Equality: a poor substitute for love

When our culture treats one group of people badly, we seek justice through attempts at making a level playing field for everyone. At such times, these attempts at equality are necessary and helpful. But that’s only because love has failed.

Where equality is flat and thoughtless and easy on the one hand — all you need is a mathematical equation to render all people and circumstances equal — on the other hand, love is robust and creative and rigorous.

Consider Christmas.

Every year, we have the expectation and opportunity to give gifts to family and friends. With four kids of my own, we have a lot of gift giving to do. Now, we could take the purely equal approach and write checks to each of the kids for exactly the same amount of money. No thought would be necessary at all. Just get out the checkbook, write the checks, and we’re done.

But what we do is far less flat. We take a significant amount of time thinking through who each of our kids are: what they like to do; what colors and clothes the enjoy wearing; what toys they love; and so on. And then we spend a lot of time shopping for the exact right gifts. But here’s the thing: We never spend the same amount of money or time shopping for each of the kids. Because the gifts are unique and reflect the unique relationships we have with each of these unique kids, the time searching and the money spent just doesn’t add up equally.

We talk with the kids about this. They know that the cost won’t be equal, that the love expressed with be particular to each one of them. They get it. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

The problem is that because of the lack of love we’ve experienced in our American nation, we have come to believe that equality is a good thing. Yes, it is an essential corrective for grave injustice, but it should only be a stepping stone. It is not a good thing in and of itself. Equality is never the thing we should strive for.

Equality is like tolerance. Who wants to be tolerated? I don’t. I want to be loved. But when people are intolerant of me, tolerance is a step in the right direction. But it’s not where we want to end up.

We are unique persons who need to be particularized. Only love can do that, a love that knows deeply and thinks rigorously. So, let’s move beyond equality and get to the particularity of love.