Why are Christians ever judgmental? Why do Christians ever look down on other people as though they’re somehow less worthy, or less faithful, or less ethical? Now without a doubt, there are many Christians who do not embody this attitude - I know a ton whose lives reflect humility, love, and generosity much more than self-righteousness. However, judgmentalism is still widespread enough among modern day Christians that our culture has come to expect it from them more often than not. In fact, in many circles self-righteousness, condemnation, holier-than-thou attitudes, and even downright bigotry have come to be seen as core characteristics of American Christianity.
This is a sad reality.
But it’s even more than sad - it’s absurd. Because the reality is that judgmentalism, condemnation, and self-righteous attitudes aren’t just minor deviations from the teachings of Christianity. They’re not understandable life-orientations that reasonable Christians can come to legitimately support. Not at all - in fact, these attitudes are fundamentally opposed to the very core of what Christianity is. I would even go as far as to say that if a self-professed Christian is regularly judgmental, self-righteous, and condemning towards the people around him, it is very unlikely that he has any clue who the God of the Bible actually is.
Being a judgmental Christian is like being a militant Quaker, or an atheist Muslim, or a Jew who cares nothing about Passover. It’s an absurdity - a blatant, living contradiction.
Now why is this? It’s because the core story of Christianity utterly undermines any basis for Christians to feel better or more worthy than the people around them. Let me explain.
As the story goes, human beings were created by God for beauty, glory, justice, community, faithfulness, art, passion, innovation, peace - in short, flourishing. However, from the beginning human beings have taken this calling and squandered it on selfishness, individualism, pride, injustice, greed, violence, oppression, apathy, racism, etc., etc. Human beings, according to the Christian perspective, are like broken castles - glorious creations with unbelievable potential, yet who are at the same time fragmented, corrupted, and twisted up. This is why we can see, in this world, amazing glimmers of human glory, beauty, and justice popping up here and there. And yet simultaneously all of humanity - from our own selves and families to the stories playing out on the global stage - remains marred by immense and pervasive corruption, selfishness, and unjust thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Well as the Christian story goes, God looks at the plight of humanity, and rather than simply ridding the world of us, he is moved to pity and mercy out of a deep love for his creations. In fact, as the story goes, his love for us is so deep that he chooses to step out of his eternal realm and into our own self-inflicted mess. He becomes a flesh and blood man - this is the man Jesus. Then he grows up among his creations, teaches them, walks with them, loves them, and eventually dies for them. In fact, the great irony is that he dies at their own hands - they condemn him in a mockery of a trial, and then send him to the agony of a Roman cross. And why, in the end, does God accept this path?
According to the story, it is to bear his own divine judgment in place of the people who actually deserve it - the human beings he made for glory, yet who squandered this calling, and who, in the end, literally judge him, condemn him, and kill him with their own hands.
An early Christian named Paul once commented on this act of God, saying, “Very rarely will someone die for a good man - but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.”
Now when we hear words like “sinner,” we all like to convince ourselves that this can’t be true about us. Maybe it’s true about others - like those corrupt dictators, those violent drug lords, those unfaithful husbands, and that jerk who lives on my block - but in the end, we have somehow made better choices and have done better deeds, and therefore we must be, ultimately, more worthy than the “screw-ups” around us. But if this were true, how could the holocaust of Nazi Germany ever have taken place? Are we to believe that there was just something different - something inherently worse - about all the German people who took part in the holocaust? Do we really believe that, given the same conditions, we would never have done what they did? What about people who grow up in poverty and get involved in gangs and drugs and prostitution? What about the widespread and centuries-long practice of American race-based slavery? Given the same conditions as these perpetrators, do we really believe that there’s just something fundamentally better in each of our own souls that would never do such things? This is a fantasy - we all have the corruption in us - we just need the right buttons pushed. We’re all in the same boat.
And so the Christian story presents a pretty remarkable challenge to the attitude of judgmentalism.
First, it says that no one is in a position to look down on a fellow human being as though he or she is somehow worse, or less worthy. All human beings are in the same boat - we’re all broken castles, made for glory but broken and twisted up with corruption. And so no one ever has the right to be judgmental towards other people. In fact, one of the first things you can be sure of with a judgmental person is that he does not know himself.
But the story says even more than this. It says that God (the one who, if he exists, we should all aspire to live like) is not only non-judgmental - he’s reverse judgmental. He judges himself in place of the people who actually deserve it … and he does this out of love for them.
This, in my mind, is amazing. If this is true (and I and about a billion others believe it is), it means that God’s love for us goes so deep that he would rather bear judgment on himself than do to us what we do to each other every day - judge and condemn.
So if you are a Christian and you find yourself regularly judging and condemning the people around you who don’t believe what you believe or live the way you live … wake up. What you’re doing has nothing to do with the story you trust in.
And if you’re not a Christian, but you also look down on certain people whose values or beliefs or life choices you don’t like (you might find yourself feeling particularly judgmental towards judgmental people, for example), why do you feel you’re in a position to judge? Are you really any better? And if you’re not, what do you do about that?
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment if you would like - the more dialog, the better.