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Equality is Medicine, Not Food

This entry is part 40 of 52 in the series

"Ten Mangled Words"

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I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent. I don’t think the old authority in kings, priests, husbands, or fathers, and the old obedience in subjects, laymen, wives, and sons, was in itself a degrading or evil thing at all. I think it was intrinsically as good and beautiful as the nakedness of Adam and Eve. It was rightly taken away because men became bad and abused it. To attempt to restore it now would be the same error as that of the Nudists. Legal and economic equality are absolutely necessary remedies for the Fall, and protection against cruelty.
But medicine is not good. There is no spiritual sustenance in flat equality. It is a dim recognition of this fact which makes much of our political propaganda sound so thin. We are trying to be enraptured by something which is merely the negative condition of the good life. That is why the imagination of people is so easily captured by appeals to the craving for inequality, whether in a romantic form of films about loyal courtiers or in the brutal form of Nazi ideology. The tempter always works on some real weakness in our own system of values―offers food to some need which we have starved.

― C. S. Lewis, Equality

According to Lewis, legal and economic quality is a convention we use to protect ourselves from one another. In other words, centuries of human abuse have revealed that while inequalities most certainly exist, we are seldom prepared to deal rightly with these inequalities, when we’re in a position to exploit them. Those physically weaker, financially poorer, or even intellectually less capable are almost always exploited by their superiors. It was the biblical religion that first rebuked this tendency, calling on Israel to care for the three groups most easily exploited: orphans, widows, and the poor.

Centuries of jurisprudence and political thought were necessary for the implications of these ideas to germinate and reach full bud: that every human being was to receive exactly equal treatment before the law and that every person was to be part of a collective decision-making process that would protect us from the abuse of power in one or a few. Legal and political equality became one of the checks and balances of a free society.

Conversely, Lewis believes our intrinsic inequality is actually a splendid and beautiful variety. “In the same way, under the necessary outer covering of legal equality, the whole hierarchical dance and harmony of our deep and joyously accepted spiritual inequalities should be alive.” Created differences, differences in appearance, ability, intelligence, talents, or gifts are not a thing to be despised, but celebrated. And we celebrate them when we respect hierarchy, orders, and roles in society, the family, and the church.

This freedom is now devolving into tyranny, as those obsessed with equality now pursue it for opposite reasons from the Christian thinkers of the past. In their thinking, it is not man’s evil and propensity to harm others that requires legal equality; it is actually man’s innate goodness and propensity to excel that requires actual, enforced equality of outcomes. Inequality represents cosmic injustice, and requires correction. We must no longer simply say that men and women are equal before the law; we must ensure that we have an exactly equal number of female plumbers and male kindergarten teachers. We must no longer say that two citizens have an equal right to participate in government, we must insist that those two citizens receive the same schooling, and have exactly the same grades.

This is a deep disease of the soul, which slowly kills a society. Lewis again: “When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget, but as an ideal, we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority. That mind is the special disease of democracy, as cruelty and servility are the special diseases of privileged societies. It will kill us all if it grows unchecked. The man who cannot conceive a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other―the man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow―is a prosaic barbarian.”

The reason that the idol of Equality will kill its followers is that they will tyrannically enforce it on the world, while gorging themselves on perverted inequality elsewhere. “Where men are forbidden to honor a king they honor millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead―even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served―deny it food and it will gobble poison.”

Behold the society in which you live: where porn stars (famous prostitutes) are celebrated, while recognising distinctions between men and women can be a criminal offence.

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary and Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

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