Why Do We Judge People?

by Allen Watson

Have you ever wondered why you are so fond of judging people?

We all do it. We tell ourselves that we don't want to judge or criticize others, but then someone does something that is—well, downright awful, such as the atrocity of 9/11, and we just can't help voicing our indignation. We don't want to judge people close to us, but when they keep on doing the same annoying thing day after day after day, how can anyone refrain from pointing out their faults?

There is a lesson in the Workbook of A Course in Miracles titled "Today I will judge nothing that occurs" (W-pII.243.Heading). Anyone who has ever tried to put that into practice, and has honestly monitored their mind, knows how difficult, nay, seemingly impossible it is to keep that vow. What is it about judgment that makes it so hard to let go of?

"It is curious," Jesus says, "that an ability so debilitating would be so deeply cherished" (T-3.VI.5:7). Judgment is debilitating, isn't it? It makes us tired, physically tired, because it is stressful (T-3.VI.5:1-6). We feel compelled to pronounce our judgment and to correct the errors of the world around us, an onerous, even distasteful task that drains our energy. Yet, ironically, as the above quote says, we do cherish it. We constantly choose to judge, and we find the idea of giving up judgment to be personally insulting. Why? Why is it that we want to judge others when the effect on ourselves is so negative?

The Source of Judgment

The Course says our love of judgment grows out of our conflict with God about who created us:

If you wish to be the author of reality, you will insist on holding on to judgment. (T-3.VI.5:8)

The Course is fond of drawing our attention to the many ways in which the details of our life, so seemingly mundane, all reflect a larger reality. Things we believe to have no spiritual significance actually quite clearly indicate what is going on at the spiritual level. For instance, the Course points out that all of our relationships reflect our relationship with God in one way or another. In particular, the way we relate to persons who stand in places of authority is a picture of how we relate to God. And, the Course claims, our conflict with authority is the source of all our judgments. Let's see how that works.

Think for a moment about the various kinds of authority figures in your life. How do you feel about them and how do you relate to them? Some typical examples of authority figures include:

  • your boss
  • parents
  • police
  • teachers
  • political figures
  • religious leaders and teachers

Can you think of some more?

Actually, anyone can be an authority figure to us. All they need to do is to express an opinion that seems to affect us and to carry some weight with us.

How would you describe your feelings and your thoughts in relation to authority figures, both in general and in relation to particular authority figures? As I thought of various figures in my life, I made a list of various reactions I have to them. Is your response in my list, given below? If not, how would you describe it?

  • I resent the authority figure.
  • I respect…
  • I am afraid of…
  • I admire…
  • I resist…
  • I am critical of…
  • I think most authorities are bad or unnecessary.
  • I believe authorities are helpful and essential.

As you consider how you react to various authorities, consider how your reactions in some way reflect your reactions to God's authority. As you make these comparisons, it may help to understand something more about how the Course views our relationship to God's authority, and how that is connected to our love affair with judging. Let's explore that in more depth.

The Authority Problem

The first section of Chapter Two of the Text ("The Origins of Separation") discusses the process by which we misused our ability to extend or create like God and projected an illusion instead. That illusion primarily consisted of a belief that we can change what God created and, in effect, become our own creators. One way of describing our fundamental error is: We believe we have replaced God as our own creator or "author." We do not want to recognize God as our Author (the ultimate Authority) because doing so would be an admission that we have not and cannot create ourselves. The ego cannot tolerate that notion because, if it is true, it means that the ego does not really exist.

The Course's teaching on authority figures grows out of its understanding concerning the ego's fundamental aversion toward God's authority. It maintains that every problem we have on earth with any authority, of any kind, is just a reflection of this basic and fundamental authority problem that we all have with God. In the Course, the phrase "authority problem" is synonymous with our belief that we have usurped God's creative power, and replaced Him as our own creator (see T-3.VII.4:1; T-5.V.3:3; T-11.In.2:2-8).

How does this lead to our daily act of judging? In two ways. First, and very simply, we judge because that makes us "the author of reality" (T-3.VI.5:8). In judging, we are deciding what things are. Isn't that how we feel when we are judging? We feel that when we issue our proclamation, we are determining the true nature of reality. Judgment is innately, and fairly obviously, an act of playing God. When we don our robe, take up our gavel, and sit in the judgment seat, we have taken God's place. Reality is now up to us.

