Who am I to Judge?


Perhaps the single, most-often quoted line from Pope Francis is his response to a question he was asked vis-à-vis the morality of a particularly-dicey issue. His, infamous-famous reply: Who am I to judge?

Although this remark is often assumed to be flighty and less-than-serious; it is, in fact, on pretty safe ground. Jesus, it seems, says basically the same thing. For example, in his conversation with Nicodemus in John’s Gospel, he, in essence, says: I judge no one.

If the Gospel of John is to be believed, then Jesus judges no one. God judges no one. But that needs to be put into context. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t any moral judgments and that our actions are indifferent to moral scrutiny. There is judgment; except it doesn’t work the way it is fantasized inside the popular mind. According to what Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel, judgment works this way:

God’s light, God’s truth, and God’s spirit come into the world. We then judge ourselves according to how we live in the face of them: God’s light has come into the world, but we can choose to live in darkness.  That’s our decision, our judgment. God’s truth has been revealed, but we can choose to live in falsehood, in lies. That’s our decision, our judgment to make. And God’s spirit has come into the world, but we can prefer to live outside that spirit, in another spirit. That too is our decision, our judgment. God judges no one. We judge ourselves. Hence we can also say that God condemns no one, though we can choose to condemn ourselves. And God punishes no one, but we can choose to punish ourselves. Negative moral judgment is self-inflicted. Perhaps this seems abstract, but it is not. We know this existentially, we feel the brand of our own actions inside us. To use just one example:  How we judge ourselves by the Holy Spirit.

God’s spirit, the Holy Spirit, is not something so abstract and slippery that it cannot be pinned down. St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Galatians, describes the Holy Spirit in terms so clear that they can only be rendered abstract and ambiguous by some self-serving rationalization. How does he describe and define the Holy Spirit?

So as to make things clear he sets up a contrast by first telling us what the Holy Spirit is not. The spirit of God, he tells us is not the spirit of self-indulgence, sexual vice, jealousy, rivalry, antagonism, bad temper, quarrels, drunkenness, or factionalism. Anytime we are cultivating these qualities inside of our lives, we should not delude ourselves into thinking we are living in God’s spirit, no matter how frequent, sincere, or pious is our religious practice.  The Holy Spirit, he tells us, is the spirit of charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and chastity. Only when we are living inside of these virtues are we living inside God’s spirit.

So then, this is how judgment happens: God’s spirit (charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and chastity) has been revealed. We can choose to live inside the virtues of that spirit or we can choose to live instead inside their opposites (self-indulgence, sexual vice, rivalry, antagonism, bad temper, quarrels, drunkenness, and factionalism). One choice leads to a life with God, the other leads away from God. And that choice is ours to make; it doesn’t come from the outside. We judge ourselves. God judges no one. God doesn’t need to.

When we view things inside this perspective it also clarifies a number of misunderstandings that cause confusion inside the minds of believers as well as inside the minds of their critics. How often, for instance, do we hear this criticism: If God is all-good, all-loving, and all-merciful, how can God condemn someone to hell for all eternity? A valid question, though not a particularly reflective one.  Why? Because God judges no one; God punishes no one. God condemns no one to hell. We do these things to ourselves: We judge ourselves, we punish ourselves, and we put ourselves in various forms of hell whenever we do choose not to live in the light, the truth, and inside God’s spirit. And that judgment is self-inflicted, that punishment is self-inflicted, and those fires of hell are self-inflicted.

There are a number of lessons in this. First, as we have just seen, the fact that God judges no one, helps clarify our theodicy, that is, it helps deflate all those misunderstandings surrounding God’s mercy and the accusation that an all-merciful God can condemn someone to eternal hellfire. Beyond this, it is a strong challenge to us to be less judgmental in our lives, to let the wheat and the darnel sort themselves out over time, to let light itself judge darkness, to let truth itself judge falsehood, and to, like Pope Francis, be less quick to offer judgments in God’s name and more prone to say: “Who am I to judge?”

