Absolute Non-Judgment

A former student of mine, studying at Oxford, came across my essay on “Love and Dogma.” Many of his peers, he told me, when asked what their religion was, responded, “Love.” He would then astutely ask a further question: What did they understand “love” to mean? To them, love means nothing other than “absolute non-judgment.” Love is not a tendency to the good that moves us to rejoice in what is loved.

No order exists in the universe. Chaos rules. Love means whatever we want it to mean. Love can mean the opposite of what love means. With such a theory, the phrase “I love you” can mean almost anything, except perhaps what “I love you” means to most normal people. Just why we should bother with a word that can mean almost anything is not at all clear.

The only judgment that cannot be questioned is the one that maintains that there is nothing to judge. Every judgment is equal. No distinction of good and evil, higher and lower, truth or falsity can exist with these suppositions. Why we need to pay serious attention to the “judgment” that nothing is true is beyond me. “Absolute non-judgment” is itself a judgment. Why else would anyone think it necessary to state, if he did not think others should agree with this proposition that no judgment is possible?

On the dubious thesis of an irrational universe, no order of nature or human nature exists. We arrive at the same point if we hold that God is pure will. Every act of creatures is directly willed by Him but could, at the same time, be otherwise. Here again, reality has no content. Voluntarism and chaos belong to the same mental framework. Reason plays no part — except, oddly, to claim that incoherence is true, which shouldn’t be if chaos rules.


In discussing the Prodigal Son in Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Is it difficult for us to see clearly reflected here the spirit of the modern rebellion against God and God’s law? The leaving behind of everything that we once depended on and the will to a freedom without limits?” The Prodigal Son finds out what happens when he pursues this kind of limitless freedom. Chaos theory justifies our moral deeds, or so we would surmise. No one has any grounds to maintain that whatever we do or think, whatever it is, has anything wrong with it.

“Those who understand freedom as the radically arbitrary license to do just what they want and to have their own way,” Benedict continues, “are living in a lie, for by his very nature man is part of a shared existence and his freedom is a shared freedom. His very nature contains direction and norm, and becoming inwardly one with this direction and norm is what freedom is all about.” Our freedom is not absolute but shared. Human nature is not a chaos. It has direction and norm. To bring ourselves into relation with this direction and norm is what our freedom is about.

The scriptural phrase “Judge not lest you be judged” (Mt 7:1-2) has become a justification for relativism. The passage was never intended to deny the possibility of judging things. The purpose of the mind is to judge things. We do not know how Christ will judge anyone at the end, but it certainly won’t be on the truth of chaos theory. It will be on the direction and norms of human nature, on whether we became inwardly one with them. If we insisted on making our own rules and norms, we will be allowed to live with them. Our eternity will be to live out our own judgments, shared by no one but ourselves.

Our mind is the eye of our soul. It judges what is out there. It judges this is not that. In a Peanuts cartoon, Linus receives a new pair of glasses. He says to Lucy, “And so the ophthalmologist said I have to start wearing glasses.” Walking away, he adds, “At first I was pretty upset . . . it was a real emotional blow. All sorts of things went through my mind.” But Linus concluded, “Finally one thought seemed to stand out.” Lucy of course asks, “What was that?” Linus happily explains to her: “It’s kind of nice to be able to see what is going on!” Of course, if it is all chaos, nothing is really going on — certainly not love.

Absolute non-judgment is a choice not to see what is going on. It sees chaos as order so that it might do as it wants. Glasses won’t help, but logic might. Absolute non-judgment is an idea that claims to be true — that is, it affirms what it denies in its very statement: “It’s kind of nice to be able to see what is going on.”

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.


Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books include A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent books are Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017) and The Universe We Think In (CUA Press, 2018).

