Monday, September 26, 2005

A Tad Judgmental

For me the week is over, but my mind is constantly racing. I have been holding back on this post for a number of reasons, the first being I said I would wait until Monday. So here it is…
Leaders are always challenged and criticized for decisions that they make. I, personally, can handle people not accepting my way of doing things, however…is there not a place where people can do/say/practice/read/listen to/watch/etc without others feeling the need to cast judgment? At the start of this week, in many different types of words I was told that I was going to Hell. Let me clarify that this revelation was not from GOD, although the person spoke as if they were the gate keeper of the big pearlies themselves. WHY? Does it really matter WHY? Is not the accusation itself abhorrent?

What is in a person that causes condemnation of fellow human beings? Better yet, why must people (need I add here…Christians) make choices of right and wrong for everybody else? Why does human nature search so hard to label something WRONG if nothing is immediately apparent? Why are people so judgmental? What it is about the human nature that causes one to judge others based on one’s own notions of how things should be. The Christian culture is the best example: As if all that will be played in heaven is Gospel music…COME ON…(sorry…I don’t know where that came from.)
WAIT, was I just judgmental? (No, just speaking truth…but for argument sake…)
C.S. Lewis said in his book The Case for Christianity “This year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practice ourselves the kind of behavior we expect from other people.”

How true. How easy it is for me to cut off and want to give a ‘one digit wave’ at people who drive like “idiots,” or get terse with the store clerks, or angry with the drive thru employees because they screwed up another order or simply POed with those who don’t listen to the instructions or directions, or snippy with the waitress who bring me cold food or coffee?

C. J. Jung said "We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses." I wonder if people judge others and attempt to force others into conformity out of a basic sense of fear; fear of their own shadows; the fear that they are, deep inside, just like the person they are condemning. How many Christians operate in this mode? Better yet, how many Christian leaders operate in this mode? Not only that, have you noticed that being judgmental is also contagious? It is, after all, much easier to condemn than to look within and see the ugliness that lurks there.

Imagine for a moment, a world wherein everyone faces the shadows in their hearts. A place where everyone has contemplated the truth of their own darkness, where no one must fear themselves, because they have faced the worst in themselves and emerged victorious (Alas, only a dream). In this dream world, our fears and petty judgments of others would lose meaning. Just like when you were a child: How do you get rid of the monster under the bed? You turned on the light.

Is it time that we took time with people before judging? Walk with them and turn some lights on? One common problem with being too eager to judge others is that we often conclude too quickly and fail to understand the other person from their perspective. It is this failing to consider another person and their life, experience, knowledge etc. that makes judgmentalism so disastrous in the realm of Christian community. Rob Bell in his book 'Velvet Elvis' talks about Christians, who when reading the Bible, must come to grip with the reality that their interpretations are essentially opinions and that nobody is really objective. Oh Boy…that should send some fundies off with their underwear in a knot!

But I wonder, if we don't attempt to understand other's lives then, are we then unable to appreciate them as they are? The way that GOD created them?

I close with this quote from Thomas à Kempis:
Those things that one cannot improve in himself or in others, he ought to endure patiently, until God arranges things otherwise. Nevertheless when you have such impediments, you ought to pray that God would help you, and that you may bear them kindly. Endeavor to be patient in bearing with the defects of others, whatever they are; for you also have many failings which must be borne by others. If you cannot make yourself be as you would like to be, how can you expect to have another person be to your liking in every way? We desire to have others perfect, and yet we do not correct our own faults. We would allow others to be severely corrected, and will not be corrected ourselves. We will have others kept under by strict laws, but in no case do we want to be restrained. And so it appears that we seldom weigh our neighbor in the same balance with ourselves.

Now go and practice love this week…


Scott said...

Good post, an for once Gerry I think i totally agree with you, though you are seeming to push the fact that people should be perfect in a judgemental sense. Its a sin that people struggle with, just like porn or lying. Of course we want others to be perfect, its human nature to have people behave in a way that pleases us.

