All human beings are equal in the sense that we are all the same species, but that's just a tautology. It doesn't contain any moral imperative. I suppose we could say that for a law to be prima facie constitutional it has to apply to everyone equally but that doesn't make much sense either. Laws against drunk driving are not going to be equally enforced between an alcoholic and a teetotaler. We are certainly not equal in terms of talent or treasure, and we never will be all disparate impact lawsuits to the contrary. So what does it mean to say that all men are created equal?
A thought occurred to me after confession today. I always confess from behind the screen. The parish I go to for confession has old fashioned "boxes" but they've been modified to accommodate post-Vatican II sensibilities: a folding chair sits facing the priest along with a little table that has a box of kleenex. Part of being a Catholic is cultivating a sacramental imagination. That's not always easy to do given the thin gruel of modern liturgy, but we have the Blessed Trinity and all the angels and saints to help us. Why is it, do you think, that anonymous confession became the norm as Catholicism grew? In the very oldest days, penitents had to confess before the entire congregation.
The one and only sense in which we can say that all men are created equal is that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Each of us has an immortal soul that will either enjoy heaven or suffer hell. Further, at the moment of judgment we will be facing the most impartial judge of all who cares not for rank nor riches. Princes and paupers, presidents and proles will all be held to one exacting standard. If anything, the powerful will be judged more stringently; to whom much is given, much is expected.
The screen inside the confessional is symbolic of that. The priest doesn't know who is confessing his sins, whether it be the mayor or the village idiot. The penitent bows his head. I always close my eyes, but even if I didn't, there would be nothing to see except the screen. We have faith in God's mercy, not in subjective appeals to the sympathy of the very human priest who is acting in the place of Christ.
That's why I strongly dislike confessing face to face. Call me immature, or lacking in faith, or full of pride; I'll readily admit to all of the above. But when I tried confessing while facing the priest, it made me feel like I'm trying to convince Maury that the baby isn't mine. I see a nice old fellow trying to look sympathetic, nodding sagely, thinking about how many Hail Marys to assign. I shouldn't be like that, but nonetheless those feelings force themselves upon me. It's even worse if the confessional is arranged to be like a nice little office with big comfy leather chairs, a fan, a coffee table, and so on. Confession becomes therapy. Priests who aren't comfortable with hearing confessions (they're more common than you think) encourage that transformation by being excessively chatty or informal. I'll never forget the time I got into an argument with a priest inside the confessional over the finer points of moral theology (I learned about the fundamental option that day.)
I think more people would go to confession if 1) priests actually talked about it during homilies and 2) if they were encouraged to do it anonymously. It would further reinforce the true notion of how all men are created equal instead of the quaint superstition it has become for most nice, respectable, mainstream Americans. Quaeritur: if we live in a purely materialistic universe, then in what sense are all men equal?