Seeing Things: Judge Not

As we all learned at mother’s knee, we should not judge by appearances. Indeed, as our Lord told us, we are not supposed to judge in an ultimate sense at all. But an incarnational religion has to take seriously what the material world shows.

I write in the immediate after-math of the horrible massacre at the Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. This event will no doubt be dissected by a whole herd of politicians and pundits in the coming weeks. But it is unlikely that they will get to the heart of the matter.

For the heart of the matter is theological, a category that does not often appear in American public discourse. Instead, we will hear talk about psychology, community, exclusion—the narrow, modern litany of cause and effect. David Mandel, a psychologist who has studied the Goth subculture—one of the causes being invoked—wrote last year, “It is not sinister, but tongue in cheek.” And he continued: “People who are really into it use it to construct meaning in their lives. They really find beauty in the dark things much the way others find beauty in bright, happy things.”

This characterization fits quite well into the non-judgmentalism and radical individualism that have become the hallmark of psychology in this century. But it really conceals an attitude for which there is a technical theological term: Gnosticism.

Gnosticism was one of the early Church’s chief rivals. Unlike biblical creationism and the more optimistic views of nature found in some pagan philosophers, Gnostics saw the world as the product of an evil or, at best, indifferent, god; the true God was to be found only beyond material things. Evil was built in the foundations of this world.

If you want a rough idea of what this means in practice, you need look no further than Star Wars. The two sides of the Force are in perpetual conflict with one another. Neither Good nor Evil are ultimate principles, merely two parts of a whole. We are supposed to root for the good guys. But the dark side is always there, too, and has its “meaning and beauty” for some souls.

In similar fashion, our culture does not wholly accept groups like the Trench Coat Mafia. Many principals and teachers are engaged in a daily struggle to keep groups like them under control. Any school, for example, that lets gang insignias and graffiti go unchecked is headed for disaster. So administrators are quick to check them whenever possible.

But the black trench coat presents a different kind of problem. It is not hard to imagine the outcry from the ACLU and other groups if schools move to ban otherwise harmless articles of clothing. And wherever the argument begins to be made that such fringe groups are dangerous, we are likely to hear claims that excluding them will stifle diversity or only exacerbate the problem.

Whatever social problems Columbine High may have had, only those hypnotized by current social cant will mistake the root of the problem: evil. Evil exerts a strange fascination on the soul. Even those of us who have been taught to know better know how strong a grip it has on us. Healthy societies set up a whole system of coercive and non- coercive measures to deter and deflect evil. Our society, wonderful in so many ways, has also come to accept playing with dark forces as an alternative lifestyle. Acknowledging evil as evil takes courage, the kind of discernment of spirits that we are called upon to practice even if we are not the final judge.

If any good comes out of the evil that occurred at Littleton, Colorado, it will be a serious reflection on some of the assumptions that have marked significant parts of our culture—not the least elite culture—in recent decades. It would be a difficult task, as moral reflection always is. Unfortunately, we are more likely to hear in coming months psychological, sociological, and political arguments that cannot help us. No amount of community dialogue, counseling, or gun control can deal with what showed its ancient, ugly face in Littleton.

Robert Royal

By

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of TheCatholicThing.org, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
MENU