Get ready, kids. This one is gonna be fun.
Let us consider me: I am a middle class white suburbanite. I had an excellent childhood with a loving family, was raised in a Catholic home, and went to a Catholic high school and college, where I took orthodox theology classes with brilliant teachers. I considered very briefly the Priesthood at one point, but not seriously enough to pursue the matter. If I commit to any vocation, it will almost certainly be marriage. My “reach”, to coin a phrase, will ultimately end up being rather modest (the reason we see more unmarried than married Saints is actually quite simple – those who are married need to be concerned with their own families, but the clergy have much broader responsibilities).
Let us consider an African orphan child. He has only the vaguest concept of Christianity and knows very little about it. Frankly, his future vocation doesn’t really concern him so much as not starving to death. His “reach” is going to be small as is, and in regards to inspiring people to follow Christ, almost non-existent.
Let’s consider Pope Francis, the head of the universal Church, vicar of Christ, Bishop of Rome, Monarch of the Vatican. To this day the preeminent world religious leader. Millions, perhaps billions, look to him daily for spiritual guidance. His reach is enormous, his responsibility tremendous.
All three of us die on the same day, struck by lightning. Does God cast down the exact same judgment on all three of us, accounting for all of our sins in exactly the same way?
I certainly hope not. I hope God judges all three of us *very* unequally.
The Indian caste system is the example I see most often for a society that does not believe all men are equal before God, because of the “Untouchable” caste and the historically horrible treatment they have been confronted with throughout history. But this actually has nothing to do with equality before God. It has to do with two things:
- Bad logic. There is of course no good reason for us to believe that the untouchables deserve their terrible lot. To think they do is sheer ignorance (which nowadays is often confused with “bigotry” and “racism”. They’re not the same thing, though ignorance in some ways is the most harmful). It’s simply wrong.
- Not giving them the dignity due to all men. As human beings, they are indeed created in the image of God, and thus deserve to be treated as such. We shall call this the standard baseline for treatment of human beings – a level of respect and care due to all mankind, no matter what.
The problem with the Untouchables, then, has nothing to do with them not being equal, either before the throne of God or politically. It has to do with the much more fundamental issue of them not being treated like humans at all, but like animals.
There is a lot more to say – indeed, I started to say it, then started backspacing – but I’ll leave this here to chew on for now.
Related Reading: How the “good kind” of equality leads to mass murder.
My understanding of Christianity is that all three will be judged as being worthy of damnation, but that all three may also be forgiven. So in that sense I think that all humans are equal. No one is so bad that he or she cannot be forgiven, no one is so good that he or she does not need forgiveness.
” For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.”
But even there it’s not simply a binary system. Some are judged more harshly, some are rewarded more richly. “The first shall be last and the last first,” not “everybody shall be first.”
I’m sure that’s true, but is it any of our business? There is a Judge of all the Earth, but it’s not me. I have always seen this concern with the relative level of sinfulness to be the height of presumption.
I know in my heart that I am damnable. I have earned my place in Hell through my own choices. If I did not know that then Christianity would have nothing to offer me. Salvation is offered to me on the same terms it is offered to everyone–through the suffering and death of God Himself.
Recall the parable of the workers that Christ told? Those who worked in the field for only the last hour were paid the same as those who had labored through the heat of the day. And Christ rebuked those of the latter group who grumbled about it.
Those who are saved are saved through grace alone. God died for me. He didn’t get any more dead or less dead for anyone else.
You’re absolutely right. It is none of my business how God judges us all after death. My only point here is that, actually, saying we’re all equal before the throne of God does not work as reasoning for why we should all be treated with the dignity due to humans.
And I think this is why it is so important to distinguish between divine and secular justice. I can acknowledge that a murderer can receive God’s grace and be forgiven his sins while still insisting that he be made to pay for his crimes.
I do agree with this, but I think the view I point out in the post, besides attempting to call out what I see as a common error, does have broader – and important – reach politically as well.
I’ll try to explain my reasoning in a later post.
If you are Catholic, you believe what the Catholic Church teaches, but is what the Catholic Church teaches wholly consistent with the Biblical narrative. Since I’m not Catholic, I tend to believe it isn’t and have adopted a more “Judaic” view of the Bible.
That said, assuming all three of these individuals have repented of their sins, not just once, but on each occasion, and that they have sincerely turned their hearts toward Christ, through their faith and by the merit of Messiah’s obedience even unto death, the three shall merit a place in the world to come.
Beyond that, the Bible does speak of additional “rewards” based on how well each person has served God during his/her lifetime, so that at least implies there is not absolute equality. However if, like most Christians, “going to Heaven” is your finish line, then yes, given my description above, all three are indeed equal.
As a Catholic, my understanding is actually more similar to yours, including a concept Purgatory I would guess you don’t have.
Very smart and Chestertonian of you there!
When people say that all are equal before the throne of God, what they mean is not that everyone is judged equally, but that everyone is treated the way they are supposed to be treated as men.
For Pope Francis obviously has a far greater responsibility than you have when it comes to spreading the faith. What he says has a far bigger reach than any of ours could ever have, and as such he is OF COURSE bound to have more responsibility for his actions and words that touch upon the faith than we have.
