What’s in a word?

 

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When I was a kid I always used to like watching that cheesy yet insightful movie The Princess Bride. It’s known as one of those films that have innovative and unique lines that make it a common “movie quote” film. One of those famous lines is when Vizzini keeps repeating the word “inconceivable” throughout the movie. Finally, Inigo Montoya replies back, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Montoya was right because if most everything is “inconceivable” as Vizzini declares, then that word ceases to make any sense. Indeed, if everything is inconceivable, then nothing is inconceivable as the definition of inconceivable implies something that is rare. Very often people will repeatedly chant certain words or slogans but never think through what the word actually means. This very much goes on in our modern pop culture. But, instead of simply reciting these words that are churned up in the pop culture, let’s pull a Montoya – and ask what does this word actually mean.

The modern culture can be manipulative at projecting ideas through clever emotional phrases. If you study philosophy (the science of thinking) you’ll realize that the pop culture uses little if any rational logic in articulating ideas. All the pop culture does is use cunning words that are designed to stimulate your emotions. In this sense, the pop culture can change people’s concept of a word through clever marketing. A slogan going around today churned up by the pop culture is: “don’t be judgemental.” It has become the defense mechanism of the younger generation to shout: “Don’t judge me!” As I will show, this slogan is nothing more than a clever re-packaging of a neutral word turned now into a negative word.

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Most people don’t even think about what the word judgment means. Rather, we simply chant “don’t judge me” because we’ve been trained by the pop culture to sheepishly nod in approval to this slogan. But, I want to zoom in on this phrase to see if it makes any sense at all. The official etymology of the root word “judge” is a verb that states: “to form an opinion about; to make a decision.” Therefore, to make judgments is to make a declarative statement that something is right or wrong, good or bad – much like a judge. It is impossible not to judge. Throughout a person’s day, we make numerous judgment calls about what is right and what is wrong. From telling your children “no” or “yes,” to giving a critique about a TV show, movie, restaurant, etc. In fact, our entire moral code becomes meaningless without making judgments. The second we make an opinion, we simultaneously make a judgment. Everyone is judgmental against rape, torture, and murder. We usher judgment statements anytime we use the word “should” or “shouldn’t.” Everyone makes judgments! In fact, I bet the reader right now is making a judgment on this article.

There are several other problems with this “don’t judge me” theory. Firstly, it is self-contradictory. Do you notice that a person is using judgment to tell others not to judge? When a person states, “You shouldn’t be judgmental,” do you see that that person is being judgmental in that very statement. So, the “don’t judge” statement is utterly self-defeating. Also, that person is being hypocritical in using judgment to say to people don’t judge. It is hypocritical when you do the very thing you say not to do.

What generally happens is that someone will make the claim that Jesus himself said not to be judgmental. However, this is merely a superficial reading of the text in the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s take a close look at this passage to see what Jesus really means here. The text begins: “Do not judge.” But that’s only the first three words and not even the complete sentence of the verse. The passage goes on to put everything in context.

“Do not judge that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judge, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (‭Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭1-6‬)

So, Jesus is not saying don’t judge. He is telling us how to judge; by not judging others with the very same thing we do. He is saying, “Don’t be a hypocrite.” And verse 5 suggests that a person cleans up his own junk, then he can help tell his friend about their junk. Jesus is stating the obvious, that when you judge people, they will turn around and judge you back for that very thing you criticized them for. So, make sure your closet is clean first, and then you can tell your friend their closet has junk in it and needs cleaning. Recall, that when a person says “don’t judge” they are being hypocritical as they are doing the very thing they are saying not to. When we realize that Jesus is saying don’t judge like a hypocrite, we come to the ironic conclusion that Jesus is actually condemning the very hypocritical nature of the “don’t judge” crowd.

And then there is John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge justly.” Here, Jesus is differentiating between proper and improper judgment. But, he still commands to judge! Notice he again is telling us how to judge. Again, he is stating the obvious: Don’t be quick to judge, and don’t judge by initial appearances. In other words, before you judge make sure you have all the facts in place so you can make an accurate call – much like a real judge. So, it is more accurate for people to say “don’t misjudge me” rather than “don’t judge me.”

