of superiority or of being overly critical. The psychologist Carl Rogers made us aware of the potential dangers in this, especially in counselling situations. He showed us how our judgments can stunt personal growth. We seem, though, to have taken his ideas to extremes. Now we are often afraid to make any kind of evaluations in case we are accused of being responsible for someone else feeling diminished.

When I was at teacher training college, Rogers’ ideas were taught to me as being fundamental to the empathetic approach to education. Rogers’ theories have some valuable concepts, but they have also resulted in some silliness such as grading students’ work in green ink instead of red so as not to make the students feel bad.

There is a quotation attributed to the Dalai Lama that says “Love is the absence of judgement,” but I respectfully disagree. I think we love in the face of our judgments and sometimes because of them. We all make judgments, and some of us are even paid to make evaluations of others. There is a difference, though, between making those assessments and being judgmental. If I give you a C grade on a paper, that’s an assessment.  If I tell you I think you were lazy, that’s judgmental.

Recently, I have been struggling with my reactions to the behaviors of some religious people. I have been dismayed by and critical of them in a morally superior sort of way. This bothers me because those lessons about not being judgmental have stuck with me. I try really hard not to do that. What I want to do instead is to fairly evaluate everyone, even the people who initially offend me.

What people choose to believe is very personal and usually private. Most of the time, religions cause people to be caring and good. I have no problem with those people. At the same time, I can’t help myself from judging religious people who seem to me to be neither caring nor good.  Rahila Haidary, a refugee from Afghanistan, recently said, “Religion is personal and the people who want to hurt people don’t have religion.” I couldn’t agree more.

If someone claims to be a Christian but then asserts that their faith compels them to picket outside abortion clinics and harass the women who go there, I’m going to judge their faith, or at least their practice of it, negatively. I think they are getting it wrong.

I judge even more harshly the people who recently got the American public so worked up about Planned Parenthood that someone went in to one of their clinics and actually shot people. Valerie Terico has pointed out that the triggerman is getting the blame but the people who incited that violence (she calls them christianist republicans) also deserve to be questioned. Their beliefs and public statements are also responsible.

Daesh (or Islamic State) is trying its best to create a war between Muslims and Christians, and so far they seem to be doing that quite effectively. At the same time, the beliefs of Daesh are different from those of other Muslims and we should not be tempted to confuse them. Daesh is getting it wrong. Killing everyone who doesn’t agree with them is not in the spirit of Islam at all. They are failing at practicing their espoused faith.

If I am wrong, you can argue with me, and I’m OK with that. I won’t kill you for disagreeing. I’ll go home and think about it. I might even change my mind if your arguments are better than mine. We all have the right to challenge any ideas, ideologies, and beliefs that we think are unfounded, misguided, harmful, or just plain wrong. It is that freedom of thought and expression that is the basis for all our freedoms and our democracy.

I will not question whether or not other people’s ideas are genuine or authentic. I’m going to assume that they really believe what they say they believe. What I might question, though, are their sources of information and their logic, especially if their beliefs inspire them to do harm to others. And, I am absolutely going to judge whether or not their actions match what they claim to believe.

I want to understand them. I want to figure out why they do what they do. In order to understand I have to face full on what they are doing and their stated reasons for their actions. After all, it is only once I have been horrified, been outraged, and then judged them that I can begin to understand and forgive them. I don’t mean that I could condone their terrible actions. Not at all. I only know that I cannot live with my own fear and hatred.  It is only when I have forgiven someone that I can live in peace and, ultimately, it is only when we have forgiven one another that we can all stop fighting.

We are a long way from that, and more lives will be ruined or lost before we get there. But, more ideological extremism is not the answer. Instead, we need more information that leads to more judgments, both of others and of ourselves. Then we can start on the road to reconciliation.


Image source: Daily Mail


  1. While such beliefs are based upon claimed supernatural,god inspired texts interpretation is always going to be ‘King’.

    It is difficult not to judge someone who believes that a man is a god in human form and rose from the dead or a prophet flew on a winged horse to heaven.

    It is such ridiculous beliefs, innocuous in themselves, that propel some people, to commit heinous acts, and then claim justification because it was for ”god”.
    Until humanity is able to face its fears and finally admit that such beliefs are simply nonsense then the next mass murderer for god will always be waiting in the wings.

      • Oh, I am not denying this at all. The trouble is they all draw their belief from the same well.
        And who are we to tell either that their interpretation is incorrect?

          • When push comes to shove little of practical value will be done y Muslims and Christians alike
            The problem is the texts. Interpretation is key, which is why there are hundreds and hundreds of Christian sects and at least two Muslim sect( Sunni and Shi’ite) .

            As they cannot agree which is the right interpretation, and (currently in the case of Muslims) go to war over whose interpretation of doctrine/ texts is right, what is needed is for genuine scholars, archaeologists and Rabbis to step up and admit once and for all it is all Judaism is simply myth.
            It won’t stop anything over night , but it will give pause for thought and if the message is spread loud enough and in the right places it will inevitable have a positive effect.

            • And yet, people will continue to want to believe in something greater than themselves. Especially those people who are marginalized and disaffected.

              It seems to me that religious groups only sell what people will buy. If they stopped buying it, they’d stop selling it. There are lots of grocery stores in my city, and I go to the one the more-or-less sells most of what I want most of the time. I think it’s the same with religions. Sometimes it’s hard to find Marmite, but I know where to get it.

            • It makes more sense to try to influence the buyers than the sellers. Parents will always have a stronger influence on children than anyone else, but all bets are off when they get to be teenagers.

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