We Are All Judgmental

Last week the Internet exploded with news of two people whose actions (rightly) produced moral outrage, regardless of where you are on the political/religious spectrum. Anthony Weiner, already thin on public trust after his ridiculous Twitter exploits which caused him to resign his New York Congressional seat, was caught continuing that ridiculous behavior well after he claimed he was sorry, etc. To top it off, he’s sticking to his candidacy for Mayor of New York.

It was the same week that Milwaukee Brewers baseball star and 2011 MVP, Ryan Braun admitted, after months of passionate denials, that he indeed broke the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. It was probably the worst kept secret anyways as nobody really believed his story. Braun was suspended for the rest of the 2013 season and had to forfeit this year’s salary, nearly $4 million.

On Twitter, on the radio, in newspapers, in casual conversation, the reaction to both stories, by people of all stripes, is something like, “Can you believe this guy?” For Weiner, there is no end to the mocking on Twitter. Fellow Democrats were as harsh on him as Republicans. For Braun, the words, “cheater”, “liar”, “fraud” are being used prolifically.

Of course there really is no defense of either of these men. Both violated a public trust. And yet, I find it interesting that a society deeply divided over many issues finds consensus on certain things being right and certain things being wrong.

In other words, even though we mock those who make moral judgements as being angry, power-hungry, backward, repressed, etc, we engage in that same behavior ourselves. We all make moral judgements. It’s just that the line between right and wrong has shifted.

Take for example the debate about gay marriage. Or abortion. These issues are usually framed this way: Christians are too busy pushing their morality down our throats. They need to get back to what the Bible really says about love and grace and tolerance. How dare anyone cast a judgement on the way anyone lives? Or the difficult choices someone must make? Why can’t evangelicals stop condemning people?

To be sure, some of the criticism of the Church has been accurate. Too often we have acted the Pharisee, beating our chest with pride at our own self-righteousness and missing Jesus all together. Too often we’ve sent the signal that being a Christian is about doing good, rather than about the miracle of God in flesh, dying to rescue us from sin, rising again in victory, and offering us new life in Him. So we should take the rebuke and return again to our first love.

But let’s not fool ourselves. Everyone makes moral judgements. Everyone condemns. Everyone has a set of truths that inform right and wrong. We all agree what Anthony Wiener did violates some kind of sexual ethic. We all agree Ryan Bruan’s behavior violates the ethics of fair play. We all have a standard of right and wrong and we all hate it when someone breaks it.

The difference is this: our view of what is right and wrong is not based on something absolute anymore. It’s anchored rather perilously to the shifting sands of public cultural opinion. We have become our own gods, determining right and wrong.

And this is a dangerous place to be, in my view.

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3 Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Postmodernism. Very difficult to talk to people about absolute truth.

    As Keller said…"In today's culture, it is perfectly acceptable to say you are searching. It is never alright to say you have found."

  2. Bill says:

    I don't see how that the examples you use (Weiner and Braun publicly lying to gain trust, then being caught in their lies) prove your point (that we have become our own gods, determining right and wrong).

    I agree that people are increasingly unwilling to accept dictated absolutes from any authority (religous or otherwise). They are particularly suspicious of those that condemn people by category, condemn behavior that does no harm to the folks doing the condemning and condemnation that operates (intentionally or otherwise) to entrench and preserve certain categories of people in positions of privilege.

    But I don't see any evidence that there is any shifting sand beneath the morality of hypocrisy or public lies intended to gain trust.

    • Bill,

      My point (and I”m not sure I made it well) is this: we are fond of saying, in our culture, that we shouldn’t judge, that we shouldn’t make moral judgements of other people. But the problem is that everyone makes moral judgements whether they realize it or not. Even the statement, “You shouldn’t make moral judgements” is a moral judgement based on some basis for right and wrong. The Weiner and Braun stories prove that out, that as much as we pride ourselves on being inclusive and tolerant and nonjudgmental, there are certain behaviors that society feels it needs to judge harshly and personally.

      Does that make sense?