Saying that the Bible undermines the idea of human equality is a bit like saying that England undermines the English language. Now, are there people outside of England who speak English? Absolutely. Are there English people who speak English so badly that they undermine the English language? Sure. But without England, there wouldn’t be the English language.
Jesus said that loving your neighbor doesn’t just mean loving the person like you, the person of your social standing, the person who is in this privileged group.
Likewise, this idea of human equality, which in this country is claimed to be a self-evident truth is, in fact, not a truth that has been seen as self-evident in the vast majority of history and in the vast majority of cultures. It’s actually a truth that is sprung out of the Christian faith.
Loving Thy Neighbor
Jesus’s teaching was radical not because he said that we should love our neighbors. Within most belief systems, there is a category of people who you could call your neighbor who you would be treating equally. Often it’s citizen men, men of a certain status, men like you. And so there’s a sense of equality amongst many global belief systems within a certain category.
But Jesus moved that out. Jesus said that loving your neighbor doesn’t just mean loving the person like you, the person of your social standing, the person who is in this privileged group. It means loving those who are unlike you. It means loving women and children who at the time were treated as possessions rather than persons. It means loving those who are disabled and marginalized—which Jesus did throughout his teaching career and which he commanded his followers to do as well. It means even loving even your enemies.
Origin of Human-Rights Activism
As we’ve looked at this idea of the universal declaration of human rights developing over the last two thousand years, we see it as a secular good that doesn’t need any kind of religious foundation. In fact, the declaration of human rights that was initiated by Christians was criticized afterward as being a secularized expression of Judeo-Christian tradition. If you try to ground it in a non-belief in God, it actually crumbles underneath your feet.
In fact, one of the things I find fascinating as I read new atheists—Sam Harris for example—is that if you dig under the surface, you often find passionate belief in universal human rights and universal human equality. You find that they actually don’t believe in individual human beings. It’s incredibly hard to construct a moral system where all humans are of immense value and are seen as equal to each other when you don’t actually even have a good philosophical and moral foundation for the individual human being.
The question we must always ask of suffering is this: What could possibly be worth it? Jesus’s flabbergasting claim is that he is.
It’s vital that everyday Christians are speaking into nuanced cultural issues from a biblical perspective.