Monday, October 19, 2015

How Do Liberty and Equality Arise?

There is no end to the ridiculous claims made by Christian apologists.  We've heard the argument before that Christianity is responsible for the rise of science, despite the fact that when science was starting to emerge from the shadows of religious orthodoxy in the late middle ages, the church did everything in its power to suppress it.  Now Victor Reppert and some of the cultists at his blog are making the claim that the concepts of freedom and equality for mankind are also products of Christianity.

You may not have to believe in God to support equality, but you most certainly would have never even heard of the concept without the generations of religious, and specifically Christian, thinkers who gave it to us. The very idea of equality before the law springs from the realization that we are all equal before God. This is historical fact. - planks length

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are evolved equal, that they are endowed by evolution with certain inalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Now does anyone besides me think that this is a howler? - Reppert
So perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider history.  The passage cited by Victor is a spoof of a line from the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson, who rejected the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and thought that most of the Christian bible was a "dunghill", with some diamonds scattered about.  Jefferson was a deist and a secularist.  In fact it was the secularist movement of the 18th century where we began to hear the calls for liberty and equality.  This was a radical departure from the European establishment of religious monarchies.  The motto of the French secularists was "Liberté, égalité, fraternité".  And who stood in opposition to them?  The church and the monarchy.

For many centuries, European monarchies had an alliance with the church to share wealth and power.  And this came at the expense of the common man, who was exploited and kept in virtual bondage.  Freedom was for the privileged few, and equality was unheard of.  In fact, they would have scoffed at the idea, if not bringing serious harm to anyone who proposed it.  People had a station in life, and were expected to remain there and submit to the absolute authority of their lords, both aristocratic and religious (and it's no coincidence that the same word applies, but the religious "Lord" was a proxy for the authorities in the church - to obey the Lord was to follow the dictates of church authorities).  Even as feudalism declined, the monarchies continued to keep their grip on power, with the blessing of the church.  This was the established way of life for Christendom, and it was fiercely defended by the authorities in power.  And it was the secularist movement that eventually brought us relief from the domination of church and monarchy.  Whoever thinks that the ideas of human liberty and equality sprang from Christianity is delusional.

But what about Victor's observation, that it is absurd to think that they arose from evolution?  I agree that his statement, as worded, does sound absurd.  But that's because of the fundamental flaw in Victor's thinking.  He seems to think that freedom and equality are gifts that are granted by God, as if without these gifts being handed to us, the condition of mankind would be bondage and inequality.  So by his way of thinking, bondage and inequality are the default state of people.  But what reason do we have to think that's the case?  That was the situation imposed on the people of Europe by their kings and their church.  If you were fortunate enough to be born outside their jurisdiction, you might not have had bondage an inequality imposed on you.  What then would be your condition?  These things are not the default state of mankind, but they are imposed by society and government, and by other people.

So freedom and equality, it turns out, are not gifts from God.  They are what we have by default, as long as they are not taken away by others.  And God has nothing to do with it, just as evolution didn't create freedom and equality.  Jefferson's statement that we are "endowed by the Creator" with these qualities, can be taken to mean simply that this is the natural state of affairs for mankind, until we are deprived of freedom and equality by government or by our fellow mankind.  That was the situation on the religious monarchies of Europe, and that's what be were trying to break free from in establishing our secular government.


  1. How liberty and equality disappear

    Pay particular attention to this paragraph:

    "Europe is dying because it has become morally incompetent. It isn’t that Europe stands for nothing. It’s that it stands for shallow things, shallowly. Europeans believe in human rights, tolerance, openness, peace, progress, the environment, pleasure. These beliefs are all very nice, but they are also secondary. What Europeans no longer believe in are the things from which their beliefs spring: Judaism and Christianity; liberalism and the Enlightenment; martial pride and capability; capitalism and wealth. Still less do they believe in fighting or sacrificing or paying or even arguing for these things. Having ignored and undermined their own foundations, they wonder why their house is coming apart." (my emphasis)

    Also this:

    "[It] is the marriage of reason and revelation that produced a civilization of technological mastery tempered by human decency."

    1. Edgestow,

      What we have here is an article by Bret Stephens, an American ultra-right-wing pundit who works for Rupert Murdoch, bemoaning the influx of outsiders in Europe, much the same as he bemoans the outsiders in this country, who he thinks are spoiling the party for the good guys. And of course, the good guys are his fellow white right-wing Christians, both in America and in Europe. They also complain that America is falling apart, for exactly the same reasons. But that's a matter of opinion.

      I'm not sure exactly how you make the logical bridge from the influx of foreigners to a loss of freedom and equality. It is obvious that conservatives are dismayed to see demographic change, because they feel that they are losing their dominion, where they were always the ones on the top, the ones with all the wealth and power. For them, freedom and equality is not something that should apply to those outsiders. It is strictly for their benefit alone. And as such, it is nothing more than a platitude.

      If Stephens cares anything about freedom and equality, he should be happy to see more people getting the opportunity to participate in a better political and economic system. His attitude reveals his Christian dominionism, not the "liberalism and the Enlightenment" that inspired the founding of the USA.