But once we have appointed ourselves as judge, what happens when other judges walk into our courtroom and begin pounding their gavels, and issuing their judgments? They become competing judges, who threaten to undermine our whole role. So, second, we judge because to maintain our place as the ultimate authority, we must judge against all these competitors. We must evaluate them and find them all wanting, to justify choosing our own autonomy. Our rule must be better than all the others. The Course says that we all make up our own truth and our own value system, and adds, "Each one establishes this for himself, and makes it true by his attack on what another values" (T-23.II.2:4).

According to the Course, we unconsciously see these earthly authority figures as if they were God dressed up in disguise. If their authority can determine us then it is as if God has defeated us. His Authority has caught up with us and thrown us off of the judge's bench. We have lost our battle with God, and have become His pawn again. Thus, to win our battle with God's authority, we have to defeat these other judges. It is as if we are campaigning against them for our office. We have to establish that they have a bad record and a questionable character. We have to show that they do not deserve the office of judge—we do. And so, we judge against them.

When you find yourself thinking critical thoughts about another person or resenting an earthly authority, it probably never occurs to you to think, "There I go again, rebelling against God's authority and rejecting Him as my Creator!" But your judgments about other people are symptomatic of just such a rejection of God as Creator. We judge others because we want to. It establishes us as superior; it validates our independent authority. (So we think, anyway.) In a nutshell, it builds up our ego and "defends" us against God.

To prop up our egos, we want to perceive differences. When we judge, we have chosen not to know the true worth of our brothers and sisters. We imagine that when we judge someone, we are judging because we perceive some real wrong in them. The reverse is true. We perceive wrong in them because we have chosen to judge. We see what we want to see (T-25.III.1:3-4). Remember: mind is the cause; the world of perception is the effect. We have taught ourselves the complete opposite: that what we perceive causes our judgment. In truth, it is our choice of judgment that causes our perception, and our refusal of God's Authorship that causes us to choose judgment.

What effect might it have on you if, when you catch yourself judging someone, you reminded yourself, "I am choosing not to know him"? Because that is what you are doing. "[Your brother's] meaning is lost to you precisely because you are judging [him]" (T-3.VI.3:3).

All our judgment can be traced back to the desire to create ourselves or to usurp the creative power of God. We want to be independent of God, to be our own authority. The ego wants to be autonomous. That is the original authority problem; it is the origin of all the authority problems in our lives—the constant strife with the boss, with parents, with children, with the government, with organizations, leaders, churches, gurus, and even with Jesus. All of our judgments come from trying to maintain our autonomy, our independence. We judge authority figures because we are trying to believe in our independence. We resist acknowledging anyone's authority over us, in any form. We find fault with our friends and family. We feel a polluted pleasure when we learn of a public figure involved in scandal. We take any opportunity to view ourselves as right, as superior to others, as more competent, as self-sufficient and independent. We take this attitude toward one another because we are attempting to be independent from God. The ego insists that it is independent and the source of its own existence; it cannot accept that God is the Source of all things.

The question I raised at the beginning was: Knowing that judgment brings us pain, why do we still hold on to it? And the answer is: the authority problem. The root cause of judgment is our dispute with God about authority. The authority problem is "the root of all evil" (T-3.VI.7:2-3), which is a reference to the Bible verse which says that love of money is the root of all evil (or "all kinds of evil," according to the New International Version.) All our problems, including our love of judgment, stem from this one problem, which is just another way of describing the belief in separation, or independence, from God. It has many symptoms, it takes many forms, but they are all the same thing. Learning the Course often means learning to recognize this one problem at the root of what we thought were unrelated problems.

Wanting to be independent, the ego sees God and everyone else as a competitor, fighting it for our authorship. In order to reject these competing claims we must judge. We can reject God's Will for us only if we judge against it. If we completely accepted God's Will for us, we would be granting Him the right to run our lives and dictate who we are, an idea the ego simply cannot tolerate.

We end up projecting our problem with God's authority onto everyone around us. We have a problem with their authority, or we see them as flouting our authority. We see these things only because we are projecting them. Our mental belief about ourselves causes us to misinterpret what is happening. No one is competing for our authorship, not really. Our Authorship is undisputed and cannot be disputed; we are God's creation. But, we reject that idea.

