Justice Progr Christians

Is Biblical Morality Egalitarian?

Egalitarian: adj. affirming political, economic, and social equality for all
[< Fr. egalite]

Defined that way, I’d have some problems with the idea, unless we’re pretty careful how we define “equality”.

But the Bible certainly touches related issues. I have found a couple of lines in the Old Testament recently that shed some light on the question of the relative value of people of different social or economic classes.

Job 31:13-15

If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me?

What will I answer when called to account?

Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same one form us both within our mothers
?

Nehemiah 5:1-6

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”

Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”

Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.

And guess what. Nehemiah was not angry at the outcry nor at those making the charges. He did not have that vigorous self-insulation from reality that some in high positions have today.

And this clearly has serious implications for public (and private) social policy – for how we treat each other and how we talk about each other in our society.

1 Comment

  • Yes, you’re right, this is a trick of definition. For it’s not “egalitarianâ€? which is the proper word but decidedly “universalâ€?: Biblical morality is decidedly and uncompromisingly universal in the ethnical and sociological sense.

    Let me explain:
    A famous U.S.-President, not too long ago, who had some inspiring ideas …

    (though he was NO Christian believer, don’t let yourself be told that tale, – nobody was among those in highest offices among the world’s leading nations for decades to look back. Jimmy Carter e.g. wasn’t, I had to swallow hard to learn that; Al Gore wouldn’t have been and Harry Truman dropped TWO atomic bombs on civilians, just for the fun of it – if you follow the official tale, but cleanse it of its myths – or, according to historic truth, because he was the tool of diabolic powers obsessed with world domination even as early as then, who were set to start the hostilities that, “slightly� abortively perhaps, issued into the “Cold War�, an effort to crush the Russian power, it was from its very inception. Maybe Abraham Lincoln was a believer, for his war was hard and the power he assumed was stern, but his moves were comparatively honest and his aims decent.)

    … once said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.â€? This is the one, the basic side of the substance of Christian morality for societal organization. But the other side is just as important, and perhaps even more typical for Christianity: Society needs “justificationâ€?. It derives its value and character from the meaning it affords to every single life of its members. And here, it is biblical teaching, that this specifically applies to, or is proven by, the lives of those meanest in society.

    By the way, society as an aim in itself, grandeur of nation as a final value, is, within the western patterns of philosophy, a basically FASCIST value, not a Christian one. And whenever a nation embarks in a foreign policy combined with a significant exertion of power on people not among its citizens, the same applies to the worldwide “community� of people affected by this nation’s deeds.

    So, the “universalism� of Christian morality, which I affirm, doesn’t mean “egalitarian� in the usually supposed sense, but it even more decidedly doesn’t mean the anti-egalitarianism that is (nowadays almost instantaneously) insinuated once egalitarianism in the proper sense is ruled out. It means equality inasfar as each (wretched, little) person’s well-being is likewise one of the final “sources� of justification for society, i.e. for the affairs of the “better� parts of society or ranks of individuals. By this, I don’t mean some aggregate measure of cumulative “well-being� (quantitatively measured out, for there exists no appropriate measure, once you take “well-being� in the only proper material-cum-moral-cum-spiritual sense), – that exactly is the mistake of those who take capitalism for a divine ordainment, for such “measure� invariably ends up “dollar-denominated�, thus weighting the fads of the rich even more than the most basic requirements of the poor – but it’s a binary decision of how many of those wretched, little people (according to the kind of outlook, people in power invariably and even despite themselves will assume; it’s not my cynicism, but reality’s) we (i.e. the ranks of society being or feeling relevant for defining policies or social convention) will, rather than will not, continue to imply positively, not negatively, within the realm of meaning for our deeds or non-deeds, intentions and motivations.

    And here, I take it to be an empirical fact, that once a society completely disavows the goal of material, factual equality of anyone – including, but not confined to, the quantitative aspect – it rather soon will arive at sacrificing any goal of universality whatsoever, i.e. the goal of equality of anyone as a member of the realm of persons whose well-being is considered dignified at all to alter collectivity’s actions or intentions. For, in practical life, in our active strivings, every society is working against it outcasts, not for them, in suspicion/not trust of their wishes and intentions, in opposition/not furtherance of anything they think, say, represent or even look like wishing, thinking, saying or representing.

    So, the Christian universality of morals is an egalitarianism not of (actual) rights, but of the basic right of “dignity�, but here, “dignity� not in some emotional sense (which would translate into a complete nothingness in politics!), but as the dignity to inform the process whereby actual rights are derived and formulated.

    In short: inequality is necessary, but it is NOT self-justifying. It is justified according to the (different) contributions people make to the one goal, which, according to Christian morality, must be to (jointly) work in the direction of diminishing, not perpetuating, actual (material-cum-spiritual) inequality.

    If this were understood, society could be that steadily rejuvenating (though not gradually advancing!) flux of live efforts, that encourages honest persons to be attracted by the Christian epic as the discernible source of its morality (which would be experienced as hard, but benevolant, once more). As things are, however, with Christianity either shunted, despised or distorted beyond recognition, it is a backwater of reeking egotism and the shamelessness of hypocritical self-aggrandizement.

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