  • Marthe L

    Some of my friends are living common law with their partners. Some of my friends are gay. Some of my friends are divorced and started a new relationship without having an annullment. But I also know their personal situation. I have also heard about their backgrounds. And, since I have been tremendously helped by counseling at healing the wounds of past abuse I suffered myself, I have been able to see that it is impossible to know what goes on in the hearts and minds of other people. It is not always possible to even understand what is going on in my own mind. So I have, over time, taken the attitude that I can love my friends for the good they have in themselves, for the reason that Jesus loves them and died for them too, and of course for the good times we have together as good friends, and I can leave issues such as their marital relationships in the hands of the Lord. Some of my friends do not always go to mass and the reasons they give do not always sound legitimate to me. Of course, if the subject comes up in a discussion, I will give my opinion if appropriate to the context. But I myself have suffered from people who did not approve of one or the other things I was doing, and would not let go – even if I argued it was just not any of their business, or, in one case in particular, tried to explain that the denomination they belonged to may have taught a certain thing, but the Catholic church teaching was different (on issues such as reasonable use of alcohol vs total condemnation of alcohol, for example), and I do not think that always “preaching” to other people is necessarily a good thing. I have learned, through experience, that discussions that turn into accusations and acrimony have little chance to change the other person’s mind or heart. Of course, most of the things I have mentioned above are considered as mortal sins, and would be mortal sins if the people involved knew they were serious sins and freely chose to continue doing what they are doing. However, I do not think that it is my place to constantly and vocally remind them of that… I try to actively listen if and when they confide to me, and to find comments that could lead their thinking in the right direction. And of course I try to pray for them.
    I wonder, is my way of being non-judgemental a correct way?

  • Krupa

    Marthe, I think that Fr. Schall’s article has less to do with confrontation and acrimony, and more to do with appreciating truth properly. I think he’s saying, in part, that in society today people sometimes commit the error of substituting indifference toward truth for authentic love, and that doing so can be harmful.

    From your post above, it seems that Fr. Schall’s article calls to mind the awkward and unfortunate times when we try to evangelize but may end up being merely harsh and defensive (or for that matter, too much on the offensive). I think that you are right in trying to avoid doing so in life. But I believe that the author’s point is, in part, to encourage us to not lose the sense of objective truth in our lives. If we lose that sense, then our witnessing may be as ineffective as it is when we come on too strongly toward others. I’m not sure whether that is helpful; just my thoughts.

  • Tom B.

    It seems to me that Father Schall is writing only about “Absolute Non-Judgment.” Our culture is rife with a total rejection of any distinction between right and wrong. This can only lead to chaos since God did not create us equal to the animals, we were created in His Image. It is in our very nature to say, “This is right,” and “That is wrong.” But it’s not so easy to know “this” from “that.” Sorting things out has taken me a lifetime and I’m still working on it. Unfortunately for me, my conscience has been formed too often by learning the hard way through my own sad mistakes and not enough by incorporating the Gospel message into my life. I too am reluctant to point out the speck in my neighbor’s eye. How to speak to others, with love, about the follies I may be seeing in their lives, such as their addiction to absolute non-judgmentalism, is a real quandary for me.

  • EA

    Well,where to begin? Rule #3 of The Rules of this forum states: “Don’t make judgments about the other person’s sinfulness or salvation. You are not the Inquisition.” Hmmm. But what should one do if one observes someone is sinning, nothing? Somewhere in the Old Testament it is explained that doing nothing makes one a party to the another’s sin whereas warning them frees one. But modern culture doesn’t work that way. It is normal is to say nothing about someone’s sin, but just fine, even fun, to ask deeply personal questions or to psychoanalyze others. What are you repressing my dear friend? That’s just fine for non believers, even if it makes the other uncomfortable. So in the non-believing world deviations from a cultural norm are acceptable to criticize even if the norm is sinful and the deviation is not.

    Why, however, wouldn’t believers want to be stopped from sinning? Better let me sin freely if you really love me? What then do they believe in? Do they believe that sinning is certain to destroy them? Do they believe they could die in grave sin the very next moment and suffer eternal damage? Yes, or perhaps, but they don’t like to be told they are sinning, let alone gravely, for it’s shameful and uncomfortable. But do they prefer comfort over eternal salvation? Do they believe in eternal salvation and damnation? That’s really the bottom line, and Jesus was very clear about it.

    Those whose duty is it is to tell them sometimes don’t want to because of fear they may also be judged. Aah! One must first be sure that one is not guilty of grave sin or of anything one is pretending to correct another of. One must take the beam out of one’s eye first. Yes. Absolutely. But once that is taken care of, one must discreetly help others out of their hole to the extent they permit it, no matter how uncomfortable anyone might feel. That’s how it is if one wants their greatest good, their salvation. But one may lose one’s friends’ and family’s affection. It can be very painful for the one doing the correcting. Yes. But that’s loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is it not? I think I’ll stop right here and see if this gets published.

