When “Judge Not” Is Not Enough

Many of us try to live by this simple verse in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1):

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Sound advice, right? Yes, but last night I learned that sometimes we need to do better than that. We need to make a judgment and speak up.

I was watching The Imitation Game on Netflix. It’s about Alan Turing, the computing pioneer whose famous Turing Test has recently been the subject of so many movies as artificial intelligence has been more and more in the news.

The Turing Test is a way to decide whether a machine has achieved human-level intelligence. The machine and a human are concealed behind a screen. A human judge asks them questions in writing, to which they respond in writing. If the judge is unable to determine which is the machine and which is the human, the machine has passed the test.

The movie takes place in postwar England, when homosexuality was a crime. Alan Turing is about to be charged with that crime but a sympathetic detective sits opposite him at a table in the interrogation room. The detective opens by saying:

I’m here to help you.

And truly he is. He has persuaded two much-less-sympathetic officers to give him half an hour alone with Turing and he hopes to find a way for Turing to avoid what’s coming.

The movie is then narrated by Turing as he tells the detective the story of how he broke the Germans’ Enigma code, enabling the allies to win World War II.

After concluding his long account, and playing off the real-life Turing Test, Turing in the movie then issues this challenge:

Now, detective, you get to judge. So tell me: what am I? Am I a machine; am I a person? Am I a war hero; am I a criminal?

The sympathetic detective replies:

I cannot judge you.

We, the audience, admire the detective for his tolerance in that era when homosexual activity was not just a scandal but a crime. We are relieved that there were decent human beings even in that bigoted age!

Alan Turing says:

Well then…

There is a long pause. We expect Turing to continue with something like, “Thank you.” But  his expression turns downcast and what he does say is this:

…you’re no help to me at all.

What Alan Turing needed went beyond “Judge not that ye be not judged.” He needed someone to stand up for him.

As in the movie, the real-life Alan Turing was sentenced to chemical castration for his “crime” of gross indecency. He died a couple of years later at age 41, possibly from suicide.

Where do we need to go beyond tolerance? Where do we need to put our own reputations on the line as we publicly side with the unfairly despised?

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