Glen Scrivener - Christ the Truth
An evocative word.
What does it mean to us?
Usually it means a freedom from some kind of power so that we can realize our true potential. ‘I’m free to do what I want any old time.’ That kind of thing.
The question of ‘Who is this “I” who can do these things?’ is usually considered to be a restatement of the freedom mantra: I am the one who can do what I want. “I am who I am / I will be who I will be”, as Someone famously once said.
The link between such an account of freedom and the divinisation of the self becomes obvious in a thinker like John Stuart Mill. He said this in On Liberty:
In the part [of the conduct of an individual] which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of course, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
Now notice that Mill is concerned here with conduct that ‘merely concerns ourselves’. He’s well aware that the independent exercise of our wills can harm others and diminish their freedom. He’s no dummy. He has a whole apparatus of ‘rights’ with which to negotiate the competing claims of our own absolute freedoms.
When Christians argue against Mill, the argument should not be: “Hey, if everyone thinks they’re sovereign they’ll ride rough-shod over everyone else.” That would be a very pragmatic objection and one to which Mill has a whole raft of pragmatic solutions.
No, the problem is not what humanity does with their self-rule (they could be thoroughly virtuous with it). The problem is self-rule. Mill effectively poses the question, Who has the absolute claim over my life? He answers: I do. Mill’s philosophy here (which is the air we breathe in the West) is nothing less than the enthronement of man upon Christ’s throne.
But in critiquing such ‘freedom’ we can do more than simply denounce it as blasphemous. We would do well also to expose it as the worst kind of bondage. Why bondage?
Well let’s ask the question, Who is this self who is exalted to the throne? Who is the “I” that can do whatever “I” want?
Tellingly, this ‘freedom’ cannot positively give you an identity. In fact, to be true to itself, this kind of ‘freedom’ must refuse to tell you who you are. All that such ’freedom’ can offer is the protection of a sphere in which you can pursue your desires. It gives you a kingdom (of one!) and a throne and it operates a strict immigration policy. Yet this border-patrol must not only exclude impediments to your desires, it must also exclude forces that would seek to direct those desires. It must repel all foreign claims upon you and leave you with an absolute and unquestioned independence. You have your kingdom and your throne, but who are you? Well, You will be who you will be. And so, left to rule your own kingdom, you are a prisoner of your independence.
Consider this piece of advice being given to millions of men and women around the world right now:
“Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. You’re your own man / your own woman.”
Now aside from the inherent contradiction on show here, notice how you are to be directed in your sovereign rule. You must direct yourself. And the reason? You belong to yourself. This is the infuriating circularity
I direct myself.
Who is the I who directs?
The one with power to direct.
I belong to me.
Who is the one who belongs to me?
The one belonging to me.
What’s missing in all this is an environment in which to exercise our freedom. We have been treated as though the choices we make in expression of our self-hood are grounded only in ourselves as individuals. Yet we are who we are in a network of dependent relationships. The expression of our identity through responsible living and choosing necessarily occurs within an environment. Divorced from this environment, any experience of ‘freedom’ will actually take us away from our true selves.
We don’t exist as free floating individuals to whom the greatest gift would be independence. We are truly free when properly related to the environment in which our personhood flourishes.
And this is why Mill’s definition of freedom does not help the exercise of responsible choice, it radically undermines it. Because I have been stripped of all claims upon me, all direction from outside, all sense of a context wider than me, I am left with a self that can only be defined in reference to itself and its own decision-making capacity. I have a naked self exercising a naked power, cut free from all that’s actually constitutive of my identity.
Therefore, necessarily, I’m going to have to go outside myself in order to live out my irreducibly relational existence. I need to, so to speak, make an alliance with a foreign kingdom.
Now our experience of this will feel like it falls into one of two categories:
Either A) I embark on an alliance as a dispensible means towards my self-determined end. In this case I’ll drop it as soon as it’s inconvenient — I’m in charge using you.
Or B) I genuinely give myself over to the foreign power and am determined by it — You’re in charge using me.
But the bible says, in practice A) is our sinful intention but it always collapses into B).
Let’s think about Ephesians 2:1-3:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.
In our natural state we ‘carry out the desires of the body and mind’. You might think that sitting on the throne of your little kingdom is the definition of freedom. But no, precisely as we ‘gratify the cravings’ (NIV) of the body and mind we are following the devil. Just as we think we are exercising our self-rule, in that act we are being ruled by Satan. We imagine we’re strong enough to pull off A), in reality we have no bargaining power with the world, the flesh and the devil – they’re in charge using us.
The similarity between Mill’s quotation on freedom and Ephesians 2:3 is chilling. To exercise ‘sovereignty’ over our ‘body and mind’ is not freedom at all. According to the bible that is slavery.
If we’re going to find a true freedom it will have to be on an entirely different footing.
Beginning with ourselves will never get us to a sustainable or satisfying account of freedom.
When we say: “I am who I am / I will be who I will be”, it is both blasphemous (Exodus 3:6) and the very expression of our bondage. We become trapped by an identity that can allow no foreign claims. We simply become identified as one with a capacity to choose. And yet in maintaining that capacity as an absolute sovereignty we are defined in abstraction from the relationships that form and direct us as choosers. I’m a slave to my desires. Ephesians 2:1-3. In the very act of gratifying the cravings of my flesh, right then I am enslaved.
We can’t begin our thinking about freedom with ourselves.
So where should we begin it?
Well it’s very popular to begin with man choosing in the garden.
Yet if we begin in Eden, what account of freedom results? We effectively define freedom as the ability to choose or not to choose certain paths. The ability to act otherwise is seen as the very ‘freedom’ which the LORD grants humanity. And so of course the decision to eat the forbidden fruit becomes an expression of free will (defined as a power of self-direction). On this account Adam exercised freedom in disobeying the LORD even though it was a freedom with a cosmically heavy price tag. And so in this very popular telling of the freedom story, “Freedom” (which is now almost by definition the ability to disobey!) is some unquestioned Good that is traded off against the consequences of its exercise – “Heck, the fall was bad, but that’s the price of freedom!”
What kind of “freedom” is this?
