Praise and Blame

Contemporary pop-psychology emphasizes the importance of “positive reinforcement” or praise. All of us long for the approval of our peers. By the same token, no one wants to take criticism.

The word “moral” has practically been banished from the English language. But our everyday, pop-psychology-filled lives involve constant moral evaluations. To praise or “affirm” someone almost always requires some kind of moral judgment; likewise criticism.

In fact, it seems to me as though we live in an age of moral judgments as severe as any in recorded history. Pretty much any political speech these days involves condemning someone—or even a whole group of people—as fundamentally bad. The Salem witch trials dripped with circumspection, compared with Fox News vs. MSNBC and CNN.

In other words, giving other people the benefit of the doubt seems to be a dying art. Thinking of other people first and foremost as brothers and sisters, and then secondarily as someone with whom I may have a serious disagreement—we don’t see too much of that on t.v.

What’s the answer? I think the answer lies in one of the neglected aspects of the Gospel message, the aspect to which St. Paul refers in today’s reading from I Corinthians.

Christ will judge. Christ alone knows the whole truth. He will judge with perfect fairness. In the end, at His second coming, true goodness will be praised, will be affirmed, with an unimaginably delightful reward, the smile of God Himself. And all that is genuinely evil will be condemned and thenceforth stricken from the kingdom forevermore.

It is good for us to praise those who do well. And love can also move us to condemn severely actions that an honest person would judge to be evil.

But in the grand scheme of things, the job of judge has not been given to us. We need not fear: justice will be done by the Man Who has that job.

In the meantime, the job we really have now is to do our best to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt–and worry about repenting of my own sins.

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