Because of that, God is going to judge him differently than you or me. And in fact this is much better for us because we, unlike Pope Francis, have very little, or at least relatively little, responsibility when it comes to our actions and words when compared to Pope Francis, so if all four of us were struck down with lightning tomorrow and died, the judgement we would get would be much milder than the one Pope Francis would get.
But the point you showed is indeed an interesting one; equality as defined and understood by many modern people today is absurd and unrealistic, which is why I described your post as Chestertonian, insofar as it reminds me of the odd ”word games” Chesterton would play with regular everyday expressions in order to get to a deeper truth than the words themselves usually carry.
Well, I will never not appreciate a comparison to Chesterton. So thank you! But in any case, the post I link to from Zippy helps supplement my point.
When people talk about equality before the *moral* law, they normally refer to a real and important concept, as Zippy points out. The problem is that “equality” has had a long and sordid history in western civilization. Were it up to me, equality would be replaced with “intrinsic human dignity”.
I think this has more to do with a sense of fairness rather than equality though.
And a lot of the things we accept today such as female suffrage aren’t just based on an appeal to equality but rather also an appeal to universal human dignity as well, in this case political expression.
I do think that modernity is indeed following the advice of the old adage about the devil dressing himself nicely.
As is the case above about appeals to equality to ground fairness in practical law and female suffrage, equality always has to appeal to our innate sense of kindness and human dignity to even be able to get off of the ground.
Equality always has to dress itself with behaviour and accomplishments that don’t actually have anything to do with equality in order to avoid anyone noticing the black hole in the corner of the eye.
Virtues such as kindess, a natural sense of fairness for people and human dignity can in fact exist even in a society where neither liberty nor equality are politically important.
Because the left wing in politics is always defined as that which gives a primary status to equality, a positive description, while the right wing is anything that does not give equality a primary status, the left will seem enticing.
But whenever a certain level of equality is reached, those left wingers will automatically no longer give equality a primary status, and are thus turned into right wingers by fiat.
Thus, the left wing of politics is a black hole, and in order to be appealing, it takes on the nature of a positive statement which naturally motivates because it is positive and constructive, and it also takes on the overcoat of natural kindness, dignity and fairness in order to make the opposition look cold-hearted, arbitrary and like micro-managing authoritarianism.
By portraying the opposition as practically unthinkable, it keeps people stuck with thinking that equality and positively good things like fairness and kindness are it’s natural fruits.
In other words, someone has glued grapes to the thorn bushes, and the farmers are deceived that it will give them a harvest.
“I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows.
“That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast. I believe that if we had not fallen…patriarchal monarchy would be the sole lawful government. But since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that ‘all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ The only remedy has been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality. The authority of father and husband has been rightly abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin), but because fathers and husbands are bad. Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us. Even the authority of man over beast has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused.” -C.S. Lewis the Weight of Glory
History renders this argument laughable. When we look at modern egalitarian societies we do not find less bad societies, nor less bad rulers, than we found aforetimes. If anything we find worse, and though other factors than merely egalitarianism no doubt play a role in this, the evidence is at least not supportive of egalitarianism.
A few other points:
1) No where in Scripture or the Fathers or the traditions and ordinances of the Church do we find that abusing authority means losing authority. On the contrary, Joseph submitted to Potiphar, to the jailor, and to Pharaoh. St. Paul tells us to submit to the authorities, even when those authorities are someone like Nero. St. Maurice and his legion submitted to decimation and eventual massacre rather than rebel against their emperor. Christ himself submitted to a sinful St. Joseph as if he were his father, and told his disciples to submit to the scribes and the Pharisees despite their hypocrisy “because they sit in the chair of Moses.” The very idea that because men are not perfect we should therefore rob husbands and fathers and all men who have behaved badly of their rightful authority is abhorrent, and leads ultimately to anarchy; the effect is similar to attempting to confiscate the property of anyone who has behaved greedily.
2) Theocracies in the sense described have, to my knowledge, never existed in Europe. Even when the Pope or other bishops served as secular rulers, it was a well established principle that one could even wage war on them as such without necessarily thereby rebelling against their spiritual authority.
3) He admits himself, it is a legal FICTION. That is, a falsehood. Should falsehoods be enshrined in our laws?
4) This last point is so blindingly obvious that I nearly forgot to include it. Authority is always conserved. If we try to make things equal by robbing fathers of their authority, then the persons who took that authority now have it. This is why in liberal and egalitarian societies we in fact see a concentration of authority rather than a diffusion of it, in much the same manner that Communism in fact resulted, for all is talk of “to each according to his need,” in an even greater concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the powerful.
“The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent. Of course, as long as the husband and wife are agreed, no question of a head need arise; and we may hope this will be the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage. But when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen? Talk it over, of course; but I am assuming they have done that and still failed to reach agreement. What do they do next? Surely only one or other of two things can happen: either they must separate and go their own ways or else one or other of them must have a casting vote. If marriage is permanent, one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy.” -C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity
The rest is merely your problem of assigning your definition of words to his when he wrote them 68 years ago.
I just read this now, but anyone following the comments section at Mr Wright’s blog (where I am arguing as Kidd Cudi) would think I was just copying my ideas directly from you.