What is to become of a culture in which more and more people feel that no one has the right to judge their actions but themselves?
Forty years ago, the great psychologist Rollo May sounded a warning about “the diminishment of the ‘conjunctive’ emotions‘ — our sense of connection with each other. A decade later, the sociologist Rollo May worried that the “language of social obligation” was being replaced by the “rhetoric of individual satisfaction.” If we lose the discourse of obligation and duty, he wondered, what will happen to our moral sensibility?
One answer came recently in a class I co-led about Jesus and Muhammad. My Muslim colleague described the Day of Judgment as a time when each person reads the angelic record of all their deeds before the throne of God. Some participants liked this idea because it suggested to them that “we judge ourselves.” Hardly what the Imam or the Qu’ran meant—or the Bible, or the Egyptian Book of the Dead or the eastern idea of karma. There are real consequences to deeds, both here and hereafter, this ancient wisdom says, that have little regard for our own self-evaluations.
The simple truth is that rash or unwise actions usually result in very real kick-backs. Ignorant or mistaken policies, personal or political, threaten the web of personal or social relationships and we are likely to pay dearly for them. There really is a There there, outside the hot-house machinations of our own minds.
For example, judgment will delivered—already happening, I believe—for our continued pollution of the waters and our carbon-laden exacerbation of global climate change. The rising global temperatures care not a fig for the opinions of the deniers and industrial obstructionists.
Up against the real edges of the world
You don’t have to believe in a final Day of Judgment with fire and brimstone and eternal torture for the “E” students to recognize that days of judgment arrive quite regularly. Yet in more and more of our churches even the language of judgment is considered, well, “too judgmental.”
Which means that there is, indeed, a Reality that ‘judges’ us through the consequences of our actions. By jury-rigging judgment into a solely personal and private affair, we fly in the face of even the most ordinary common sense. Has our culture’s sense of individual importance and independence gone delusional?
Oh yes, I know most people realize they are accountable to the police, or their boss—even to their families. But the overarching narrative seems to be that ultimately we are accountable only to ourselves; a sort of Ultimate Libertarianism.
What does this have to do with God?
So, I ask, is this every-person-their-own-judge bit yet another part of the many non-theological reasons for the eclipse of God in so much modern experience? This habit of thinking, even wanting, only ourselves, ultimately, looking over our own shoulders to see how we’re doing?
The Babe of Bethlehem, the Christians say, was born to be our judge as well as our savior. He, it is claimed, embodies the eternal cosmic patterns that uphold life itself. Perhaps, if we look deeply enough into his eyes, we can see the whole fabric of earth and all its creatures, and our own lives as an inseparable part of it—a fabric that calls us to accountability every day.
This is the final post in the “Advent and the Eclipse of God” series. I hope to begin a “O Magnum Mysterium: God Unveiled Among Us” series during the 12 Days of Christmas.
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