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#582 “Judge Not. . . .”

June 10, 2018

Dear Dr. Craig,

Though I'm a mere faint-hearted deist, I greatly admire you as a philosopher and enjoy your work. I hope you write a rich autobiography one day!

Recently, I unintentionally upset my Christian friend. He’d been telling me that, because judging people is always wrong, one ought never to judge people, reciting triumphantly part of Luke 6:37 from the Knox Bible: “Judge nobody, and you will not be judged." I took my friend to be implicitly claiming that one of the moral duties of a Christian is to never judge anybody. And I upset him by arguing thus:

(1) If, according to Christianity, it is always wrong for a Christian to judge people, then it’s not the case that one of the logical consequences of Christian belief is the judgement that Satanists qua Satanists are sinning against God.

(2) But one of the logical consequences of Christian belief is indeed the judgement that Satanists qua Satanists are sinning against God.

(3) ∴ It’s not always wrong for a Christian to judge people.

When I said all this to my friend, he became offended and wouldn’t talk to me about the matter any further. A sign, I felt, of the power of my argument. But according to Christianity, is judging people always wrong? I can’t see how I’m mistaken, but I’d be grateful if you demonstrated how I am.



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Dr. craig’s response


I don’t think you are mistaken, Michael, and your silly Christian friend’s petulant reaction is, indeed, testimony to the power of your argument, or at least to your friend’s inability to refute it.

As I read your message, I actually thought you were going to offer an even more powerful version of your argument, namely, that the statement “judging people is always wrong” is itself a moral judgement, such that anyone who judges another must be judged to be morally wrong. Your friend’s claim is thus self-refuting. You needn’t turn to the example of Satanists; just use your friend’s own statement to show that he’s trapped by his own claim into making moral judgements about other people. He judges judgemental people!

So was Jesus caught in making self-defeating claims?  Hardly!  Jesus’ own harsh condemnation of the Pharisees shows that he was willing to make moral judgements about other people. Jesus’ teaching, when read in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, makes it evident that he is condemning people who are all-too-ready to point out the sins and shortcomings of others while blind to their own failures:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7.1-5)

It’s evident that Jesus is teaching his disciples not to be self-righteous hypocrites who (like the Pharisees!) look down their noses at others, going about with a condemnatory attitude, thinking they’re better than everyone else, while ignoring their own shortcomings. Notice, too, that Jesus says that after you’ve removed the log from your own eye, then you’ll be able to help remove the speck from your brother’s eye, thereby implying that you do properly judge your brother to have some shortcoming. You can make moral judgments without being a judgmental person.

- William Lane Craig