Three things, say the first Psalm, to avoid: walking in the counsel of the wicked, lingering in the way of sinners, sitting in the seat of the scornful. Of those, two are totally passive: only walking is an active verb. So of the three, it’s probably easiest for us to avoid walking with wickedness: we know it when we see it, and all we have to do is to avoid the (sometimes glamorous) temptation to fall into lock step. The other two, much harder. They’re passive, after all–they give us the ‘out’ of rolling our shoulders and saying ‘but at least I didn’t do anything myself.’ But when we hang out with those who we know make wrong choices, eventually we’ll start to make them ourselves. And when we sit down and pay attention to those who have nothing but sarcasm and disdain to fuel their criticism of ‘the other side,’ eventually we’ll fall victim to the corrosive effects of those habits of the soul.
Please note: this calls for discernment, for judgment. When Scripture says ‘judge not lest ye be judged,’ it means don’t decide the caliber of the other person’s soul and their eternal destination. My neighbors all carry burdens I can’t imagine or understand. I am in no position to write them off as beyond hope: for all I know, other than the one particular thing that’s caught my eye, s/he may be a paragon of virtue, having overcome spiritual hardships and land mines which would have scuttled me decades ago. But I can, and in fact must, judge deeds and words. (Jesus, John 7:14 ‘judge with right judgment, not by appearances.’) Not to revile and insult my neighbor as a malefactor and a scoundrel, but to avoid participating in the mistake my neighbor is making, to avoid falling into line and marching along behind. Passive acquiescence, folks, is the result of refusing to call evil by its name, and the most common reason we do that is that we’re too busy pointing the finger not at the action or word, but at the ‘terrible awful’ person instead. It’s easy to hate Jeffrey Dahmer–it’s also easy to view my neighbor who’s outside the circle of community care as a commodity to be exploited while reviling Jeffrey Dahmer, and isn’t that exactly what his sin was, seeing those young helpless men as there for his (decidedly twisted) benefit and pleasures?