Principles for Interfaith Dialogue and Interfaith Attitudes


We live inside a world and inside religions that are too given to disrespect and violence. Virtually every newscast today documents the prevalence of disrespect and violence done in the name of religion, disrespect done for the sake of God (strange as that expression may seem). Invariably those acting in this way see their actions as sacral, justified by sacred cause. 

And, if history is to be believed, it has always been so. No religion, Christianity no less than any other, has been innocent. Every one of the great religions of the world has been, at various times, both persecuted and persecutor.  So this begs the question: What are some fundamental principles we are asked to live out apposite our relationship to other faiths, irrespective our particular faith?

What’s best in each of our traditions would suggest these ten principles:

1.      All that is good, true, and beautiful comes from one and the same author, God. Nothing that is true, irrespective of its particular religious or secular cloak, may be seen as opposed to true faith and religion.

2.      God wills the salvation of all people, equally, without discrimination. God has no favorites. All people have access to God and to God’s Spirit, and the whole of humankind has never lacked for divine providence. Moreover each religion is to reject nothing that is true and holy in other religions.

3.      No one religion or denomination has the full and whole truth. God is both infinite and ineffable. For this reason, by definition, God cannot be captured adequately in human concepts and human language. Thus, while our knowledge of God may be true, it is always only partial. God can be truly known, but God cannot be adequately thought.

4.      All faiths and all religions are journeying towards the fullness of truth. No one religion or denomination may consider its truth complete, something to permanently rest within; rather it must see it as a starting point from which to journey. Moreover, as various religions (and denominations and sectarian groups within those religions) we need to feel secure enough within our own “home” so as to acknowledge the truth and beauty that is expressed in other “homes”. We need to accept (and, I suggest, be pleased) that there are other lives within which the faith is written in a different language.

5.      Diversity within religions is a richness, willed by God. God does not just wish our unity; God also blesses our diversity which helps reveal the stunning over-abundance within God.  Religious diversity is the cause of much tension, but that diversity and the struggle to overcome it will contribute strongly to the richness of our eventual unity.

6.      God is “scattered” in world religions. Anything that is positive within a religion expresses something of God and contributes to divine revelation. Hence, seen from this aspect, the various religions of the world all help to make God known.

7.      Each person must account for his or her faith on the basis of his or her own conscience. Each of us must take responsibility for our own faith and salvation.

8.      Intentionally all the great world religions interpenetrate each other (and, for a Christian, that means that they interpenetrate the mystery of Christ). A genuine faith knows that God is solicitous for everyone and that God’s spirit blows freely and therefore it strives to relate itself to the intentionality of other religions and to other denominations and sectarian groups within its own religion.

9.      A simple external, historical connection to any religion is less important than achieving a personal relationship, ideally of intimacy, with God. What God wants most deeply from us, irrespective of our religion, is not a religious practice but a personal relationship that transforms our lives so as to radiate God’s goodness, truth, and beauty more clearly.

10.   Within our lives and within our relationship to other religions, respect, graciousness, and charity must trump all other considerations. This does not mean that all religions are equal and that faith can be reduced to its lowest common denominator, but it does mean that what lies deepest inside of every sincere faith are these fundamentals: respect, graciousness, and charity.

Throughout history, great thinkers have grappled with the problem of the one and the many. And, consciously or unconsciously, all of us also struggle with that tension between the one and the many, the relationship between unity and diversity; but perhaps this not so much a problem as it is a richness that reflects the over-abundance of God and our human struggle to grasp that over-abundance.  Perhaps the issue of religious diversity might be described in this way:

Different peoples, one earth

Different beliefs, one God

Different languages, one heart

Different failings, one law of gravity

Different energies, one Spirit

Different scriptures, one Word

Different forms of worship, one desire

Different histories, one destiny

Different disciplines, one aim

Different approaches, one road

Different faiths – one Mother, one Father, one earth, one sky, one beginning, one end.