Well let’s ask - how does it compare to divine freedom? Is the freedom of the Father, Son or Holy Spirit a freedom that would be expressed in choosing evil? Well the Scriptures continually tell us that the Almighty, who can do whatever He pleases (e.g. Psalm 115:3), cannot sin, lie, deny Himself. He who is free does not define His freedom as the ability to do evil. For the divine Persons to choose any course of action contrary to their Personhood would be an expression of slavery not freedom. For the Trinity, freedom is not the ability to do wrong, nor is it enhanced by such opportunities.
This holds also for humanity in the new creation.
In the New Jerusalem the forbidden fruit is gone, the tree of life alone takes centre stage. (Rev 22:1-3). Not only will humanity never fall, there won’t even be the option for us to do so. That’s a wonderful thought (unless you’re eye-ball deep in the humanist version of freedom!). But more than this, the bible calls this new creation state of affairs freedom. Galatians 4:26 says the Jerusalem above is free. The saints in glory now and the redeemed earth then will be characterized by mind-blowing freedom (cf Romans 8:19-21). So for glorified humanity, freedom is not the ability to do wrong, nor is freedom enhanced by such opportunities. Freedom flourishes even (and especially!) when there is no option but to continually serve the Father in the Son and by the Spirit.
So then, we’re going to have to get a different definition of freedom. Where from? Well perhaps our initial instinct wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe we do need to begin with man choosing in the garden.
Gethsemane is the garden. And Jesus is the Man. He will show us what true freedom looks like.
Think first of who He is – the Son.
This speaks of many things – let’s highlight three:
These three aspects of His Person are perfectly coordinated in Jesus. We can never play off grace, obedience and freedom. In our thinking we may consider them to be opposed but when we trace these things back to their centre in Jesus we see that they perfectly inform and explain one another.
And so how does this Man in this garden show us true freedom?
Let’s consider Mark 14:36:
“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
First He acknowledges His filial relationship with God – ‘Abba, Father’. All the shades of sonship we’ve just discussed should be in the forefront of our minds.
Next He acknowledges ‘everything is possible for You.’ The Son doesn’t go to the cross because the Father is ‘all out of options.’ No-one is holding a gun to the Father’s head – not the Son, not some necessary logic of redemption, nothing. What happens happens in the Father’s will – a will unbound by any forces beyond Him. The Father is indeed free from compulsion (though this is not our final definition of freedom).
But finally, when Jesus says ‘Take this cup from me, yet not what I will but what you will’ He confesses a different will to that of the Father. In all of history, in all of theology this is unparalleled. It is stunning, shocking, scandalizing… I could go on. The Son, even if only for a moment, is considering an option other than obedience to His Father’s will. Even though He is the obedient Son, even though He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) and the Son of Man who must die (Mark 8:31), He contemplates another way. It seems like no-one is holding a gun to the Son’s head either. He must die, because He will die. And He will die voluntarily. In a reversal of Eden, the last Adam submits His will to the Father’s and in this submission expresses true freedom.
It is not rebellion that demonstrates freedom but obedience. This is the great difference between popular notions of freedom and Christ’s. Choosing does not make us free – choosing submission (paradoxically!) does. When we view things in the Son we see that obedience and freedom, rebellion and slavery are inextricably linked. The only free choice is the one for obedience.
Ans so where Adam chose self-rule and brought slavery, Christ chose submission and brought redemption. It’s at Gethsemane that we see true freedom for there we see the true Son, truly loved by His Abba, Father and truly obedient to His will. “Everything is possible” is not the definition of freedom. It’s the use of these possibilities that demonstrates true freedom. And this use is only a liberated use when it is obedient.
From this we get a different defintion of freedom. It’s not about options, it’s about responsible use of the will in expression of your grace-given, relational identity. The capacity for disobedience is not a criterion for freedom and choosing to disobey can only be slavery. Instead true freedom is found in Christ and by the power of the Spirit, living out your blood-bought sonship (daughtership) in obedience to the Father’s will. To choose anything else is the bondage of the will.
Glen Scrivener - Christ the Truth
To say ‘I am who I am / I will be who I will be’ is both idolatrous and, ironically, makes us slaves of our own desires. Such “freedom” enthrones the self and simultaneously locks the self off from the claims of others in whom I find my true self. Satan rules us precisely where we seek to rule ourselves.
As the Son He is beloved, obedient and free. And yet in Gethsemane He definitively proved that these things are not competing realities but perfectly expressed in Him. The One who calls God ‘Abba’, submits Himself entirely to the unbound will of the Father and in so doing expresses supremely His identity as the Son. The Son was never more gloriously Son-like than in this act of supreme obedience. To have chosen disobedience would not have been the exercise of freedom but the abandonment of His own Self [as also in the wilderness temptation of Christ]. The decision for obedience was simultaneously the decision for freedom.
From this way of thinking we have a quite different definition of freedom. Perhaps something like: “The responsible use of the will in expression of one's true self.” Or perhaps “Keeping in step with your grace-given, relational identity.”
When we have this kind of definition then the capacity for evil cannot create or increase freedom but only thwarts the responsible use of the will. We realize that freedom is not expressed but forfeited in the choice of evil. It is only maintained in obedience to God.
So then, “Am I free to sin?” By no means! Free to sin?? Such a statement should strike us as completely confused and confusing. I’m free to be His slave, and in this way only is my freedom upheld! (cf. Romans 6!)
Once this understanding of freedom is in place then we can side-step a lot of unfruitful theological discussions. We don’t have to argue about the when, the how and the how much of our supposed ‘freedom’ to rebel against God. How could we recognize disobedience as freedom or freedom in disobedience? It can only ever be slavery.
And yet what does Ephesians 2 call us in our natural state? ‘Sons of disobedience’ (Eph 2:2). By nature our identity is given to us through our fallen head Adam. We cannot please God (Rom 8:8) but can only live out our rebellious desires.
Into this situation Jesus comes as Redeemer. And He purchases us for Himself.
But here’s the point for now: The Christian does not believe in free will. Not in the abstract and certainly not by nature. We believe in freed will. We are not free to choose or not to choose Christ. We are liberated by Christ now to be free in Him. To walk in freedom we must begin from our redemption in Christ. We simply cannot work towards this freedom but receive it from the outset. Whatever else the doctrine of election is trying to uphold, this must be central – we do not choose ourselves into Christ but rather find ourselves chosen in Him. We have not exercised our freedom to make Christ ours, He has accomplished our liberation to make us His.
So then Rousseau’s famous statement, ‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains’ is exactly wrong. Man is born a slave but everywhere he walks free after Jesus has loosed our chains.
Throughout our discussion, we’ve never been far from the paradox of freedom – i.e. Freedom to pursue the desires of my flesh is bondage, obedience to the will of the Father is freedom. Martin Luther put it like this in The Freedom of a Christian.
A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none,
A Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.
Sound crazy? Put it this way. Ask yourself, ‘Am I free?’ One answer: ‘Absolutely, “Free indeed!” Christians are released from slavery to sin, set on our feet by Jesus, brought to the Father in righteousness, equipped by the Spirit to move forwards in sanctification.’
Now ask the question again, ‘Am I free?’ Another answer: ‘Absolutely not! I am ransomed, claimed, bought, owned, enslaved by Christ. I am entirely His possession – entirely at His disposal.’
And yet His service is perfect freedom. How can this be?
Well we’ll have to jettison the popular notion of freedom – doing what I want to do, any old time. Freedom is worked out in the relational matrices that constitute my identity. I’m not free by liberating myself from the claims of others upon me – those claims make me who I am. Instead I am free when I responsibly use my will in expression of my relational, grace-given identity.
Freedom means finding ouselves in obedience to God, in union with Christ, in being led by the Spirit, in serving the body. Walking in line with this truth means abandoning ourselves to these absolute claims upon us which, whether we acknowledge it or not, are the very atmosphere of our being.
We are like fish and we ought never to think we’ll be more free if only we escape the tank. We are free precisely in that environment. To walk out of step with these realities is to renounce the responsible moral agency Jesus purchased with His own blood and to become a slave to the world, the flesh and the devil. Anyone who calls such a choice ‘freedom’ hasn’t yet grasped who they really are.
Now what does this truth do to our hearts if we let it settle down deep? Well here are two lies that are unmasked which, if left unchallenged, can be so damaging.
The first lie is this: The devil always appears to us as our slave. Temptation always offers to serve us. We buy into it thinking ‘I am the master of this sin. This sin is getting me what I want. I am in charge.’ Of course Jesus says the opposite. “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34) Right when we congratulate ourselves on mastering our own fate and negotiating a win-win for our flesh the shackles go on and we’re bound.
Here’s the other lie and, for me, this one goes much deeper: Your ‘freedom’ guarantees an unimpeachable core within you. You are a choosing individual – you may choose to honour those claims upon you from without or you may choose not to. Either way, there is a protected sphere deep down that is you – and it is beyond the claims of others.
No, no, no! Our Christ-shaped doctrine of freedom completely obliterates the notion of secret basements within myself. There simply do not exist within me little safe-havens for self. There’s no such thing as me-time or me-space. The real me, down to the very depths, is found in going outside myself. I am in Christ – hidden in Him. And He is in me – in all of me. Your Father sees what is done in secret. Where can we go from His Spirit? We may descend into some imagined basement of ourselves, but we’ll find Jesus right there. And if we are in our right minds we’ll rejoice, because who wants a Christless basement?
CS Lewis, looking back on his non-Christian days, said the word he hated more than all others was “interference”. And this is completely in line with the most cherished notions of our day – i.e. within myself, down beneath the claims of others, lies the real me. Untouchable, independent, proud, responsible. And we erect barriers to guard this precious sphere.
And of course whenever the lie is believed that we have such spheres it cultivates sin like nothing else. Pride, lust, gossip, self-righteousness, entitlement, anger, self-serving – you name it, these sins thrive on the notion that there is a ‘me’ down here who then has the choice of how to use my will.
We must hear the gospel again. I am already and down to the very depths of me claimed, purchased, ransomed, possessed by Christ. It’s not a case of the real me now deciding to walk with Christ – as though I have some ‘freedom’ to follow or not. Disobedience is not an option. It happens to be sure. But in another sense ‘how can you live in sin any more.’ (Rom 6:2).
There is an impossibility to sin that we mustn’t minimize just because we manage to do the impossible all the time. To act out of step with my redeemed identity is not the rational choice of a free self for whom righteousness and wickedness lie open as equally valid options. Read Romans 6 and 7 again to see Paul wrestling out loud with the impossibility and yet the absurd and horrific presence of sin in the Christian life. Sin is not an option. And though it happens it happens only in contradiction to our true selves and our true freedom.
The point of all this is that the Christian is not (in Barth’s phrase) Hercules at the crossroads. We’re not the captains of our souls or masters of our fates. No, Jesus has lifted us out of that position (which we called freedom and He called slavery) and united us to Himself. The real me has been completely re-constituted by Christ and already claimed by Him. We are already on the path. There’s nothing left for me to do except joyfully participate in this new humanity. To keep in step with this reality is to find my true self and experience the freedom that is already mine in my Redeemer.
1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:1-12)
I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Let these words of Scripture say what they say and mean what they mean.
Romans 6:1–2 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
What are you saying Paul? Died to sin? That sounds great, but how and/or when did that happen?
Are you serious? You are saying I have died to sin – already? Something as simple as baptism, a little bit of water, connects me to Christ’s death on the cross? Baptism became my death to sin? Maybe baptism is more than just water.
Romans 6:4 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
There you go again, Paul, harping on baptism as the way I am connected to Christ’s death. I remember you saying “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Ro. 5:12). Everyone knows death is coming – eventually – whether they recognize it or not. But how does being united with Christ’s death in baptism bring me to this “newness of life” you are talking about?
Romans 6:5 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Death brings life. I guess when the Father saw Christ lying there in the grave, He raised Jesus from the dead. Now, you are saying He raises me too.
Well, I like this type of talk: resurrection, new life, born again. Sounds like what Jesus says when He talked to Nicodemus about salvation, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). I guess, Jesus also spoke about water being part of that whole process like you are.
Romans 6:6 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
Hard to believe that when God looks at me, a baptized individual, He sees someone who is no longer a slave to sin.
Sweet. Seriously, man, that’s good stuff. The death that lies in wait for me, then, has no real sting because in my baptism I’ve already gone through death. I already am living the resurrection. God has, in my baptism, pulled me through Jesus’ death and brought me safely to the other side.
Romans 6:8 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Life – new life, separated from the all the crap that I get myself into. I’ll take it.
Romans 6:9-10 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
Yeah, Christ is now ascended and seated at God’s right hand. I wish I could have that sooner rather than later.
