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Why equity, diversity, and inclusivity are not absolute values

None of the three great secular values are in fact of absolute value; in point of fact, the supreme value that positions every other value, the unsurpassable moral good in which all subordinate goods participate, can be clearly named.

(Image: Brittani Burns/Unsplash.com)

In the wake of the French Revolution, the triplet of “liberty, equality, fraternity” emerged as a moral compass for the secular society.

Something similar has happened today in regard to “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” For most pundits and social activists, at least in the West, these three values function as fundamental norms, self-evident moral truths of absolute value that ought to guide our behavior at both the personal and institutional level. But this cannot be right. For whatever plays that determining role must be good in itself, valuable in every and any circumstance, incapable of being positioned by a higher value.

Neither equity, diversity, nor inclusion enjoy these prerogatives, and this can be shown readily enough.

First, let us consider equity. Fostering equality is indeed a high moral value in the measure that all people are identical in dignity and are equally deserving of respect. This ethical intuition is embedded in the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” It is, accordingly, a moral imperative that all people be considered one and the same before the law and provided, as far as possible, parity of opportunity in the educational, economic, and cultural spheres.

But equity in all things? Absolutely not. Many inequalities that obtain within human society—differences in intelligence, creativity, skill, courage, energy, etc.—are naturally given and could be eliminated only through a brutally imposed leveling out. And what follows from these natural inequalities is dramatic inequity in outcome: varying levels of attainment in all arenas of life. To be sure, some of these differences are the result of prejudice and injustice, and when this is the case, strenuous action should be taken to right the wrong.

But a blanket imposition of equity in outcome across all of our society would result in a massive violation of justice and would be made possible only by the most totalitarian sort of political arrangement.

Now, let us look at diversity. Arguably the oldest problem in the history of philosophy is that of the one and the many—which is to say, how to think clearly about the relationship between unity and plurality at all levels of existence. I believe it is fair to say that, in the last forty years or so, we have massively emphasized the “many” side of this matter, celebrating at every opportunity variety, difference, and creativity, and tending to demonize unity as oppression.

God knows that the awful totalitarianisms of the twentieth century provided ample evidence that unity carries a dark side. And multiformity in cultural expression, in personal style, in modes of thinking, in ethnicity, etc. is wonderful and enriching. So the cultivation of diversity is indeed a moral value. But is it an absolute value? Not at all—and a moment’s reflection makes this plain.

When the many is one-sidedly emphasized, we lose any sense of the values and practices that ought to unite us. This is obvious in the stress today on the individual’s right to determine his or her own values and truths, even to the point of dictating one’s own gender and sexuality. This hyper-valorization of diversity effectively imprisons each of us on our own separate islands of self-regard and gives rise to constant bickering. We loudly demand that our decisions be respected and our stances tolerated, but the ties that bind us to one another are gone.

And finally, let us cast a glance at inclusivity. Of the three, this is probably the one most treasured in the secular culture of today. At all costs, we are told over and again, we should be inclusive. Once again, there is an obvious moral value to this stance. Every one of us has felt the sting of unjust exclusion, that sense of being on the wrong side of an arbitrary social divide, not permitted to belong to the “in” crowd. That entire classes of people, indeed entire races and ethnic groups, have suffered this indignity is beyond question. Hence the summons to include rather than to exclude, to build bridges rather than walls, is entirely understandable and morally laudable.

Nevertheless, inclusion cannot be an absolute value and good. We might first draw attention to a conundrum regarding inclusivity. When a person wants to be included, she wants to become part of a group or a society or an economy or a culture that has a particular form. For example, an immigrant who longs to be welcomed to America wants to participate in an altogether distinctive political society; when someone wants to be included in the Abraham Lincoln society, he seeks entry into a very circumscribed community.

In other words, he or she desires to be included in a collectivity that is, at least to some degree, exclusive! Absolute or universal inclusivity is, in point of fact, operationally a contradiction.

Perhaps this principle can be seen with greatest clarity in regard to the Church. On the one hand, the Church is meant to reach out to everyone—as is suggested symbolically by the Bernini colonnade outside of St. Peter’s Basilica. Yet, at the same time, the Church is a very definite society, with strict rules, expectations, and internal structures. By its nature, therefore, it excludes certain forms of thought and behavior.

Cardinal Francis George was once asked whether all are welcome in the Church. He responded, “Yes, but on Christ’s terms, not their own.” In a word, there is a healthy and necessary tension between inclusion and exclusion in any rightly ordered community.

