As Syndrome states in The Incredibles, “when everyone’s super . . . no one will be.” This statement surprisingly contains an element of truth. If everyone is equally talented, no one will be “super” by definition. In order for everyone to be special, people desire equality such that equal reward and respect are given to all under the guise that all are excellent. People crave and pursue excellence by identifying all people as excellent, which thus denies the need for improvement. This denial for improvement leads to a denial of value because all that is valued equally is thus not valued at all. Excellence ought to be pursued by likening the individual soul to the divine essence. Without the recognition of value, none can discern what is excellent. The definition of excellence would lose meaning. Although one may argue that equality is inspired by God such that all beings are of equal excellence, I believe there is a natural and inherent difference in the value of all beings that the soul ought to recognize, because one is able to discern and pursue through this realization the elements of justice, beauty, and the divine.
It may appear that equality is inspired by God and therefore a universal fact. If God loves all equally, they must be equally valued. Individuals, such as Thomas Hobbes, believe that all people have equal abilities and thus that all mankind is equal. In Leviathan, Hobbes asserts, “the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he” (1.13.1). Man is naturally equal in God’s eyes because God gives each person different strengths. These strengths rectify for the lack of other strengths. If people are equally talented, they are thus equal. Hence, one might construe that excellence is a human construct because it is based on human opinions as opposed to the eyes of God. For instance, one might believe that excellence is in physical beauty while another believes that excellence is in the quality of the soul. Since human good is subjective and apart from God’s idea of good, all beings could be considered good and consequently equal.
Equality, however, cannot be inspired by God as it is His very nature to recognize and delight in righteousness. Equality itself is unjust. Although God loves all, He does not delight in all beings equally. Ralph Waldo Emerson states that “beauty is the mark God sets upon virtue” which indicates that virtue is beautiful as opposed to vice (Nature 45). Since God loves righteousness, it is necessary that He hates unrighteousness because it is inconceivable that God could love two opposing ideas. Hence, the amount of righteousness in a being affects how God views that individual being. Although God may love all equally, He does not view all with equal approval because God loves righteousness and punishes unrighteousness. To give equal merit to all would be unjust and therefore not of God because that which is excellent deserves more merit over that which is not.
Righteousness itself is objective and intrinsically greater than unrighteousness. Theologically speaking, righteousness cannot be a human construct because, as C.S. Lewis observes, all acts of evil are in pursuit of perceived good which distinguishes good as a separate force. Lewis states, “it is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are the powers given to it by goodness” (45). No one person commits evil for the sake of evil itself, but for the sake of the perceivable good one attains through evil. Since evil is dependent upon the existence of good, good is objective because good is distinguishable from evil. As a result, all that is good is inevitably superior to evil. The idea that excellence is a human construct is false because good exists objectively. Since righteousness is good, it is greater than unrighteousness. Because there is an objective standard of righteousness, equality is simply unrealistic since there is a standard that determines the good within every being.
Excellence in a being is therefore dictated by its likeness to the divine essence. If righteousness is objective, the divine essence must be objective because it is righteous. The divine essence encompasses the whole of being, extending past morality to the beauty of that individual being. Emerson states, “the intellect searches out the absolute order of things as they stand in the mind of God” (Nature 46). All is valued according to the divine essence because the divine essence defines the highest standard of excellence. This includes beauty, which extends to the whole of being since all things can be measured by beauty. Because the divine is the highest level of virtue and beauty, it portrays worth that is incomprehensible. Consequently, if a being is divine, it is excellent since the divine is excellence by definition.
To this, one may object that all beings are equal because they are unique and have different vocations; that all beings are equally special because each is best at conforming to its own dictated purpose. In other words, a being follows its given nature, which it is greatest at achieving. Since God appoints all beings to distinct purposes, they must be of equal value or utility. This would imply that all are equally important. If all are equally important, all beings ought to be equally valued.
Conversely, if excellence is determined by one’s development of individual gifts, all beings cannot be of equal value. Although all beings are called to different purposes, they are not necessarily equal. Emerson avers, “your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession” (Self-Reliance 199). Every being has a gift and is successful at that gift because one’s gifting is determined by God. This is true since all beings are created with different aptitudes, the means by which every being achieves greatness. As a result, all beings improve by following their aptitude, which indicates that those who fully develop their gifts are by nature of higher excellence than those who do not.
