Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Catholics in today's Non-Judgemental Society

The Non-judgemental society springs from the person-centred psychology of Carl Rogers. Now we all know that Catholics have a problem with this, since there are behaviours of which we cannot approve. Father Dickson mentioned a number of these in his post on “The Culture of Death”. However, for many people, our judgement of acts is interpreted as judgement of persons, which is in fact contrary to Catholic Faith. Our injunction from the Lord is “Do not Judge, lest you be judged” (Matt.7v1-3), so it is beyond the remit of Catholics to judge persons and as such, non-judgementalism is to be a core trait of our character.

That we must not judge persons does not, however, remove from us the duty to judge acts. But as Father Dickson often says, “We must be like a physician who, while not judging the smoker to be a bad person, judges the smoking to be bad for the person and has to call the person out on it”. This is to be truly person-centred; more person-centred in fact, than those who refuse to judge acts as part of the Culture of Death, for those who refuse to judge acts in which the person engages allow the person to be damaged by those acts spiritually (and we should add, physically and socially. For example, homosexual sex practices in males can result in ano-rectal tears; while sexual liberty leads to an increase in STI’s, some of which cause infertility.) The Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit medical practice and research group, Minnesota, USA, notes that,

“Sexual activity plays a role in spreading many other infectious agents, although it's possible to be infected without sexual contact. Examples include the hepatitis A, B and C viruses, shigella, and Giardia intestinalis.”
(Mayo Clinic, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 19.08.2014)

It notes too that

The more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your overall exposure risks. This is true for concurrent partners as well as monogamous consecutive relationships.

A difficulty we have as Catholics is getting this message across to those who feel judged by us. It cannot be denied that to have our actions judged makes us feel we are being judged, since the person performs the act. Yet the person is not the act nor even the sum total of their acts. Acts may indicate a disposition within the person, but cannot always be taken to be a concrete expression of the person: how often have we lost our temper without meaning to, or struck out in the heat of the moment?

It remains however, very difficult to have a person distinguish our judgement of their acts from a judgement of them as a person. Taking my lead from Father Dickson as my parish priest for the last ten years I offer the following three strategies for engaging in challenge of what we as Catholics consider damaging behaviours.

  1.  Make “I” statements: “I cannot/couldn’t do that because...”

  1. Always give the reason as to why you “cannot do that”, this simply provides another point of view, and can help the person to make their decision from a wider information-base. If we begin with “You” rather than “I” we begin in an accusatory tone.

  1. Gently and carefully help them to engage in self-challenge. For example, ask them if by engaging in sex before they are married they are not saying they agree with non-marital sex, and how that will play into their marriage? A better example, if a person is talking about the possibility of abortion and speaks of ‘terminating the pregnancy’, always use the word ‘baby’. This allows you to be honest and might help the person to come to a new way of thinking. If s/he asks you why you speak of a baby when s/he is speaking of a pregnancy, you can clarify that since the embryo/foetus has its own DNA from fertilisation, and its own heartbeat from around 20 days post conception, it cannot be anything other than an individual human life.

We must be free to make our contribution to the debates in the public square, but if we can learn to offer them from a position in which persons are respected, we not only show human respect to others but bring truth into the situation.
Post Script on Truth:

A central problem for Catholics today is that we live in a society that has espoused relativism. Rogers’ Person-centred approach was a precursor of moral relativism, which can be summarised in the statement, “What is true for you may not be true for me”. We have to note that those who make such statements are in logical self-contradiction: they are making an absolute statement that an absolute cannot exist, and therefore cancelling their statement out as foundations for life. The moment a person declares that their statement is true, they have admitted to the reality of objective truth, the existence of which they are seeking to deny.


  1. Good advice. Especialy saying 'I' rather than 'you'.

  2. Thanks Paul.
    I have to say I got that "I" thing from Father, who I think got it from his work with couple in difficulty..

  3. Yes Andrew, as my mother used to say," the sin not the sinner". Two things if I may, "Relativism " with a capital or otherwise is a real problem now, and its opposite, " judgementalism" in its various forms seems to be a frequent problem, particularly in this current debate on Trident?

    1. Thanks Jacobi.
      "Hate the sin not the sinner" is something society won't give us credit for doing. If we hate the sin, they say, we must also be hating the sinner.
      with prayers.

    2. All decisions are judgments in that one idea or course of action is accepted and another is declined.

    3. So true, Independent. And even to decide not to act is to have made a judgement. I would say that whereas one may not make judgements about a person as to their goodness or otherwise, we must judge acts as being morally good or bad if we are to know how to live a morally good life in keeping with our nature and natural law.
      With prayers.


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