Some time ago — back before readers would have objected to a story that framed a moral lesson in terms of patriarchs — two families had come to define a village that lay far from the seat of the ruling king. Being notably wise and benevolent, the king loved all of his subjects and granted them maximal freedom, which he generally regulated by means of suggestions for behavior and soft social pressure. And because he was wise and benevolent, those who followed his mildly enforced rules tended to flourish and be happy.
Following these rules more closely, one of the families in our distant village was happier and more prosperous, which made the patriarch of the second-largest family bitter and envious. So, by force and by persuasive arts, he sent out his children to mingle with those of the other family and sow disagreement with their father and, in turn, the king. “He makes you follow all these rules that you cannot explain,” said one of his sons to a classmate of the other clan, “because he takes pleasure in controlling you.”
While two pairs of twins from both families were playing together once, one pair complained that the other had toys of better quality that were slightly more numerous (though neither pair could be said to be deprived). “Our toys do not match yours because your father has taken unfairly from ours as long as they’ve been together in this village.”
At another time, an older daughter of the lesser family replied to the smile from one of her peers with a false tear. When the compassionate girl asked what was the matter, the explanation was sly: “You think you’re better than me, and that makes you wicked. Your whole family thinks it is better than mine, and that makes them wicked, too.”
Such accusations weren’t true, but over years of hearing them over and over and in many varied forms, the children of the faithful man developed doubts. Maybe their father was an unfair man, and maybe the advantages their family enjoyed were the result of his unjust ways, and maybe he was also imposing unjust rules on them so that they couldn’t do whatever they wanted. They didn’t necessarily blame him for this, of course, because they still loved him, but he was from another, less-enlightened time, so they followed his rules less faithfully and began to sneak around behind his back.
Those who studied or worked became less productive, and their decisions became less wise. The siblings who saw some danger in the deteriorating behavior of their brothers and sisters found themselves unable to offer warnings because warnings seemed like judgments, and they themselves had come to see correction as being unfairly judged.
Over time, the patriarchs aged and their families’ torches were passed along from elder to junior. The bitter man’s family followed his example and therefore experienced no loss of standing, but the good man’s family found its fortunes fading because of their softened habits and their reluctance to help each other. They experienced the same deterioration — quite apart from their wealth — in their happiness.
This allegory was suggested to me by a pair of columns in this week’s Rhode Island Catholic newspaper. In the first, Father John Kiley reminds us that judgment is not necessarily “rash judgment:”
Although the catchphrase rash judgment is rarely heard nowadays, the contemporary world is perhaps even stricter than the Bible in condemning passing judgment on another person’s thoughts, words and actions. One of this modern era’s greatest offences is the dreadful prospect of being judgmental. In contemporary culture, speaking the obvious truth is often dismissed as a rash judgment, that is, being as “judgmental,” especially when the speaker’s opinion or even the speaker’s statement of fact differs from modern society’s prevailing wisdom. Contradicting the present day’s accepted moral practice regarding marriage, sexuality, ecology, abortion, assisted suicide, gender identity, and so on is dismissed as judgmental — as bias, as prejudice, as bigotry.
In lieu of Western society’s once prevailing Judeao-Christian consensus that defined right and wrong for more than two thousand years, any thought, any opinion, any outlook must be accorded equal credibility. Frankly even to suggest that some actions are right and some actions are wrong is currently considered judgmental. “Who are you to judge me?” silences all arguments nowadays, even though the judger might be well qualified to commend or condemn some exploit. In the absence of Truth (note with a capital T) and in the presence of Individualism (note again with a capital I) then all convictions are equally valid. Expressing any contradictory judgment is a violation of another’s person’s human rights. What could be more narrow-minded? What could be more un-American? What could be more un-Christlike?
In his own column, Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk writes about how constrained our ability to judge has become. After he’d given a speech in Texas, somebody in the audience asked him how we can push back on “the seemingly endless expansion of error and evil in our society.” Thinking about that question, Father Pacholczyk tells this story about a ride-sharing driver that he says is true:
He then told [his mother] about picking up a pregnant woman with two young children. After greeting them, he looked at his phone and started driving. The address on his screen subconsciously caught his attention; meanwhile the woman was speaking to someone on her phone in the back seat. After several minutes of thinking about the address, the young driver suddenly realized where they were headed: the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.
He decided to make a couple of wrong turns to buy some time so the woman would finish up her phone conversation. When she kept on talking, he pulled the car over and brought it to a complete stop. As she paused her conversation, he turned and said to her, “I’m sorry but I have to let you know that because of my religious beliefs, I simply cannot take you where you are going. I will return you to where I picked you up and refund your fee.” The woman was surprised, but seemed to understand, and he drove her and her three children back to the pickup point.
Think how much courage it took for the driver to do even that! So powerful has the accusation of judgmentalism become that it seems like a valiant act to decline a job transporting a woman to a place to which she’s likely headed in order to kill her child.
Of course, it’s a con. It isn’t “judgmentalism,” objectively defined, to which our culture objects. It’s judgment that conflicts with the festering progressivism of our age. Indeed, had the driver’s customer complained to the company, the driver probably would have been judged directly out of his job. It isn’t hard to imagine a state legislature passing laws to make decisions like his illegal, judging people directly out of their rights of self determination and free association and the right to earn a living.
One important observation to realize is that Father Pacholczyk didn’t tell this story as a warning about constraint. Rather, he phrases it as “what each of us can do as we take care of our own garden.” Only these little, personalized, courageous steps can turn things around in the face of the cultural wave, at least until acting crossways to the king’s wisdom brings its inevitable consequences.