The thing ive found at least is when people act the way you want them to, you come around as well, and act the way you want too. Its like they set the example, only you have put it in them, and they act it out. Then you see what you want in someone else and see that they can pull it off and it gives you motivation, in a sense, to change yourself. Though this happens rarely, it has worked.

Also on the Rob Bell comment about everyone has their own interpratations of the Bible. I think that this is the problem, people have to many opinions on a constant, in this case, the Bible is the constant. If the Bible is God's word then why do we question it, we arent supposed to question God becuase he is always right, then why question and have opinions on his word? I know that this is impossible to attain, but its just funny how questioning is only allocated to some parts of God and not to all parts of God. If we believe that every part of the Bible is true, which Christians are supposed to, then why quetion anything in the Bible? we dont need opinons on the Bible then?, why?, because it is all true, no need to question then, Right. Ive you have an answer for me by all means enlighten me.

Anyways another good post Gerry. Cya

Mark B. said...

I haven't read the Rob Bell book. I don't know the context of that quote. I also don't know how accurate the paraphrase is (I'm assuming that it is a paraphrase because it isn't in quotes. Gerry, you report Rob bell as saying:

"Christians...must come to grip with the reality that their interpretations are essentially opinions and that nobody is really objective"

I have a problem with this claim (no, not because I'm a fundie with his undies in a knot...if you know me, you'll know that I'm far from that). It is true that there are a number of different, some mutually exclusive, interpretations of various portions of the bible; perhaps even of the whole bible. It looks like Bell is claiming that no interpretation can be said to be closer to the truth than any other because, after all, they are "essentially opinions" (I use scare quotes, because it is far from clear how these terms are being used). If this is what Bell is claiming, then he is wrong. This claim rests on the idea that there are no 'tools' for evaluating interpretations. There are such tools. We may think that consistency of an interpretation is a good test for veracity. It seems plausible that an entirely anachronistic reading of the text gives us little reason to think that the interpretation is true, rather it seems to give us reason to think that it is false. These are, admittedly, two rather general tools, but there are more. Given the slipperyness of the "essentially opinions" clause, Bell could likely avoid the characterization that I have just given. If he is to do this, then he will need to tell us what exactly is meant by 'essentially' and 'opinions'.

Scott, you say:

"I think that this is the problem, people have to many opinions on a constant, in this case, the Bible is the constant. If the Bible is God's word then why do we question it, we arent supposed to question God becuase he is always right, then why question and have opinions on his word? I know that this is impossible to attain, but its just funny how questioning is only allocated to some parts of God and not to all parts of God. If we believe that every part of the Bible is true, which Christians are supposed to, then why quetion anything in the Bible? we dont need opinons on the Bible then?, why?, because it is all true, no need to question then, Right."

I say: "Wrong." Here's why: what biblical exegesis is supposed to do is figure out what the Bible means. As i say above, I don't really know what Bell is claiming, but what I am sure of is that disagreements are not about what the Bible says, but rather what is means. One thing that we seem to have good reason for believing is that the sentences of the Bible can't all be read literally. Why think this? One reason is that there are contradictions within what is literally said. (What is literally said is different from what the author of the text was trying to communicate.) So, although we know what the text literally says (we understand what the words mean) we don't know what the text means. It is the meaning of the text that purports to be both true and unchanging. Now, with respect to interpretations, no one disagrees that there are many different interpretations of the Bible. What people do disagree on is which of those interpretations (if any) accurately captures the meaning of the text. Here's where I disagree with (my reading of) Bell, Bell thinks that there are any interpretation is, "essentially an opinion" and that we can't do better than that. I think that there are some very useful tools for evaluating whether we are reasonable in believing a particular interpretation over another.

The upshot of all of this is that, if we knew what the meaning of God's word was, then we would be able to determine which interpretation was true. But, we don't know which interpretation is true (evidenced by the disagreement), so we can conclude that we don't know what the meaning of God's word is. THAT, however, is not to say that we can't have good reason for thinking that we are close. After all, lots of people agree on substantial parts of the Bible.