  • matthew

    One of my professor’s while studying in an pastoral studies program addressed this issue. One must strive to be like Jesus and the woman at the well. He counselled her compassionately, and sent her forth. This was especialy difficult for me as I am a convert in more ways than one, so having been recently “enlighten” if by just a little of the authentic truth, I was a little zealous in my approach. (I have definitely mellowed). Good article.

  • EA

    Jesus didn’t mince words. He told the woman at the well the real deal about her life, that is, that she had had five husbands and that her current cohabitant was not her husband. I wonder how many Catholics would dare tell a woman something like that today.

  • Mary

    But what should one do if one observes someone is sinning, nothing?

    Humm — if it’s a mortal sin, one need not pray.

  • Chrissy G

    I think I understand your point, but I most strongly disagree. People living in mortal sin, like all people, need God’s grace and mercy. Our prayers can help. I don’t know St. Augustine’s story all that well, but from what I recall, his mother St. Monica prayed fervently for him while he lived in grave sin for many years. I would sooner follow her example than give up on praying for someone I love because they’ve committed a mortal sin. What do you think?

  • Nick Palmer

    I know I won’t get the quote exactly right, but when asked about the command to rebuke sinners, St. Francis of Assisi suggested that not by words, but by living a virtuous life one provides a true, visible rebuke to sinners.

    Oh, and pray for them, too.

  • EA

    Catholics often just pretend that the Church is wrong and that they are not committing mortal sins. Indeed, some priests look the other way too. Then they pretend that good deeds compensate for the mortal sins they continue committing. Catholic families are broadly contaminated as a result.

    But absolutely nothing impure can enter heaven. Otherwise, it would not be heaven.

    Should we pray for them? Absolutely. Satan would want us not to but Jesus told us to pray for the possessed and for enemies. In the gospels he reaches out to sinners, although it appears that not always successfully (e.g. pharisees, 10 lepers).

  • David Ambuul

    On the desk in front of me is a book called “Being and Order” by Andrew N. Woznicki. I have no idea if it is available on Amazon but if it isn’t, you can’t have my copy -I just love some books too much. It is the first in a philosophical series called ‘Catholic Thought from Lublin’. I was intimidated by it because the author uses 4 (maybe 5) languages in the first page of the foreword. I’m not sure which because I’m not a linguist. Well, after 20 years, some of its teachings have sunk in. The author claims his book was cited by another philosopher as the best answer ever written (to date of its publication in 1990) to Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness”. But you won’t find that claim in the foreword; I heard the author say it himself when I had him for a class at USF in the early 1990’s on the very same book. And, incredibly, he was not a cocky guy. He was a polish priest who loved his people and his books.
    It’s basic point is simply that wherever you can find existence you can also find order. You see, Woznicki was probably never in a concentration camp like Sartre had been. So he had a distinct philosophical advantage: he was able to see life more from a perspective of what it should be -and from there he was able to write a clearer story of life, in philosophical terms. He did not simply say it is always easy to find that order. He was a catholic priest and such a reading would not allow for original sin, a fallen world, and the many, many confessions he must have heard throughout his life. No, because the world is fallen and wounded, philosophy is left with the daunting task of trying to rebuild order primarily in the realm of the intellect. And it doesn’t take a Boethius to see that.
    So we live in a world we have inherited from the likes of Sartre and Woznicki and the world they found themselves within. There are many others , of course. Some are moms and dads, some paupers, some military leaders and others political. Some were filthy rich and others were honestly rich. All were human. The list could go on almost indefinitely but what would be the point in that? Sometimes you have to close a door so you can sit down all alone and come to know who you are. Who you are before God. Not who you are in men’s eyes or women’s. Not even necessarily who you are in your own eyes, or your mom’s or dad’s eyes. Who cares about that? You have to know who you are in the eyes of the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. Because that person is the real deal. And it is very possible that only God can tell you who you are.
    I don’t like this world very much. I love it. That may sound strange but it’s true. I know there are times my wife hasn’t liked me (i don’t blame her, sometimes i’m not good at liking myself). But she has always loved me more than any other person i have ever known. And for that I cling to her like a young koala; i’m not afraid to admit that. And I think i love her more than she loves me (we argue over this point). We know our world is upside down and we try to change it one kid at a time. We now have three of those kids and hope for more. But if we could make a plea for the world to get better (i’m gonna have to speak for my wife: she’s asleep and our theology says the two are one)it would go something like this…

