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.”

Fr. James V. Schall

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The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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