Distorting Fairness: Modernity’s Assault on Freedom

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by Will Deatherage, Executive Director

You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?

Ez 18:25-28

When I was six years old, I received my first video game system, a Nintendo Gamecube. This little purple box provided me with hours of entertainment. It introduced me to imaginative worlds that brought my friends and I close together, whether it was through playing Mario Kart, pretending to catch Pokemon in forests or drawing our own video game magazines. And while my gaming library was quite extensive, there was one video game that my mother would not let me have: a fighting game that was rated “T for Teens.” At the time, my mother’s refusal to let me play it seemed like the most unfair thing in the world.

Modern America has a very distorted understanding of fairness. Traditionally, fairness is associated with the virtue of justice, or receiving what a person is owed. But today, it means getting what you want when you want it. This modern incarnation of fairness has been muddled by the false equation of liberty and freedom: if we can do something then we ought to do it. According to this worldview, a child who wants to play a violent video game should be allowed to because they have the capacity to play it. A teenage girl should have the right to dress scandalously out of that same logic. Perhaps a hormonal teen should have the right to view pornography, a person with depression should have the right to smoke addictive substances, and a suicidal man should have the right to jump off a bridge. The modern West’s obsession with individualism and self-determination ironically reduces us to toddlers; when we do not get what we want when we want it, we victimize ourselves and cry about how unfair the world is to us.

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.

Ps 25: 4-5

Each one of us is on a journey of self-discovery. We are given the precious gift of life that is so easily forfeited, yet Western self-deterministic attitudes encourage us to walk alone. We are not taught to depend on others for assistance or listen to their ethics. However, as alluring as self-determination may sound, it runs contrary to human nature. Humans are social creatures, yet so many of my generation were abandoned by the very people and institutions who should have been forming us. Many of my peers were abandoned by their parents in day cares and public schools. Many were abandoned by teachers who refused to foster their responsibility. Many were abandoned by their religions whose light had receded into the corners of society. As a result, many of my friends were confused and afraid about who they were and who they were called to be. At retreats, when we were asked if we ever had depression, nearly every student rose their hand. Our culture is so deprived of morality; it believes that children need no moral education because making decisions for them impedes on their freedom. I would argue that on the contrary, the confused states that many of us were left in only made us anxious, depressed, and bitter, thus limiting our capacity to function normally and make decisions freely. Every man and woman is born enslaved to sin, and without proper spiritual and ethical formation, we are never free.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also for those of others.

Phil 2:1-11

There is only emptiness in sheer self-determination. Decisions are meaningless without a structured understanding of what they imply. For example, it is my firm belief that our current crisis of gender and sexuality is not because there are suddenly more people who identify as nonbinary, transsexual, or bisexual, rather more children are deprived of direction in terms of who they are meant to become. Just as scientists need not reinvent the wheel, we should not let children discern their own genders, sexual orientations, and mental health statuses alone. A culture that promotes normative behavior is not oppressive; it is free. Humans are not meant to build ourselves up. We must listen to those who came before us, especially our parents, our Churches, and our cultures. It is also important to heed the words of academics and scientists, for they too have traditions of intellect and reason. The entire purpose of tradition is to preserve what is deemed worthy of attention and pass it onto the next generation, so they do not have to rediscover its benefits. But a culture that abandons tradition at every term, one that abandons its children so they can “become their own persons,” is hardly a culture at all. In fact, if our species lived according to that mentality, we would still be cavemen.

When I was six years old, the deprivation of that video game seemed like the most unfair thing in the world to me. Reflecting on my mother’s actions seventeen years later, I can say that I am grateful. My mother, who knew better and preserved much wisdom, had her own mysterious ways that were gradually taught to me. So, when the Lord’s ways seem unfair, we must abandon our egotistical understandings of the universe and humbly seek His instruction. When the Lord’s ways seem unfair, we should have patience with God who never fails us. When the Lord’s ways seem unfair, we should take comfort in the notion that perhaps that is the point.

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