I recently read an article on equality and fairness titled, surprisingly, People Don’t Actually Want Equality, by Paul Bloom published October 22, 2015, in the Atlantic. This seems like an heretical statement in the home of the brave and the land of the free where we grew up on a diet of equal rights. Of course, equality will never happen. Genes, heritage, place of birth, physical and mental disabilities and other things we do not control frustrate true equality.
The evidence in the article suggests we do not even really want equality. Studies show that “younger children actually have an anti-equality bias” and prefer “distributions where they get a relative advantage.” One for you, two for me, sits well with the one who gets two. Small children and primates will complain bitterly if they get less, but are perfectly satisfied to receive more.
The author goes on to summarize:
“What we see from studies of children and studies of small-scale societies is an early-emerging desire for fairness, and a particularly strong motivation not to get less than anyone else. But we don’t find a smidgen of evidence that humans or any other species naturally value equality for its sake.”
There is much more to the article, which I have linked above, and there are many nuances to human reactions, especially as we mature as people and societies. The article got me thinking, though, about the difference between society and human response to the Kingdom of God and God’s view of things. If you do not believe in God, you might as well stop here (unless you are curious).
Comedian, Louis C.K., provides this glimpse of a five-year-old’s idea of equality: When his daughter’s toy broke, she demanded that her father break her sister’s toy, which would make things equal. He did it, but he felt badly, especially when his five-year old “got this creepy smile on her face”.
The story reminds me of the biblical adage: an eye for eye. Taking an eye for an eye certainly results in equality, and nothing could be more just, but it does not, ultimately, sit well with us.
It does not sit well with God either. God tells us what He really wants:
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 NIV)
Jesus restated the same thing when he said,
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13)
He was speaking to the Pharisees, by the way, who thought they had a leg up with God because of their piety.
The important thing to understand is that God does not want to impose strict justice. He takes no pleasure in it. He does not want to take an eye for an eye. He does not want anyone to perish because of unrighteousness. (2 Peter 3:9)
Ironically, though, justice is what we often demand. We want everything to be equal or “fair”. It is our natural tendency. What that means to us may develop over time into something more sophisticated than two for me, one for you, or even an eye for an eye, but that desire for justice and fairness persists.
We live in an obviously unjust and unfair world. Why God allows injustice and unfairness to continue is an age old question. We tend to think we are taking the moral high ground when we ask, “Why?” Some of us blame God and are angry at Him for it; others find injustice and unfairness a reason not to believe that God exists.
Inequality and unfairness have existed since Abel made a better offering than Cain and Cain killed Abel. Arguably, the fall and the introduction of sin into the world through Adam and Eve’s choice to ignore the instruction of God was the beginning of injustice and unfairness. The perfect twisted into the imperfect.
God could clean the slate and start over again, but that is obviously not His plan. He did that once and promised not to do it again. The only solace is that this imperfect world will end. God promised that too.
And that gives us a clue to God’s perspective. There is something better. We know that too, intuitively. We long for that. Some of us spend our lives striving for that – striving in vain some might say, striving for justice that always eludes us.
What is the use? We cannot change the character of mankind. Our efforts are like the boy sticking his fingers in the holes of the dike.
Some people accuse Christians of checking out, waiting for the rapture. Indeed, we do have eternity with God to dream of, but we dare not “check out”. We are not there yet. There is a reason we are here, on this earth, among the injustices and unfairness.
We are “tested” by our reactions to people in need. When we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and give to the poor, we do that to and for God. We are measured by our compassion and the efforts to help those who have need. This unjust world in which we live is the place where our hearts are tested in relation to that injustice.
The longing for equality or fairness and the desire to do something about it is a redemptive desire. It is a desire that God shares.
We often let the inequalities, injustice and unfairness, however, drive us away from God. We become judgmental and righteous. We feel it is up to us to demand and exact justice, and sometimes the equality, fairness, and justice that people demand takes on a character that is full of prideful humanity and void of the spirit of God.
People tend to focus on comparisons, and we focus on the here and now, but God sees things differently. This momentary existence is nothing in comparison to eternity. If we lived as if this life is just a short introduction to eternity with God, we should act differently.
Not that It should make us indifferent to the needs of our fellow men; it should spur us on to take from our wealth and even our own needs to share with those who have less than us.
This is not our natural tendency, but, if we know our treasures are in heaven, then the things we have here and now should not matter so much to us;. We should be more willing to share with those who are suffering in the present.
Our focus is all too often on the wrong things. We focus on ourselves and our needs and our wants. When we look to others, we tend to see them in comparison to us. If people have more, we are jealous. If they have less, we feel relived that we are not like them. If we are compassionate, we feel there “ought to be a law” that changes inequality. Of course, there would be no inequality if we all shared what we had with others in need.
We also tend to advocate for fairness for what we lack or those with whom we identify lack. Pick a cause and examine the people who are promoting the cause; most of those people are effected adversely by whatever evil the cause seeks to address. Those advocating for women’s rights tend to discount inequalities that women suffer. Those advocating for illegal immigrants tend to discount inequalities that naturalized citizens suffer.
Inequalities are equal opportunity oppressors. Numbers will show greater inequality and greater injustice in certain people groups, but that is no consolation for the individual who is suffering inequality or injustice.
As God relates to us, we should relate to others. He extends the one thing we need most, relationship with Him, which He gives freely, and He promises eternity with Him where there are no tears, no sorrow and no pain.
All things will be evened out in the Kingdom of God. This is what we long for and what we are made for. In the meantime, we should be working toward the Kingdom of God on earth. Seek first the Kingdom of God is God’s instruction to us.
We should not be comparing ourselves to others. If we have enough, that is all we need; if we have more than enough, we should share with those who do not have enough. This is a very different ethic than what we naturally tend to adopt.
This is actually the Christian ethic, though you would not know it by observing most churches. The First Century church shared everything in common with each other. Individual needs were met by the faith community. That commitment to sharing with those in need is not characteristic of modern, western churches in the same as the First Century church.
Even those who advocate for a more equal distribution of wealth (call it socialism or whatever) do not live the ideal they advocate. We all, me included, take care of ourselves first and expect the government, or churches or other organizations to help those who cannot help themselves. Some of us lend our time to those things, but we still largely live for ourselves.
We may talk a different game, but let’s be honest here. We live more like the children in the studies that are the subject of the Atlantic article.