There is much in the news this past week, as often there can be, regarding mistakes others have made, some quite morally heinous. Whether in the genre of sports or politics, there is a human habit to judge quickly and then start throwing around moral determinations with a kind of self-righteous dispatch.
There is much that Penn State University is working through at the moment, there are answers yet to be understood regarding allegations of moral misjudgment by a presidential candidate, and in our own state of Arizona, the recent recall election has both sides doing a bit of finger-pointing or gloating, depending on point of view. There is nothing joy-generating about judging another from a self-righteous perch. Vilifying an individual is never a solution and has no uplifting value to society. On the other hand, immoral actions need to be rectified. How can that be done without accusing someone…without finding and fixing blame?
Every wrong action starts from a wrong thought. Every hurtful action starts from a hurtful thought. Every immoral act starts from an immoral thought. Even criminal law looks to the intent, the thought, of the criminal as part of its determination. So, maybe it is more important to go after the basis of thought that leads to these “wrongs” that we perceive in others and not just condemn an individual. Maybe we need to direct our indignity toward the error in thought and not the whole person. We are capable of being that discriminating in our judgments.
I’ve always loved the teaching of Christ Jesus in how he handled the presentation of an adulterous woman to him for his judgment. He remained silent and, rather than pointing a finger at her, simply wrote on the ground and then said to the crowd, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7) I don’t think he was condemning everyone around. I think he was saying that everyone is really an individual worthy of seeing good and can respond to his or her innate goodness, but that we each have our challenges in lessening our imperfections (obviously, there was some man somewhere not acting honorably or she wouldn’t have been in the situation she was). Of course, the crowd dispersed and the individual, the woman, was left alone with him.
Then he clearly but lovingly gave the lesson directing her to sin no more. The real need seemed to be to correct her thought about herself as uncondemned and then to cease the faulty thinking that led to the apparent immoral act. He never threw out the whole individual in the process of rebuking and cancelling the erroneous thought that generated immoral conduct. The immoral thought and conduct needed to cease but not the continuity of the individual, once corrected and acting consistently with his or her truer nature.