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Does the Bible Say “Thou Shalt Not Judge?”

thou shalt not judge

The short answer is this: no, it doesn’t.

And if it actually did, it is the one command every Christian breaks on a daily basis.

I am sure you have been in one of THOSE arguments, debates, or discussions; the one where you express your opinion about a matter and someone shrieks, YOU ARE JUDGING!

Why of course you are judging.

We all judge each and every day of our lives. Common sense tells us this is so.

People who use the stop judging line are trying to control the debate and stifle any opinion other than their own. If you agree with the person you are a wonderful person, but if you disagree with them you are judgmental.

I wish these don’t judge people would at least be honest when they open their mouths, post something on Facebook, write a blog post, etc. They need to preface each public pronouncement with:

I am not interested in what you think. If you disagree with me, I will consider you to be a judgmental person, and if you continue, I might even throw a fit, and if you really, really keep at it, I will SHOW you . . . I will unfriend you on Facebook. TAKE THAT!

Let’s settle one thing right here, right now. You judge, I judge, we all judge. What matters is HOW we judge, what standard we use for judging.

And that, by the way, is exactly what the Bible says.

Evangelical Christians, by far, are the whiniest people on earth when it comes to judging. With Bible in hand, they make all sorts of judgments. They judge who is saved and who is lost. They judge what sin is and isn’t, and they really like to judge sexual sin (a sign that they have not gotten laid lately).

Yet, when others turn their judgment back on their heads, they loudly protest, saying, the BIBLE says, thou shalt not judge.

Let’s look at what the Bible actually says:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Most people stop at Matthew 7:1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?  Don’t judge others if you don’t want to be judged yourself.

This one verse is foundational for those who think we should tolerate any and every belief a person might have. The toleration at all costs crowd thinks every person is autonomous and has a right to say whatever he or she wants. Free speech reigns paramount. And that’s true. However, that does preclude others from saying your beliefs are irrational, anti-science, racist, bigoted, hateful, stupid, ignorant, hilarious, or that you personally are full of shit. Free speech applies to everyone, does it not?

Generally, I think toleration is a good idea, but when individuals or groups bring their ideas into the public square, any notion of toleration must be put aside. In a democracy like ours, we fight our battles in the public arena. Citizens bring their ideas to the public square in the hope of finding like-minded people to join their cause. Often they do, but in the public square they also find those who oppose their cause. And so competing causes, ideas, and beliefs clash with one another and wage war against each other in the public square. Over time, it is hoped the best cause, idea, or belief wins (and I speak with gross generalization here).

It is likely the winner’s cause, idea, or belief will have been altered by those who challenged it. Through this bloody give and take, we progress and move forward as a people.

Religion does not play well in this kind of environment. Religion is based on revealed truth, on dogma. In the United States, the dominant religion is Christianity, a religion founded on truth that cannot be altered or changed. This is why Christians do not fare well in the public square. They have little capacity for change. To contemplate change, they have to consider that they or their God are wrong. Now we know, as we look through the lens of 2,000 years of Christian history, that the Church has indeed adapted and changed. But, it should be noted that this kind of change takes a much longer time than it does with other people and groups. Christianity is nothing if not arrogant and intractable about its truth.

On the other hand, the scientific method fits well in this kind of environment. Scientist A says _____________________, and Scientists B, C, and D take exception, and through the scientific method set out to challenge, refute, or modify what Scientist A said. It doesn’t take centuries to root out error.

Note what the Bible says in Matthew 7:2-5, the verses few Christians ever bother to read. (Many Christians subscribe to the ignore what doesn’t fit my agenda, worldview, way I want to live, or my personal rules of interpretation.)

Verse 2 says:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

For WITH WHAT JUDGMENT YE JUDGE, ye shall be judged. The Bible is quite clear. It is a given, we all make judgments, so when we judge, whatever standard of judgment we use, that same standard of judgment will be used by others when they judge us.

