To judge means to come to an affirmative conclusion, whether the process be a quick or a studied reflection. Judgment suggests thorough attention to nuances and thorough access to the relevancy involving a person or situation. But often it is not the case. whether studied or hasty, judgment implies certainty that is definitive. Neither seems optimal, especially if what is being judged is itself a passing phenomenon, an avoidance, or a prejudice made manifest. On that basis comes the advice of Jesus: “Do not judge.”
The factors for judging unerringly or simply without scruple, mercilessly, as it were, are seldom available in a totality. If the situation to be judged does not, ultimately, matter — not to oneself at any rate — judgment is a mere alternative to a lack of caution. We may want to judge what we take to be thoroughly embedded in an infrastructure of harm, but lots of people will make uninformed statements about what we observe without knowing much about the context and circumstances.
So judgement may be perpetually tentative, leaning towards a flattery of our prejudices, or, less nefariously, coaxing ourselves to a safe ambiguity or relativism, a lackadaisical avoidance of having to make up one’s mind. After all, our instinct is to fight or flee, that is, to judge and fight or judge and flee. Sometimes the effort to fight is literal and violent, sometimes it is just anger-provoked fulminations. To judge in a hasty, prejudicial obnoxious way is usually the reaction of crude and stupid people. Most people want to avoid provocation to anger. It doesn’t mean that their style is less stupid or erroneous.
But the rest of the saying of Jesus about not judging is “… lest you be judged.” This is the obverse of fight, the caution and foresight that must accompany all judgment, however accurate in one’s eyes. We expose ourselves to backlash, namely of the nuances of the situation that will undermine or invalidate the presumed power of our judgment. And this can happen with any abstract or theoretical issue, or event a real–life situation when one claims one thing and another person claims another, or when one argument seems sound but another has its logic, too. The pragmatism of not judging lest you be judged is essentially paraphrased as “Do not fight lest you meet your match, and then what.”
But there is no counterpart harm to fleeing, no saying like “Do not flee lest you ..” Lest you what? Be shamed for not fighting? Be called a moral coward by those on the sidelines of your dilemma? Or, worse, be labeled with as suffering from an antisocial disorder, as would DSM5.
Judgment is the provenance of those enmeshed in the world, bent upon making broad moral statements, even fulminating against nature, the world, society and the design of the universe — if not their neighbor or others not like themselves. Note that the motive here is not knowledge or experience or understanding but speaking, projecting one’s thoughts and emotions beyond the circumscribed world of that self. Indeed, if the judge lives within very narrow circumstances, others may suffer from these outbursts more than the world — one’s family, acquaintances, work colleagues, little circumscribed circles. The more power one has, the more impact the judgments will make, and the more noxious the results because of the “fight” element intrinsic to all expression. The advantage of the powerful, and what makes them uninhibited in their dispensing judgments, is that their judgments have a more noxious impact on larger and larger social circles, circles based on power that expands with every judgment.
The absence of judgment is the “flight” aspect of the duality of response. Perhaps the flight suggests fear or social avoidance. Perhaps, as many common people are wont to say, silence or lack of fighting engagement and repartee means fear. Such a view is so entangled with social relations and protocols that it represents a fear in itself. But to avoid society because of its inevitable habit of setting up social and psychological power over others, over ourselves, is not relativism or fear. Are we to praise the predator and admonish the prey? — for that is the relationship that society has constructed for all of its vital activities.
When we break out of the worldly paradigm, we become hermits, not in the sense of social avoidance but in the sense of leaving the world behind to its errors. We judge the world — that is inevitable. But we judge “back” as it were, we do respond but not with violence or anger, without cowardice but with courage, made or forced to respond to the world’s “fight” instinct. So the hermit flees, and that flight constitutes a judgment, but it avoids judging anyone or anything as well. The sage goes to the mountain or forest or desert no longer motivated by repugnance or exasperation. Truth is not in society or in the world but there in the silence and solitude.