Furthermore, all beings at the perfection of their gifts are of different values of excellence because all beings conform to the divine differently. The forms of all beings may achieve perfection, but not an equal divine nature. For example, the perfect rock and the perfect angel are not equally divine. This is true because beauty is not necessarily the result of perfection. Edmund Burke observes that perfection “is not the proper object of love” (76). Perfection does not necessarily produce beauty, which is the object of love and part of the divine essence. For instance, the perfect sinner is neither divine nor beautiful. Thus, all that is divine is perfect, but all that is perfect is not inevitably divine. A being can be perfect morally, but not completely divine. John Wesley states that there are “imperfections which are not of a moral nature” (257). There are flaws that are not morally wrong, such as gracelessness and incoherency. However, these characteristics are part of the divine essence because they are beautiful. Thus, one can be perfectly moral but not entirely divine because the divine extends past perfection. If the divine is indeed objective, it must be of one form because objectiveness implies universality. All beings compare differently to an objective standard because an objective standard is of one form. Hence, since all differ in beauty, all beings at perfection adhere to the divine at different levels, which thus results in a difference of value.
It may appear that people ought not to accept this principle because it is morally right to love one another equally, which would thus enable the self to become closer to the divine. Since love is good and righteous, one must act lovingly towards another to conform to the divine. Conducting oneself differently towards certain people would cause distress and anxiety for others. Therefore, it is moral to act towards all with equal respect.
However, it is in fact immoral to behave equally towards all because it is unjust. As stated before, since righteousness is objective, some beings are considered more righteous than others. This affects the way God views a particular being. It is right to assess beings truthfully because one is essentially lying by attributing more or less value to certain beings than what they deserve. By denying objective worth, one denies truth which would be unjust. One knows what is most beautiful by accepting that some beings are more beautiful than others.
The pursuit of equality leads to the demise of knowledge itself. The soul ought to recognize excellence because this recognition is necessary to obtain knowledge of the divine. Emerson states that “words are signs of natural facts” and that “natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts” (Nature 48). This statement implies that the soul is able to obtain knowledge through words and experience, which are based upon one’s perception. One experiences when one’s mind is conscious of reality because one does not experience without thought. For example, one does not know the color blue without physically seeing it and consequently acknowledging it with one’s mind. Although one could attempt to describe the color in words, the person without seeing it would not understand the color in the same way. Therefore, words without experience are without meaning because experience ultimately provides one with knowledge of the differentness between beings. One knows the color blue by distinguishing it from red, yellow, or any other color. Hence, knowledge is based upon knowing differences through experience because one does not have knowledge if one cannot discern truth. Equality denies difference and therefore reality. Thus, the more one accepts equality the more one denies knowledge.
One pursues the divine through an acceptance of the differing values of all beings. In order to become divine, one must know what is divine, which is accomplished through experience. For one to experience the divine, one must be able to discern the difference between the divine and the ungodly. One acquires discernment when one obtains knowledge of the divine. Henry David Thoreau maintains, “man is tasked to make his life . . . worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour” (134). One improves the soul by obtaining knowledge of the divine because one cannot expect to become divine without knowing what the divine is. Without recognizing value, one cannot identify the divine because the divine essence defines excellence and therefore constitutes the highest standard of value. Essentially, one cannot acknowledge the divine without acknowledging value. In conclusion, knowledge produced by the acceptance of differing values enables the self to improve because knowledge produces discernment of the divine.
Although one may believe that God designed all beings to be equal, one ought to recognize the inherent difference in the value of all beings, because one recognizes and pursues the elements of the divine through discernment. Equality cannot be appointed by God because God is righteous, which indicates that He must judge all according to this standard. Since a being is more divine while following its purpose, all beings are on different levels of quality since those who develop their dictated gifts are of quality. The divine itself extends past perfection such that all beings adhere to it differently. It is immoral to support equality because it is unjust. Essentially, true equality is the demise of knowledge. One enables the self to improve by experiencing the divine, thus producing knowledge of the divine. Since knowledge of the divine is necessary to become divine, one must recognize the difference in the quality of beings in order to develop discernment of the divine. One pursues the divine because no joy is greater than when one experiences the divine essence, that which surpasses perfection.
Burke, Edmund. “A Philosophical Inquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful.” The Portable Edmund Burke. Ed. Isaac Kramnick. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. Print.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature and Selected Essays. Ed. Larzer Ziff. New York: Penguin Group, 1982. Print.
—. “Self-Reliance.” Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature and Selected Essays. Ed. Larzer Ziff. New York: Penguin Group, 1982. Print.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Ed. Edwin Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett Co., 1994. Print.
The Incredibles. Dir. Brad Bird. Perf. Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Spencer Fox, and Samuel L. Jackson. Walt Disney Pictures, 2004. Film.
Lewis, Clive Staples. Mere Christianity. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1952. Print.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.” Henry David Thoreau: Walden and Civil Disobedience. New York: Penguin Group, 1983. Print.
Wesley, John. “Christian Perfection.” John Wesley. Ed. Albert C. Outler. New York: Oxford UP, 1964. Print.