The Bible even addresses the method we use to judge when it says with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. In modern vernacular the Bible is saying, however you dish out judgment, expect it to be dished back to you the same way.

Over the course of my thirteen years of blogging, people have left tens of thousands of comments on various iterations of this blog. Currently, almost 30,000 comments have been left on this blog since December 2014. A small percentage of comments were left by Evangelical Christians with nasty dispositions, people who were so filled with certainty that they had no tolerance for any differing viewpoint. (I can count on one hand the non-Christians who acted similarly.) They knew the truth and their objective was to tell me that I was wrong, deceived, blind, lost, headed for Hell, an enemy of God, etc. In their worldview, there is no room for doubt or not knowing.

These know-it-all Christians tend to be arrogant, bombastic, and lacking in basic social graces. Of all the different types of people I have met on the Internet, theirs is the type that most often gets under my skin (perhaps because I was just like them at one time in my life). At one time, I responded “in kind” to this kind of commenter. Using Bible terms, I just meted out to them what they meted out to me. These days, I tend to follow another biblical admonition: don’t cast your pearls before swine.

Well, enough of chasing that rabbit trail. (The preacher in me still lives.)  Back to Matthew 7:1-5.

Verses 3 and 4 say:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

The Bible teaches that we should first consider our own lives, our own faults, our own inconsistencies, and for my Christian readers, our own sins, before we consider the deficiencies of others.

As is often the case, we tend to be able to see the smallest of matters in the lives of others (the mote, the small sliver), all the while not being able to see the biggest of matters in our own lives (the beam). Before we judge others, we should carefully judge ourselves, engaging in self-reflection – taking an inventory of our own lives. As the old Baptist evangelist once said, draw a circle on the floor, stand in the middle of the circle, and judge everyone in the circle. This kind of judgment will fundamentally change how we judge others. As we carefully plumb the depths of our own being, we will likely become more understanding of those with whom we disagree. This doesn’t make the disagreements go away, but it does help us to see that we are ALL capable of embracing ideas that are faulty or dangerous.

judge not

Does this mean we shouldn’t judge others? Of course not. Notice what verse 5 says:

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

If we judge ourselves first, we will then be able to better judge the actions, words, ideas, and beliefs of others. The hypocrite ignores his own life and focuses on others. We see this all the time with Evangelical pastors. You know the type: they thunder against sin, most often sexual sin. They eviscerate all those who dare transgress the Bible’s sexual standard. Yet, in their own lives, they do the very things they condemn. (Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Bob Gray, Jack Hyles, Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Jim Bakker, Eddie Long, and too many Catholic priests to count, just to name a few. Please see the Black Collar Crime Series.)

I am of the opinion that those who shout the loudest over the peccadilloes of others often commit those very same sins in the privacy of their home, office, motel room, or back seat of their car. They are hypocrites of the first degree.

The Bible, from start to finish, clearly teaches that Christians are to judge others. It never teaches, thou shalt not judge. It DOES teach judging righteously. It does teach using a proper standard of judgment. It does teach a judgment that begins with self.

“But, Bruce, you are not a Christian.” No, I am not. I wrote this post to tell those Christians who love to scream “DON’T judge” to shut the Hell up. They need to read the Bible they say they believe. Better yet, they need to PRACTICE the teachings of the Bible they say they believe.

As an atheist, I can glean some helpful guidance from Matthew 7:1-5. It stresses the importance of self-judgment before taking on the task of judging others and their ideas and beliefs. I need to be reminded of my own shortcomings (sorry Christians, no sins for me) and motives. I need to be reminded that I am, as those I oppose, a fallible, frail human being. I can be w-r-o-n-g.

The comment section awaits your judgments of this post.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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20 Comments

  1. Avatar
    sgl

    re: “… those who shout the loudest over the peccadilloes of others often commit those very same sins …”

    not sure it’s a general rule, but it’s been scientifically proven re: homophobia:

    ———-
    http://www.petertatchell.net/lgbt_rights/homophobia/bigots_are_buggers.htm

    “Bigots are Buggers”

    Research by US psychologists suggests that 80 percent of men who are homophobic have secret homosexual feelings. This finding lends scientific support to the long-standing speculation that those who shout the loudest against homosexuality have something to hide.

