A persistent problem for new Christians is judging others. We look at someone, either their appearance or behavior, and develop snap judgments—often negative—from years of doing so out of habit as a non-Christian. At the same time, shouldn’t we judge others around us to understand what is going on in the world to keep ourselves safe? How can we discern between sinful judgment and righteous judgment?
A concept you hear among the Orthodox is discernment, the ability to pick out the divine signal from the fleshly and demonic noise. One of the differences between us and the saints is that the latter know when a thought comes from God and when it doesn’t. I, on the other hand, have to be skeptical of all thoughts, seek spiritual guidance before listening to them, and generally proceed very slowly before acting on a thought that may influence the direction of my faith. The reason is that I don’t have discernment, and even thoughts that may appear holy on the service (e.g. ‘Do 1000 prostrations!’ ‘Pray 4 hours a day!’) may be a trick by Satan to cause a spiritual setback and eventual fatal despair. We must then apply discernment to our judgments, a great challenge.
My shortcut, which is an aspiration and not something that I’ve mastered, is that if judging others leads to sin, it’s not of God, and if judging others leads to virtue, it could be of God. I aim to replace judgment with judgment calls. Let’s try a few hypothetical examples…
1. I go to the café with a book and purchase a cup of tea. In walks in a woman who is wearing a bra for a top and minuscule shorts. Immediately the words “harlot” and “slut” come to mind, and I wonder how she could possibly dress in an immodest way, and then I consider how immodest I have been in my own life. This is sinful judgment, and something that I must later confess.
2. My friend arranges a blind date with a “devout Christian woman.” We meet at a café. She arrives in yoga pants wearing thick makeup. I can see her commodious cleavage. She approaches me and says, “Roosh I’m so glad to meet you!” Due to her scandalous attire, I determine she is not suitable to be my wife. I am polite to her for thirty minutes and then leave the date by saying I have to venerate all my icons. I pray for her. This is a judgment call. I used my knowledge and experience with secular women to make a determination that this particular woman is not suitable to be my wife to avoid being yoked to a lukewarm or lapsed Christian.
3. I visit a friend in a rough area of town in the middle of the day. There I noticed a large group of black males smoking marijuana and listening to loud music. Immediately the words “lazy” and “criminals” come to mind and I ponder at length about why black people have such difficulty being productive members of society, and how my current behavior is nowhere near as bad as theirs. Then I realize that I have performed worse evils than all of those men combined. I pray for the men and later confess this act of judgment.
4. I’m a single father who works part-time and cannot homeschool my young boy. I decide to enroll him in a private school. I visit the first potential school. During lunch, I noticed a group of black boys bullying a white kid, demanding he give them their lunch money. The white boy is crying and looking to the supervising teacher on duty, who muttered something about white privilege before turning away. I decide not to enroll my white-passing son at the school, and instead pick a school where I do not notice racial strife. Here I made a judgment call for my boy to avoid needless suffering when he should be getting an education.
If a judgment doesn’t have an end goal of serving God, protecting your family, increasing your faith, or helping others with the faith, it is likely done out of pride to make yourself feel superior to others. You are the Pharisee looking at the publican exclaiming, “Thank God I’m not like that person!” If I’m feeling prideful or content with myself from the use of judgment, I know I’ve gone too far. On the other hand, if I’m using judgment to further my faith or the faith of others, chances are my judgment is not sinful, though I continually check my decisions with church elders. Unfortunately there are many cases in the middle, and you will inevitably slip and judge out of pride, but that’s why we have the sacrament of confession, which wipes your sin clean. When in doubt, I confess it.
The simple heuristic I’ve shared above is what I’m using as a neophyte Orthodox Christian who spent his secular life mastering the judgments of others upon first glance in order to achieve a material reward (and was proud for doing so). It has been a challenge for me to uproot this habit, and I struggle with it daily. If I were to meet you in person, the temptation to make a snap judgment of you based on my life experience is incredibly strong, but unless you are someone I must decide to do business with (and therefore trust), or you are a woman I must evaluate for marriage, I will fight the urge with all my will and God’s help, because the only judgment I should be concerned about is that which I will receive from God on the Final Day.
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