Monday, February 23, 2015

Chasing Equality

Everybody wants to be equal. It’s the way of the world.

But equality means different things to different people. When hardline feminists or politicized homosexuals say they want equality, what they really mean is superiority. They are looking to acquire a trump card through which they will be able to dictate how they are treated — and even thought of — by the rest of society.

Not “equal” exactly, is it.

There’s also the question “Equality by what metric?” to consider. If by equality we mean that every human being ought to be considered as strong, smart or useful to society as every other, we are clearly talking rubbish.

That’s easy to say from my position of “privilege” as a white male, of course.

Three Kinds of Equality

Let’s for the sake of clarity distinguish three kinds of equality of which we may speak. Public discourse continually conflates these, to the confusion of many:

Equality of Function: As already mentioned, to maintain all humans are functionally equal is to speak nonsense. It is manifestly untrue that all humans are equally functional. Working legs outperform lame ones. Seeing eyes are more useful than damaged eyes. A higher IQ equips one for tasks a lower IQ does not, though a socially-adjusted individual may be more successful than a less socially-adjusted person despite possessing a measurably lower pure intelligence. The average woman will never physically outperform the average man, notwithstanding numerous examples of the “strong woman” trope. A child or a senior citizen is not expected to do the work of a man, nor should he be. It is not even true that all humans are equally attractive, though a vocal subset of those who are not try desperately to assure us of their right to be loved equally for their appearance rather than concentrating on developing those qualities of character over which they do have a measure of control.

These obvious realities lead to the conclusion that, if we were cynical enough to attach a dollar value to every life, some lives might well be worth more than others in a purely economic sense. Hopefully we have not become so debased as to think such valuations should matter in the slightest.

Equality of Authority: In grasping for this, we are often thinking more about the desirability of authority’s attendant status and perks than the responsibility that comes with it. My boss, in theory, holds a more desirable job than I do because it makes him a player and decision-maker in the company we work for. His job has status and many people would pursue it for that reason alone. On the other hand, he is salaried and I get paid hourly, so I have several times made more money annually than he does. And my job is both less demanding and more satisfying to me, I assure you, than his is to him.

All to say, the common craving for positional equality may be poorly thought-out.

Humanity has yet to figure out a way to impart to all its citizens equality of authority. I suspect such a thing is as impossible in family relationships as it appears to be in business, government, church or the armed forces.

Someone has to have the final word or things simply don’t work.

Equality of Value: Real worth from the Christian perspective is a function of relationship to God. If the meek will inherit the earth and the poor in spirit are blessed, and if man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart, it should be fairly clear that God views us very differently than we view ourselves. So we can rightly affirm that every human being has value by virtue of being made in the image of God and that none of us ought to be oppressors of our brothers and sisters on that basis alone.

Even many of those who reject the idea of a Creator maintain a belief in the equal worth of all human beings in this more abstract sense, though it is hard to see how for them this can be any more than a preference. In practice, the unborn among others have a tendency to get the short end of the secular equality stick.

Still, some who argue for equality mean it in this sense, though equality of this sort obviously cannot be conferred by society. Society can only acknowledge what already exists.

The Struggle for Equality

It’s perfectly appropriate for Christians and unsaved alike to stand against specific cases of genuine injustice and oppression (or more often, to provide what comfort we may to those who must endure them when we can’t change their circumstances). This is surely what James means when he says that one aspect of pure and undefiled religion is to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction”, or what Amos complained of when he spoke against those who “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth”.

But a generalized cry for the “equality” of entire groups without spelling out precisely how that may be measured is an exercise in futility. Equality of function is a non-starter, unless we are able to heal the lame, give sight to the blind, make the unsightly sightly and cure all mental illnesses and defects of mind that make us unequal. Equality of value is something we may acknowledge but cannot grant. Even the attempt to get others to acknowledge it on the larger scale is a pipedream absent a benevolent world government with the power to enforce righteous behavior. And granting universal equality of authority is a recipe for anarchy, no matter what human institution we are referring to, and would be undesirable even if it did not, for reasons I will get to.

Real Equality

Against all examples of futilely chasing equality of authority (the foremost of which remains that of Satan, who insisted “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High”) stands the example of the Lord Jesus, who, in the words of the apostle:
“… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
His equality of value was already established, just as yours and mine is. He was “in the form of God”. There was nothing to be proved on that front. His equality of function was equally impressive: “without him was not anything made that was made”.

But it is really equality of authority that we’re all after, isn’t it?

It is in this arena that the Lord excels all by demonstrating that equality of authority was not that big a deal after all. Unlike Satan, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”. He could have had it. He did have it. But he felt no need to hang onto it.

How Do We Think About God?

Part of the Lord’s confidence in this surely comes from intimately knowing and fully trusting the One he had chosen to serve. When we climb, grasp and assert authority for ourselves it is because we lack confidence in the Highest Authority of All to place us where we are best suited.

That’s a pretty shabby way to think about God. And the Lord never thought of his Father like that. Instead, he said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me”. Instead, he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work”. Instead, he said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book”.

The Reward of Inequality

And so it is. Oddly enough to our very limited, earthly way of thinking, we are told that the Lord’s indifference to equality of authority achieved for him the exact opposite of what one might expect: “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name”.

And in fact this sort of counterintuitive treatment is also what we are promised, is it not? “The last will be first, and the first last”. The lowly brother is to “boast in his exaltation”. The person who takes the lowest place will be told “Friend, move up higher”.

Any effort among Christians to establish equality of authority in home, church or society runs counter to the teaching of the apostles, the pattern established by godly Old Testament saints and much more importantly, the example set by the Lord Jesus himself.

In the world, everybody wants to be equal. “Not so among you,” as Someone Wise once said.

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