To Judge or Not to Judge?

Donald DeMarco

Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International. He is a professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Connecticut, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest works, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going MadPoetry that Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart; and How to Flourish in a Fallen World are available through Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum. He is the 2015 Catholic Civil Rights League recipient of the prestigious Exner Award.

COMMENTARY: The day will come when God will judge each one of us. But who we are in the eyes of God is not someone that any one of us can know.

Depiction of St. Joan of Arc standing in a field clutching a sword to chest.
Depiction of St. Joan of Arc standing in a field clutching a sword to the chest. (photo: Library of Congress )

Christ is firm concerning judging others. In Matthew 7: 1-5, He commands us: “Do not judge, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you measure it shall be measured to you. But why dost thou see the speck in thy brother’s eye, and yet dost not consider the beam in thy own eye?”

This counsel is critically needed since it is all too common for people to judge one another. Judging another presupposes a position of moral superiority. This explains why we make ourselves vulnerable when we judge others. Pride, of course, anticipates a fall. Our standard of judging others will be the same standard by which we will be judged. This fearful proposition should give us pause. There are dire consequences to overlooking our faults and presuming that we can judge the motives of others.

If the word “beam” (sometimes translated as “log” or “plank”) seems to be an exaggeration, it is justified in terms of the comparative magnitude of the judger’s faults and those whom he criticizes. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, is set in 17th-century Massachusetts where Hester Prynne is forced to wear the letter “A” to indicate that she had, presumably, committed adultery. She is harshly judged by the Puritan mindset of the townsfolk. Those who presumed to judge her seemed oblivious to their hypocrisy.

Hawthorne understood that the hypocrisy of the Puritans who condemned Hester Prynne set in motion their punishment. “No man, wrote Hawthorne, “for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true…” Being two-faced can lead to the loss of one’s identity.

Joan of Arc, who was the victim of an outrageously wrong-headed judgment, warned her accusers of the price that would be on their heads: 

“You say that you are my judge; I do not know if you are; but take good heed not to judge me ill, because you would put yourself in great peril.”

The Scarlet Letter brings to mind the passage in John 8:7 concerning the woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus was asked whether he agreed, according to the command of Moses, that she should be stoned to death. 

But Jesus, stooping down, began to write with his finger on the ground. The Scribes and Pharisees, however, continued to pressure Jesus. Finally, He said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.” After her detractors left, Jesus said to the woman that he would not condemn her, but from now on she should “sin no more.”

It is important that we not overextend the meaning of “Judge not” to include the legitimate use of the mind in judging ideas, whether they are correct or erroneous actions, whether they are good or bad, and propositions, whether they are true or false. We need to make judgments in these matters to help people. For Aquinas, “The greatest kindness one can render to any man consists in leading him to truth.”

Sheer ignorance would be of no help to anyone. But we are neighbors to each other and inherit the solemn obligation to be of help to each other, especially on the road to salvation. We are required to use our minds to assist others as we navigate through the various obstacles that life has set before us.

The day will come when God will judge each one of us. But who we are in the eyes of God is not someone that any one of us can know. It is in this sense that the command, “Do not judge” has its decisive meaning. 

Jacques Maritain, in his book, On the Use of Philosophy, expresses the matter accurately and beautifully: 

“But we are utterly forbidden to judge the innermost heart, that inaccessible center where the person day after day weaves his own fate and ties the bonds binding him to God. When it comes to that, there is only one thing to do, and that is to trust God. And that is precisely what love for our neighbor prompts is to do.”

It is tempting to misinterpret the command, “Do not judge” and refrain from all legitimate judgments. Thus, many take refuge in the fraudulent excuse, “Who am I to judge?” This is not a case of being kind to people by not judging their actions. It is actually a case of failing to exercise our duty to be of assistance to them. 

The natural law offers us a reliable basis for making moral judgments. The ultimate purpose of education is to develop our inherent capacities to distinguish between truth and error. Being open-minded does not mean remaining open even when convincing evidence has been presented. The truly open-minded person remains open to the truth until he apprehends it.

The rule of law could not be enforced without a judge. It is the responsibility of the judge to render a verdict concerning one’s innocence or guilt. And it is good to remember that the word verdict derives from two Latin words, verum and dicere meaning to tell the truth. In addition, witnesses are obliged to swear that their testimony is truthful. Without an agreement as to what constitutes the truth, society would collapse. 

Let us have the charity never to judge how another person stands before God and the perspicacity by which we can judge immoral words and actions.