  • David Ambuul

    Dear Mr. President,
    I must admit i am sad with the world; this place stinks. Not always, but often. I wish we were not in Afghanistan. I wish we were nor in Iraq. I wish we weren’t triangulating in on Iran. If we weren’t, then maybe they would not be attempting nuclear power plants; i don’t know. I wish there was no hunger for food in the world and the environment could clean itself up. It can’t so I guess we have to. I wish the sun wasn’t so hot in the Mojave Desert and so seemingly ineffective on the south pole. But it is.
    I wish we knew why a salvo was sent in the direction of the Far East over the Pacific Ocean a couple days ago. But i don’t. And if you do, maybe it is a necessary discretion on your part for the object of peace in the world. I don’t know.
    But if that missile was sent because China downgraded our credit score -in their eyes, a couple days ago; that is a sad story. If it was sent because Russia flexes its muscles instead of publishing Dostoyevsky; that is also a sad story. If it was sent because of both: that was just plain dumb.
    But perhaps there is a third way. What if that thing was sent as a sign that foreign wars of aggression under the thumb of the Federal Reserve Board must come to an end. What if some thoughtful General who dislikes the World Bank decided to say: enough is enough! Maybe he saw some of his soldiers die pointlessly, and he thought their lives could have been put to better use? Again, i don’t know. But leaders of the world write history before any historian can wet paper with a pen. And that is just a fact.
    So given this third scenario as a possibility, my wife and i want to propose something for our kids sake:
    Take all of our troops out of the Middle East and every other country that we have no good business being in. End the Federal Reserve’s charter and let’s print the money ourselves and pay our citizens to do that printing, as the United States of America that Jefferson, Washington, Adams and many other great men, left here unnamed, did. Many of them died so that future generations could have thoughtful leaders and food to eat. As I figure it, in one year we could save so much money that we could pay all those soldiers to do something more useful. I don’t know, but i’ll give it a shot:
    Let’s use our scientists and the money to build huge desalinization plants. Then have the soldiers lay pipelines out to the Great Basin so we can water that big bowl. Then the soldiers could split up the land (like the land given under Lincoln) and build homesteads. It’s hot out there (we know, Gore’s told us ad nauseam) but the evaporative effect would work like a great swamp cooler and you could possibly tell Gore to be quiet in a plausible manner. The left over sea salt could be sold to entrepreneurs who could sell the stuff to herbal outlets that could replace the big-pharma outlets through positive sales in regenerative medicinals and health care might become so cheap that we wouldn’t need a vast bureaucracy telling regular doctors to be pharmaceutical outlets for multi-national corporations who care nothing really for you or me or the USA. Then the green people might be happy to see Nevada become a green state that Harry Reid has no power over. Your soldiers could be growing and selling herbs instead of smoking cannabis. And the western expansion Jefferson started could come full circle. There’s even enough room in the great basin that you could send many so-called over-breeding Catholics and Muslims to live there in peace as we breed away and argue religion into the late hours of the night. That argumentative outlet could reduce jihad and catholic bashing by the likes of John Kerry. My gosh, i may even back you in 2012 if you did this. But you’d have to quit abortion first; it’s a sine qua non in my book. That and the World Bank. End those two and you’ll get re-elected.

  • David Ambuul

    Really these are our soldiers, and congress should end the Federal Reserve’s charter. You should then sign these changes into law. Sorry for that, i’m neither a lawyer nor a scholar on the constitution. I just like political philosophy as it relates to our country.

  • Marthe L

    Thank you very much to Krupa, Tom B.,EA, Matthew, Mary, Chrissy G. and Nick Palmer for so kindly taking the time to answer and discuss my question. I realize I might have been a little outside the scope of the actual article, but I needed to ask my question to someone, and the replies have been very helpful. And I did enjoy David Ambuul’s posts, so well written and inspiring.

  • Patrick Lynch

    He was a POW for about a year, but by 1941 he was writing and publishing in occupied France under the approving gaze of the NAZI censors.

    Neat dude.