The solution for modern errors and false teaching is agnosticism. When a philosophy to which a man has committed himself is demonstrated to be false, the claim that nothing can be known for certain becomes his defense. He will die, clinging to his idols, believing that they are true, though there be a thousand proofs that they are not. In saying this, I’m not talking about imaginary tribes in the Amazon forests or Indian witch doctors. I’m talking about American people, Christian people, who hold to teachings and ideas that do not come from God, but from our own ungodly desires, and by which we are deceived and tormented.
Wisdom reveals all things to the wise. Thus, a wise man is able to know the truth about another person by reading the message of that person’s life. The foolish person cannot do this, and doesn’t understand that wise people can. When a wise man corrects a fool, the fool often responds (especially today) with a response such as, “You don’t know me!” or “Only God can judge me!” That would be true, of course, were it not for the fact that God has judged them and has told us that we may also judge them, if we are wise.
When Our Lord says, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” He cannot be saying, “Don’t admonish sinners.” Admonishing the sinner is a work of mercy, after all and the merciful shall obtain mercy. He cannot be saying, “Don’t judge anything to be true or false.” The faculty of Reason was given to us by God in our creation and makes us human, and it is the principal action of Reason to make judgments. All Our Lord is saying, when we keep His words in their context, is, “Do not judge unjustly, or seek to punish hastily, or you will be judged in the same way.” It’s the same thing as saying, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” or “Men who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” We are called to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect and as we become so, Wisdom leads us to judge justly and know all things. This was, in fact, the promise Our Lord gave concerning the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
Some will quote Scriptures, nevertheless, and say that men cannot judge other men. For example, to the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “The heart [of man] is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it?” Many reason, then, that man is “unknowable” and that we are all mysteries understood only by God. This would be true if there were no divine revelation–but there is.
Bible-quoting is nice, but we know from the life of Our Lord that Bible-quoting is among the devil’s strategies in deceiving men. Yes, Jeremiah does say that the heart of man is unknowable, but he then says that God knows it–and God tells us, in Scripture, how we may judge men rightly. The problem is that after God reveals to us how we may judge men truly, prideful men, under a disguise of humility, reject God’s teaching and claim that they actually know better. Yes, all of this talk we hear of how complicated and unknowable men are today, is a denial of God’s own revelation of what is in the hearts of men.
Our Lord, who is the One who will make the final judgment of all men, has not kept the rule by which men will be judge a secret. He has taught it to His disciples that they may judge as He does and will judge. He said:
“There is no good tree that bringeth forth evil fruit; nor an evil tree that bringeth forth good fruit. For every tree is known by its fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns; nor from a bramble bush do they gather the grape. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil.” (Luke 6:43-45)
So there we have the testimony of the Lord concerning the judgment of men. He provides us with two propositions that are to be accepted on the weight of His divine authority:
1. All men who bear good fruit are good.
2. All men who bear bad fruit are bad.
These may seem simple enough, but it is these two propositions that men and women deny every day.
This leads us to have two syllogisms which become our template for judgment:
1. All men who bear good fruit are good men.
2. ______________ bears good fruit.
3. Therefore, _________________ is a good man.
1. All men who bear bad fruit are bad men.
2. ______________ bears bad fruit.
3. Therefore, _________________ is a bad man.
Thus, all of the mysteriousness modern men wish to hide themselves in is proven to be a lie. So, when the local school shooter gets done murdering 20 people, and then his relatives and neighbors get on the camera talking about how he’s really (i.e., contrary to his actual deeds) “a good person”, they are preaching the lie. It is the devil alone who would say such a thing, to persuade men that good and bad is all mysterious and not a sign of what’s truly “in our hearts”. We see the fruits and are told to think that the tree is unlike the fruits, which is a lie. The evil act reveals the evil contained within the person’s heart–for God says so Himself–and the evil act becomes our light and guide to look back at the person and gain Wisdom. The devil, will work to make us not think that it’s that simple, so that we learn nothing from our experience, but go making false judgments of others.