    The research results were published in the prestigious Journal of Abnormal Psychology, with the backing of the American Psychological Association.

    ———-

    • Avatar
      Becky Wiren

      You have to wonder, when some of these older white men oppose gay marriage, and they so often equate it with bestiality! I mean come ON, how many people are really going to go there? I’m guessing these dudes have their own SPECIAL attractions. 😉

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    As humans we have to make many judgments each day – is this action safe to do, is this a good food choice, etc. A lot of Christians, though, are so concerned with thoughts, words, and actions that they add on a whole additional level of judgment, often about things non-Christians don’t consider important.

  3. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    Yeah, a blanket command not to judge (“lest ye be judged”) has never made any sense to me. I mean, how would that even work?

    Travel with me through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind — and let’s take a look…

    Me: “You know, this Chick-Fillet chicken sandwich isn’t bad, but I liked the one at Popears better.”

    Chick-Fillet Employee: “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”

    Me: “What? I just… I tasted their sandwich, I tasted your sandwich. I just like theirs better.”

    Chick-Fillet Employee: “As you have judged our sandwich, so must you be judged.”

    Me: “Um… wait… how would you even…?”

    Chick-Fillet Employee: “We must fry you up and see how you taste! GET HIM, GUYS!”

    Me: “Nooooo…”

    Much later…

    Chick-Fillet Manager: “So, what do you think?”

    Chick-Fillet Employee: “He’s pretty yummy, actually. I guess we shouldn’t have killed him.”

    Chick-Fillet Manager: “Eh, don’t worry about it. It’s too late now, and besides, he brought it on himself.”

    Chick-Fillet Employee: “Wait, are you judging him?”

  4. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    When I stopped paying attention to the activities of private individuals that are none of my business, I discovered I was much happier.

    My mother wasn’t interested in doing that. Instead, she wanted to know what everyone around her was doing, and whether those activities were acceptable to her. I remember rants about how the neighbors were not adequately punishing a wayward son; fussing about the renter who acquired a live-in-girlfriend; a long rant about a family she didn’t actually know except by name, because a friend told her they’d put an elderly relative in a nursing home since they couldn’t adequately care for him at home; and days of complaining that her brother halfway across the country wanted to bring his girlfriend and share a bedroom with her when he came to visit. (She did finally agree to the visit, and liked the girlfriend.) My suggestion that these people are all adults doing the best they can with their lives and this stuff is none of her business only upset her. It was actually pretty sad.

    On the other hand, I do want to know when public officials are being hypocrites, especially ones I have a vote about.

  5. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Bruce said: “What matters is HOW we judge, what standard we use for judging.”
    When the black book is the standard, then love becomes punishing and less human. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,” becomes, in action, harm your neighbor as you harm yourself. Insist on delusional thinking and promise harm if your neighbor does not comply.
    Love becomes hateful manipulation and is often used with Steve Anderson glee on all, even little kids. The entreaty, “Not in my church though,” is part of the denial of Reason. The viral stew comes in a billion flavors.

  6. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    I neglected to add the obvious, that I judge certain ‘religion’ very harshly sometimes and do not feel a need to shame-blame myself for feeling strongly in the negative. My own history is sometimes all I can represent here and I know that I am every bit as judgemental and harsh as some of the evangelicals I growl at… I feel okay about that and it makes me feel more whole and natural than I could ever begin to feel as a believer. I was trained by the ‘best’ and the legacy still lives in me. I have tried and continue to learn at 68 years old, how to remain aware that my firm convictions are my own and not worthy of mass consumption. I don’t believe in God(s) but will forever embrace my children in love if they decide to become Christians or Bahai or whatever. And if I can do that for my own children, then perhaps it can rub off further afield!

