Judging Others

Our enemies' faults may be no worse than our own

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Justice Virtue

I cannot confirm this story, try as I might, but I recall that decades ago there occurred one of those sex scandals in the Australian Federal Parliament in which the alleged offender was turned on and savaged from all sides by his virtuous fellows. Until a venerable senior politician (I think it might have been Clyde Cameron) rose and asked, “Is there any member of this House who has not at some time lusted after a woman other than his own wife?”

The matter went off the boil at once. Most people two generations ago would have remembered, with a certain sheepish embarrassment, that a Good Man had once said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” And they would also have had the instinct (at least if reminded) to try to remove the plank from their own eyes before carping about the splinter in someone else’s.

I hope I’m wrong, but that sense of moral fairness, that awareness that we all have our frailties, that our enemies’ faults may be no worse than our own, seems to have evaporated and almost disappeared from public life.

Nowadays instead we are seeing a sort of feeding frenzy of self-righteousness. Pulling down statues is a very public manifestation of a mean-spirited and two-faced urge to pick on the faults in other people and punish them, while usually ignoring our own.

Does this mean that we should never blame or condemn a fellow human being for anything at all, and that we should turn a blind eye to acts of wickedness? Of course not. Judges, teachers, coaches, even ordinary, responsible voters like you and I, have a duty to assess, evaluate, reward, and even punish those we lead and those we elect. But in a Christian society we have learned to do all such things with a degree of humility, knowing that we ourselves are far from perfect: there but for the Grace of God go I.

I am not an admirer of Oliver Cromwell, but he spoke wisely when he said, “I beseech you, in the Bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” That’s a text that we should keep close to our hearts whenever we’re tempted to turn on someone we dislike or disagree with, for God alone knows the whole truth.

The author of that most famous of hymns, Amazing Grace, had been a slave-trader as a younger man, but his experiences contributed to his conversion and his last days were dedicated to the abolitionist cause. If you didn’t know the whole story you’d condemn John Newton as a criminal hypocrite.

So sure, let’s run with the mob and destroy the image of another human being if we’re certain it’s justified. But are we?

 

David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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