“Ah, equality!” said the Director. “We must talk of that some other time. Yes, we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another’s greed, because we are fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes, ripening for the day when we shall need them no longer. Equality is not the deepest thing, you know.”
–That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis
The great danger of virtue worship. Every conscientious man and woman tends to emphasize one virtue or cause above all others, thinking “Yes, if there were a hill to die on, charity would be the cause.” Or perhaps, “If all society were to be crumbling around me, I would hold on to my sense of Justice, for Justice is what makes us above the animals.”
Perhaps less loftily, we focus on intelligence. We talk of scientific discovery as if it is a saviour and the difference between us and the savagery we once partook of. Even physical strength, in 2014, when great wars are fought still, but more and more by electronic and remotely controlled aircraft. In daily life it is possible to get along quite well never having to throw a fist, and there is a machine for most every task at hand, yet physical prowess still vies for importance, for value.
You hear Medieval times spoken of as the “Dark Ages” and in many ways they were incredibly dark, if the history books are meant to be believed. Scientific discoveries constantly being demonized by the Church, an age of ignorance and of inequality. Women are supposed to have been unlucky lesser-thans to every man of the time and those who owned no property and had no name were far less lucky still.
What myths and legends come from these times? Arthur, Launcelot, and many others, and we hear of great deeds of daring and intense loyalty and honour and courage, the likes of which are all but absent from our lives today. They all had some cause or idea in their minds that was worth all glory, all their strength, their minds, their everything in fact. But of course, they didn’t listen to scientists, so their entire era, and every characteristic of it, must have been backward.
This is despite the fact that from a historical point of view, at the time of the Norman invasion of England it has been recorded that women were not present in the war room mostly because of a lack of interest, and not because of some patriarchal bent towards male chauvinistic needs to put all beings under the power of men, we still believe we have them figured out.
Good thing we have figured it out.
We have clearly taken up the causes of social justice, equality, and peace and grace and made them triumph. From Martin Luther King to Rosa Parks, World Vision, relief aid from every sect and religion and creed across the globe, caring for others and defending the causes, regardless of whether we agree with them or not, we “will fight to the death for their right to defend it.” From the suffrage of women to the voting of all races and classes in the western world at least we have truly built for ourselves a kingdom.
We listen when scientists talk, forgetting with our up-to-the-second news and social media feeds the progression of scientific discovery, pretending somehow that hard science is the only solid body of truth to pull from, and not remembering how often scientific fact seems to change over time. There have been, in all times, things taken to be scientific fact that at another time are discovered in fact to be completely untrue. The same is true today. We are not the exempt generation from fault, and we will not be the last.
So where is this all going? What is my purpose in being a skeptic in my own time?
It is that I look out on a world that has started to love one another well, but not out of a sense of real justice but because it is popular. I have seen that one can give so much to those who have so little and condemn their friends and family, and more often their enemies, for not caring about those in the third world, turning around to hate their neighbour. They love the prodigal son but not the brother who stayed at home. They, no we, forget that our principals should be overarching and all permeating, that no virtue should suffer for the others, and that the world is not actually going to be healed from what has poisoned us when everyone in the world has enough to eat, and has a little extra to spend, and doesn’t die from infection from stepping on a small piece of rusty metal, or has clean drinking water.
Understand this: These are beautiful things, wonderful things. Things I sometimes sit and ponder and simply bask in the glory of the very idea that mankind could have learned so much. But we also lack courage. We also lack loyalty. We lack long-suffering and the ability to seek out difficulty and set it right in our own homes. We are dishonest, and can justify it if the victim is wealthy, if it is faceless like a corporation, or if we really, really, benefit from our dishonesty. Our values only go as far as they prove our enemies and those we don’t like to be truly evil, and clearly place us in the realm of the good.
Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, and Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Self-control. Against such things their is no law. Some without the others makes an unbalanced man.
In the same way that there should be some chivalrous old romantics pushing the old virtues long forgotten and sullied by foolish crusades and ignorant attitudes there must be those of us remembering to care for the poor and the needy, and this generation is beginning to do quite well. There should also be those searching for our weaknesses, maybe remembering to be quiet and to listen, maybe finding we no longer practice any self-control, we have no joy in our kindness, and no fortitude in our gentleness, no temperance in our generosity.
In marriage, true love comes not from equality, but of understanding. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of one’s wife, the abilities and failings of one’s husband. We may be equal in value, but not in strengths. Love would not be mysterious and transcendental were we to be the similarity some seem to wish we were. And true love only comes to fruition in the balance of two human beings trying their hardest to be everything but equal with their partner. To love them enough to become small, two people, formerly seeking only their own greatness, now bent every single moment on becoming less and less to each other, to make the other greater.
My hope is that love begets the others. That balance is brought forth, that wisdom reigns and we have no need to think of equality except for a means of lifting others up, and ourselves lower, not making everything a level playing field. Equality was useful when the world was boundless, it was good when we didn’t know those from the next town. But now we have a global community, friends around the world easily accessible. We have become family. And so let us let our tight grip go of equality, let us embrace the lovely, fantastic, exhilarating and passionate world of true relationship with one another, and learn what it really means to love. Not equal, but balanced.