All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. ~ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Where did the idea of equality (specifically equal protection) come from? Today we assume that it is a secular idea and part of our liberal American tradition. But is it?
My time as an atheist began with questioning. I started pulling on the threads of belief that I held to see which ones were justified and which were baseless. Over the years I destroyed countless beliefs that could not be immediately justified by evidence.
So let’s take on the idea that everyone born is entitled to equal protection. If it is a secular idea then there must be some objective basis for it. Is there a scientific test that we can run on each newborn to prove this point? Nope. There is overwhelming evidence in favor of Evolution, perhaps it could support this view of equality? Evolution points out that all humans are genetically related, but unfortunately does not smile on equal protection.
Evolution teaches that we are the offspring of those that survived and reproduced — by any means whatsoever. Eliminating genetic completion is not only justified, but very effective from an evolutionary point of view. The new alpha male of a lion pride will kill the cubs of the former leader so that the lionesses will begin ovulating earlier and be available for his own reproduction. If the Neanderthals genetically competed with modern humans (i.e. sought out the same types of food, shelter, etc.) then evolution says it was wise for modern humans to destroy them (not saying they did definitively). Early European settlers in America competed with the Native Americans for the use of the land. Evolution says that the Europeans did the right thing by defeating and marginalizing them — in favor of their own genetic offspring.
Yikes! Evolution justifies some heinous behavior!
If the idea of equal protection did not come from science and evidence, then where did it come from? Was it simply invented? Was it a religious idea?
One of the first references to equality came from Pericles, who praised Athens for her equal protection of citizens under the law around 420 BC. War historian Victor Davis Hanson attributes the military strength of the Roman Empire to their unique idea of offering citizenship status to non-Romans. So, not only does the idea of equality predate Christianity, it also formed the foundation of the early Greek and Roman Republics.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, however, classic Greek and Roman writings were not widely circulated and largely vanished from the public consciousness in Europe.
Meanwhile the ideas of a Judean revolutionary by the name of Jesus had spread far and wide across Europe. We often study the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the suppression of the Bible as evidences of Christian atrocities. What we often fail to note is that a great deal of unique and peace loving ideas were also spread with Christianity. Crazy ideas like this:
…the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
But it shall not be so among you:…whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.
Translation: Good Christians don’t seek leadership positions to control more value, but to benefit the people they lead.
Even the suppression of the Bible itself is a testament of the fact that it contained ideas threatening to Catholic leadership. Take the quote above. Did Bishops and Popes that enjoyed “exercising dominion” want adherents to read Jesus’ views on leadership? No, indeed not.
When the Bible finally did become widely available, philosophers like John Locke used its teachings to observe that we were all Gods children and that the “natural law” (which highly resembled Judeo-Christian law) put us all in a state of equality.
Coming back to the Greeks, I’m summarizing here, but the Greek and Roman classics were transferred largely to the Arab world after the collapse of the Roman Empire, and then reintroduced from the Arab world into Europe, sparking the Renaissance.
Ultimately, its impossible to determine which had a stronger effect on the people of Europe, Greek writings on equality, or St. Peter’s declaration that “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons”. However, the thing that can be determined is that despite the fact that Arab nations were custodians of Greek ideas for centuries, those ideas did not result in the Industrial, Democratic, or Scientific Revolutions occurring in Arab nations. People in Arab countries were simply not protected enough to carry out scientific investigations without fear of recrimination or start and build factories without their property being threatened and confiscated. Indeed, something about the Judeo-Christian tradition made Europe particularly suitable for those revolutions to occur — the idea of equal protection being one of them.
To conclude, our liberal ideas of equal protection are not scientific. They are superstitious and came to use via Christian nations that studied Greek and Roman classics, but also were heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian ideas that declared that strangers, widows, orphans, believers and unbelievers alike were deserving of protection and justice.