Having shown that none of the three great secular values are in fact of absolute value, are we left in a lurch, forced to accept a kind of moral relativism? No! In point of fact, the supreme value that positions every other value, the unsurpassable moral good in which all subordinate goods participate, can be clearly named. It is love, which is willing the good of the other as other, which indeed is the very nature and essence of God.

Are equity, diversity, and inclusivity valuable? Yes, precisely in the measure that they are expressions of love; no, in the measure that they stand athwart love. To grasp this is of crucial importance in the moral conversation that our society must have.


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About Bishop Robert Barron 203 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

12 Comments

  1. Cardinal Francis George answered, “Yes, but on Christ’s terms, not their own.” Bishop Barron raises the royal standard of Christ, the supreme value that reconciles all converting all to Himself. A reflexion is added to this. Is the endless journey without compass a journey to reinvent what is revealed in Christ? A fresco Christ naked a naked Judas Iscariot carried over his shoulder, a bust of Luther, a Pachamama goddess enshrined in God’s house, artifacts, devotionals of a pontiff give the answer.

    • Not going to happen. When a philosopher turns over an idea in his head, the result is going to be long and probably very involved. This is good and bad – good because he will deal with the problem in all its aspects, bad because some will tune him out.

  2. Interesting that the formal order of goals in the global movement is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This can be verified at the World Economic Forum’s website and the local reach of it in Westerville, Ohio’s announcement of the creation of a new DEI department and director at https://www.westerville.org/Home/Components/News/News/6407/46?npage=10. Note the inclusion of religion and gender as being under their authority to define and enforce, which puts them on a collision course with the Catholic Church. No accident, I think, that the initials of the goals (DEI) mean “of God” in Latin (as in agnus Dei). Just a not-so-subtle indication of their claim to be the world’s source of moral standards that the silly Catholic faithful erroneously think belongs to God alone to communicate through His Magisterium. With the advent of digital currency and the potential to create a global one, the ability to control the world’s access to money is real, all the way down to local banks, where you will cooperate with the DEI agenda or have your bank account frozen or substantial fines deducted from it. Things promise to get very tough for Catholics (and faithful Protestants) to resist. At its root, this is a spiritual war that I wish more Catholic Bishops would wake up to and prepare their flocks for. Thanks to Bishop Barron for addressing it.

  3. Why are ‘equity, diversity and inclusivity’ not absolute values?

    That’s a silly question, but I’ll try to answer it – because they mean whatever you want them to mean.

    I would expect a more serious column from Bishop Barron.

  4. Just be aware there are many names for CRT in your local schools:

    Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
    Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
    Anti-racism (which is really racism)

    I have no doubt they will make up additional names in the near future to hide. But if you see your school implementing any of these things, it means they have taken a Marxist approach to education. It means they will try to hide what they are doing, and they will LIE about what they are doing. Never trust a school teacher or administrator. Your kid’s like may depend on your not trusting them at all.

    • Who would have imagined that Cathode Ray Tubes would become the bane of American society, just as has the unwitting Bureau of Land Management.

  5. The French Revolution triplet of “liberty, equality, fraternity” in its Rein of Terror phase was the liberty(of death), the equality(of death), the fraternity(of death). In the graveyard everyone is fully, equally dead.

  6. “In the wake of the French Revolution, the triplet of “liberty, equality, fraternity” emerged as a moral compass for the secular society.

    Something similar has happened today in regard to “equity, diversity, and inclusion.””

    Are you subtly admitting that you know the truth about this new EVIL “trinity?” The original one was almost certainly cooked up in Masonic lodges. The new one is a matter of evil ideologues who could be themselves a part of another satanic plot.

    As for this “trinity” it would take more work than appears here to work it out. Somehow the writings of idealogues need to be analyzed. The hidden definitions will need to be established or discovered.

    I am not certain about the real hidden definition(s) of equity. Some have claimed that it is a matter of “stealing” from the rich (e.g. higher taxes) to give to the poor (e.g. social spending).

    Diversity appears to be a method of promoting conflict by enforcing “racial” integration (e.g. forced busing, quotas, etc.) and undermining morality by promoting moral relativism (e.g. promoting “intimate” immorality). There is a good book on diversity called “Diversity: The Invention of a Concept.”

    Inclusivity is about not condemning immoral behaviors and beliefs. It is the opposite of the virtue of fraternal correction (a species of charity), and is associated with the vice of laxity (i.e. failure to punish).

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