Kinnon said...

It's amazing how some sermons stick with you.

18 years ago Imbi and I were in Guildford, England with a team from our Toronto church. Bob Roxburgh (a Baptist pastor who lead a church in Winnipeg at one time) was pastoring Millmead Baptist - a charismatic Baptist Union church in the heart of the city.

That Sunday morning, Bob was speaking on the signs of the Holy Spirit operating. His central point (and the one that has stayed with me 'til today) is that the only real evidence we have of the Spirit's presence is the fruit of the Spirit.

Galations 5
" 22 But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard--things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, 23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. " The Message

Many of us in the charismatic stream want to believe that we are operating in discernment or prophecy when we judge our brothers or sisters. We use our pet interpretations of scripture to assist us in our "spirit-empowered" acts. Choking on small flies whilst swallowing camels whole. (Gee, just once couldn't that camel take a bath beforehand. Do you know what swallowing a camel does to your breath?!)

Fortunately, with our Dad, Mercy triumphs over Judgement - no matter how we interpret the authoritative text of Scripture.


Scott said...

Hmm, Mark it seems here that we are getting a bit judgemental ourselves, you said:

It looks like Bell is claiming that no interpretation can be said to be closer to the truth than any other because, after all, they are "essentially opinions"
If this is what Bell is claiming, then he is wrong.

Isnt that a Tad Judgemental, pardon the pun, but if you have to use scare quotes because you dont know the context of what Bell is saying, how can you really know what is being said. The problem i see here, and maybe what Gerry is getting at is that we look at jsut the surface, and we judge that, we dont get to know everything we need to before, and we are quick to judge based on what we get, our "first interpertation."

You also talk about Bell not expanding on the points that gerry took. He took a portion of a paragraph, we dont have the whole book and if u did then you could understand what Bell is trying to say. Also it seems that you havent backed up any of your "tools" either, you have just told me that there are some and you have more. You are essentially doing the same thing Bell did, you didnt charectize or explain what your tools are.

Not to attack you but i think it is judgmental to say that Bell is wrong becuase of a tiny bit of info that was posted. You go on to say that you dont KNOW what Bell is saying, but you are sure that his disagreements arent about what the Bible says, but rather what it means. Again thats a Tad Judgemental, especially if you do not know what he is saying fully in his book.

Lastly, for the most case, everyones opinions have relevance, we cannot say that one is wrong over the other, becuase that in itself is judgemental. We can think and critique what is being said, but we must recognize where it comes from and what the background is. Never judge a book by its cover, everyone has heard that, and we cant judge Bell by a paragraph outta a 300 page book, cuz theres stil 299 and 3/4 pages left to read still.

The problem with judgement is that we are way to quick to say something without knowing, ive been a victim, and so has everyone else. But we must, like Gerry says, "walk with them" and learn about them.

Also we make the Bible way more complicated than it is, its a book, written by men, from God, with a universal goal, and that is to tell about jesus life and the plan that he has for us and to share with us the gift of salvation and relationship with him. I dont know why so many people disagree, no matter what translations, the Bible cleary states those points, everytime. So whats the big deal if it is thou shall not, or you shouldnt. People need to stop picking every little bit of the Bible apart and not focus on the interpratation, but focus on the content God has given to help us in our journey with him, that is what the Bible is for, not to pull it apart and argue over it. I know im not gonna waste my time arguing over this means this, this should say that, ill read it, learn it, interpret the things i dont understand with prayer and my own thoughts, and keep it private between me and God, because thats they way i believe, that God would want it. Have a nice day!

The Drew said...

The question is not who is being judgmental, but who is being more judgmental? The danger of telling someone else they are judging us is that we in turn are judging them. And Yes Gerry all they play in heaven is Gospel music (most likely Gaither)! It is impossible to remove yourself from juding others but when you find that you are being judgmental, remember that you will be judged by the same standard that you have judged others. One other note on interpretion: it is interepretation that allows us to see the relevance of God's Word for today!

