Thank God We’re Not Equal by Anthony Esolen


Thank God We’re Not Equal

The Eternal Joys of Coming In Last

Adam’s sin was pride, but many of the old English poets stressed the love that in his pride he repaid with disobedience. In other words, they saw that the fundamental manifestation of pride is ingratitude. So George Herbert portrays Christ reproaching us on his way to Calvary:

Then they condemne me all with that same breath
Which I do give them daily, unto death.
Thus Adam my first breathing rendereth: Was ever grief like mine?

It is easy enough for the Christian to remember to thank God for at least a few of the good things he has given us, especially when our whole society celebrates a day called “Thanksgiving.” We might even remember once in a while to thank God for the breath in our lungs, for our mere existence, since it is with each of us as it was with Adam, that God has taken some dust from the earth and breathed into it, that we might be a living soul.

Adam Forgot

But Adam in his pride wanted to seize for himself what he saw as a good thing that God had not given him. In his disobedience he showed himself ungrateful for what he had been given (since he wanted even more). But there is something else to notice here: Adam showed himself ungrateful not only for what he had been given, but for what had been withheld from him, since he judged that he might provide for himself a fairer enjoyment of goods. He fell because he did not give thanks that he did not have everything.

Adam forgot to thank God for the prohibition. He forgot to praise God for the inequality between himself and his Maker. The really grateful soul—the one that is full of thanksgiving—is pleased not only by the great gifts God has given him, but by the great gifts God has withheld from him.

He is also (and this is most difficult for man’s hardheartedness) pleased by the surpassing gifts that God has given to others. That includes the gift of authority over us, as God gives us someone nearby to obey: the father and the mother whom we are to honor, and the pastor and the elders whose wisdom we do well to consult, and all those rulers and teachers and apostles to whom God has given the place of command or counsel, for both our earthly and our eternal good.

Such delegated authority is one of God’s ways of drawing near to us, lest we spend all our hours vainly imagining a conversation wherein God says what we should like him to say. Our subordination is a divine gift, though we (thankless creatures that we are) often feel it as a burden.

Equality is a great mantra these days, but I do not see how a narrow-eyed insistence upon equality is easily reconcilable with gratitude. I am not talking about equality of human dignity or equality before the law. I am talking about that demand to have what everyone else has—not only material goods, though we do feel that, but also qualities like respect and authority—and to feel affronted if we do not.

What authority could survive, if everyone had an equal warrant to thwart the commands of another? How unutterably dreary life would be if everyone else had at most one’s own measure of intelligence, love, courage, wisdom, and beauty. Imagine how tuneless would be the choir in heaven if everyone sang only as well as oneself.

Anthony Esolen is the author of over thirty books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (, on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!

personal subscriptions

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

RENEW your print/online

Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

RENEW your online subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!

RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.

more from the online archives

26.5—Sept/Oct 2013

More than Schooling

The Perils of Pragmatism in Christian Attitudes Toward the Liberal Arts by Robin Phillips

18.8—October 2005


on Why Pornography Is Not the Sin We Say It Is by Anthony Esolen

30.3—May/June 2017

Not Merely Islam

C. S. Lewis Assesses the Religion of Mohammed by Jacob Fareed Imam

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone