Difference vs. equality

In a forthcoming article titled Diversity of Marriage Law in the Matrimonial Proceedings of the Roman-Catholic Church, Burkhard Berkmann discusses a critical difference between Western and Eastern thought: the application of one purportedly objective standard in the West as compared to a co-existence of different standards in the East.

The Millet system applied in many countries of the Orient attempts to achieve justice and peace by allowing religious people to live according to their convictions. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise, a state with the Millet system acknowledges each religions right to govern the rules of acts such as marriage. Ecclesiastical authorities set up rules that give legal certainty to members of each religion.

In countries such as the US, a secular system is applied. The aim is the same: justice and peace. Yet rather than regarding differences between religions and allowing various systems to co-exist, the secular approach ignores differences and applies uniform secular law without distinction to all.

To put it shortly, the West offers "the same for everybody" whereas the East gives priority to the idea of "to each his own."

Nonetheless, we in America are not without experience in attempts to establish a system of differentiation: After the Civil War, a system called "separate-but-equal" was set up in the South. It was a failure, primarily because separate did not mean equal. In the more recent past we have been seeing an attempt to quietly achieve this on the basis of class or wealth. Basically, the way it works is that every citizen is offered the same services, the same legal framework, the same rights and obligations, but the wealthy quietly receive better services, receive protection from the legal system and can leverage their rights and reduce their obligations through payments, networks, education or just simply by being identified with the group in question.

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