Mark B. said...

Let me respond in point form. I think it will be easier to follow that way.

(1) I think that there is a confusion here about what is meant by 'judgmental'. From the last two comments the following sense of 'judgmental' seems to be used:

(i) Some person x is judgmental, if he says of some claim or theory that, that theory is false.

This is not the same sense that Gerry uses the term in his post. From what I know about Gerry, he'd not use the term in this general sense. The sense that is attached to 'judgmental' in the post is more like the following:

(ii) Some person x is judgmental, if he offers criticism or commentary that is not wanted, not helpful, or not well justified.

(This condition is probably not perfect, but it is close enough to illustrate the point.) If by 'judgmental' we mean (i) and being judgemental is intrinsically bad, then there is no hope of having any sort of good disagreement. Take an example: Suppose that I claim that, the sky is green during the day. You disagree and say: no, it's not green, it is blue (most days). If we mean (i) by judgmental, then this disagreement has you being judgmental. But given that we don't think this is a case of bad judgmentalism, (i) is not what is intrinsically bad. There's an argument for why Gerry isn't using 'judgmental' in the sense of (i). I can give an argument for why I think it is (ii) that Gerry is using, but I'll not give it unless asked. (In order to save the length of this comment.)

The point here of (1) is that my claim that, if Bell meant what I characterized him as saying, then he is wrong, is not judgemental because the sense of judgemental in use is (ii) and not (i).

(2) Scott claims that I misrepresent Bell, that I "talk about Bell not expanding on the points that [G]erry took," and that if I'd read Bell's whole book I'd understand what he was saying. Let me take these criticisms in turn.

(i) I misrepresent Bell. This may be true. I did take a very small passage and elaborate and speculate about the motivation for the claim. Notice, however, that I was very careful in my post to put my important claims in conditional form. That means that I make my claims in, If..., then..., form. I said things like (this is what I argue for): "If this is what Bell is claiming, then he is wrong." If it is true that I've misrepresented Bell, then the part of my claim that comes after the 'if' is false, and subsequently my claim doesn't apply to the actual Bell. That's fine, but if that is the case, then I'd like someone to elucidate what Bell means. (Also, it is claimed that I judge Bell by a small passage. That is not the case, I don't judge Bell at all; rather, I "judge" his claim, namely, the claim that I think is false.)

(ii) I talk about Bell not expanding on the points that Gerry took. I'm not sure what exactly what this claim means, but if it is suggesting that I am talking about Bell's claim and not Gerry's, then that is correct. I wasn't in fact commenting on the content of Gerry's post, but rather a small part of it that struck me as obviously false. Given that it seemed false, I decided to back up that claim with an argument.

(iii) If I read Bell's whole book, I'd understand what he was saying. I've read a lot of books. Many of them have made claims that I didn't understand. I read the whole book and by then end of the book I still didn't understand what those puzzling claims meant. One explanation of this phenomenon is that I'm just stupid. I'm quite sure that is not the case though. Another explanation is that the person who wrote those claims simply didn't think very hard about what they were saying and subsequently wrote something false.

(3) An interpretation of ANY written text is a proposed content for that text. For any text there are going to be many different interpretations. What our goal should be is to find arguments for why one interpretation is more likely true than another.

Finally, I know I should be done, but I think it apt to say something about methodology. I see this comments thread as an opportunity to consider some of the claims made in the post. One way of doing this is by giving arguments either for or against claims in the post. If people undertake this task, then I think that posts in the comment thread, ones that make substantive claims, are open for discussion or argument. (Note: When I use the term 'argument' I do not mean the confrontational and aggressive exchange that often takes place; instead, what I mean by 'argument' is a cool and rational presentation of arguments for or against certain claims by use of premises that intend to support a conclusion.) Posts on discussion threads can often be accidentally taken as the former and not the latter. Please don't construe mine as such.

