A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Judgements, Bogans and Losers –
the Challenge

By Fr Kevin Bates SM

In responding to the circumstances of every day, we need to make judgements. We decide what to eat, what to wear, how to travel, how to spend our time, how to respond to various people or circumstances. Such judgements involve skills we’ve developed and serve us well. We also become pretty adept at judging people. Sometimes we need to do this, for instance, when such judgements mean that we can keep ourselves and our families safe.

Judging well is an important life skill. Sometimes our survival may depend on it. So, what was Jesus getting at when he instructed us not to judge each other? Along with the necessary judgements we make each day, we’ve also become pretty adept at judging the character, moral standing and integrity of others.

We make these judgements on the basis of what we see and what we think we know. We make these judgements without knowing the full story of a person and so we lack the necessary information that an accurate judgement requires. As a result, our judgements may be inadequate, partially right, or downright wrong. Do we let this stop us? Often we judge because we enjoy the sport that making judgement provides and the feeling of self-righteous power it provides.

I have a seemingly endless library of categories with which to make these judgements: race, religion, wealth, place of residence, career choice, physical appearance, politics, social skills -- to name just a few. When I make these judgements, my motivation needs to be called into question. Who do I think I am, to place myself over and above another person in this way? Why do I need to engage in such sport? Who benefits?

When I judge you, I decide who you are. In doing this, I close the door on further understanding, and any information that contradicts my judgement I can easily dismiss as meaningless, so attached have I become to my own opinion of you. In my mind, then, I leave no room for you to grow, and any dealings I have with you are carried out through the filter of my own warped judgment. I decide who you are for me and conversation comes to a halt.

The consequence of this behaviour is damaging for all of us, both the ones judging and the ones being judged. When we do this to each other as communities, as we’ve done again and again throughout history, the consequences can be dire. Whole communities have been wiped out on the basis of judgements that used economics, religion or ethnicity to fuel them. It’s easy for us to shirk responsibility for such outcomes, since we are only individuals and it is a nation or church that has caused such damage. However, as members of nations or churches, each of us must take some responsibility for the damage that is done in our name.

A good Lenten exercise would be to keep a watch on our heart each day and observe honestly and carefully the judgements we make about each other. It’s good to catch ourselves out and take a step back from such judgements that may have become second nature to us.

Look out for people whose politics are different from my own. Be wary of going in for the kill when the family pain in the neck does something to reinforce my opinion of him or her. Take a step back when my daughter’s bogan boyfriend is true to form and decorates himself with one tattoo too many. Be careful about deciding that someone else is ‘living in sin’ when I don’t really know their story. Avoid the risk of labelling someone a loser. I’ll probably be wrong!

Each of us is made in God’s image, even the bogans in our lives! It probably makes sense to let that be our starting point in our dealings with others. Who knows what treasures we may unearth?! 

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