Today is the Feast of Incoherent Piety, a moveable feast that occurs on the first Sunday after a priest or pastor gets the itch to say something fine and heretical. This itch is normally brought on by a reading that invites distortion, and of all of the distortable readings, the story of the Woman taken in Adultery is one of the most inviting.
I was this morning treated to a model of Incoherent Piety, in which a withering critique of the men who clamored to stone the adulteress was used to illustrate an alleged Christian duty to refrain from all judgment. This was spiced by some gratuitous judgments of men who have a taste for pornography and men who force their girlfriends and wives to procure abortions. In fact, to this crabbed old man, the lesson appeared to be that Christians have a duty especially to refrain from all judgment of women.
Where the cavemen who wrote that old apple-in-the-garden canard taught us to ask cherchez la femme, the oh-so-gentle pastors of our enlightened times teach that a woman does not sin unless a man drives her to it. That women crowd the pews of the churches of these pastors is, I suspect, both a cause and a consequence of this sexist bias.
But the great incoherent piety of this morning’s homily was the assertion that Christians have a duty to refrain from all judgment. The story of the Woman Taken in Adultery obviously disputes this by asserting that every individual is under judgment, and that there is no safety in the midst of a self-righteous mob. When Jesus stoops and writes in the dirt, his gesture tells the people in the mob that they should judge themselves first.
Jesus is telling them that the road to righteousness lies through the valley of self-criticism and personal reform, and not through virtue-signaling persecution of scapegoats and sacrificial victims.
This is, needless to say, a massive and unsparing judgment.
And you will note, as our priest did not, that Jesus judges adultery when he tells the woman to go and “sin no more.” Indeed, in saying this, he also judges that the woman is a moral agent capable of doing just this. She is not essentially or irredeemably an adulteress, and thus is not to be “condemned,” written off, or stoned to death as such. But she is a sinner, just a sinner who can be saved. When Jesus straightens up and addresses her, his words tell the woman that her guilt need not end in despair.
The road to personal righteous is open even to an adulteress, although she may decline to take it or fail to reach its end.
This is also a massive and unsparing judgment.
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If a Christian has this alleged duty to refrain from all judgments, he is necessarily exempt from any other duties, for there can be no duty to act where there is no judgment of worth and deserts.
I had, for instance, no duty to make my way to the church this morning, or to attend to the words of the priest, if I could not judge that this line of conduct is more worthy than, say, cavorting in a bed of sin with some tavern wench.
I likewise have no duty to help my fellow man if I cannot judge him worthy of pity and in need of my help.
Indeed, if I refrained from all judgment, I would have no motive to do anything at all!
For a man who is perfectly non-judgmental must also be perfectly apathetic. He will have anesthetized his will, and will therefore look upon every eventuality with perfect equanimity and indifference. If a scapegoating mob wishes to stone an adulteress, who is he to judge them? And if this scapegoating mob should turn and brandish its stones in his face, the non-judgmental man can only shrug, for he cannot say that an ignominious and painful death is less desirable than other alternative.
But from judgment you should not refrain. Your Christian duty is to rectify your will, not anesthetize it. Your duty is to judge justly, to temper your judgments with mercy, and to judge your neighbor only after you have judged yourself.
To ask for anything more is just incoherent piety.