Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, November 24, 2017

MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS-a Black Friday Reflection [F, 11-23-17]

“Sumptuary laws” have existed in many ages in many countries. They were especially prevalent in Elizabethan England, to keep people in their places. They were often tied to income. For instance, you had to prove that your income was above a certain level or you were not allowed to wear purple or satin. Even that law was stratified. For instance, if your income was $40,000 per year [I’m using modern American sums, not the English pound sums of that day], you could wear satin sleeves but not satin britches. If your income was $80,000 per year, you could wear the satin britches but not a feather in your hat. The laws were extremely detailed, so that when you walked down the street, everyone knew exactly where you were in the social order.

This was necessary because all English people were the same color. To discriminate, there must be physical differences, so you know who is privileged and who is not, and just exactly how privileged or unprivileged they are. In a society without sumptuary laws, to dictate how you can dress, you need skin color or other racial markers to be able to discriminate. If there are not enough obvious natural racial markers, you make persons of a certain race wear created marks, as the Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars.

The American experiment says that all people are equal, that no one is privileged over anyone else. But our “original sin,” our desire by nature to put self ahead of others, makes us want special privilege for ourselves and our kind, regardless. The presence of people with different skin colors in America has made discrimination easier. Segregation laws were our form of sumptuary laws.

The most obvious form of Christianity in America today, “Evangelical,” is a religion of privilege, and privilege, in its very definition, is not equality. Privilege means power, and power isn’t power unless it is exercised against those unlike ourselves.

Many will jump in immediately to say that equality is a myth, that there is no such thing. For instance, I do not have the same opportunity to be an NFL football player as some 22 year old 300 pound man who spends most of his time in the weight room. We are not equal.

That, of course, is a red herring. Apples and oranges. “Equality” in the American experiment has never meant sameness. It is “equality before the law.” No one is above or beyond the law.

Some of us are allowed to wear cream and crimson while others are required to wear black and gold. If you choose to wear those inferior colors, that is on you. [Tomorrow is the annual battle for The Old Oaken Bucket between the football teams of Indiana and Purdue.]

The Constitution also provides equality of opportunity. Again, not equality of sameness. Obviously someone with a great voice has a better opportunity to make it in show business than someone who is mute. [1] But in America, at least as it is supposed to be, the only barrier is ability, not opportunity. You can’t tell blacks or women or gays or rednecks or Irish they are not allowed even to try to sing. [3]

Enter so-called “Evangelical” Christianity, which is a code word for privilege. Strangely, “evangelicals” are not evangelistic. Evangelism is the process of bringing people into the church, the Body of Christ. Evangelicals are concerned not with inviting people into the church but being sure certain types of people are kept out of the church. Privilege is always about keeping people out. [2]

The American dream has been of a nation where all are equal. George Orwell warned us a long time ago in Animal Farm that when we are told “all are equal but some are more equal than others,” that the dream and the American experiment would be over. It’s over.

There is one remaining question. I suspect it can be answered only by people who believe that a time in the tomb of death can lead to resurrection.


1] Although Beware the Brindlebeast, a musical by my friend, Anita Riggio, wife of my former student, Roland Axelson, will be on Broadway soon, and its songs are all done in American Sign Language as well as English, by hearing and non-hearing actors.

2] The Greek word, evangelos, means Gospel, Good News. It is difficult to understand how anyone can conceive of “evangelical” as meaning good news only for the privileged.

3] Although perhaps Florence Foster Jenkins should not have been allowed.

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