Romans 6:11 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
I guess I have it now. If that’s how God sees it, maybe I should change my perspective.
[Obligatory Luther quote]:
[W]e are not yet purely righteous, but sin is still clinging to our flesh during this life. God cleanses this remnant of sin in our flesh. In addition, we are sometimes forsaken by the Holy Spirit, and we fall into sins, as did Peter, David, and other saints. Nevertheless, we always have recourse to this doctrine, that our sins are covered and that God does not want to hold us accountable for them (Rom. 4). This does not mean that there is no sin in us, as the sophists have taught when they said that we must go on doing good until we are no longer conscious of any sin; but sin is always present, and the godly feel it. But it is ignored and hidden in the sight of God, because Christ the Mediator stands between; because we take hold of Him by faith, all our sins are sins no longer. But where Christ and faith are not present, here there is no forgiveness of sins or hiding of sins. On the contrary, here there is the sheer imputation and condemnation of sins. Thus God wants to glorify His Son, and He Himself wants to be glorified in us through Him.
 Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. p. 132-133
To resist Christ’s government is to yield to the most severe bondage. Sibbes writes:
Thus the desperate madness of men is laid open, that they had rather be under the guidance of their own lusts, and by consequence of Satan himself, to their endless destruction, than put their feet into Christ’s fetters, and their necks under his yoke; whereas, indeed, Christ’s service is the only true liberty. His yoke is an easy yoke, his burden but as the burden of wings to a bird, that maketh her fly the higher. Satan’s government is rather a bondage than a government, unto which Christ giveth up those that shake off his own, for then he giveth Satan and his factors power over them, since they will not ‘receive the truth in love,’ 2 Thess. ii. 20: take him,...Satan, blind him and bind him and lead him to perdition. Those that take the most liberty to sin are the most perfect slaves, because most voluntary slaves. The will in everything is either the best or the worst; the further men go on in a wilful course, the deeper they sink in rebellion; and the more they cross Christ, doing what they will, the more they shall one day suffer what they would not. In the mean time, they are prisoners in their own souls, bound over in their consciences to the judgment of him after death, whose judgment they would none of in their lives. And is it not equal that they should feel him a severe judge to condemn them, whom they would not have a mild judge to rule them?
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.-Galatians 5: 1 (NKJV)
In his commentary on this verse [endnote 1], Luther points out that to stand fast requires vigilance against the lies of the devil that by keeping the Law we can set ourselves free, for then Christ died to no purpose. In the Greek, the definite article precedes “liberty” and the divines of King James got it right in 1611: “The liberty”. Liberty in Christ is as definite as His Cross. The sign of the Cross is the sign of the eternal liberty. When we are lazy about our liberty in Christ Jesus, then we open ourselves to assaults of the evil one. Luther wrote that it as if the Apostle were saying:
“Vigilance and steadiness are necessary if you are to keep the freedom for which Christ has set us free. Those who are smug and sleep are not able to keep it.”
We have fallen asleep as a nation and as His Church. When we get lazy about our liberty we think it is the freedom of the flesh to do as I please, then the “I” has once again dethroned Jesus Christ and we are again in the yoke of bondage. He has set you free in the forgiveness He has won for you, and He did so not with silver or gold, bonds or stocks, but His precious, holy and innocent sufferings and blood.
Luther is also clear that there are two types of liberty: political and spiritual and that spiritual freedom is assuredly the greater. Luther wrote that the “Roman emperor” granted political freedom. The founding fathers of the United States said political freedom is not granted by the state but by God. I think they were on to something. God grants the lesser political freedom based upon the greater freedom and liberty in Christ Jesus in which we are set free from, “…the wrath of God, from the Law, sin, death etc.” (Luther). Luther wrote that these words are easy to say but hard to keep and Luther also taught us to sing, He fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.
When we live as if political freedom is the license of the flesh, then we are again in bondage. The new political enslavement was well described in a sermon by Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1938 in Germany [endnote 2]:
The conscience of the world was destroyed by those who were wont to blame others rather than themselves. Let us remember. We revered the instincts but distrusted the prophets. We labored to perfect engines and let our inner life go to wreck. We ridiculed superstition until we lost our ability to believe. We have helped to extinguish the light our fathers had kindled. We have bartered holiness for convenience, loyalty for success, love for power, wisdom for information, tradition for fashion. (emphasis my own)
The last sentence describes all together too closely the life of our nation and of our churches. Convenience, success, power, information and fashion is the program and the false of promises of many a politician and too many pastors in the courts of public opinion and of the Lord’s House. Tyrants and tyranny over body and soul then step in to give us what we lust for and want more of and then we succumb to bondage. Like Israel, we would rather be slaves in Egypt eating our fill of cucumbers and melons, than on the freedom road of Christ Jesus.
Simply put: we have not stood fast. We can, beloved in the Lord, as He stands fast and has for us and for our salvation. There is the yoke of Christ or the yoke of the Law. There is the yoke of bondage to the devil or the yoke of liberty in Christ. Political freedom is enshrined in words of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These documents do not grant freedom but point to it. Spiritual freedom is founded in the Word of God, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible forever points us to Him in the liberty wherewith He set us free. Fellow citizens of the kingdoms: Stand Fast!
 LW, volume 27, pages 3-9
 “The Meaning of This Hour”, Abraham Joshua Heschel
Some years ago I found myself at dinner with a small group of people. We had a pleasant time, but soon enough, someone brought up my “weird” opinions. I explained that I was an advocate for freedom and opposed restrictions on it.
A spirited debate followed, of course, and at one point I said something about disliking servitude. In response, one of the people at the table – a medical professional – asked:
“What’s so bad about servitude?”
At first I was shocked, because I had never heard anyone say such a thing. I’m an American boy, after all, and I grew up surrounded by at least an implied demand for freedom.
But once past that, I realized I didn’t have an answer to the question. I had always taken it as a given that servitude was bad – not only from what I had heard and read, but from what I knew in my bones. I dug within myself for a serious response to the question, but I came up dry. I had no answer to give.
I continued the conversation as best I could, and perhaps I did some small amount of good. But, as I drove home, I realized that I had a problem. This man asked a simple and essential question, and I didn’t have an answer to it.
Needless to say, I did eventually come up with an obvious answer: Being in servitude means that other people control your life, and they can lead you into disaster at any time, purposefully or not.
I saw the man again not too long afterwards and brought up our initial conversation. I gave him my answer to that first question. His response?
“I’m doing okay.”
In other words, he didn’t care. Now that really bothered me.
By all outward appearances, he was in control and successful. But, aside from work-related activities, he avoided almost every subject I brought up. He didn’t want to explore any new thought, had no measurable curiosity, and was threatened by the very idea of freedom.
The answer, it turned out, was a simple one: This man liked the idea of other people running his life for him. That way, nothing would ever be his fault, and if things went badly, there would always be someone to blame.
No doubt you run into such people all the time – your friends, family and coworkers. To put it another way, my doctor friend didn’t really appreciate life itself. He grudgingly exerted himself in his medical trade, but wanted no further responsibility. He was happy to remain as minimally conscious as possible.
Now, I don’t want to pick on the fellow too much, but he makes a good example.
People have a tendency to hide behind masks. In this man’s case, the mask was “doctor.” There’s nothing wrong with being a doctor, of course, but to limit ourselves to a single role in life – even a good one – is a big mistake. We are vibrant, creative creatures by nature. You can see this in small children, who simply throw themselves into whatever subject interests them and expect to discover the truth of it. That’s our nature too, regardless of how badly it’s been beaten out of us over the years.
The feeling of zero restraint is exhilarating. And it’s wonderful to feel your natural preference to do good, separate from the fear of punishment. But even so, what’s really important about freedom is that it allows life to flourish.
In other words, freedom is a means, not an end.
It allows life to expand and to express itself. Again, the example of the child: He or she naturally wants to explore, to know, to see, to learn… to live, as opposed to merely existing.
Freedom allows life to operate. Servitude, on the other hand, limits life to narrow channels.
The truth is that people lose their love for liberty when they lose their love for life. For this man, following rules that others set made sense – it’s a safe position. But once there, he’ll never really grow again, and he will be cut off from a lifetime of discovery and satisfaction.
What’s bad about servitude is that it prevents us from living.
The bad news you already know: To one extent or another, we’ve all let our love of life dim and have taken ‘safe’ positions. We live in a tough world after all.
The good news, however, is that we can regain what we’ve lost merely by changing our minds. As Earl Nightingale was famous for saying:
We become what we think about.
To repair ourselves requires that we think about these things – to notice when we begin playing a role, to act on curiosity when we feel it, to stop defending our previous choices, to expect surprises and opportunities.
Try it. You’ll like it.
Jean-Paul Sartre the famous French atheist and novelist wrote a lot about freedom. As an existentialist philosopher, he celebrated raw freedom, and the ability to choose, regardless of what is chosen. Indeed, he once wrote that we are “condemned to be free”.
Biblically speaking there was only one person who thought he was completely free: the prodigal son. Yet all his freedom in the end meant was that he had the whole pigsty to himself. You are welcome to it bud – that does not sound like real life to me.
God has designed us to flourish, to be truly free, and to be fully alive, when we are in relationship with him. To reject our creatureliness means we are rejecting everything that is for our own good. We are rejecting our king, and thus relegating ourselves to a life of poverty, distress and despair.
Indeed, life becomes nothing more than gross absurdity – the very thing the atheist existentialists kept speaking about and writing about. Life becomes a mega-prison, an horrific bondage. No wonder Sartre entitled another one of his novels, No Exit.
C. S. Lewis was one long-time atheist who slowly but finally woke up to these realities. As he put it in Mere Christianity, “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves…invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
The desire to be happy and to be free apart from God is simply a pipe dream. It is an illusion and a fantasy. It simply cannot happen that way. Lewis again: “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
The freedom of atheism is nothing but the prison of a man who thinks he is somehow the centre of the universe. But he can never be, so his longings and movements to this end must forever be frustrated. It is the story of Sisyphus all over again.
No wonder fellow atheist and existentialist Albert Camus could pen a novel with the title, The Myth of Sisyphus. Seeking real freedom, purpose and joy apart from God means to try to push the boulder up the mountain over and over and over again.
This is simply man in rebellion against God. Instead of finding a way out of the dilemma of human existence, the atheist simply digs himself ever further into the pit. The futility of Sisyphus is the futility of the atheist. Lewis again nails it: “A creature revolting against a creator is revolting against the source of his own powers–including even his power to revolt…It is like the scent of a flower trying to destroy the flower.”
Fallen and rebellious mankind does not need mere reformation. He does not need self-improvement. As Lewis says, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” Our choice is to submit to God, and find real freedom, or seek to be free from God, and find real bondage.
There are no other options available to us. God will still be God, regardless of our choices. And he will still be glorified, despite our rebellion. Says Lewis: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
Bill Muehlenberg's CultureWatch
Published on September 25th, 2013 | by Rob Slane
I have a dream. It is set in the new Heavens and new Earth. There is a crowd of people. Lots of them. They are all gathered around haranguing someone. I know the idea of haranguing doesn’t sound like it has any place in the perfect eternity, but there it is, right in front of my eyes.
I move closer. I notice a man in the centre of the throng. He is not being hurt. In fact he has a smile on his face. Nobody is doing him any injury. No one is angry with him. The people around him are just asking him all sorts of questions and he is holding his hand up, signalling that he is waiting for some sort of order before he begins to answer them.
For some reason, though I’ve never actually seen him before, I instantly know the identity of the man at the centre of the throng. It is the Apostle Paul and he appears to be enjoying himself.
I zoom up even closer and now I can hear voices. “What did you mean by that?” says one of the crowd. “Why did you put it like that?” says another. Yet another, “Couldn’t you have made that part a bit clearer?”
Suddenly it all clicks. They are surrounding Paul to ask him what he really meant in 1 Corinthians 11:1-17 – the “hat passage” that is. Eager to hear his answer, I press on into the crowd, and I hear him open his mouth and begin, “No, what I really meant is…” But sadly, as so often happens in dreams, the Apostle Paul is no longer the Apostle Paul, but has suddenly morphed into someone else entirely. The crowd is gone. The New Heavens and New Earth have disappeared from view, and the opportunity to hear from the mouth of the man who wrote one of the most obscure passages in all Scripture has gone.
