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;Many people consider these stirring words from the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence to be the centerpiece of Western civilization. They are not wrong. It is the centerpiece of Western civilization because the phrasing is virtually a direct quote of Christian Scripture.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).Up to the appearance of Christianity, no culture on earth held all of these ideas together at the same time. For instance, every human culture in existence, including the Jews, held slaves. Every human culture, including the Jews, considered itself specially endowed. Every culture considered all other cultures inferior, not equal. Most cultures even had a hierarchical system of categorizing its own population, the most well-known being the Hindu caste system. But the Hindu system was certainly not unique, it has simply proven to be the among the most strict and long-lasting.
There was only one pre-Christian attempt to assert the equality of individuals. Buddha's philosophy held that all were equal. Unfortunately, Buddha said individual equality was attained only because individuals really didn't exist at all. From the Buddhist perspective, there is no such thing as a human soul nor a Creator. Personal existence is an illusion. The goal of Buddhism is to attain the Buddhist version of nirvana, in which even the illusion of the individual ceases to exist at all. Buddhism is about self-annihilation - that is how it attains ultimate equality.
So, the Declaration of Independence summarizes a uniquely Christian set of concepts:
- "all men are created equal..." (You are all one in Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:28)
- "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." (Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Psalm 82:3)
- "among these are Life..." (God is the author of life - Acts 3:15)
- "Liberty..." (Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Cor 3:17)
- "and the Pursuit of Happiness..." (With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:3)
Again, no theology had ever said this before, and none have since either. Consider: the afterlife is not a source of major concern for Jews, because it is a given that all Jews, no matter how bad, will rejoin the nation of Israel. For the Jews, that is heaven. Only Jews get resurrected. Righteous Gentiles are, at most, ghost-like beings who can watch the joy of the re-unification of Israel without being able to fully participate. Similarly, all Muslims go to Paradise, even if they have to spend some time in hell to atone for their sins.
For Hindus and Buddhists, the point of the afterlife is to be obliterated, annihilated, to lose all sense of individual self. Hindus get absorbed into the single, all-pervading Being, Buddhists evaporate into nothingness.
Jews and Muslims rejoin their respective nations, Buddhists and Hindus disappear, but none except Christians assert the ability to live with God Himself. Only Christians do that, and only Christianity says everyone has the same opportunity to do that.
But what about physical equality? Yeah, no. Christian Scripture recognizes what everyone else recognizes: there is no such thing as physical equality no is there physical equality of outcome. As anyone with breath in their body knows, there is a hierarchy among men that cannot be airbrushed away:
And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. (1 Cor 12:28)Our lives are bound together, but we do not have the same abilities, no matter whether one considers physical or spiritual abilities:
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.One of the great mysteries that Christ Jesus resolves is this: He manages to provide the possibility of equal salvation outcomes even though we all are acknowledged to start with absolutely unequal physical, and even unequal spiritual, abilities.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Cor 12:15-26).
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4)Yet while we are all united with God in heaven, even there we see a hierarchy.
I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. They were singing [what seemed to be] a new hymn before the throne, before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth.These are they who were not defiled with women; they are virgins (Revelations 14:2-4)There are hierarchies among the angels (nine ranks of angels, with the seraphim being the closest to God) and among men. We have an equal shot at salvation, but even the saved have different rankings, different outcomes.
The problem Jefferson and other Enlightenment thinkers faced, the problem that they simply couldn't resolve, is now obvious: if you deny that God exists, or deny that Christ is God, then you are stuck with a concept, "all men are created equal and endowed... (the ellipse is important here) with certain inalienable rights." But, if there is no God, that sentiment cannot possibly be true.
It is absolutely obvious that all men are NOT physically, intellectually or spiritually equal. Some people are stronger, others weaker, some smarter, others less, some have more patience, kindness, virtue, others have less of all of these... well, I would have said "gifts", but if there is no God, then these aren't gifts, so... others have more or less of these "characteristics." If there is no God, if there is not "the same Spirit", then it is manifestly stupid and absurd to say "all men are created equal." You have absolutely no evidence for the proposition, and every comparison between any two people is evidence against.
Only the insane would argue all are created equal physically or spiritually.
"Well," the liberal might reply, "all persons have the same rights, at least!"
Why would they?
If there is no God, then it is equally impossible to argue that everyone should have the same rights. After all, if God created all of us and God has the same intention for all of us (union with Him), then we can argue that we all have the same rights. In fact, God will have given us all at least one right that is identical: the right to secure a place in heaven has to be identical, and therefore any right that helps us secure that place has to be identical to all. We must all have those rights necessary to attain our single goal.
But if there is no God... that changes everything. If there is no God, then only an insane man or a comic would even present the argument that all men are, in any way, created equal. Even Monty Python's Flying Circus recognized that fact:
But insanity was Thomas Jefferson's way. The author of the Declaration of Independence simultaneously insisted that he was a good Christian, a good follower of Christ Jesus while also insisting that Christ was not God, but merely an excellent moral teacher. As C.S. Lewis points out, those two ideas cannot be held simultaneously. Christ was either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. If He was not the Lord, then He was not a great moral teacher because His assertions become ludicrous. If Christ is not God, then Christ's teachings become impossible to logically reconcile together.
Unfortunately, Jefferson followed the great Protestant tradition of cutting out all those parts of Scripture he didn't like. Jefferson was also prudent enough to refrain from telling very many people that he didn't believe Jesus was God. Thus, Jefferson was never required to face how ludicrous his position actually was. Unfortunately, because he never faced his lunacy, most other people haven't recognized his lunacy.
As a result, everyone who has subsequently built within Jefferson's Potemkin village has faced the problem Jefferson refused to recognize: without the context of Christian belief, the Declaration of Independence is an absurd document. If Christ is not God, then the Declaration, and the Constitution that was built upon it, deserves to join Marx, Engels and Lenin on the ash heap of history.
The US Constitution, the oldest founding document in the world, is built on the principles espoused in the Declaration of Independence. If we abandon the Christian belief system that provides the Constitution its foundational support, then Justice Ginsberg is correct to say the Constitution should likewise be abandoned.
Antonin Scalia vigorously defended the Constitution because Antonin Scalia was a devout Catholic. He had the necessary background and context to understand how the Constitution should be applied. He had the foundation in Christ necessary to make sense of both the Declaration and the Constitution. Thus, we see the basic tension between Scalia and Ginsberg. Christ is the Word who binds together a broken world (Scalia). Without Christ, the broken world is absurdist, impossible, surreal (Ginsberg). Both positions are absolutely correct. In that sense, there is absolutely no difference between what Scalia says and what Ginsberg says. They simply start from different unspoken premises, but their respective conclusions are inarguably accurate.
Those who do not accept Christianity are faced with Jefferson's paradox: how to apply the healing balm of "all are equal in Christ Jesus" to a fallen world wherein they refuse to admit "Christ Jesus" yet wish to retain "all are equal". Jefferson, Marx, Lenin, Obama, Clinton, Trump - they all beat their head against the atheistic wall they have built. As long as the wall stands, the world will not be healed.