Monday, 12 December 2011

Equal but not equal

Name one human attribute held equally by any two human beings out of the 7 billion on our planet. Gender, race, skin colour, culture, nationality, social standing, job, religion, medical condition, physical strength, height, physical attractiveness, mental power, income, social position, imagination, empathy, sexual orientation, kindness ....etc. etc. Each  individual is unique.

Yet all social progress over the last few hundred years rests on the assumption that we are all equal. In the following it is assumed that all potential recipients of collectively financed and implemented help are equal, at least within the developed world:
  •  Freedom from enslavement 
  •  Freedom from torture, harassment and discrimination
  •  Education, health and protection against crime
  •  Fire services
  •  Fair trial
  •  Protection against foreign invasion
  •  Freedom of religion and expression
  •  Alleviation of involuntary hardship
  •  Right to vote

Internationally there are Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières, the Red Cross, UNESCO, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Scholars at Risk and scores of others.

All act on behalf of any individual regardless of race or skin colour or nationality or religion or gender or anything else. One can argue about individual injustices but the ideal which drives these organisations is that all people are equal, a belief on which parliamentary democracy itself is founded.

So in what respect are we equal? Before some humanly appointed authority, like a dictator or a monarch or a president or a team of scientists? According to some human construct?

I can think of only one sense in which all people on Earth are absolutely and timelessly equal and that is in a spiritual sense. Yet if spiritual equality is just a human construct it is a product of circumstances and so is liable to change as circumstances change. For it to be sacred it must derive from God, or at least be deemed coming from some transcendental source. Listed below are cases where the divinity of the concept of human equality is not glossed over.
  • The US Declaration of Independence begins ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; ....’

  • The US constitution is based on the work of Thomas Paine and holds that all men are created ‘equal’. From where did he get his idea for equality, apart from the above Declaration? Here is a quotation from his book The Age of Reason:I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow-creatures happy.’ (He despised the church but nevertheless believed in a Creator and life after physical death.)

  • Florence Nightingale established the  foundations of the UK's NHS and all 20th century health services.  There is absolutely no doubt that her Christian beliefs were the driver. All patients were equal to her except in their suffering.
  •  Charles Dickens did an enormous amount to raise awareness of social injustice in Victorian Britain and was inspired by Jesus Christ (rather than organised religion). He was a true Christian in his beliefs, not a Sunday morning only observer of rituals, and wrote a book on the life of Christ for his children. He was not perfect (who is?) but held that we were all equal before our Creator. 
  • John Newton (the slave ship owner who wrote Amazing Grace) and William Wilberforce (a politician) were both inspired to abolish slavery by a revelation from God that all are equal before Him.

  • Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister whose Christianity inspired a non-violent movement for Civil Rights and a belief in all the higher aspirations of humanity. Imagine what America would be like now had he and his followers not been so active in 1960s. 
  • The landmark novels Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird were inspired by belief in our equality before God.. All three of these novels have never gone out of print.

  • The Holy Bible itself proclaims in Galatians 3:28: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ This was written at a time when slavery and exploitation were rife and power was based on strength and cunning, as it appears to have been for hundreds of thousands of years previously. In Mark 16:15 He said to his disciples Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’

There is much more evidence that could be mustered– enough for a large tome by a serious scholar. I can’t really see how Peace on Earth can ever happen without the recognition of the truth which makes the statement ‘all people are equal’ any more than an arbitrary, politically correct postulate. Marx tried to found a new socio-economic order based on the idea of equality but failed to invoke the source of this idea. The result is well known.

Peace to all

Author, 2077 AD