Egalitarianism That Oppresses

April 27, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Equal SignThe Christian gospel is egalitarian in its effect. In the words of the apostle Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In Christ, Paul argues, divisions between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, and males and females have been broken down. Social strata have no bearing in the economy of God’s salvation.

It is important to note that the locus of Paul’s egalitarianism is explicitly and specifically redemptive. In other words, Paul is not arguing that all societal differences between people should disappear. Rather, he is claiming that such differences have no bearing on whether or not Christ saves a person.

When Paul penned Galatians 3:28, the egalitarianism of which he spoke was nothing short of radical and, I would hasten to add, good. I am concerned, however, that Paul’s redemptive egalitarianism has been coopted by another kind of egalitarianism – one that is not so good.

In his book, To Change The World, James Davison Hunter speaks of a populism that:

…is often transformed into an oppressive egalitarianism that will suffer no distinction between higher and lower or better and worse. At its worse, it can take form as “tyranny of the majority” that will recognize no authority, nor hierarchy of value or quality or significance.[1]

Though it seems oxymoronic to speak of an “oppressive egalitarianism,” this is where, culturally, I fear we have arrived.

With the rise of postmodernity, Paul’s redemptive egalitarianism was traded for an ethical egalitarianism that eschewed distinctions between right and wrong, higher and lower, better and worse. Of course, such a refusal to place an ethical stake in the ground inevitably undermines traditional, historical, biblical morality. But it was this ethical egalitarianism, free from the nagging and wagging finger of traditional ethical commitments, that paved the way for another kind of egalitarianism – the populous egalitarianism of today that picks and chooses new ethical standards by simple majority vote (with a little front-end help, of course, from elite opinion leaders who not only shape, but sometimes shoehorn, certain elements of public policy). This is why serious ethical issues are regularly framed as little more than political squabbles with nothing more than polling data needed to solve them. This is what Hunter means when he speaks of the “tyranny of the majority.”

What happens to those who do not share the ethical sentiments of the majority? They are ridiculed and caricatured. They are philosophically discredited, even if by logically dubious means, and intellectually castigated. They become victims of an “oppressive egalitarianism.”

In the apostle Paul’s redemptive egalitarianism, egalitarianism is a gift, granted by Christ’s work on the cross. In today’s populous egalitarianism, egalitarianism is a locus of power – a way to oppress transcendent, historical ethical commitments with the fickle ethical commitments of the masses. Populist ethics, however, are never far from social chaos. After all, no matter what “we the people” may want ethically, transcendence has a funny way of eventually getting its way.

A populous egalitarianism that battles transcendent ethics is doomed to fail. Conversely, a redemptive egalitarianism that saves people regardless of their social standing is a promise from God. And, as such, it is destined to emerge victorious.

Let’s make sure we’re on the right side of the right kind of egalitarianism.

_______________________________

[1] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 94.

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Common Question: How Were People Who Lived Before Jesus Saved? Hand, Meet Glove: Why We Need Both Justice and Morality

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