Monday, March 26, 2012

Reserving Judgment

I must admit something - I am normally not the first person to jump at a particular movement or buy into an argument. Rather, I usually try to gather my thoughts, attempt to determine the evidences on each side of a case, and then decide on the matter. Actually, many "issues" arise which after spending time learning about them, I realize having a hard opinion on them doesn't matter!

Sometimes reserving judgment means I want or need to hear from different viewpoints before coming to a conclusion. Other times, when people are passionate on both sides of a debate, I find it often best to understand both sides and live in the tension that exists between these poles.

I believe such an approach has led me toward a concept of ethics that is very situational. In other words, what someone is to do in a given circumstance is very much dependent on the particular set of circumstances they are in. What might be "right" for one person would be "wrong" for another. I don't think this results in relativism, but rather a reservation of judgment on other people until one can understand the situation. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Ethics, wrote that for the Christian ethics is not and should not be a matter of determining whether one's actions are right or wrong. Rather, one is to remain responsible to God, and to others, in the situation. This can be restated as "Hear the Word of God and do it." It doesn't mean we hear the Word of God, then develop the rule that works through all the possibilities and scenarios which might come out of it and then determine what is right or wrong in all similar situations at all times. Rather, for this particular action into which God speaks, be faithful to it.

This is a topic I will likely post more about later, as it really has a lot of importance in the way we approach many subjects. If you are really interested in this topic, read up a bit on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, or Soren Kierkegaard (particularly Fear and Trembling). I think most of our arguments come out of our trying to discern others actions as right or wrong based on our own determinations of what we view as good or evil. 

I'm going to keep this argument particularly wide-ranging and not dial in on particular issues. I would love to hear what these thought stimulate, because honestly I know it isn't the way most of us think about issues or actions.

Here is a good conversation that kind of mentions the realm of what I'm talking about - My friend Andrew recently posted this on his blog. You can find in the comments a post by me mentioning how I think we can re-frame the way we approach the this topic or right and wrong. I'd love to hear thoughts and start a discussion going.


  1. Right now, there is the huge controversy over the Travyon Martin and Zimmerman case that happened in Florida. I just got myself into a facebook "conversation" with a couple of Christian people who are bashing the kid that was shot because he has trouble past of stealing and smoking pot. All the while, they point to the fact that this makes him worthy of being shot (pretty much). Yet, the man who held the gun and shot him (murdered him) the media is using an old mugshot of him, not what he looks like now. The logic is lost on me, so...the kid is worth of being murdered bc of his criminal history but the guy who shot him, who also has a criminal history, is being targeted for racial profiling? I know I am not making my voice clear here, I have a hard time articulating my thoughts, but it all just seems so sad to me. To me, it boils down to Christians who think it is okay to murder someone because he was a troubled teen. Who are they to judge? Who are we to judge?

    1. Amanda - great example! I think that this situation just shows how we are now so quick to jump to a conclusion based off near-instantaneous media and social media coverage. All of the facts in this case are still being gathered, and we, in America, have this thing called Due Process within the court system that will get to the bottom of the matter. Do we have to immediately make one person a hero and another a villain in this situation? Even in this, do we have to caricature them so that one is totally in the right and the other completely in the wrong? Something bad happened, for sure. I choose to reserve judgment on this case until it is resolved in a court of law.

      We as a culture have grown impatient, and we somehow expect everything to become crystal clear in minutes. I don't think anyone (outside of Zimmerman - and even him from his own vantage point) really knows exactly what happened yet. Lets let the authorities do their job and hold them accountable for doing that correctly!