Where to Find Resurrection


Something there is that needs a crucifixion. Everything that’s good eventually gets scapegoated and crucified. How? By that curious, perverse dictate somehow innate within human life that assures that there’s always someone or something that cannot leave well enough alone, but, for reasons of its own, must hunt down and lash out at what’s good. What’s good, what’s of God, will always at some point be misunderstood, envied, hated, pursued, falsely accused, and eventually nailed to some cross. Every body of Christ inevitably suffers the same fate as Jesus: death through misunderstanding, ignorance, and jealousy. 

But there’s a flipside as well: Resurrection always eventually trumps crucifixion. What’s good eventually triumphs. Thus, while nothing that’s of God will avoid crucifixion, no body of Christ stays in the tomb for long. God always rolls back the stone and, soon enough, new life bursts forth and we see why that original life had to be crucified. (“Wasn’t it necessary that the Christ should so have to suffer and die?”) Resurrection invariably follows crucifixion. Every crucified body will rise again. Our hope takes its root in that.

But how does this happen? Where do we see the resurrection? How do we experience resurrection after a crucifixion?

Scripture is subtle, though clear, on this. Where can we expect to experience resurrection? The gospel tell us that, on the morning of the resurrection, the women-followers of Jesus set out for the tomb of Jesus, carrying spices, expecting to anoint and embalm a dead body. Well-intentioned but misguided, what they find is not a dead body, but an empty tomb and an angel challenging them with these words: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? Go instead into Galilee and you will find him there!”

Go instead into Galilee. Why Galilee? What’s Galilee? And how do we get there?

In the gospels, Galilee is not simply a geographical location, a place on a map. It is first of all a place in the heart. As well, Galilee refers to the dream and to the road of discipleship that the disciples once walked with Jesus and to that place and time when their hearts most burned with hope and enthusiasm. And now, after the crucifixion, just when they feel that the dream is dead, that their faith is only fantasy, they are told to go back to the place where it all began: “Go back to Galilee. He will meet you there!”

And they do go back to Galilee, both to the geographical location and to that special place in their hearts where once burned the dream of discipleship. And just as promised, Jesus appears to them. He doesn’t appear exactly as he was before, or as frequently as they would like him to, but he does appear as more than a ghost and a memory. The Christ that appears to them after the resurrection is in a different modality, but he’s physical enough to eat fish in their presence, real enough to be touched as a human being, and powerful enough to change their lives forever. Ultimately that’s what the resurrection asks us to do: To go back to Galilee, to return to the dream, hope, and discipleship that had once inflamed us but has now been lost through disillusionment.

This parallels what happens on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s gospel, where we are told that on the day of the resurrection, two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem towards Emmaus, with their faces downcast. An entire spirituality could be unpackaged from that simple line: For Luke, Jerusalem means the dream, the hope, and the religious centre from which all is to begin and where ultimately, all is to culminate. And the disciples are “walking away” from this place, away from their dream, towards Emmaus (Emmaus was a Roman Spa), a place of human comfort, a Las Vegas, or Monte Carlo. Since their dream has been crucified, the disciples are understandably discouraged and are walking away from it, towards some human solace, despairing in their hope: “But we had hoped!”

They never get to Emmaus. Jesus appears to them on the road, reshapes their hope in the light of their disillusionment, and turns them back towards Jerusalem.

That is one of the essential messages of Easter: Whenever we are discouraged in our faith, whenever our hopes seem to be crucified, we need to go back to Galilee and Jerusalem, that is, back to the dream and the road of discipleship that we had embarked upon before things went wrong. The temptation of course, whenever the kingdom doesn’t seem to work, is to abandon discipleship for human consolation, to head off instead for Emmaus, for the consolation of Las Vegas or Monte Carlo.

But, as we know, we never quite get to Las Vegas or Monte Carlo. In one guise or another, Christ always meets us on the road to those places, burns holes in our hearts, explains our latest crucifixion to us, and sends us back – and to our abandoned discipleship. Once there, it all makes sense again.