SoulPastor said...


Sorry, I am having a full week. Time to jump in!
First...Drew nailed it...thank you for elaborating before I could. Wait, except that Gaither stuff...oh please no....ugghhh

Secondly, to protect Rob Bell I did not quote him but rather made a summary statement about one chapter, which I will attempt to expound on shortly.

Thirdly, “Choking on small flies whilst swallowing camels whole. (Gee, just once couldn't that camel take a bath beforehand. Do you know what swallowing a camel does to your breath?!)” Absolutely too funny! But I do appreciate your candor and openness.

Now, allow me to share…Obviously I was bothered by the fact that a ‘believer’ could tell where another would end up in the after life, because of difference either in methodology or theology. The Christian culture is notorious for labeling, brow beating, excluding, and (shall I say) Judging others on the assumption that they(the aggressors) can truly understand the scriptures. This happens from the leadership on down. As Canadians we sometime think that this only happens within the US with groups like “God Hates Fags” or Bush supporters, or Jesse Jackson Supporters (I am getting Mark going now!)…the fact is in North America many believers KNOW that they have a corner on the religious market of understanding scripture and are quick to let others know that they are fast tracking it to hell.

What Rob Bell has said in “Velvet Elvis” is that “Because God has spoken, and everything else is commentary.” (p.052) The issue of discussion in the chapter is about being passionately true to the Word of God and how that is worked out in community.
Bell points out that many believers hold the wrong assumption “that there is a way to read the Bible that is agenda and perspective-free.” (p. 053) Bell goes on to add “Think about that for a moment: This perspective is claiming that a person can simply read the Bible and do what it says – unaffected by any outside influences.” (p. 054)

As I wrote about judgment I had to look at myself. I realized that I too was a tight, twisted fundy and when I have gone back into old sermon notes (I can’t believe I preached that!) or when talking about old times with friends about ministry issues and feelings…I can’t believe the number of people I have probably turned off of Christ. It weighs heavy and you just can’t take it back.

So where does that bring us today? Back to scripture…funny because I have heard many times how people want to “serve a Pastor,” “serve a Church,” “enforce a doctrine” and I just don’t get it. So when one jumps in and issues a challenge (AS MARK EXPLAINED in his last post) people respond with a defense mode of judging you because you differ?

Is there no room to differ in a community of faith? We say there is, but is there really?
I love what Bell says: “The Bible has to be interpreted. Decisions have to be made about what it means now, today.” (p. 055)

Just some of my random thoughts….what about yours?

Mark B. said...

Ah, I have both random and pertinant thoughts (I think that yours--Gerry--are not random, but pertinent).

Random thought 1: I have no idea how people can seriously doubt the law of non-contradiction.

Random thought 2: There's a blue light on my harddrive.

Random thought 3: I'm exhausted.

Pertinent thought 1: Gerry, the rhetorical question that you ask--namely, "Is there no room to differ in a community of faith?"--should, of course be answered in the affirmative, but I'll refrain from doing so because I don't want to violate the rhetorical device that we hold so dear.

Seriously though, if there were no room to differ, I think that it follows that there would be no room for intellectual inquiry. If we get rid of intellectual inquiry within a community of faith, then those who say, of Christians, that they "Check their brains at the door" are correct. Given that they aren't, we can conclude that there is room for differing.

Pertinent thought 2: Gerry, you say that Drew nailed it. I'm assuming you are talking about the claim that one cannot say, of another, "You are being judgemental" without himself being judgemental. If you are assuming some distinction between senses of 'judgemental' like I outlined above, then this is true in three ways and false in one. If you are not using the distinction given above and instead only one of the two senses, then depending on what sense you have chosen, the claim is either true or false. (If you don't believe this claim and you want an informal proof, I'm happy to provide one.) Is it safe to assume that you are using the distinction given above, or at least, something similar? (I'm assuming that it's fine to interpret you as saying something true whatever you answer.)

