Equality by the Divine

If you have heard of C.S. Lewis, perhaps you have heard of his book The Screwtape Letters. It's an excellent book - I've read it more than once. But I had never read the appended "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" before, though chiefly because the copy of the book I have didn't include it. Having purchased a collection of Lewis' essays which did include the piece, I sat down and began to read it.

This post isn't about C.S. Lewis, or Screwtape, or really his toast. It's about an ancient question, one which Screwtape resurrected in his toast and which got me thinking. He brought up the concept of Democracy. Not Democracy as some might think of it, as a sort of governmental structure, nor Democracy as our forefathers thought of it, as a breed of anarchy, but Democracy as a way of thinking. What is Democracy? Equality. The ability, as Screwtape put it, for a man to say to another "I'm as good as you."

The moment I say that, though, you're probably thinking, "Pfft, that's not true. I'm not as good as Lizzy, and Lizzy has nothing on Jane," and so on. But that isn't what Democracy is driving at. Of course you're not as good as Lizzy at something, and Jane is even better. Democracy demands an equality, but from the up-ended, wrong-sided view. A democratic man of this sort wants to put himself on an equal footing as a person with someone else, it doesn't matter what for - indeed, the man wants his equality with another to encompass everything.

In our oh-so-enlightened age, the idea of equality and democracy is rampant in our country. At first blush, it's a good thing. Great inroads have been made in society under the philosophical idea that man is equal to man. Slavery has been abolished, women can vote (though I'll decline my views on that matter), and the like. Equality. "I'm as good as you." We have laboured long and hard to level the stratification of society that engineered such atrocities as the French Revolution. But if you take a closer look at this societal progression of thought, you'll find out that "I'm as good as you" isn't what they are really saying. It's what they want to be saying, but if they were really saying that, they would be saying it differently. What they are really saying is, "You're as bad as me."

"Lincoln said, 'With malice toward none, with charity toward all.' Nowadays they say, 'Think the way I do, or I'll bomb the daylights out of you.' "

Democracy is a levelling, a reducing to the common denominator. Democracy of this sort is a weak, sniveling, suspicious thing getting about on its belly and hating everyone who has the manfulness to walk on his own two legs. This is Equality, that every man be as I am, no one better (I shouldn't want any one worse) than myself. Better or worse imply morals, morals imply right and wrong, right and wrong imply judgment, judgment implies condemnation. But we have no need now for such things in our oh-so-enlightened age, (wasn't it observed that God is dead, and at the hand of man?): better and worse are the trappings of a bygone era of religious fervour, and have nothing to do with today. Today is for Democracy, an equality of mind and man: and every man in his own mind is the prototype of Equality.

This is the destructive nature of Democracy in the mind of man. But what about Equality? Is that such a bad idea? What about the abolition of slavery? At its core, twinges of embarrassed conscience aside, don't we know that that man in bondage is our equal? This isn't just a mutation of human thought over the centuries. If anything, this concept of Equality has a much more prestigious parentage. But more on that in a moment.

What makes men equal? We can't go tearing folk down to our level to make them equal to us, and we can't try hauling them up to us, either. Equality doesn't come from station, equality doesn't come from skills; that has been tried, and it is impossible. At what level do you draw the line and say, "Because of this, all men are equal in the sight of God"?

I let slip the answer with the question. The answer is absurdly basic, fundamental, even primeval. It is because all men, in the sight of God, were created by God, and in his image. This is an imprint which cannot be erased, and indelible fixture of man's essence which neither servanthood, ignorance, social station, and skills (or lack thereof) can do away with. At our most basic, we are equal simply because we are Men. It underlies the core of our race, but wouldn't you say it is a rather important basic principle?

But Jenny, God is dead.

Shh, we do not really believe that. History, in all its dysfunctional revels, has anchoured its great ships of state upon this basic principle. If man were not made in God's image, and owe at the very core of his essence allegiance by existence to a single Divine, there would be no concept whatsoever of Equality. Why should there be justice among men if there were not an image of God's just person on us? Why should we be compelled to be merciful to our fellows if we did not hark back to a creation by a Person who delights in mercy? I might tantrum against society all I like otherwise, and tear people down to my level all I please (or crawl my way up to others, if I feel a little more noble) except for this immovable concept of Equality by the Divine.

"I'm as good as you." Do you hear the childish tone in the words? If you are of a sensitive nature to such things, the proclamation makes you cringe. This is because of what a decent, pure sort of Equality has done. A good sort of Equality says, not "I'm as good as you" but "You're as good as me." A really honest sort of Equality goes further and says, "I esteem you better than myself." A really honest sort of Equality upends the whole mess entirely, for the more a man thinks, "I love my neighbour as myself," the more he will think of his neighbour, and the less he will think of himself, until he may very well love his neighbour more than he loves himself. Equality, not a bad idea in itself, is a truth that moves as a spirit moves, unseen, through the depths of a man's psyche. Indeed, the more a man goes on about Equality, and announces his adherence to it, the less likely Equality will be to keep his company. "The lady," it was said, "doth protest too much."

Equality by the Divine, on the grounds of common birth by God's hand, has a way of fading me out as my esteem for my fellows grows. If we are equal, I suppose to myself, what is to stop me from esteeming others? And isn't it better to esteem others than myself? Of course, no one likes a selfish brute, a prig, an "intellectual."

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

A man who hasn't surrendered his mind and soul up to the idea of Democracy will likely put his fist on the table and say "Hear! hear!" to such a statement. No one likes a selfish brute, everyone likes a charitable heart. There is an unspoken understanding among mankind that the latter is noble, and the former is a grotesque twisting of the soul by pride. And this understanding goes far to answer the inevitable question, "If we are all equal, then why should I be my brother's especial keeper? What makes him any more special than myself? I'm not looking to having anyone cover my back, because I know I'm just as good as the next guy and I don't deserve special treatment - so neither should he." If you won't take the glaring answer, there's an answer smeared over man's mind through the centuries. We do acknowledge honourable behaviour, of giving yourself up for the sake of someone else, of putting others first, and the like. And you may, if you like, cling to an obstinate idea of Democracy and say that all this idea of Nobility and Equality by the Divine and Charity and Self-Sacrifice and Keeping One's Brother is merely a weak carry-over from the days of superstition. You may, if you like, though I should hate to be in the dog-eat-dog, grubbing, hating, swindling, sniveling, hellish world such a denial would make.

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

This Democracy is a Democracy of Ignorance, of Selfishness, of Grubbiness of Spirit. Even among the elite, the moment this barb of Democracy sticks into a mind it infects it with a degrading poison. This Equality, not of Democracy but by virtue of our creation, inspires a selflessness in its adherents - a selflessness which I shan't do an indecency to by calling it into the spotlight even now. The most I will do is leave you with the glaring answer to the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Jesus, who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross

"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just has I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

1 ripostes

  1. Wow.

    What a well thought-out, well-written post, Jenny! I'm impressed, you did a great job composing it. Though by saying "I'm impressed", it suggests that I didn't think you were that good of a writer, which isn't true... basically, what I'm trying to say is nice job putting this post together. LOL

    Oh, and I also wanted to let you know - I announced the winner of my poetry contest on my blog! Check it out:

    http://perfectlysensiblenonsense.blogspot.com/2011/06/time-has-come-walrus-said.html

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