  7. Avatar
    cy

    In John’s gospel story, Jesus did tell his followers to judge.
    Here he is—telling us all to go out and judge, but just do it right:

     “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
    John 7:24

    (Jesus seems to be kind of a tricky fellow.)

  8. Avatar
    Douglas Kolacki

    We humans seem to have a bad habit not only of judging overs, but judging others using ourselves as the standard.

    I’ve been judged by other men because my idea of a good time (staying home and writing stories) wasn’t the same as theirs (carousing). I was once accused of disobedience to God because I went to one meeting a week, whereas my accuser went almost every night. I sort of wish now that I’d thought to ask him, so how many meetings do I need before I’m counted as obedient? I was once called “lazy” because I didn’t believe Christians should get politically involved. I didn’t have convictions or reasons, I was just “lazy.”

    I’ve been called a “loser” because I’m not a social animal like the blogger who, without ever meeting me, appointed himself My Judge. This person who doesn’t know my story, won’t even consider that there may be reasons, and that the reasons might be good ones. If my socialness doesn’t match his, I’m a “loser.” Period.

    I’ve been judged most of all by my older brother, who actually condemned me for the following: not walking or talking like him (he demonstrated the “right” way to do both), for picking up my litter in a theater after a movie–seriously! He berated me, repeatedly, for not leaving it there on the floor. Also because I wasn’t interested in the movie Lethal Weapon like he and his friends were, and for failing to match his love for another movie we’d just watched. “I can’t believe you didn’t like (movie)!” Wailed and wailed, like it meant the end of the world.

    And this was a man who told me, many times, “Don’t judge people.” And was always accusing Christians of being narrow-minded. It was almost like a knee-jerk thing. He might not say “narrow-minded” for days, but if the subject of Christians came up, I’d heard it almost immediately.

    And this man is by far the most judgmental person I’d ever known. He honestly seems to have no idea of this.

    We live on opposite end of the country now. But if I saw him again, and tried to tell him about his behavior, he’d waste no time telling me–you guessed it–“Don’t judge people.”

    Like Karen the Rock Whisperer, I’ve found I’m a good deal happier when I’m not so hung up on how others are living. That’s their business; everyone’s life is their own business. And I think the things I recounted above, turned out for good in that I saw how not to be, since I’ve seen for myself how ugly it is, how ugly it makes the accusers, scars the accused, and destroys relationships.

    One of the wisest things ever said is, “Live and let live.”

    • Avatar
      Southern Lady

      Your comment was interesting, Douglas. I noticed you said “my older brother.” I think firstborns are generally known for being a little more rigid and having firm ideas about how things and people should be. I guess they come by it naturally, cause they’re kinda like little adults growing up and feel qualified to do the bossing of the underlings. lol I’m a firstborn myself. But with all our advantages as firstborns, it’s generally the middle children who are more well-adjusted with less hang-ups. I see this in my younger sister. She’s a more likable person than me. Why, I’m not sure. I think that’s just an advantage of not being the firstborn.

      The Birth Order Book is a fascinating read.

      • Avatar
        Brian Vanderlip

        Firstbrn children are subject to the full force of their parents’ histories and if there is extreme belief mixed into the stew (or another addiction/harm) the first child gets it full force. Often the following siblings have less force, less anxious manipulation applied. My older brother, the eldest male, has always been a terrible bully. My dad was a Fellowship Baptist preacher and my mom, the daughter of one. As my bro has aged, he has weakened in his bullying and been able to admit minor ‘faults’ in his behaviour towards others but what he has done with the primary problem of bullying is transfer it into evangelicalism. Religion is a tool. Jesus saves my brother by allowing him to remain without insight and preach.

      • Avatar
        Douglas Kolacki

        Thanks, Southern Lady. I was born into a tumultuous household, with a great father but an unfortunately crazy mother. She drove Dad out when Big Brother was 5 and I was 3, and then my brother got the brunt of her abuse. As he later acknowledged, he passed that abuse on to me, and I in turn passed it to others.

