Often, the hidden messages of a phrase carry more weight than its literal interpretation. The phrase “Thou shalt not judge,” is a fine example. It’s an adaptation from a quote attributed to Jesus, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37). Although the Bible has other passages encouraging judging, the phrase in question has far more currency today, especially among liberal Christians. I believe its lasting popularity is due to a rather dark mind game that it carries with it. The mind game has several components.
First, the phrase is most often used in a context where some obvious wrong has been committed, but is being excused by the speaker. It’s one thing to acknowledge a mistake, learn from it, and make amends. It’s another thing entirely to sweep it under the rug. The hidden message is that you, too, have skeletons in your closet, so don’t draw attention to this one. Such a message is simply an abdication of responsibility.
The phrase is also often used between believers as a kind of collusion between thugs in the name of the thug boss, God. To use it is to say, “Keep your nose out of my business with the mafia boss, and I’ll stay out of your business. Otherwise, the boss will rub you out.” It is a kind of promise that if you excuse the speaker’s act of thuggery he’ll look the other way when you later commit yours. Occasionally, it’s used as a kind of religious tolerance mechanism to deal with the fact that there are thousands of sects of Christianity, each with their own unique and contradictory interpretation of the Bible. As long as the harm in question is directed against non-Christians, it should be excused in the name of ecumenicism.
At another level, using the phrase is admission that there is no solid morality on which to decide moral issues. With a lack of any sort of absolute morality from God, the speaker is left to create a smoke screen that distracts from this uncomfortable fact. The notion of an absolute morality from God is perhaps one of the most pernicious myths of the western religions.
Biblical passage is really a prohibition against being a hypocrite. That contextualized meaning has long since vanished, apparently. The hidden messages of the shorter phrase have far more utility. In the future, listen closely in the situations when “thou shalt not judge” is used. See if you can find someone avoiding responsibility for their actions or beliefs; looking to make a shady deal to downplay an act of thuggery; or hiding the fact that they don’t have a sound basis to tell right from wrong. When you catch someone using the phrase in this manner, call them on the carpet. Judge.