I awake with that deflated feeling that comes over you when you realise it was all a dream and the thing you wanted to hear you will never get to hear – at least not this side of death. And so with a sigh, I pick up my Bible and once again leaf through to that passage, reading it and re-reading it with a crumpled and confused expression on my face, trying as best I can to make sense of it.
I am familiar with three popular interpretations of this passage. One is the cultural view. It basically says that the commandment for women to wear a head covering was confined to the first century and the cultural expectations of the day. The second interpretation is that Paul is referring throughout the passage to hair. And the third opinion is the one that holds Paul’s command for a woman to be covered as something that applies as much now as it did then, so whenever a woman attends church she must wear some sort of hat or covering on her head.
I have to say I have never been fully persuaded by any of these arguments. The idea that Paul was urging the women in the Corinthian church to dress in this way because of something going on in the culture of the day seems to me to be most unlikely. It doesn’t sound very Pauline, does it? The hair argument doesn’t do it for me either. The idea that Paul would put forth a whole command about hair, but then wait until almost the very end of the passage before even dropping the word hair into the argument seems to me a strange and somewhat illogical way of making the point.
And I have never been convinced by the argument that the passage compels women in today’s church to wear something on their heads when they come to church. But I’ll come on to the reasons for that in a while.
I believe that there is another understanding of this passage, one which makes more logical sense of what Paul wrote. This is a minority view and I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with this. In fact I don’t really expect anyone to agree with it. But I want to just kick it out there to try and generate some comment.
It may seem bizarre, but I believe that for a right understanding of this passage, we need to turn first to the Prophet Joel. That’s obvious surely, isn’t it? In the third chapter of his prophecy, he says the following:
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as he LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call” (Joel 2:28-32).
What on earth does this mean? Thankfully we have not been left on our own to speculate endlessly. In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter quotes this as finding its fulfilment in his day, beginning at the Day of Pentecost:
“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit. And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:14-21).
Now the first part of this is not too difficult for us. We can easily how the bits about prophesying found fulfilment at Pentecost. What is much more difficult for us is the rest of the oracle, about the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood.
Here, it is tempting to try and shove several thousand years in between the two parts. Unfortunately for that theory, the Apostle Peter simply doesn’t allow us to shove the thousands of years we would want to shove in there. He quotes not just the first part about prophesying, but also the second part about the cosmic signs, and he not only does so without a break between the two, he prefaces the statement by saying that the whole thing was finding its fulfilment in his day.
For those familiar with the preterist interpretation of Scripture, this presents no difficulties. In the Old Testament this kind of language is used time and time again to describe the end of a kingdom or nation. For example, in Isaiah 13 we find the following description of the impending destruction of Babylon:
“Behold the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine” (Isaiah 13:9-10).
That was the destruction of Babylon? The sun, moon and stars were darkened? According to Isaiah, yes it was. How about the destruction of Edom prophesied in Isaiah 34:
“For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree” (Isaiah 34:2-4).
The same kind of think can be found in Ezekiel’s prophetic oracle against Egypt (chapter 32) and Amos’s prophecy against the northern kingdom of Israel (chapter 8). The language of sun, moon and stars falling or becoming dark is standard Scriptural language not for the literal sun, moon and stars falling or becoming dark, but for the collapse of a kingdom, its government and its leaders. This is what Joel was speaking of, and this is why neither he nor Peter allow for thousands of years between the start of the fulfilment of the prophesy and the end of it. Instead, both Joel and Peter are saying that the prophesy would start and end within a relatively short period of time.
Joel’s prophesy is not about Pentecost followed by a break of at least 2,000 years and then the end of time. Rather it is about the setting up of the New Covenant Church at Pentecost, and the next forty years – the church’s wilderness wanderings – until the winding up of the Old Covenant, culminating in the dreadful judgements – the great and notable Day of the Lord in AD 70 – when Old Covenant Israel would effectively be plunged into darkness.
Okay, I don’t suppose that everyone reading this is with me so far, and I guess that those who are might be wondering what this has all got to do with hats. To the first group, I ask you to tag along and suspend your disbelief for a while longer; to the second group, be patient, I’m getting to that.
So Joel prophesied that in this era – the 40 years from Pentecost to AD 70, there would be prophets. Not only this, but there would also be prophetesses. So if this interpretation of his vision is correct, you would expect to find prophetesses in this era.
It is not that there hadn’t been prophetesses before of course. Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and Noahdiah are all mentioned in the Old Testament as being prophetesses. Even in the New Testament, Anna is specifically mentioned as a prophetess (Luke 2:36).
The difference seems to be that between Pentecost and AD 70, there wouldn’t be the odd lone prophetess, but rather many of them would be raised up. This is hinted at in the book of Acts, where it says of Philip the Evangelist that he had “four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:9). The fact that there were four in just one family – the same number as those specifically mentioned throughout the entire Old Testament – seems to indicate very clearly that the gift of prophecy was no longer a rarity amongst women at that time.
Now if this interpretation of Joel’s prophecy and Peter’s Pentecost sermon is correct, what does it mean as regards the hats? What it means is that when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian church, the gift of prophesying had been given to a good deal of women. And that almost certainly means that some of them were there in the congregation at Corinth.
Turning to the actual passage itself, one thing is very striking, especially given that some use the passage to insist that women ought to wear a hat or head-covering when they go to church. The fact is that this interpretation simply is not borne out by the passage. Whatever the passage is or isn’t speaking of, it does not state that women should wear a head covering when they go to church. It does not say that they should wear a head covering when they are in a worship service. What it actually says is that a woman should wear a head covering when she is doing one of two things: praying or prophesying.
I urge you to go and read the passage again. You will find that Paul says nothing of women needing to have their head covered when listening to the Word being preached. He says nothing of a woman covering her head when taking the Lord’s Supper. He says nothing of whether she needs to have her head covered when she sings. Rather he mentions two things, and they are very specific things.
This might seem like – pardon the pun – hair-splitting to those who advocate that women should wear a head-covering when they attend church. Yet one thing we know about Paul was that he was never careless in his choice of words. Therefore, the distinction is really rather important, chiefly for two reasons:
Firstly, if Paul had intended that all women wear a head covering when they attend church, why wouldn’t he have just said so? Why deliberately mention two very specific actions – praying and prophesying – if he had meant that they should wear a covering all the time during public worship?