Additionally, it is important to ask what we need to judge. Do we judge the acts of the person or the person as a whole? Well, the only thing we can accurately judge is the persons actions and not the person as a whole. Why? Because we don’t have full access to the entire person – we don’t know the state of that person’s soul. Only God knows this. But, we do have access to the actions of that person. Why is it even necessary to make a judgement of a persons actions? Because right ordering a persons actions is loving that person. For example, let’s say someone you love is addicted to smoking. If you don’t hate their act, you don’t love that person. It is because their addiction to smoking deteriorates the good nature of that person that the act of smoking needs to be flushed out. In other words, if the negative act is not judged and taken out, the person as a whole will be taken down by this negative act. So, in order to love that person you have to judge their negative acts precisely because their negative acts destroy that person. Additionally, the whole idea of judgement is geared to judging the act and the not letting the bad act define the person as a whole. This was summed up nicely by St. Augustine, “Love the sinner, and hate the sin.” So, in applying how to judge it is more accurate to say, don’t make a wholesale judgement of that person based on their actions, but rather judge their actions so they can become a better person.

What the pop culture has done is to take the idea to not judge the person as a whole and stretched it out to apply not judging any acts of the person. But, as I’ve shown to not judge any acts is an absurdity because if you did this, the entire moral law would be abolished. This would mean you could never utter the word “should” or “shouldn’t” at all. Today, the pop culture has given the word judgmental a new tone. Do you see how clever marketing by the pop culture can take a word and make it appear negative? Do you see that if you obey the guidance from the pop culture you are being cunningly tricked into following nonsense? The pop culture is deceptively sneaky in misconstruing the word judge (and other words too).

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Now that we can see that to judge is a neutral word, we need to ask the deeper question of why this word has become some negative today? In other words, when we do judge a persons actions why does that person then respond with an emotional objection? Why don’t they see we are only trying to help them? I propose the answer goes back to that entity that communicates these expressive words to people – the pop culture. Sadly, the pop culture has basically brainwashed people to respond to certain words or phrases with knee-jerk emotions void of any rational thought. So, that person has lost his or her ability to respond as a rational, insightful person. The pop culture essentially turns a person from a normal, rational respectful human being into a an out of control emotional mess every time that person hears a certain “trigger” word. Indeed, psychology indicates that when a person cannot respond rationally to an objection, this suggests that person has been negatively influenced by an outside party.

This idea is known in psychology as Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Cognitive Dissonance Theory describes what happens to a person when that person realizes what they want to be true is not true in reality. And the more committed a person is to what they want to be true, the more their brain experiences a “dissonance” when they realize their truth is not the truth. Now, there are times when what you want to be true is, in fact, true in reality. Small example, a New England Patriot fan wants the Patriots to be the best team in the NFL, and sure enough some years they are the best team in the NFL. Now, rather than talk about sports teams, let’s insert bigger truth claims that drive people’s entire world view from religion, politics, philosophy, sex, etc. We notice that people get so caught up in their world view because their internal world view is what they want to be true. It’s not like a person did all this research to find out what and how to think. Rather, people adopt a way of thinking because this thinking fits nicely into what they want to be true.

In order to examine the motives behind what a person wants to be true, the real question we need to zoom in on is – where did this idea of what you want to be true come from? Did it come from an inside source (God) or an outside source (pop culture). One way to tell where people’s thought for what they want to be true came from is to look at their reaction.

Cognitive Dissonance reveals also that when people respond only with an emotional outburst, void of any logical reasoning, chances are their way of thinking has been manipulated by an outside source. For example, a rabid sports fan (ex. Philadelphia Eagle fan) has received their passion for their team from an outside source – their cultural environment (family, city, local news media, etc.). In a sense you can say that person has been brainwashed by an outside source to be an Eagle fan. Now, as soon as they are presented with the fact that runs counter to their brainwashing (the Eagles are not the best team in football), they then respond not with not a rational response, but more of an emotional freak out (bad mood, don’t want to be talk to, yells at the tv, etc.). Thus, if this outside source that made a person think a certain way cannot provide that person with logical reasons and instead provides him only with an emotional reaction, then that source is a fraud. Once we see that the pop culture does not present people with good reasons, rather only with emotional slogans and talking points, we can see that the pop culture is a fraud.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory also indicates that as a result of this brainwashing from an outside source, a person turns from a rational, mature adult into a whiny at times out of control child. Because of this brain-washing when people come to the realization that their way of thinking is wrong (or likely wrong), they will revert to childish or in some cases violent tactics in order to get out of the conversation and get back to “their truth.” So, instead of responding with logical evidence for their actions or in a respectful manner, they respond more with an emotional outburst – “Don’t judge me!” If it were so obvious that the judgement call was wrong, it should be easy for that person to give reasons why. But, they don’t have any good reasons which is why all they can do is simply shout emotional slogans – like “don’t judge.” Or, another popular emotional response that is void of any logic is “you’re being close-minded.” When looked at carefully this response doesn’t make any sense either. You can’t simply say the word “close-minded” as if the word is self evident and speaks for itself. Indeed, there are many times when being closed-minded is necessary. Everyone is close-minded of rape, murder, and torture. So, just saying the world “close-minded” doesn’t prove anything except that your reasoning is clouded by emotions. You can’t simply chant emotional slogans without reference to what they mean. I repeatedly have to explain to my students you need to explain your thoughts, not just recite vague, meaningless talking points.

