Why Non-Judgmentalism is Unloving

March 20, 2015

Recent controversies about the nature of marriage, assisted suicide, the conduct and personnel policies of Christian institutions, and other fraught questions have brought to the forefront of civic discourse among Christians a reticence to be perceived as making judgments. American Christians, especially evangelical Protestants, are judgment-shy. This is not without reason. A handful of prominent Christians have expressed judgment in unloving ways, and a willing secular media has celebrated them as typical Christians. But it is an over-reaction to empty oneself of all practical judgment. The effect of non-judgmentalism is to replace, Seek first the Kingdom of God, with, Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

One species of the broader phenomenon of non-judgmentalism is today far too prevalent among many Christians. It takes the form of the trope that to affirm the categorical and absolute moral norms contained in natural law, human law, or (especially) the Bible or Christian teaching is judgmental, and therefore wrong. Call it the Non-Judgmentalist Assertion. The assertion is both incoherent and unloving.

We might note in passing that behind the assertion is pride dressed up as humility. I am not like those who are judgmental. I don’t judge. But leave that aside and focus here on the problems with the assertion itself.

The Non-Judgmentalist Assertion: Incoherent and Unloving

The first problem is the assertion’s incoherence. The Non-Judgmentalist Assertion generally takes one of three forms. The non-judgmentalist might assert that: (1) A’s action of judging wrongful the action of B is wrong; or (2) A’s action of judging B for taking some action is wrong; or (3) A deserves disapprobation for judging the actions of B or for judging B.

Notice that 1 and 3 are operationally self-refuting. If it is wrong to judge another’s actions wrongful then there is no basis to judge wrongful the act of judging someone’s actions wrongful. If it is wrong to judge a person then there is no basis for judging the person who judges.

In fact, those who assert the Non-Judgmentalist Assertion have no principled objection to judging. Instead, they object to making judgments with which others disagree, or which are controversial, or which might hurt someone’s feelings (unless that someone is deemed, in the judgment of the non-judgmentalist, to be judgmental). Notice that these criteria are entirely subjective. Some judgments should be judged right and others wrong, but not according to the truth or falsity of the judgment.

Form 2 of the assertion is not self-refuting but it generally lands well wide of its intended target. It consists of the non-sequitor that to judge someone’s action (eg, an act of intentional self-destruction, or non-marital intimacy, or abortion) to be wrongful is to judge the person (eg, the destination of her soul or her putatively lesser moral status). This canard is so obviously absurd that it borders on bad faith.

The second problem, which deserves more attention, is just how unloving the Non-Judgmentalist Assertion really is. If someone I love is engaged in wrong conduct then I ought to–and will, if I genuinely love him or her–point out that what he or she is doing is wrong and is likely to lead to a harmful end.

We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. So how do I love myself? Well, I love myself first by rendering practical judgments upon my own choices and actions, then by acting upon those judgments. I judge that it is better to brush my teeth than to let them rot, and I love myself by acting on that judgment. I love myself by judging that I should not ingest heroin, commit adultery, or eat that extra cookie; and by judging that I ought to read good books, give to charities, and take the stairs rather than the elevator. I render these judgments on the grounds not only that acting rightly will please God, but also that acting rightly will go well for me.

Actions that are good and right are directed toward good and right ends—life, health, knowledge, community, and virtue. Actions that are bad and wrong are directed toward death, illness, ignorance, alienation, and vice, or are directed at good ends by wrongful means. Because one must distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong, in order to act well, judgment is necessarily entailed in self-love. Precisely to the extent that I judge my actions good and bad, right and wrong, and act upon those judgments I am loving myself. Precisely to the extent that I fail to make those judgments or fail to act upon them I fail to love myself.

For “my” and “myself” in the previous two sentences substitute “my neighbor’s” and “my neighbor.” The logic is the same. So, judgment is entailed in loving one’s neighbor.

Don’t we want our lives to go well for us? Of course we do; we act like we do. The question therefore is: Why don’t we want our neighbors’ lives to go well for them, too?

