World religions did not come up with the idea of equal rights. Nor did it originate in a secular, non-religious outlook.
No major faith apart from Christianity mandates a deep commitment to the equality of all people. In every other religion certain individuals and classes rank higher than others on a ladder of spiritual attainment. They are more enlightened, more holy, further along in paying their karmic debt, closer to the divine by virtue of their good works, and so on. And the result can be horrific inequities. In Hindu culture, for example, the caste system made untold masses unequal and untouchable. In Muslim culture, sharia law gives women and outsiders nothing resembling the rights and privileges of the male faithful. Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, sums it up this way in an email interview I conducted:
In India, the concept of caste is a perfect example of how some cultures today believe and act upon the belief that some human beings are inherently better than other human beings. In many Muslim countries today, a Jew or Christian is viewed as subhuman, and they are routinely called “monkeys and pigs” and thought to be fit for extermination or slavery. Subjection breeds ignorance and pain. When you ask yourself, “Do the religions of the world contribute to equality?” the honest answer is no.
The foundation of a dominant secular worldview— evolution—leads to the conclusion that some are more fit than others. Some deserve to be winners, and losers deserve to die. And by placing animals and human beings on a continuum of development, evolution has given rise to racist views that some individuals, peoples, and races are more advanced than others. In a debate I participated in on ABC Nightline, Deepak Chopra, for example, referred to myself and some other people as “primitive.”
Similarly, Charles Darwin himself wrote a famous book that you may have not known the full title of, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin also wrote, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised [sic] races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” [ENDNOTE #1] An evolutionary view of humanity cannot lead to equality because some races are more evolved and fit than others who are less evolved and fit hence the survival of the fittest.
During the twentieth century alone, some 170 million people were killed by other human beings [ENDNOTE #2]. Of those, roughly 130 million died at the hands of those holding an atheistic and evolutionary ideology. [ENDNOTE #3] Stalin killed forty million people, Hitler killed six million Jews and nine to ten million others (mainly Christians), and Mao killed some seventy million Chinese [ENDNOTE #4]. In addition to this number could be added the more than one billion people worldwide who were aborted and killed in the wombs of their mothers during the twentieth century alone.
Comparatively, roughly seventeen million people were killed by professing Christians in twenty total centuries of Christian history. No Christian today lauds them or calls them heroes apart from cases of self-defending preservation. So, in all of history, those proclaiming but possibly not professing Christian faith have killed only a tiny fraction of the number of people that atheists and followers of other religions have killed in one century.
Unlike human religions and philosophies, the Bible espouses equality:
- Do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great.” [FOOTNOTE: Lev. 19:15 NIV]
- Showing partiality is never good. [FOOTNOTE: Prov. 28:21 NLT]
- …there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free… [FOOTNOTE: Col. 3:11 ESV]
- …show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… [FOOTNOTE: James 2:1 ESV]
The equality of all human beings is a biblical idea that has touched societies around the globe and been adopted even by our most vocal opponents.
Scholar Nancy Pearcey points out that eminent atheist Friedrich Nietzsche credited Christianity for the concept of equality. In The Will to Power, he wrote, “Another Christian concept…has passed even more deeply into the tissue of modernity: the concept of the ‘equality of souls before God.’ This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.” [ENDNOTE #5] Pearcey cites radical atheist postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty who admits that “the idea of universal human rights was a completely novel concept in history, resting on the biblical teaching ‘that all human beings are created in the image of God.’” Pearcey comments: “Rorty admits that atheists like himself have no basis for human rights within their own worldview. He calls himself a ‘freeloading atheist’ because he is fully aware that he is borrowing the idea of rights and human dignity from the Christian heritage.” [ENDNOTE #6]
Whether others acknowledge it or not, this basic Christian belief has driven the fight for equal rights throughout history. Pearcey maintains that the success of many secular movements advocating equality today derives from “a beauty and an appeal that comes from their origin in a biblical worldview.” Arguments are ripped from their Christian context, redefined, and distorted, but they retain a measure of their original power. [ENDNOTE #7] She says, “The only reason that movements for equality are making headway today is that they borrow their best lines from Christianity.” [ENDNOTE #8]
Christians broke ground on the battle for racial equality. Why? The Bible teaches that every person is created by God in His image and descended from one family and have the same first parents. Each has the opportunity to be adopted into a spiritual family with God as Father and Jesus as Big Brother.
Eric Metaxas describes similar Christian involvement in bringing down slavery in England and the British Empire in the early 1800s in an email interview I conducted:
It was Christians who fought passionately to end the slave trade and slavery itself. William Wilberforce and other Christians stood against secularists and for African slaves precisely because they believed that all men are brothers and all human beings are created in the image of God. Those who did not believe the Bible thought that notion a joke and thought the darker-skinned races to be as obviously inferior to the light-skinned races as dogs were superior to rats or bugs.
Scholar Wayne Grudem added in a personal interview that fully two-thirds of the leaders of the American abolitionist movement were Christians preaching that slavery should end. In more recent years, it was Christians like Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King Jr. who used biblical imagery and language to move a nation to stand against racial injustice, as Metaxas pointed out in our interview.
Christians across time and geography have followed Jesus’ example of welcoming all peoples. Today, Jesus is worshiped among more races and cultures in more languages than anyone in history. There is simply no organization of any kind that has as much diversity as Christianity because the Bible teaches that we all equally bear God’s image.
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871), Volume I, Chapter VI: “On the Affinities and Genealogy of Man,” 200–201.
- James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? 225.
- James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? 235.
- Nancy Pearcey, “Sexual Identity In a Secular Age.”