Back in college, my political science professor–a rightward-leaning chap, which was unusual for a professor even at my Southern Baptist college–initiated a discussion of whether some types of government were better than others.  One of my fellow students said that she didn’t think it was our place to judge other cultures.  The professor asked if she really couldn’t judge a culture that produced a system of government that would, say, mandate the sacrificing of virgins on a regular basis.  Her response was, “Who are we to say that that’s wrong, just because it’s not our culture?”

“Well, the virgin might have something to say about it,” the professor replied.

“How do we know?  Maybe she’d rather be sacrificed than be [bleeped] by some old guy.”

For the record, [bleep] was also a word unusual for discourse in my college classrooms, but anyway, that’s what she said.

I don’t have the actual statistics, but I imagine that at the time I was certainly among the top five percent Most Leftist Students at my school.  I was probably to the left of most of my professors.  However, when I heard my classmate insisting that we as outsiders had no right to judge other people’s cultures, my immediate response was something like “That’s the stupidest effing thing I’ve ever heard.”  Well, I didn’t say it out loud, because I don’t like confrontation, but I probably should have.  Actually, I think my mind was just so boggled by the idea that I couldn’t verbalize how stupid it was.

I had a similar experience in my Philosophy 150 class when we discussed moral relativism and whether there was such a thing as absolute truth.  One of my classmates (a different one) insisted that things could be “true” for one person and “untrue” for another person.  My professor (a left-leaning guy, if it matters to you) asked if the Nazis’ beliefs that Jews needed to be exterminated was similarly “true.”  After much hemming and hawing and back and forthing, she finally committed to saying that yes, their beliefs were true…for them.

To which I said (out loud), “That’s the stupidest effing thing I ever heard.”

Okay, so I didn’t use those exact words.  I used more polite–but equally eloquent–words.  To me it has always seemed self-evident that it is our place to judge just about everything–cultures, governments, and yes, even people.  To absolve yourself of that responsibility is immoral–not that you’d care, since, you know, what’s true for others may not be true for you, or whatever.  But that’s my opinion, and unlike some people’s opinions, it’s absolutely true.

For example, this morning while I was upstairs trying to get the baby to take a nap, Elvis toasted every last slice of a brand new loaf of bread.  That’s just wrong.  I don’t care what country you live in.

During my sabbatical from blogging, I was listening to Dennis Prager and he did an hour on judging vs. being judgmental.  He said something to this effect:  that our ability and willingness to judge behaviors and acts is part of what makes us human, and when we refuse to render judgment, we lose some of our humanity.  By the same token, when we take judging too far and become judgmental, we also lose some of our humanity.  It’s a balancing act because it’s a fine line, but it’s our moral responsibility to find that balance.

What I appreciated most was him addressing the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality, which I’ve always found problematic (as most of you long-time readers well know).  One of his callers said that while he can judge individual acts, he’s unwilling to judge individuals because it isn’t his place to make a final pronouncement on someone’s soul.  I agree that it isn’t my place to make a “final pronouncement” on someone’s soul, but I also agreed with Dennis’s point that if you can’t judge a person “bad,” you also can’t judge a person “good.”  You might say that Osama bin Laden isn’t an evil guy; he just does evil things.  But then you can’t say that Mother Theresa was a good person; she merely did good acts.  Personally, I’m okay with calling murderers evil.  I even feel reasonably confident that while it’s not my place to send murderers to hell–well, I’d probably have a bone to pick with God if they didn’t end up there.  That’s all.

Dennis–I like calling him Dennis, it makes it sound like he’s my friend–said that he distinguishes between acts of evil and acts of sin.  This made sense to me.  He defined evil as deliberately ruining or destroying other people’s lives.  I imagine this would include depraved indifference.  Is it a perfect definition?  No.  But it is a good starting point.  It allows me to draw a meaningful distinction between sexual promiscuity and rape, for example.  It’s all subjective, but it’s a context in which one can make reasonable arguments for what is our business and what isn’t our business.

Meanwhile, I have to attend to Elvis before he commits an act of evil against another household appliance.