The Catholic Thing
Equality: How So? Print E-mail
By Matthew Hanley   
Tuesday, 16 February 2010

In the United Kingdom, a sweeping piece of proposed legislation known as the “Equality Bill” sought to install various homosexual “rights” and cast opposition to them as discrimination. Benedict XVI said it would have imposed “unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.” Here in northern California, one cannot go far without also encountering that same code word Equality on lawn signs and bumper stickers.

It is no coincidence that the same word is employed to further the same broad agenda. It should not be surprising to learn that Spain’s socialist government had “equality” in mind when it recently imposed an educational curriculum that openly states that “nature has given us sex so we can use it with another girl, with a boy or with an animal.”

Words matter. Some are more malleable than others. As Josef Pieper noted in his classic Abuse of Language Abuse of Power, the Sophists manipulated words “with exceptional awareness of linguistic nuances” to the point of “corrupting the meaning and the dignity of the very same words.” Modern-day Sophists cultivate the word “equality” to intimidate opponents of a particular agenda into silence. Who, after all aside from bigots would dare oppose equality? It should be plainly evident, then, that “the orientation towards reality, truth itself. . . .can in all honesty not be the decisive concern of those who aim at verbal artistry.”

Those equality slogans are, like “any discourse detached from the norms of reality. . . . mere monologue”; they are the “the opposite of communication” (announcing to others only their own imagined surplus of tolerance) since they, as with any communicated falsehood, aim to “prevent the other’s participation in reality.”

Equality has long been the great rallying cry of the Left, even as it is used to advance objectives that diametrically oppose the firmest basis for our equality. We all know, deep down, that every one of us is created equal: we all have the same innate dignity before God. But we also know that no two people are exactly alike. We are manifestly not equal in terms of our personalities, talents, circumstances at birth, assets, or interests. The list could go on and on. No amount of artificial intervention can possibly “equalize” our infinitely diversified characteristics.

How, then, are we equal? John Paul II proposed (in both Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae) that it is “before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal.” Whether we are millionaires or mendicants, powerful politicians or peasants, gorgeous or unattractive, of this ethnicity or that, immigrant or native, man or woman, we all encounter reality and face the challenges of the moral life. The “demands of morality” may not sound particularly fun. They often aren’t. They ennoble and uplift, but can be taxing.

That truly great equalizer morality is all too often viewed today as a draconian infringement on individual autonomy, so other agendas and pursuits proliferate in its place. It is not what is good or what is right, but what is efficient or useful, what on balance yields more benefits or what expands the horizons of personal autonomy that earns approbation in the major political and bioethical questions of the day. But as George Weigel succinctly put it, viewing ethical dilemmas in that way “blunts the edge of moral analysis and drains the moral life of its inherent drama.”

Drama is a helpful way to look at the matter. Imagine, for example, how differently Les Miserables would have turned out if the hero, Jean Valjean had not complied with the demands of his inner voice when, living prosperously and uprightly under an alias, he is unexpectedly confronted with the fact that another man will likely soon be jailed in his place. What to do?

His first thought was self-preservation. Keep silent. But “what he wanted to keep out of doors had entered; what he wanted to render blind was looking upon him. His conscience.” Next, he carefully weighs alternative courses of action and (much like consequentialists today) convinces himself momentarily that the benefits of remaining quiet outweigh those of turning himself in: he has made an entire town come to life, and many people still count on him. He concludes that it is important to “carry on what I have begun, that I may do good.” But with that resolution, “he felt no joy.”

So he decides to turn himself in. If he had not made that noble and dramatic decision, can we imagine Les Miserables ever becoming so immensely popular? And isn’t it telling that even the fact that Valjean’s dilemma was so wrenching might temper but not eliminate the sense of letdown we would feel if he had made the opposite decision?

Few face such intense tests, yet everyone to some extent experiences the costs associated with doing the right thing; paying the price only boosts our admiration for the person who does so.

To deny people their place on the stage in the drama of their own lives is ultimately to dehumanize them. To exclude people from the inherent demands of morality to give someone or some groups a perpetual hall pass is to expel them from the orbit of equality.

We are far better off looking at equality as the perennial human drama, and supporting one another, with all the difficulty it entails.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center will be publishing Matthew Hanley's book, with Jokin D. Irala, M.D., Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West.

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Comments (7)Add Comment
Polyglot Warriors
written by William H. Phelan, February 17, 2010
Just as some Roman Catholics and the Evangelicals have united in this country to resist these profound moral threats, I see a time when these two groups will be reaching out to Muslims, Hindus and Orthodox Jews for assistance in order to present an undivided front of moral Warriors who will drive these evils back underground.
written by Jacob, February 17, 2010
I don't think much evil is going anywhere...but we ought to mutually reinforce other faiths in their fight against the advance of godless society rather than pretending that we can somehow be a unified army (something this article seems to warn against).
Divine Law
written by Joseph, February 17, 2010
Cicero, the great orator, wrote, ".Power and the law are not synonymous. In truth they are frequently in opposition and irreconcilable. There is God's Law from which all equitable laws of man emerge and by which men must life if they are not to die in oppression, chaos and despair.

"Divorced from Gods eternal and immutable Law, established before the founding of the suns, man's power is evil no matter the noble words with which it is employed or the motives urged when enforcing it."
Becoming One
written by debby, February 17, 2010
Valjean had an inner voice to listen to after a very specific event: a Holy Bishop offered him-thru personal sacrifice-the Grace of Mercy when Justice could have been enforced. That Grace planted the Seed of Convervsion in Valjean's soul. After living in that Grace & becoming Sanctified, he was equipted to follow Truth, awake in his conscience. This is where we need to be both Bishop (to others) as well as Valjean (responders to Mercy). Only then will lives & the world be changed-IN CHRIST.
Equality under the law
written by Chuck, February 18, 2010
The Left is obsessed about equalizing everything. Yet the constitutional principle of equality under the law is violated adroitly. Recently the tax on "Cadillac Health Insurance Plans" was going to be passed to tax those who had been savvy enough to protect their health needs but--alas!--an exception was going to be made for the unionized workers, who are "more equal than others" and did not deserve to be taxed. Violation of this basic principle of the U.S. Constitution is now common fare.
written by Liz, February 18, 2010
So I understand this and obviously you (the author) understands this - it is a reasonable and cogent argument - so why can't the Left understand this? This is not rocket science - it is Natural and Moral Law.
written by Graham Combs, February 26, 2010
Before he became a toxic pesence in American letters, and a nihilist, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story - once frequently anthologized - entitled HARRISON BERGERON. In the near future, the US ratifies an amendment to the Constitution mandating absolute equality. The story's course and conclusion offer one likely ending for where the UK and the US are headed.

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