We reject God's creation. We separate from God (or choose to think we can). In seeking to become autonomous we become anonymous (T-3.VI.8:7), that is, a person without a creator. We become "Creations Anonymous." Having rejected God's Authorship, the job of author is vacant and it seems reasonable to believe that somehow we are our own author. But we are surrounded by competitive "authors," other egos trying to make the world over in their image. That is why we are fearful. That is why we see threats coming at us from "authority figures" in the world.

The Way Out

How can we become free of this competition? Is there a way?

There is. We experience stress and loss of peace because we judge. We judge because we are in competition with God for our authorship, and project that competition onto the world. Through judgment, we try to play the author of reality, and to disqualify the other potential authors. The way out, therefore, is to undo all that. It boils down to two simple steps:

1. Realize that when you judge you are trying to be the author of reality, the arbiter of what is real. You are trying to play God. "Judgment is a children's game, in which the child becomes the father, powerful, but with the little wisdom of a child" (T-29.IX.6:4). But reality already is the way it is. Nothing you can do can change it. You might say to yourself,

I am not the author of reality. God is.

Or, as the Course puts it,

Let me not be Your critic, Lord, today, and judge against You. (W-pI.268.1:1)

2. When others' opinions of you or actions in relation to you seem to have power over who you are, realize that they cannot do that because God is your Author. Their arms are too short to box with God. They can't do anything to affect who you are one way or the other, because God has already set your reality for all eternity. You might say to yourself,

My brother is not the author of my reality. God is. I am as God created me, not as [name] made me.

Accept God as your Author, and recognize the fact that, as the Bible says, "It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves" (Psalm 100:3). Recognize that God's Will and yours are the same. Doing so ends all conflict and thought of threat. If your being is created by God, nothing can threaten it; therefore, judgment is not necessary. When you relinquish the reins, so to speak, you free yourself from the need to defend your identity and autonomy. You are no longer the shepherd warding off the wolves; God is your Shepherd, and you are simply a sheep, safe in His care.

It's easy to say "Accept God as your Author" but it is difficult to truly do it. That's why the Course gives us a training program. It provides literally hundreds of exercises in both the Text and the Workbook that we can use to retrain our minds into acceptance of God's Authorship of our being. The Workbook emphasizes the truth that God created us, and that our Self continues unchanged, in exactly the form in which He created it; the idea is featured in several lessons (94, 110, 162), referred to in many other lessons ( W-pI.93.7:1,2,6; W-pI.132.9:1-2; W-pI.139.11:3; W-pI.191.4:2; W-pI.197.8:2-3; W-pI.201-220 (theme of Review VI for twenty days), and is also mentioned in the Text T-23.I.7:2; T-31.VIII.5:2). The idea is such a prominent part of the Course that no one can doubt the importance of this idea in the Course's program to restructure our thoughts.

When you catch yourself judging another person, let it remind you of this truth as the antidote to judgment. Say to yourself, "I am as God created me; he (or she) is as God created him (or her)." Let the temptation to judge turn, instead, into a response to a call for help. By reminding yourself of who you really are, and of the security that resides in being God's handiwork rather than your own, you can free yourself from the craving to bolster your ego by judging those around you.

Remind yourself, too, of what judgment costs you: it robs your peace of mind and saps your energy. And inevitably, your judgment rebounds onto yourself (T-3.VI.1:4; T-12.VII.13:1). Tell yourself, "When I condemn my brother I am condemning myself," or "I will receive what I am giving." Make judgment something undesirable, something you want to get rid of.

When you have accepted God as your Creator, instead of trying to be your own creator, you will find that "Peace is a natural heritage of spirit" (T-3.VI.10:1). You can be at peace, without conflicts with authority figures or people around you who seem to be trying to manipulate you. You can have that peace simply by knowing who you are, and you will know who you are when you are willing to accept God's Authorship of your life. When you know that "I am as God created me" (W-pI.110.Heading), you know that nothing anyone can do, including yourself, can change that. Decide the authorship question, and fear will be gone. Accept God's Authority over your life, and peace will be your inheritance.

To accept God's Authority is not a loss of free will. I can never be free if I spend my existence trying to be something I am not—which is what all of us have been doing! Judgment imprisons us by making us into something we are not. Accepting true Authority or Authorship is true freedom of will; it is the freedom of total acceptance of myself just as I am, and as I am in reality.

True freedom is not the ability to do whatever you wish; it is the capacity to choose to be all that you are in truth. It is the liberty to be your Self as God created you.

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