The Mirage of Merit

TJ went to bed hungry. His mother was working the late shift at the nursing home and his father works as a mechanic but there have been slow downs and layoffs. His father is not getting the hours he wants and subsidizes his income by delivering food for a restaurant. TJ went to bed hungry. This is not because of the lack of care or love of his parents but due to their busy schedule which makes it difficult to provide for him and his two sisters. TJ wakes up still hungry but his parents are too tired to make him breakfast so he hurries on his walk to school. By the time he stands in the cafeteria and gets his morning meal, he does not feel ready to learn his math lessons.He falls asleep in class.

Across town in a more affluent neighborhood ST goes to bed with a full stomach. His mother finished her tennis lessons just in time to help him with his homework. His father comes home in time from the office and after dinner with the family, he goes upstairs and reads ST and his two brothers a bedtime story. ST awakens in the morning to the smell of waffles and bacon. After having a tasty breakfast his mother drops him off at school. He is well prepared for his math, science and French classes. He has even started college prep classes.

The trajectory for these 2 young boys is determined not by who they are or their capabilities. It is life chances. It has very little to do with their personal merit.

Two apples falling from the same tree will fall to the earth at rates depending upon the height from which they fall. That is, the slower apple falling from a lower distance will hit the ground sooner than the faster apple falling from a greater height. The apple that is higher is further from the center of gravity. It moves faster but the distance traveled means it will arrive last. That is a well established law of physics.The principle of acceleration, first posited by Newton defines which apple wins this race to the ground. Life chances in the human condition are determined by position more than ability. Merit is a mirage.

We operate in a world that denies this and claims meritocracy is the basis for advancement, success. If you are unsuccessful, you must be undeserving. We assume that the ‘have-nots’ have not because they have not tried hard enough.

This is also social Darwinism which dictates the survival of the fittest, strongest, smartest, prettiest and hardest working. This would mean that if you don’t achieve, you have none of these attributes and it is your fault that you remain at the bottom rung of society.

Mendelian genetics if allowed to be hijacked into the eugenics debate would dictate that we achieve based upon some inherited fault or advantage in our chromosomes. Despite the fact that 99.9% of mankind has the exact same genetic makeup, some find comfort or despair in the notion that others are inferior by nature.

Merit is a mirage. No one of us deserves any more than any other of us. All of us have what we have because of what someone else bequeathed to us. To be sure, we do have the responsibility to take advantage of what was given to us. But if we were given little, further from the center of gravity, no matter how fast we run, we may not reach the goal first.

It is critical as Christians that we divorce ourselves from the notion of the ‘undeserving poor’. We believe that we merit both the favor of God and society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Merit is a mirage.

We are who we are, we have what we have, by the grace of God. Once we have, we are mandated to share with the have nots. It is not a choice for the Christian. It is a command of Christ.

Matthew 25:41-42 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

1 Corinthians 5:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Matthew 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.