I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The word “judgmental,” in the sense of overly critical or self-righteous, dates only from the 1960s. For centuries, great writers expressed themselves without this word, but now we use it frequently. Why? What does this word reveal about our thinking? How does it affect our actions?
Specifically, how can we judge people by the content of their character, and at the same time believe it is wrong to be “judgmental”? I don’t think we can.
For two generations, we have been discarding criteria by which to judge a person’s character. We removed the Ten Commandments from schools and courthouses. We tossed out the Bible and all that goes with it. We threw away the rulebook, so we are in no position to complain when someone breaks the rules. What rules? He may have broken your rules, but he didn’t break his rules – and his rules are as valid as anyone’s, aren’t they?
But if by chance we still have a complaint, where do we direct it? We have done our best to remove God from public life. In addition to ripping up the rulebook, we turned our backs on the Referee. Instead, we have a noisy cheering section that keeps chanting, “Don’t be judgmental – who are we to judge?” Who, indeed? After all, we’re not perfect, are we?
Leftist textbooks declare that American history is full of nasty, dishonest, violent actions, and lacking in constructive actions. Leftist professors claim that all ideas are of equal value, and that there is no objective truth. They go on to claim that all societies are of equal value, even those that practice slavery or oppress women and minorities. Our society isn’t perfect either, is it?
Many of our clergy announce from the pulpit that it is our “duty” to forgive everyone, even those who injured others and who don’t ask for forgiveness. President Clinton attended a service at which the minister urged everyone to forgive Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. This occurred when McVeigh was still alive. What empowered the congregation to forgive a mass murderer who hadn’t injured them, who hadn’t yet been punished, and who denied doing anything wrong? The minister didn’t say.
We have been taught not to judge other people or other cultures. We have been taught that there is no objective good or evil, or even objective truth. We have been taught to forgive everyone, no matter how terrible his crimes. Forgiveness that cheap is utterly worthless. So it has become impossible to judge the content of someone’s character.
In fact, the very word “character” is disappearing from our vocabulary, except to indicate a fictional person in a movie, or an eccentric person – as in, “He’s a real character.” But “character” in the sense of one’s moral core? When did you last hear the word used that way?
The only times I recall is every four years, when opponents slander the character of candidates. Judging character has been demoted from an effective tool for evaluating the people around us to a political weapon for hitting opponents over the head. Thus Ted Cruz was called “Lucifer.”
You may not like Cruz, but calling him the devil? Really? Then what were Hitler and Stalin? What is Assad, who uses poison gas on dissidents? What are the Iranian leaders, who develop missiles and may be developing nukes, while threatening to wipe Israel off the map? What are members of ISIS, who behead anyone who irritates them? Inflation of language is like inflation of the currency − eventually both become worthless.
Apart from self-righteous finger-pointing in political campaigns, we have forgotten how to judge the content of someone’s character. We have no clear idea that character even exists. So what is left for us to judge? Only superficial things − income, looks, way of speaking, what kind of car people drive – and, of course, the most superficial thing of all, skin color.
When Dr. King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963, everyone understood what he meant. Racists hated him and what he stood for, but they knew what he was talking about. Now many years have passed. A lot has changed, and not all for the better. We may hear the beautiful words on King’s birthday, but do we still grasp their meaning? I doubt it.
Not content with being “nonjudgmental” about people, we now apply the same notion to animals. When a tiger attacked Roy during the famous animal act in Las Vegas, Siegfried explained that the tiger was trying to “protect” Roy. By tearing out his throat? Another theory was that the tiger was upset by a woman in the audience with “big hair.” Perhaps the tiger didn’t like country-western music. Who knows?
Meanwhile, a grizzly-bear enthusiast and his girlfriend were killed and partially eaten by a bear in Alaska. An animal expert pointed out that the enthusiast was trying to treat bears like people. For years we have refused to admit that some people act like wild animals. Now we even have difficulty recognizing that wild animals act like wild animals.
But don’t worry − at the last minute, Congress restored the prohibition of bestiality to military law. Lest you think that the omission was merely an oversight, recall that the professor of bioethics at Princeton declares that sex with animals should be permitted.
We are blundering around in a moral fog. People lost in a fog are likely to bump into things and get hurt − and to hurt others.
When President Reagan called the Soviet Bloc an “evil empire,” liberals erupted with anger and contempt. When President Bush pointed out an “axis of evil,” they reacted in the same way. It wasn’t that liberals denied that the Soviets or Saddam were evil – it was that they denied anyone was evil. They denied the existence of evil itself.
Just as they are unable, or unwilling, to confront tyrants abroad, liberals don’t confront violent criminals at home. They blame poverty, or racism, or guns, or whatever – but they never blame the criminals. They can’t, because blaming people requires standards by which to judge people, and liberals have abandoned such standards.
We have hit the Delete key and dropped the word “character” from our vocabulary. Even worse, we have dropped the concept of “character” from our thinking. We can no longer fully grasp what Dr. King meant. So it’s no wonder that we haven’t taken his advice. And that’s really a shame – another word we no longer understand.
It is often said that words have consequences. Lack of words also has consequences.
If we can’t distinguish good people from bad ones, we are less likely to be good people.
If we can’t distinguish good societies from bad ones, we are less likely to produce a good society − or to keep it.
If we teach young people not to be “judgmental,” the time will come when they hear Dr. King’s words and ask, “The content of their what?”
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