However, we must not think that this “bad fruit” consists only in extreme crimes and scandalous public sins. We must also not think that we men have the authority to set the bar for what makes a fruit “good” or “bad”. God, again, has done that for us. There is only one standard for “good” and that is God. Therefore, Jesus’ rule is, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Anyone who denies that to be the standard is wrong. If someone, then, says, “Well, nobody’s perfect. I’m just a forgiven sinner.”, that may sound innocent, but it’s not what God has taught us to say or, more importantly, to think. “Nobody’s perfect” is used in almost every situation to excuse oneself from the reality of Christ’s call to perfection. You may not be perfect, and I may not be perfect, but we also may not be saved if we do not seek to be perfect. If we are content to confess with a fake humility, “I’m not a perfect person.”, then we are saying that we are not what Christ has told us we must be. Something, then, is wrong with us when we speak like this, especially when we seem to find comfort in speaking like this. It shouldn’t bring us comfort to acknowledge that we are not what our Judge says we must be.
We must examine our lives and ask, “Am I bearing bad fruit?” If we are, we must conclude, logically, that if that is not fixed, it will suggest to us that we are not the good trees that we imagine ourselves to be. This is the purpose, in the Christian life, of self-examination. It is one thing to find an uncharacteristic bad fruit on a tree filled with good fruit, and it is for this that the sacrament of confession is given–that good men may be do away with uncharacteristic bad fruit when it appears. Confession, however, is not a chapter out of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where we are said to be something that we are not. Absolution, after all, is conditional, for we confess that we detest the sins we confess, that we are sorry for them and that we will make amendment. It is that context of contrition and sincerity that absolution is granted. The arrogance with which we hear people speaking, whose lives are far from saintly, was warned against by St. Paul–who would not even be willing to say that he himself had attained to salvation while he famously evangelized the world!
“He that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.
Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human.”
“Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap.”
St. Paul, we see, explains that denying that our deeds reveal the true desires of our hearts is to mock God–as though we may fool Him as we attempt to fool others. The wise, however, are not fooled by all of this fake religious talk because they trust in God’s revelation and judge accordingly. “No, if your life is filled with bad fruit, you are not the good person you pretend to be.”
What, then, are the bad fruits? In Galatians 5, St. Paul speaks of the “works of the flesh”–the are the bad fruits:
“The works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.”
Note that last line: they who do such things–regardless of their personal testimony about “who they really are”–shall not inherit the kingdom of God. That’s not Old Testament Jewish teaching. That’s St. Paul the Christian apostle and evangelist speaking. Our society, however, explains many of these away–even our Christian society. For example, the sects among Christians are considered to be necessary by those Christians. We see groups who fearlessly slander the Holy Father, imagining that their “sect” is from God. However, St. Paul warns that such is the work of the flesh and a outward sign of inward reprobation.
The list includes drunkenness (methai) and fornication (porneia), which would include all of the “good” Catholic high school and college students partying and having sex outside of marriage. The list includes luxury (aselgeia), which means living in extravagance and excess when the standards of material possessions fit for Christians is known to be simple, for Christ said, “Do not store up treasures on earth, where rust corrupts, moths destroy, thieves break in and steal.” Doing so defies both the command of Christ and reason and is therefore a sign of reprobation. The list includes quarrels and envies, which cannot proceed from the spirit of Christ dwelling in a person whose mission is supposed to be the conversion of the world to Christ’s doctrine. These are the “bad fruits” which suggest that we, the branches, are not connected to Christ as our vine, but some other source, which is evil. If we bear bad fruit, we cannot be good trees.