Pertinent thought 3: This is with respect to the Bell claim. I think that I have isolated what I don't understand in the new Bell passage quoted at the end of the post; namely,

"The Bible has to be interpreted. Decisions have to be made about what it means now, today."

What I don't understand is how Bell is using the term 'means'; or, as a question: what does Bell mean by 'means'? I, of course, have a number of speculations, but none of them are very charitable and I can't seem to come up with anything charitable. If it's not clear what I don't understand, let me try to explain.

Claim 1- The Bible has a meaning and the act of interpreting it, is simply an attempt to get at that meaning.

Defense of 1- The Bible that I have in my room is a book filled with sentences. The sentences were written by someone. Whether that someone is man or God, it doesn't matter for defending this point. The sentences all have meanings. What the meaning of a particular sentence is depends on the intentions of the author and to a certain degree on the parts of the sentence (maybe it depends on other things too). Depending on the kind of sentence, it may depend more heavily on what the author intends (take metaphor, for example...we all know the Bible has lots of that). Given this dependance on the author, there are, for many sentences, going to be meanings that are not simply a function of the words that make it up. Since we do not know exactly what the author intended, we need to begin that imprecise art of interpretation (which of course, relies on a number of fundamental assumptions, for example, the author would not intend to assert a contradiction). This is not a rigorous defense, but it provides some reason for thinking that claim 1 is true.

Claim 2- Meaning is constant (i.e. doesn't change).

Defense of 2- This seems especially true for something like the Bible. Given what I said above, what a particular text means depends on both the constituents of the sentences (and the relations between them) and the intentions of the author. Since neither of those things change, neither does the meaning of the text.

Claim 3- Decisions can only be made if there are options available.

Defense of 3- I'm not sure I need to write anything here. It seems true based on what we mean by 'decisions'.

Claim 4- This is the claim of ignorance: I have no idea what role the 'today' is serving in the sentence quoted above.

If these claims are true, then it seems that I can't think of a non-contradictory meaning of the sentence. Maybe what Bell means by 'means' is, 'is the best interpretation'. We can easily decide between two or more interpretations, but if this is what he means, then I'm not sure why it is so imperative that we decide now; so, I don't think this is what it means.

Okay, I'm almost done. I know that sometimes people make claims like the one Bell makes to say something like: We need to figure out how it is significant for us. Maybe that is what he means. If this is so, then I'd have another claim/defense string that would follow below. Alas, this is already WAY too long.

LightBulb the Clown said...

From a 1st time visitor - I agree with your last line "Now go and practice love this week...."

If we continue to align ourselves relationally, as Christians, to the character and life of Jesus, I believe the result will eliminate the "brotherly judgement". It may not occur fully while still living on earth, since sin lives here too.

What I realize (personally) is that my emotions and relational issues seem to improve the more I focus on Christ. On His character and life. The more I strive to follow His example, the less these things bother me.

But, as usual, I'm reminded daily that I'm not perfect. And, that others aren't either. I just pray I have grace for my brother/sister, even just a fraction of what Christ offers me "daily".

Just my thots...and...great blog!!

SoulPastor said...

Love your site! And thanks for the contribution.

Mark B
Allow me to provide a response to your 3 Pertinent thoughts:

In your Pertinent thought 1 you said “we can conclude that there is room for differing” and I obviously agree with you…however it is those who cannot see outside of the aquarium that drive me nuts.

Pertinent thought 2: I personally am happy with the 3-1 odds!

Pertinent thought 3: You need to READ Bell!

It was great to see you again last week! Be Blessed

Mark B. said...


3-1 odds? Huh?

SoulPastor said...

Mark B
You said "If you are assuming some distinction between senses of 'judgemental' like I outlined above, then this is true in three ways and false in one."

Those are the odds that I am happy with! 75% is pretty good odds right now!

Mark B. said...

So, you're a betting man eh?

SoulPastor said...

At times I am...especially when it comes to yellow lights and photo radar.....what are the odds that the machine has no film?