Raised Right: Empathy and Judgment

With today’s post, I want to take a look at chapter 8 of Alisa Harris’s book, “Raised Right:  How I Untangled my Faith from Politics.”  Ms. Harris selected “Judge Not” for the chapter’s title, almost certainly to bring up Jesus’s own injunction against judging as retold in Matthew 7.  I think that the entirety of Matthew 7:1-5[1] is relevant to both the theme of chapter 7 of Ms. Harris’s book and her approach to it, so I’d like to quote it here:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

This passage does not end with simply saying, “Don’t judge.”  It goes on to explain that whatever standard you choose to pick up and judge others with is likely to be the same standard that others turn around and judge you on.  If you nit-pick others’ every actions, pointing out every thing you consider to be wrong, people are likely to scour your own behavior for things to criticize.  If you tend to be be more lax and easy-going, others are more likely to cut you some slack too.

Ms. Harris appears to apply this as she goes from telling her story about discovering with disbelief that some of her Christians friends are Democrats to recalling her own experiences promoting feminism and being criticized and even attacked by other Christians[3].  She describes how her promotion of feminist thought[4] and the slack both she and her employer at the time — a Christian publication — took a great deal of flak, and how it caused her to soften her own views on how other evangelicals might approach certain political ideas differently than she did.  Her empathy enabled her to realize things are not always as stark and simplistic as one might first believe, and that a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of reality may lead rational people to complex positions that differ greatly.

I found myself more willing to believe thatpeople can hold blends of belief that seem incongruous to someone else.  I could be a Christian and a feminist; someone else could be a Christian and a Democrat.

Is it any wonder that to those who want to continue seeing the world in simple terms of black and white, this kind of empathy is dangerous enough to be decried as heresy?

  As an aside, while looking up this passage, I noted that it comes immediately after the “don’t worry about what tomorrow will bring” passage and is immediately followed by  the whole “ask and you shall receive” passage and a variant on Golden Rule.[2]     It seems to me that Jesus really could’ve titled the whole sermon something like “Silly thing that everyone does that creates more stress and problems for themselves and others.”

[2]  In reality, I think Jesus’s “judge not” passage is actually a specialized application of/corollary to the Golden Rule anyway, which I hope comes out in the rest of this blog post.

[3]  Not surprisingly, many of the fellow Christians who attacked her were men.

  I want to wait until next week to delve more deeply into Ms. Harris’s feminism, the response she received from her fellow evangelicals, and possibly even how it might have affected her.  I feel it deserves attention in its own right.  Plus, I’d like to offer a blogging buddy an invitation to share her insights on the topic.

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