Symmetric Condemnation

Back in my ECUSA days I had a nemesis on the internet. They would literally pounce on anything I said. To be fair they were anyone’s nemesis. There was a reply for everything and everything got a reply. I met this person when I first logged on to Prodigy. They were there when we opened the Episcopal version of ECUnet and, for all I know, they are still out in cyberspace correcting everyone. My favorite correction? There is no such thing as “church”. It’s just a mistranslation of the Biblical text. Everything was like that. Slightly nuts, unsupported and – for someone who worked for the Church and was married to an Episcopal priest – markedly wrong. I felt they needed either better a catechism, or else a better minder.

Thing is, I’ve met someone like this in every internet community. I’ve been told I know nothing about Christianity, nothing about Orthodoxy, nothing about Catholicism. I’ve also been told I know nothing about paganism despite being one for 10 years, and – recently – nothing about the gay community. I don’t pretend to know everything about any of these, but I’ve been around enough to know something, at least… Or certainly not nothing. I have my own things, of course: there’s the annual Halloween essay where I pedantically try to disabuse folks of bad scholarship and I just found out that croissants really didn’t exist before the 19th Century – so they had nothing to do with any victories in Austria. I’ll have to write that essay too and repost it every year.

In the wake of 9/11 20 years ago, I became Orthodox. I began to learn the Church Fathers. Patristic texts are one, long rabbinic Midrash on the teachings of Jesus. They are not about development or evolution: they are only about application. The texts that moved me most then – and now – are the ones about forgiveness. The Fathers insist that Jesus means it when he says we must forgive in order to be forgiven. The Fathers even go so far as to say it is better to pray for a sinner than to condemn them. It is better to pray devoutly for your neighbor than to rebuke him every time he sins. – St. Mark the Ascetic

All sins in the human heart are the result of giving in (by choice) to demonic bullies. But even in my Orthodoxy, I met other Christians on other fora who were quick to jump on these Patristic Peaceniks. My favorite condemnation of Patristic teachings was an appeal to a Group Moderator that this person was “Offended on behalf of Jesus” on my account. Gregory of Nyssa’s account, actually… but ok.

It is better to pray devoutly for your neighbour than to
rebuke him every time he sins.

– St. Mark the Ascetic

All sins in the human heart are the result of giving in (by choice) to demonic bullies. But even in my Orthodoxy, I met other Christians on other fora who were quick to jump on these Patristic Peaceniks. My favorite condemnation of Patristic teachings was an appeal to a Group Moderator that this person was “Offended on behalf of Jesus” on my account. Gregory of Nyssa’s account, actually… but ok.

This is us, now. This is the state of our culture and it seems to have been so since we moved onto the internet in 1992 or so. Then along comes Jesus with his no judging and no condemning. We’re so used to seeing this in the first person passive: don’t judge me! We rarely notice it in the first person active: I can judge you, though, right? I think this is important in the wake of 9/11 (by which I mean yesterday, not the historical event nearly 20 years ago). We dredge up old resentments like 9/11 every year, some of us do so every day. We take it personally.

And like my nemeses on the Internet, we are quick to condemn.

So here’s the thing. “All the seven deadly sins are demonstrations of love that has gone wrong. They spring from the impulse which is natural in man, to love what pleases him, but the love is misplaced or weakened, or distorted.” (Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today, Washington: New Republic Books, 1978) Yes, humans make a choice to sin, but they do it out of misplaced love. This is as true of your run-of-the-mill sinners as it is true of the most heinous ones. While we make the choices we do, while we are accountable for the choices we make, what element of actual evil is involved? Does any human actually love evil? Or are we tricked into evil because we love the wrong things? I think the latter, more and more as I age. We simply love the wrong things and, loving the wrong things, we are tricked into doing evil. Even Eve saw that the fruit was beautiful and looked tasty.

From what we can gather, the 9/11 attackers entered the west (not undercover at all, just sort of in the course of events) in 1995. Did anyone try to share the Gospel with them? We may never know. Is anyone ever too far gone, this side of death, to hear the Gospel?

Today when we are quick to condemn “the other side” in the culture war, do we ever try to to share the gospel? Is it even possible to share the gospel in this environment? I don’t think so. You cannot share the Gospel with someone you’re actively condemning.

Jesus tells us not to condemn. The word he uses in Greek, καταδικάζω katadikazo, means to look down on, to pass a judgement on a personal, exact instance. We do this in our “cancel culture” both from the left and from the right. Ironically, while saying “don’t judge me”. But our “don’t judge me” is really καταδικάζω – condemnation. When Jesus says, “don’t judge” he uses a whole other word: κρίνω krino. This doesn’t mean what we think it means: it means “to cut off”. To cut off what? To cut the other person off. From what?

From the love of God? meh… we can’t do that – God wouldn’t let me do that to you, to me, to anyone. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God. Ok. So, to cut off from what? From the sacraments? No… can’t be that: that’s a real thing, and even that doesn’t cut one off from the love of God just from things that might otherwise hurt you. What can I possibly cut you off from? Is it cutting you off I’m worried about?

What do I have to cut off, to κρίνω krino before I can καταδικάζω katadikazo you, before I can condemn you?

You. Me. I have to cut us apart. I may do it actively: by taking some action or making a mental change. I may do it passively: by letting you do it and not denying your power to do so. But in the false sense of liberty created by that act of krino, I can quickly move to katadikazo. I can be free of you forever, and then I can condemn you. That’s how this becomes symmetric. It’s the commutative property of cutting off: if I cut you off, I’ve cut me off too.

Jesus tells us to bless our enemies, to pray for those who abuse us, to forgive them who sin against us. To not do so, we are probably loving something amiss: we may feel like that person I mentioned before, that Jesus needs defending. Do we love Jesus so much that we forget he’s God, that he could have called 10,000 angels, but didn’t, that he says the Gate of hell will not prevail against the Church. Do we mislove Jesus so much that we’re willing to fight for the secular “paradise” we have been saddled with? And what about the new one that’s coming down the pike?

When we cut someone off, we’re literally abandoning them to the bullies that will take advantage of their weaknesses, will draw them deeper into their delusions, and eventually lead them to grave evil. It is better to pray (to wrap someone in love) for a sinner than it is to condemn them…

Has anyone prayed for their souls? Or have we cut our own selves off from God’s mercy by imagining demanding them to be beyond it?

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