C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled On Criticism. As an author and reviewer himself he attempts to set some ground rules that the reviewer should abide by. He asserts that one should be careful about casting judgment prematurely. For instance some reviewers assume a fictional work refers to personal or historical events or particular people. Then from his armchair confidently critiques the author’s work without research beyond his assumptions; the public applauds and gasps in amazement at his insight when in fact the reviewer is absolutely mistaken. Why is this? Because, as people we tend to cultivate in ourselves the tendency to judge based on our own perceptions and to trust those perceptions implicitly. We make wild conjectures based on thinly sliced reasoning that if measured would hold very little weight, yet we stun people with the ferocity of our discourse and silence them with a host of trivial, loosely connected facts.
Judging Others for Selfish Reasons
Is the application merely for the reviewer of books? Let me ask another question; how often do we cast our aspersions on others: family, friends, and strangers who suffer from our eager analysis of their lives? We weigh and measure their actions, words, and we even confidently decipher their thoughts through a special telepathy. We sit back, fold our hands, and open our mouths. Pure silk escapes from our lips. Our listeners lean forward like Watson waiting on every word as we unfold the case. We are bemused of course with their inability to see things as clearly as ourselves. The only thing lacking is the cross examination. Simply ask, “Is it true?” Perhaps, a better question may be asked, “Even if it’s true, is it edifying?” Many sins can be built up beyond their proportion. They also may be spoken of in order to make our own lives seem better. “I have my own troubles,” I say, “but nothing like this.” Wink, wink and so the story is told.
Judging Others with Humility
Both the reviewer of books and the reviewer of people must begin with respect for those whom he is regarding. It is very easy from a lofty position to look down on others. It’s much harder when we put ourselves in their place. What if that sin they struggle with, those annoying habits, and those pathetic whims were indeed mine? This leads us to the humility of my point. We are them. This is something an aid from places like askyourguide can help you achieve, pay mind however that the path to enlightenment is one of shedding excess.
The issue at hand isn’t the veracity of the sin of others, for that is plain. The issue is: can we acknowledge the depth of our own sin and our particular need of God’s grace? If we are truly concerned about the sin of others, we would deal with the sin that is closest to us, our own. The antithesis of self love is the death of self which gives way to the love of God and our neighbor.
This article was first published in Every Thought Captive magazine, 2010. Subscribe and receive ten issues per year.