Had he intended to mean that women should cover their heads when they attend church, what term could he have used? Fortunately we don’t need to speculate because he used just such a term earlier in the same epistle when he meant “attending church”. The phrase he uses is found in chapter 5, where he says in verse 4, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together…”. When ye are gathered together! Had he intended to signify that women need to have their heads covered when they come into the assembly, surely he would have used this phrase – or at least something very similar. But instead he chose to pick up on two particular actions, which should at least give us cause to wonder why he did this.
The second reason that this apparent nit-picking is very important is, I believe, because the key to the whole passage seems to lay exactly in the two specific actions he mentions.
Let’s take the easiest one of the two to begin with: prophesying. The Greek word is proph which literally means to publicly expound. In other words, what Paul has in mind is a woman who stands up and declares the Word of God to the congregation.
We must remember that this was a needful thing at this time. Most churches would have had little if any of the New Testament scriptures that we have, and so they therefore needed a more direct teaching from God. It seems that the raising up of prophets and prophetesses, foretold by Joel and confirmed by Peter at Pentecost, was for precisely this reason.
As an aside, there is therefore no cause for thinking that the role of the prophets or prophetesses went on beyond AD 70, or thereabouts. These were specially called people who played a needed role in the establishing of the church at that time, but once the canon of Scripture was completed, there was no longer any need for such people to be called by God to perform this office. The last Prophet had spoken (Hebrews 1:1-2) and God no longer needed to use men and women to give further revelation.
It is therefore extremely difficult for those who advocate the “wearing of head-coverings” to church to argue this from Paul’s command that “every woman who prophesies” should have her head covered. When do women ever prophesy (publicly expound) in today’s church? Okay they do so in the liberal churches, but then that’s a whole different issue for a different day. But for churches that hold to Paul’s teaching that ministers must be men, I fail to see how they can then insist on women wearing a head covering, since none of the women in such congregations ever “publicly expound”.
But what of the praying? This is far more difficult, because it could be argued that the praying he has in mind is referring to corporate praying. If this were the case, at best those who advocate head coverings in the church could argue that women should wear them whilst praying, but there is no warrant to insist on this at any other time during a worship service.
However, there are a few good reasons why the praying mentioned here is not simply congregational prayer – women listening and praying silently when their minister or another church member prays – but is actually when a woman literally stands up to vocally pray herself.
Firstly, in all other instances where Paul talks about praying in this letter to the Corinthians, it is always tied to the “sign gifts”. Nowhere in this epistle is the word used to mean someone “praying” in the sense of listening to the prayers of another and assenting to them. It is likely, therefore, that the praying mentioned in verse 5 is therefore connected with the “sign gifts” and the gift of prophesying, rather than silent prayer.
Secondly, the “praying and prophesying” seem very much to be connected and therefore part of the same package, being used in respect to both men (verse 4) and women (verse 5). It would be natural from the way these verses are phrased to assume that the two elements go hand in hand. Therefore, if the prophesying mentioned is specific to certain men and women of that time, isn’t it natural to assume that the praying is similarly specific to certain men and women of that time, and not just talking about all women praying silently?
Thirdly, there is nothing whatsoever in the Old Testament that required a woman to wear a head covering when praying silently in the congregation. For Paul to come along and liken a woman who prays silently in the congregation without a head covering to an immoral woman, asking whether it is “comely that she prays to God with her head uncovered” (verse 13), wouldn’t he need to have some basis in the Old Testament for making such a heavy charge?
Fourthly, when he addresses the men and women that pray and prophesy, he always does so in the singular: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven” (1 Corinthians 11:4-5).
However, three chapters later, when speaking about women in the churches, he does so in the plural sense: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34).
What this seems to suggest, is that the women he is addressing in 1 Corinthians 11 are not the entirety of women in the congregation. When he wants to address women in general, he does so by speaking of women in the plural sense. But he does not do this in 1 Corinthians 11, instead using the singular sense, which gives the impression that he is addressing a very specific and separate type of woman to the rest of the women in the congregation.
Finally, notice the contrast between the command in the 14th chapter and what is stated in the 11th chapter. In the 14th chapter he tells the women that they must be silent in the churches. This appears to be a total contradiction of what he had said three chapters earlier, where he spoke of a woman prophesying. It seems to me that the only plausible explanation of this is that the women addressed in chapter 11 are not the same as those addressed in chapter 14. Is it not more likely that in chapter 11 he is addressing the prophetesses, foretold by Joel, who vocally prayed and prophesied in the church, whereas in chapter 14, he is addressing the generality of women who had not been called to this office?
Without going verse by verse through the rest of the passage, I believe that this offers the most reasonable explanation for what is contained in the remainder of the passage. It explains why she needs to have “power” on her head – because she is doing something that for all intents and purposes appears to show her usurping the authority of her husband or father.
Imagine sitting in the church of Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing. In front of you sit Mr & Mrs Crispus. Mrs Crispus has been given the gift of prophesying and praying in tongues, but her husband has not been given these gifts. What might it sound like if she just gets up and prophesies (publicly expounds), but her husband is not able to because he does not have the gift? It would sound like she is in authority over him and not the other way around. The whole point of the covering – the veil – is therefore to show the rest of the congregation that although she has been given the gift – the temporary gift – she is still under the authority of her husband. In other words, the covering displays to all that what she is doing is in no way usurping his role.
This is also one further argument as to why the praying is not “ordinary” congregational praying. In a silent prayer situation, the woman is not actually doing something that looks like she might be usurping the authority of her husband or her father. She only needs the head covering in cases where she is doing something that ordinarily she would have no authority to do so. So if Philip the Evangelist is in a congregation with his four daughters, and his 16-year-old gets up and begins praying or prophesying to the assembled people, she needs a covering on her head in order to tell the congregation that her gift is temporary and that she still recognises her father as the authority over her. But if she merely sits and prays silently, she is not doing anything that might lead someone to believe that she is usurping his authority, and therefore she does not require the head covering.
I think that this may also help explain that oddest of verses, “For this cause ought the woman [again notice the singular sense] to have power on her head because of the angels” (verse 10). Why does she need to do this “because of the angels?” I think the most reasonable explanation can be found by comparing the passage with Psalm 8. In verse 3 of 1 Corinthians 11, it says that in terms of authority, the pecking order is God, Christ, Man, Woman. In Psalm 8, it says that man has been created a little lower than the angels (verse 5). Therefore, the point being made may well be that if a woman stands and prophesies or prays without some visible form of recognition that she is not usurping the authority of the man, what she is in effect doing is putting herself above man in the order of authority, and therefore on a par with those who were created a little higher than man: that is, angels.