        Besides this, he seemed to think it was his responsibility now to make me into what guys were supposed to be, and that meant conforming in every way to the male peer group, hence the lessons in walking & talking. He tried to get me started smoking when I was 10, unsuccessfully (I guess I ended up getting the last laugh on him there).

        I think you’re totally correct in saying the problem basically is, people are people. And a Bible verse I’ve never heard quoted is the one you mention from James, to let all be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. (How many Christians have I known who were just the opposite!)

        Looking back on the evangelical home fellowship I used to attend, there seemed to be an unspoken understanding that hate can be good, even noble, as long as you hate the right people–in this case, the liberals.

        Two things come to mind that help. One is the way Christ cleared the Pharisees’ perspective by telling them, whoever is without sin, let him throw the first stone.

        The other is from one of my favorite Rush songs, by the late great Neil Peart. The song is titled “Second Nature,” and I used to listen to it all the time in the late 80’s when it came out. There’s a line from it that’s always stayed with me.

        Folks are basically decent, conventional wisdom would say / Well we read about the exceptions in the papers every day.

        Hope everyone’s having a good week so far.

  9. Avatar
    Southern Lady

    Great post, Bruce. I’m finding if I read a post several times over a couple days, it sinks in more and seems wiser and wiser. I guess I just take in more the second or third time around.

    Since we’re all busy judging day and night in our private thoughts, maybe the key is focusing on what we actually say to other people. If we start with harsh judging thoughts, we can take the time to consider how maybe we could be more generous–sorta like we want them to do for us. If we interact with them in person, we can think whatever about how they look or what they say, but we can say, “You know, you have beautiful eyes.” Find something to like about the person. And in noticing that they do have beautiful eyes and telling them, we’ll find we like them more; because we like people to whom we have done something nice.

    Social media is the coolest thing. Blogs are great. But, it gives adults an opportunity to express themselves. Always a bad idea! lol

    Seriously, we’re obviously the type that likes to discuss and analyze and process it all or we wouldn’t be on here. But, as you said, once you put your opinion out there, somebody’s gonna come along and declare you stupid, racist, mean, bitter, crazy, evil, ignorant, morally inferior and every other adjective they can think of. It’s an ugly scene.

    And it can all be avoided by refusing as much as humanly possible to say anything bad about anybody.

    That’s unrealistic, I guess. As you mentioned, we Americans like “to say our piece.” So, if we express ourselves publicly, there’s gonna be blowback. I’m actually fascinated noticing that some feel quite comfortable and free expressing themselves, while others are terrified to do so.

    I guess I’m rambling now. But back to your post. Non-Christians don’t appreciate being judged by Christians, and Christians don’t appreciate being judged by Non-Christians. No adult likes to be reprimanded by another. We all like compliments. We don’t like insults. We don’t like feeling misunderstood. We don’t like it when others think they are morally superior to us. We want to be liked. We want to be appreciated for our unique wonderfulness. We don’t like it when others think they know our inner thoughts and our true motivations. We all like respect. We don’t like it when we aren’t given the benefit of the doubt.

    Anyway, just my thoughts. Personally, I think it’s all hopeless. People being people is the basic problem. I agree with you that the Bible gives pretty wise advice re judging. I’m hoping we all take further biblical advice to be slow to anger.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      ” People being people is the basic problem. I agree with you that the Bible gives pretty wise advice re judging. I’m hoping we all take further biblical advice to be slow to anger.”

      Southern Lady, I have no doubt that I would admire your eyes but this kind of talk makes me squint. People being people is what people are not when they follow the black book ways. Being slow to anger is wise, to carefully consider in all ways but that advice if I can all it that, is used in church to stifle human feelings, to blame and shame. Anger itself is preached down, a shallow but common reduction of the message.
      Do you blame people being people because you believe they are born fallen and evil? That’s malarky to me. It makes people less than, not better off. Christianity built on original sin is basically harmful and makes people more inclined to say things like, “Personally, I think it’s all hopeless.” (That being said, with a president like Trump, one might very well make that statement.)
      (I am not meaning to be disrespectful, just strongly disagree with this perspective. Unless we can work together in the garden, the evangelicals will continue to ruin themselves and us in the bargain. We have never been perfect but being free of beliefs like the evangelical sort, is a good start, as I see it.)