Likewise, Scripture teaches us what the “good fruit” consists of. St. Paul, in the same chapter, lists the “fruit of the Spirit”:
“The fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’ s, have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Now, there are many Buddhists, maybe Muslims and also Hindus who live without committing many of the works of the flesh, above. There were many pagans who lived in the ancient world who were chaste, sober, pious, and just in their conduct. However, it is only Christians who can bear the fruits of the Spirit because only Christians are connected to Christ, through whom that Spirit is given. If we are good trees, these will be the fruits visible on our branches. When people look at true Christians, who “live in the Spirit”, they will not see that we are just like them, full of bad fruit, but “forgiven”. They will see branches filled with these good fruits which no other people can bear. The question, then, is whether it be so with us or not. If others were to meet us, would they describe us as practicing charity (i.e., considering the needs of others), joyful (with a heavenly-minded unconditional joy), peaceful, patient (that is, never quitting but always working with hope of victory), modesty, chastity, etc..? These are the fruits of the Christians in the world and those who lack these fruits, have no reason to claim that they are good trees.
The practical benefit of this knowledge, is that we can make true judgments of others based on their fruits. A friend of mine, who is a Jewish translator in Jerusalem, shared this old Jewish proverb with me:
“As is the daughter, so is her mother–a daughter is as her mother.
As is the generation, so is its prince–the generation is like the prince.
An altar is like its priests.
The garden is a reflection of its gardener.”
Now, modern people would largely deny all of these things. They would explain that the daughter’s arrogance or immodesty has nothing to do with the mother’s character–but Jewish wise men don’t agree. If we are quiet, and meditate on the reality, we will see that the wise men are right. It may not be the mother’s “intention” that the daughter be so and so, but it is, nevertheless, the reality that this daughter is her daughter, the daughter she is raising and what is seen in her will be found present in her mother. Likewise, the gardener, may have pictures of beautiful gardens, and have excellent taste in garden design, but the actual garden is a reflection of the gardener.
Judgments we make cannot be based on intentions or words. A man say, “I am a hard worker.” A woman can say, “I want to be a good mother, like the Virgin Mary.” A teenage boy can say, “I want to be a priest when I grow up.” A person can say, “I didn’t mean to do that.” We can say anything we want or claim to have any intention we would, but this is all nothing. How do we know that any of these revelations of what lies with us are true? Do we just “give people the benefit of the doubt”? No, of course not, that would be trust, and trust must be earned. We cannot judge others by what they testify of themselves, but by what they actually do.
Are you a hard worker? Then, where is your successful business and wealth? Do you wish to be a good mother, like the Virgin Mary? How, then, is your life like that of Mary’s–in this real world we live and move in? Would you be a priest? At what hours, then, do you say your prayers, and what studies are you engaged in to prepare yourself to serve God as a priest? Did you not mean to do that? Why, then, did you not take precautions to avoid doing so when you could have? Why are there no practical measures to be seen that correspond to the intentions and desires you claim to have within you?
No, we cannot judge people by their words–and we will find that in our society, where Wisdom is pursued by almost no one, people are convinced that they are something for which they have not a trace of evidence in their lives. We will see professing Christians who are the most evil gossips and slanderers in our entire communities. We have seen priests, committing the worst sexual crimes within Christian churches. We will see people who call themselves “Catholics”, talking about “tradition” and “reverence” while speaking irreverently against bishops and cardinals and popes! We must be confident to judge these people according to the truth represented by their deeds, rather than by their words.
Furthermore, when we hear gossip or slander about other Christians, whose lives we can look at and see good fruits, we are never to trust in those evil words over those good works. In fact, Our Lord was crucified for this very reason, that though no bad fruit was found on Him, yet the slanderous words of other men were accepted by the people.
In judging according to fruits, we demonstrate ourselves to be humble, not proud, for we trust in God’s own testimony above the words of men or our own opinions. The proud people are those who, despite God’s testimony, think that they know better than God. It is these people who promote the false “Do not judge” message and who preach the “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” Gospel. Let us remember that a garden unkept is a reflection of the gardener. The altar is a reflection of the priest. The prince is the reflection of the people. The daughter is the reflection of her mother.
A tree is to be judged by its fruit. Let us be wise and judge all things as we ought.
Sirach teaches us the application: “As the dressing of a tree sheweth the fruit thereof, so a word out of the thought of the heart of man.” Let no one be deceived. Every man is what he IS.