When people give these emotional responses it implies that they have no good reasons. Therefore, they need to revert to last resort – attempt to name call to make the problem go away. This emotional objection void of any adequate logic in “don’t judge me” sounds curiously like a 5 year-old whining when they don’t get their way. Do you see how the brain washing of the pop culture diminishes the human being from a rational, thinking adult to now acting like a child?

What is really going on today in our pop culture is that phrase “don’t be judgmental” and “your intolerant” is nothing more than a sneaky way in which people try to duck out of the conversation because they have suddenly realized they are most likely wrong. Cognitive Dissonance Theory illuminates that this emotional reaction is nothing more than the old strategy of if you can’t take down the message, take down the messenger.

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There is even more problems with this childlike temper tantrum. Cognitive Dissonance also indicates that by responding with an emotional outburst of “don’t be judgmental” that person is most likely emotionally unstable and over-sensitive to having their thoughts and actions proven incorrectly. This suggests they have an over abundance of self-pride – “I can never be wrong.” When a person’s has an out-of-control reaction whenever their way of thinking is corrected, all this shows is how much the pop culture has negatively coddled them with the idea “you are never wrong.” Now, when a person has the idea they are never wrong, all that will follow is a self-centered absorption of themselves. Sadly, all the pop culture is doing is creating self-absorbed people who are losing the ability to act in a  mature manner.

What we see with the “don’t be judgement” slogan is merely someone who doesn’t want to be told what to do. When a person holds on to the concept of not wanting to be told what to do, they automatically get pulled into the old religion of self-worship. This is the dreadful concept that lead to mankind’s great fall in Genesis: “I will not follow God’s instructions. I determine the instructions and don’t need any authority to listen to.” Can this idea be anymore self-absorbed? The don’t be judgemental phrase is simply a cover for the old sin of human pride. And when pride meats the truth and gets exposed, an emotional reaction will follow just as sure as night follows day. And this is exactly what Cognitive Dissonance Theory explains.

Now, Christianity declares that humanity is flawed. Thus, we should expect this type of child-like response as our flawed nature does not want to be judged. However, if we are flawed that implies we have problems – thus, our actions need to be judged. If you’re humble enough to know your sick, you’ll be honest enough to hear the judgmental news that you’re sick. It’s never pleasant to hear some hard (but loving) truth. As I wise man once said, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6) Do we like it? Of course not. But we need it.

So, in sum if an entity communicates a message that relies more on emotion and less on reason and a person’s response to an objection of this message is based on more emotion and less reason, then the conclusion is that person has been duped by a false source. And as on zooms out on this picture, one sees that this false source today is the pop culture. Let’s sum up what this fake entity the pop culture does. It uses cleverly crafted emotional phrases that turns rational thinking adults into whiny children. It also manipulates people into a bland self-absorption of themselves in which they can never be proven wrong. Furthermore, it causes people to become an emotional mess when they are shown a fact that runs counter to their brainwashing of the pop culture. We can now see that the pop culture sadly destroys the human person. When people keep reciting these predictable emotional slogans of the pop culture (don’t be judgemental, close-minded, etc.), I suspect they don’t know they have been brain washed them into saying it without knowing what it means. Occasionally, we need an Inigo Montoya to come along and tell them, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” This Montoya quote can help a confused and desperate generation away from the bland messaging of the pop culture and into the truth. Ultimately, the truth is what they need. As Jesus famously said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

 

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