      • Avatar
        Southern Lady

        Brian, you made me laugh about me making you squint. Good line. Re people-I don’t know about fallen and evil, but I love a line I heard recently-can’t remember who said it-“Human nature is not particularly admirable.” That seemed funny and generally true to me. Why are we the way we are? I don’t know. Our basic drives play a part, of course.

        I think religion or politics or anything that involves people has to consider general human characteristics that aren’t all that admirable. It would be great if we were all truly wonderful, but it just ain’t so.

        Hymns about “would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” or hearing about “total depravity” do seem a little over the top!

        I don’t know what you mean by people working together in the garden. Could you explain that to me? Do you think it’s Christian beliefs that are causing the main problems?

        • Avatar
          Brian Vanderlip

          I think sometimes Christian beliefs do cause the problem but I consider Christianity only a tool and a tool belongs and is understood and used by the hand holding it.
          Would our world be better without evangelical beliefs? I think so but I don’t blame the wandering man from Galilee for Steven Anderson. Anderson is a sick human, severely harmed and without insight or willingness to get real help to stop harming himself and others. In his hands, Christianity is a mockery, a Bouncing Betty of belief.
          By working together in the garden, I’m referring most basically to what I understand as basic cooperation. A garden requires care, respect for the land, healthy seeding and lots of weeding and watering. The result is supper for the world. The garden is of course not being made great again in these dark times because Trump would not know a carrot seed if he was shown one.

  10. Avatar
    Davie from Glasgow

    This is really interesting. It strongly reminds me of books I’ve read telling that when Sigmund Freud developed his theories of psychoanalysis they were picked up with great enthusiasm in the US – far more so than in Europe where they originated. But Freud himself despaired. The American ‘psychoanalysts’ were quick to diagnose and categorise the people that were sent to them for help. But few if any, in Freud’s view at least, were willing first to go all the way to the end of “the painful journey to the centre of the psyche” (i.e. their own). – It was others who’s minds and motivations needed picked apart! Not them. They were the doctors! – But this development of a true and deep understanding of one’s self and one’s own shortcomings that only the completion of such a journey could bring was so central, so fundamental, to Freud’s process – that without first undertaking it, no one was in a position to be analysing anyone else in his view. Sorry if that’s a bit off-topic. But the parallels really struck me as I say.

  11. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Hello to Bruce and Polly, out there in blogland–I’m waiting to read the latest post, when you’re up to it. The column regarding judging is very interesting, made even more so by the announcement that Jerry Falwell Jr., one of the most judgemental among the conservatives who are well known, had to step down after his private habits became public knowledge. He’s just a human, like anyone else after all.I hope it serves as a wake-up call to the GOP.

    • Avatar
      Southern Lady

      Yes, the post re judging was the first thing I thought of also! Never underestimate the ability of a grown man to achieve a high office of some kind, be respected, have dignity–then throw it all out the window by getting into some peccadillo and making himself look ridiculous. It’s all so damn predictable! Then throw in putting all the blame on your wife (bad form) and top it all off with having the gall to quote scripture and remind people how dedicated to Christ you are. I know a lot of men are having a lot of laughs over it.

      You can react to this nonsense with anger for the hypocrisy. I guess you could act shocked, but that’s hard to pull off these days. I think laughing at the absurdity of it all might be best. I do feel a little sorry for their children though. I mean, good grief!

      • Avatar
        Brian Vanderlip

        Falwell Jr. blames his wife because it is her fault since Eden. The Christian faith does not lift up womanhood as it claims; it demeans women.

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