The idol of equality...
(This article ran in another publication in a slightly different form.)
Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom. - Alexis de Tocqueville
Returning from his completion of the SAT a year ago, our son Joseph was pleased with his performance on the verbal half of the test. He told how important vocabulary had been, and that he had known many of the words simply because we eat dinner together as a family. Wondering what sort of words, I asked him for an example. Laughing, he replied, “Egalitarian.”
This morning I was reminded of that exchange as I read the lead article in the April, 2000, issue of Wired, a magazine at the epicenter of the information technology business. The piece titled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” written by Bill Joy, cofounder and Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, warns that, although the terrible dangers faced by man in the Twentieth Century due to the development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction have largely been contained, there is little reason to be as optimistic in the twenty-first Century as a new triad of technological advances face us: genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.
Pointing out how easily these technologies could be turned toward “knowledge-enabled mass destruction,” Joy writes, “I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states (in the Twentieth Century).”
What's Joy's solution? “The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge…. The new Pandora’s boxes of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics are almost open, yet we seem hardly to have noticed. Ideas can’t be put back in a box; unlike uranium or plutonium, they don’t need to be mined and refined, and they can be freely copied. Once they are out, they are out.”
In this article, Christians should find echoes of God’s Revelation in Scripture. Adam’s quest for knowledge is at the heart of his destruction. I remember a statement made by Dr. Roger Nicole in response to a question asked by a student in my final systematic theology class. The question was intractable and Dr. Nicole—one of the most-knowledgeable men I have known—responded saying something like, “Even in heaven there are some things God will choose not to reveal to us. We must remember that Adam’s Fall came as he sought knowledge that God had chosen not to give him. We must be content to know what God in His Sovereign wisdom chooses to reveal to us and not seek to move beyond the limitations He has decreed.”
Near the end of his article, Joy argues that voluntarily turning our back on certain forms of knowledge will require an evolution in the utopian vision of our society. Quoting the French scholar, Jacques Attali, Joy writes:
In his new book, Fraternités, Attali describes how our dreams of utopia have changed over time: "At the dawn of societies, men saw their passage on Earth as nothing more than a labyrinth of pain, at the end of which stood a door leading, via their death, to the company of gods and to Eternity. With the Hebrews and then the Greeks, some men dared free themselves from theological demands and dream of an ideal City where Liberty would flourish. Others, noting the evolution of the market society, understood that the liberty of some would entail the alienation of others and they sought Equality." Jacques helped me understand how these three different utopian goals exist in tension in our society today….
After completing his list of utopian ideals with the the French Revolution's Fraternity, Joy concludes, “Maybe we should rethink our utopian choices (emphases in the original).”
It ought to be apparent to God-fearers today that the Frenchman's national motto inherited from his Revolution, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité," has led many souls down the path of destruction. If, as Joy claims, there is such a thing as lethal knowledge, what better nominees than the idols of liberty and equality? Both these utopian visions have run amok. Of course, neither liberté nor égalité are intrinsically evil, but any secondary good which usurps God’s rightful throne and the order He has established in His Word has become an idol in need of destruction.
Although there is a sense in which Christianity is radically egalitarian—and it is precisely this sense which Galatians 3:28 reinforces—God has said much more about the relationships between men than that all men alike equally bear His Image. Speaking incessantly about equality while studiously avoiding all God has said about authority, leadership, church government, and the proper roles of men and women, is not submitting to God’s Word, but rebelling against it.
Take, for instance, what He has said about proper relationships between men and women: no one in his right mind would summarize Scripture’s teaching on marriage, for instance, by preaching the truths of Galatians 3:28—and this is said while fully acknowledging all the men for whom nothing would be better than to lead them to a better understanding of this text to the end that they would repent of their unbiblical view of marriage and womanhood and learn to love their wife as the Image-bearer she is.
Consider the idol of freedom. Madison Avenue tells us AT&T is “the right choice." “Freedom of choice” is the rallying cry of the obscene trade in dead babies carried out in those fair cities we call home. It's also the moral claim behind the movement to approve the assisted suicide of our elderly parents who “don't want to be a burden” and can't understand why anyone should ever have to suffer. Freedom of choice is also for young couples choosing the lifestyle of childlessness.
And what of the idol of equality or egalitarianism? It’s no accident this word ‘egalitarian’ popped up on my son’s SAT. Egalitarianism is so insidiously entwined with every idol within our pantheon of gods as to be almost invisible. Men serving as officers of the Church who have been called by God to serve as watchmen over "the pillar and foundation of God’s Truth” are not on guard against it because it's so pervasive a part of our culture we can't see it.
Anatole France expressed the best hope for equality when she wrote, “The majestic egalitarianism of the law, which forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread,” but few thoughtful people observing the rhetoric of equality as it annihilates all distinctions and leadership can fail to see Aristotle’s wisdom when he said “The worst form of equality is to try to make unequal things equal.”
At times during the past few years, I have found myself wondering which hatred takes precedence in the minds of moderns—the hatred of the limits God, our Creator, has placed on His gift of sexuality; or the limits He has placed on us through His gift of leadership and authority? Much as the modern hates chastity, modesty, heterosexuality, femininity, masculinity, monogamy, and fertility, he hates distinction, particularity, authority, and submission even more.
Read evangelical or Reformed articles and books, listen to Reformed sermons, and you will find them sprinkled with appeals to the masses calculated to massage the egalitarian vision we have inherited from our culture. Through the past few decades of evangelical publications—most especially, Christianity Today—we can see the Word of God being conformed to this mold with no apparent concern that this Scripture which must die is the same Scripture the Evangelical Theological Society testifies of, “that all of the Bible and the Bible alone is the very Word of God.”
But in the midst of the rabid pursuit of what Reformed men call "gender equity" or "gender egalitarianism," can anyone hear any parallel cries for full equality between professors and their students or parents and their children?
Of course not.
Somehow those rebellious mothers and abdicating fathers who are levelers in marriage have not yet become levelers in parenthood. Mothers saying ‘no’ to their husbands continue to expect their sons and daughters to say ‘yes’ to them, to snap to it clearing off the table, mowing the lawn, and taking out the trash. Professors who quote Scripture and work hard to undermine and destroy the authority of husbands over their wives have not yet initiated a reform movement in the Academy stripping themselves of the perquisites of their Ph.D. and their full professorship. Instead, seemingly incapable of perceiving the connection between various forms of authority, blithely they carry on grading their students’ papers and processing to commencement exercises in full academic regalia.
By what authority does the Bible professor pronounce the exegesis of 1Timothy 2:11-13 “terribly difficult?”
Well, you know, this esteemed professor holds the Ph.D. from a top-drawer university, has published in the best journals, has authored a number of seminal works in New Testament studies, and is reputed to be at the top of the list of those seeking to inherit Dr. Muckety-muck's mantle.
Note these claims of authority rampant among academics, yet they are blind to it!
If we are expected to defer to this sort of authority, why not the authority Scripture delegates to husbands, also—particularly when the authority of husbands is explicitly commended in the Word of God, and grounded—not in the institutions of man—but God’s Created Order?
Well, the truth of it is that reformers have never been immune to hypocrisy. Emblazoned on my mind is that classic line from the Who's “Won’t Get Fooled Again”: “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” So we buy into the radical reformation preached by Christian scholars who, possessing impeccable Reformed, academic credentials, proclaim the day of liberty to us all, calling all men and women to dream of an egalitarian utopia in which no longer will anyone judge our children by the curves of their bodies and the cut of their clothes, but by the nature of their gifts.
Samuel Johnson had it right: “Your levelers wish to level down as far as themselves, but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves.”