Of course, pleasing God is also important. Right judgments evince a will that is pointed toward God’s eternal kingdom. Wrong judgments, or a refusal to make right judgments (which often amounts to the same thing as wrong judgments), evince a will that is directed toward That Other Place. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Christ told us.

God calls us to love others as He loves us. And God is not content to leave us in our rebellion and sin precisely because He loves us. Right judgment is entailed in His love; it necessary precedes his mercy and grace.

The truth is that the authority of God and the love of God are inextricably tied together. Without the love of God the righteous judgment of God would destroy us all. But without right judgment, love is meaningless. We are called to share God’s love, not to mouth insipid greeting-card slogans.

 Anticipating Some Objections

Yes, yes, I know: Judge not, lest you be judged, and all that. (Matthew 7:1-6, for those of you not proof-texting at home.) This is followed by the admonition first to remove the plank from our own eyes, and then to remove the speck from the other guy’s eye. It does not take a theologian or Bible scholar to notice that, in context, this cannot mean, Never make any moral judgments. For Christ admonishes his followers to make all sorts of judgments, many involving people other than themselves. And having first removed the wood from one’s own eye, what loving Christian leaves his friends to walk around blind?

I am emphatically not suggesting that we ought to walk around thumping people on the head with a King James Bible yelling, Repent thou sinner!, as if we are not sinners ourselves. But we should not fail to speak of the reality and effects of sin. In a world that has forgotten how to live well, we sometimes need to exercise right judgment about actions not only with our lives but also with our mouths.

I am also emphatically not claiming that we should render judgment about the eternal fate of the people who take wrong actions. There are many tepid people who avoid grave sins but also fail to love God and their neighbors (perhaps I am one of them); just as there are many people who burn hot as they run in all directions, who make tragic blunders and perform heroic deeds of faith and love (perhaps I am one of them, too). Which one gets the eternal reward? I have no idea. The point is that we should be prepared to admonish the tepid person to perform great deeds and to admonish the fiery person to avoid pitfalls. And we should be prepared to do this whether the tepid or fiery person is ourselves or someone else.

Yes, Christians are called to exercise mercy, and to forgive. And notice that the Non-Judgmentalist Assertion renders that call meaningless. Show mercy in lieu of what righteous, just response? Forgive what offense? The non-judgmentalist has no answer. Only the person who judges rightly can show mercy. Only someone who recognizes wrong can forgive that wrong.

 Loving by Judging

How can we judge well so that we can love our neighbors well? Serious Christians ought to give that question serious consideration, yet in our day the problem is largely unexplored. In the space I have left, allow me to open to view just one area in need of exploration.

Consider how Christians might respond to the marriage crisis that our nation is currently experiencing. Many Christians are reticent to speak out about the evils of divorce, cohabitation, adultery, and out-of-wedlock birth for fear of offending divorced people, single mothers, and sexually-active young people. But consider that many of those people might actually want us to judge. For example, in our age of unmarried cohabitation and no-fault divorce, many single parents, divorced people, and especially children have been wronged by unfaithful exes and parents but have been denied the vindication that attends a legal judgment in their favor. By expressing moral disapproval of infidelity and abandonment we demonstrate our concern for those who have been harmed by the licentiousness of the sexual revolution and our belief that the wrongs they have suffered really matter.

And even those who do not want to hear our moral expressions might need to hear them. If a man is considering leaving his wife or his pregnant girlfriend and no one is willing to challenge him to be manly—to honor the obligations he has created for himself—then he is far more likely to perform an action that will cause tangible harm to his girlfriend, wife, or children and great moral harm to himself.

There is more to it than this, of course. But we need to start by acknowledging that exercising right judgment about human choices and actions—our own and others’—is the loving thing to do.

Adam J. MacLeod
Adam J. MacLeod is Associate Professor at Faulkner University, Jones School of Law. He holds degrees from Gordon College and the University of Notre Dame.

Adam J. Macleod

Adam MacLeod is an Associate Professor at Faulkner Law, where he has taught since 2007.  During the 2012-2013 academic year, he was a visiting fellow in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, and since 2014 he has taught private law theory in the Witherspoon … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24