Let me end by summarising the views given in this piece:
October 2, 2013 - AmericanThinker
Why 'Equality' Must Die
By Selwyn Duke
Take a look at the following list and tell me if anything strikes you:
Viewing these, the Seven Cardinal Virtues, anything make an impression? Okay, now try the Seven Heavenly Virtues of:
Anything? What strikes me is that equality is not among them.
Scour great works, such as the Bible, and you won't find talk of equality. Not one bit -- that is, unless you consider The Communist Manifesto a great work.
One thing about virtues -- which are defined as "good moral habits" -- is that their exercise doesn't require the cooperation, or compulsion, of another person. I can cultivate prudence, temperance, courage and the other virtues in myself, and I can do it all by myself. So while a virtuous society is desirable, virtue can also be a purely personal goal. And this is one time when focusing on the self needn't be selfish, for we should take the log out of our own eyes before worrying about the speck in our brother's.
But equality is far different. Just as there can be no numerical equality without at least two numbers, there can be no human equality on an island with a population of one. And while you could increase patience through personal change, increasing equality necessitates societal change; it involves raising people up as much as they're able -- which requires their cooperation -- and insofar as they're unable, it involves bringing others down. This is where compulsion enters the equation. The point is that, unlike with virtues, increasing equality is always an endeavor of the collective.
Another quality of virtues is that, as Aristotle noted, their cultivation is necessary for a happy life. And lack of virtue in the collective can make life harder, such as when the government stifles just economic freedom (excessive regulation), suppresses truth (hate-speech laws) or imposes some other aspect of tyranny. We also want our survival needs fulfilled: enough food and water and a roof over our heads. And we'd like the opportunity to pursue proper pleasures and dreams and exercise our creative capacity. But is actual "equality" necessary for happiness?
The class-warfare warrior may claim fellowship with the poor, but often something else lies deep in his heart: "If there are rich people, how can I bear to not be a rich person? Consequently, there must be no rich people." Like Nietzsche, he is what he is; that his ire's targets are greater or have more doesn't make him less. Regardless, he's only satisfied to be what he is if those who would have or be more don't exist. This is because of one or both of two deadly sins: pride and envy. The cures for these, by the way, are the corresponding virtues of humility and kindness -- not "equality." Equality is the voodoo medicine of the vice-ridden man blind to virtue.
Be thankful equality isn't necessary for happiness, too, because it is completely contrary to nature. Some species are more dominant than others; some unsuited to survival become extinct; and within species some members are bigger, stronger or faster than others. And animals have their dominance hierarchies; a silverback leads a gorilla troop, a wolf pack has an alpha male and female and chickens actually do have a pecking order.
People are no different. There are natural-born leaders and followers, alpha and beta personalities, and individuals have different gifts and capacities. The world had always recognized this, too. In fact, when young Therese of Lisieux was bothered by the idea that people would have different places even in Heaven, she was instructed to get her thimble and her father's tumbler and fill them with water. She then was asked, "Which is more full?" Of course, secular modernists will criticize this as a Christian justification for prejudice and discrimination, but what does their world view imply?
The reality is that there's a huge contradiction between belief in cosmic-accident evolution and belief in human equality. First, when even just one couple has a child, there are a whopping 3.1 billion possible combinations. Then there's group variation. Do you really believe groups could have "evolved" isolated from one another for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years -- subject to different environments, stresses and adaptive requirements -- and wound up being the same in every respect? This is a mathematical impossibility and a brazenly unscientific notion. As G.K. Chesterton put it, if people "were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal."
Whatever your belief about creation, group variation in physical being and capacities is apparent. A gynecologist once told me that black women didn't suffer as frequently from descended uteruses because they have stronger abdominal walls. And Dr. Walter Williams tells us here and here:
Prostate cancer is nearly twice as common among black men as white men. Cervical cancer rates are five times higher among Vietnamese women in the U.S. than among white women. ...Male geniuses outnumber female geniuses 7-to-1. ...[D]uring the 1960s, the Chinese minority in Malaysia received more university degrees than the Malay majority -- including 400 engineering degrees compared with four for the Malays, even though Malays dominate the country politically. ...[Jews are] only two-tenths of 1 percent of the world's population. Yet between 1901 and 2010, Jews were...22 percent of the world's [Nobel Laureate winners].
And is the last statistic any surprise? Ashkenazi Jews have the highest I.Q. of any group.
Because this is an inherently unequal world, the actions of equality dogmatists such as today's liberals can be understood as rebellion against nature. This also helps explain why they -- from the French Revolutionaries to the communists to today's liberals -- practice tyranny. When your agenda is so contrary to nature and, more to the point, man's nature, people will quite naturally act contrary to it. In fact, they will quite naturally be contrary to it. And since people can only be what they are, the agents of unnatural agendas will often say they are not to be. For no one likes having his plans spoiled, and these social engineers, enraged, will lash out at those not "good enough" to conform to the program. This of course is everyone, and killing fields are the ultimate result.
We're not there yet, but the cultural killing field is all around us. We have government decrees stating that if groups perform differently on a test (e.g., a police exam), it is by definition "discriminatory"; and that students must be punished in racially proportional ways. We see quotas and affirmative action and lawsuits and destructive discrimination, as we tear ourselves apart fighting nature. And why? Among other things, if you believe all groups are equal in all ways, it follows that you'll attribute different performance outcomes among them to discrimination.
One might now wonder why liberals don't apply their diversity tenet "Embrace differences" to what really matters. After all, if you watch golf on TV, do you want to see "equality," where everyone would have to be a duffer, or the best? Do you want "equality" in an art museum or ethereal beauty? Gifts displayed by others are to be relished, reveled in and revered. And the only thing preventing this is, again, those twin demons of envy and pride.
And what of equality dogma? It gave us the drab, cookie-cutter projects of communist Eastern Europe. It breeds ugliness and mediocrity.
Equality is not a virtue.
It is not a laudable goal.
It can never be a reality, as some will always be "more equal than others."
And if anything deserving of the name civilization is to live, equality, as an aspiration, must die.