On Fairness, Equality, and Father Christmas

Snow now covers the mountains around me, my Christmas tree gleams and sparkles, and eleven stockings hang expectantly up my staircase. I’ve been knitting and sewing and shopping, trying to find fun and suitable gifts for everyone. I try my best to be fair, but that’s a tall order. Despite old lump-of-coal traditions, I believe Christmas is a time to commemorate God’s gifts to us.

In fact, twice each year we celebrate the overwhelming fairness of God – at Christmas when we remember His grace in sending His son into this fallen and hopeless world and at Easter when we celebrate the resurrection and its signal that all our debt has been paid.  Such amazing justice – by one man all sin came into the world, and by one man all sin can be forgiven. It doesn’t get much fairer than that.

(Though we must also remember that what happened to Jesus Christ on that fateful Passover was not fair; He was perfect, yet He went to the cross and took the punishment that was ours – the greatest unfairness ever buying the greatest grace ever – an odd and amazing balance.)

Fairness is a balancing act; we must weigh evidence, measure effort, make ourselves aware of mitigating circumstances, and erase all of our pre-conceived notions. Look at Lady Justice holding her scales high, insisting on perfect equilibrium. Of course, for God, perfect justice is possible because, in His omniscience, He has all the facts – He knows what happened in Benghazi; He knows how the Koch brothers and Warren Buffet acquired their wealth. He is as aware of motivations as He is of actions. We don’t have that luxury, so our fairness is never perfect.

And lately it’s been quite clear to me that we suffer from a national confusion about what fairness entails even in its simplest form. Amidst all the holiday excitement there lurks in my soul a terminal annoyance with the infantile drum beat about the successful and their “fair share.”  What does it mean to be fair?

Fairness is not equality.  Fairness has nothing to do with amounts. Only 5-year-olds think that. Picture a fat, trembling lower lip and crocodile tears, “Johnny got 5 and I only got 3. That’s not fair.” It’s not equal. It may be fair. Maybe Johnny worked longer or harder or is older. Fairness is connected to balance – we want to balance the work with the wage agreed upon, the crime with the appropriate punishment, the reward with the results. Equality is just a mathematical term and is, in its literal sense, only about numbers and things that can be counted – money, percentages, lollipops. When we conflate the two ideas we rob justice of its soul, reducing it to some merely material substance that can be stacked up and tallied. We use the term fairness sloppily when we make it about equality: we use the term equality dishonestly when we make it about race or gender or wealth. 

And, we use it dangerously as well. Look at affirmative action and the damage it has done to education, to law, to medicine.  It is only fair  -- to students, to clients, to patients -- that the professionals who serve them be the best our society can offer, after all, folks pay well for those services, but good service is not provided by policies that only address equality.  How is it just to deny admission to highly qualified white students in order to allow admission to less qualified minorities?  It provides equality, but not fairness.

Fairness is also not revenge. When a guy in a Ferrari cuts you off at the corner, scaring you silly and putting you in your stodgy, Dodge-driving place, roaring past him at the next intersection while flailing a finger in his direction has nothing to do with justice, with fairness, and will only make you look even sillier. Fairness is about restoring balance, not about evening scores – that just puts us back into the equality lie.  Judging from Obama’s recent remarks about voting being the best revenge, that’s something he has yet to learn.

Fairness is about integrity. Fairness mixes honesty, righteousness, and sincerity (the real kind, not what you see in elections). It includes decency, obedience, and truly virtuous love. In short, it is nothing anyone can legislate into being.

Are we really so unwise that we believe that taking from those who have (paying no attention as to how they acquired what they have) will result in a fair society? We are, in fact, sacrificing justice for equality, selling our birthright for a bowl of beans, putting equality on a higher plane, even though equality has no heart, is no respecter of persons, and has no interest at all in individual well being.

Forcing, legislatively, the successful to pay “their fair share” of the taxes (especially when they already pay an unequal percentage of the nation’s revenues) has nothing to do with fairness. No one is suggesting trials, with juries of their peers, to determine whether or not the wealthy earned their money in a just and fair manner. No one is suggesting that we punish with confiscation those who cheated. No. Justice is not what the left is after.

Paying a “fair share” is about brute equality – “Johnny has 5 and I only have 3,” sniffle, sniffle, whine, and blubber. It is evidence that we live in a society of petulant children -- petulant, vengeful children – Mr. Rich makes me feel like 3-day-old pizza and I’m going to get him for that. Picture lower lip jutting our farther and the eyes going steely and grim. (This is where we have to remember that Lady Justice has a sword in her right hand.)

These pouters claim they weren't given a level playing field. What is that? A level playing field doesn’t mean that we all get to start at the same place with the same equipment, the same ability, the same drive. News flash: human beings are individuals and we don’t come that way and not even the president is powerful enough to change that. We are people, not numbers on a graph.

And even if we were, doesn’t a playing field imply a game, a race, a contest? And what happens in those? Some win and some lose. And how do we make the start of the race equal by punishing those who finish well? How does that work?

It’s all nonsense and those at the top know it is. They also know that they can use the lack of thought and discernment so prevalent in 21st century America to fool us into giving them the right to steal from the rich. Obama has just requested that he be given unlimited power to spend money.  Every dime he spends comes out of our pockets -- either in taxes or inflation. Unfortunately, the riches of the rich won’t be enough, for the rapacious among us never have enough, and we who aren’t so rich will be next.

Fair government won’t happen until Christ comes back to rule the world. Until then we need to strive for what balance we can, being wary of the devious amongst us, while striving always to be fair, or even better, to be gracious.  If He could come die for us when we were buried under the weight of our imperfections, then the least we can do for others is to allow them the benefit of the doubt, the encouragement to do their best, and personal help when they need it.

It is not enough that we treat people as numbers to be equalized. That is not fairness. Fairness is balancing grace and righteousness – giving from integrity while demanding integrity in return.

It is also not enough to celebrate God’s justice and grace only twice a year – or even once a week. We are not to produce “random acts of kindness.” We are to be gracious, fair, and kind all the time. As we start down the snowy slope of Christmas, let’s remember that.

And may joy be with you this holy season.