What we mean is that we should all be treated equally by the law regardless of the natural inequalities that exist among us in society, but why do we think we should all be treated equally under the law? What is the basis for that assumption?
Some might say it goes back to Thomas Jefferson's claim in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," but this lapidary statement is itself based upon 1700 years of Christian tradition going back to the words of the apostle Paul in a letter he wrote to the church in Galatia in which he told the believers there that in Christ all men are equal: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
I was reminded of this passage while reading a piece at Patheos by Mark Shea who wrote that,
And yet, by a sort of dead inertia, our cultural elites go on talking about “equality” as though it were something you could see and measure with a scale or an electroencephalogram. No one (yet) has alerted them to the fact that they are in fact mouthing a piece of utterly mystical Christian doctrine ... rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition (and in nothing else) .... No one has pointed out to them that when we confess “all men are created equal” we mean, and can only mean, that all people are equally precious to God and are creatures made in his image.Shea is right, at least I believe he is. A society can no more reject the basis for its fundamental convictions and continue on as if nothing had changed than a gardener can sever a plant from its roots and stick it back in the ground and expect it to blossom. The norm among human societies is racism and tribalism, hatred for the other, contempt for the different-from-me.
So far, we have coasted along on custom in continuing to talk as though our culture still is founded on that mystical Christian faith in human equality. I fear, however, that sooner or later, it will occur to somebody to get rid of this mystical Christian belief in equality as they have gotten rid of so much of the rest of the Christian tradition.
Either that, or we will have to repent of getting rid of the Christian tradition. But we can't coast forever.
Once you make materialism the basis for your ethos, there is no particular reason you can’t – as the racist tools at Occam’s Razor and related sites do – say, “I don’t see anything particularly equal about human beings, and so I will embrace a blood and soil racism and treat large segments of the human race with racist contempt.” All the buttercup-twirling babble about a happy return to pre-Christian paganism at one with Nature that we’ve heard in growing chorus over the past 40 years forgets that frank and open racist tribalism is the norm, not the exception, for man in his natural fallen state. Look for a lot more of this stuff as our culture de-christianizes.
If naturalism is true, if we are simply the product of eons of blind, impersonal, purposeless forces and chance, the idea of a brotherhood of man - with all of us living idyllically in peace and love - is the sheerest nonsense and fantasy. It denies all experience and human history. The more likely template for a world that has embraced naturalism is 1930s Europe or the world of The Hunger Games.
It's human nature to hate the other, the outsider, the weaker, the different. Ethnocentrism is inscribed in our genes. Racism is the human default position. Darwinian evolution knows nothing of racial brotherhood, it recognizes only the cold, amoral struggle for survival.
It's only the Judeo-Christian belief that the other was created by God and that God loves him as much as he loves us that has put a check on our egoistic passions and has enabled us to live harmoniously together. In much of the West, however, that belief is wilting and with it will wilt the blossom of brotherly love. As society moves further away from the conviction that we're all equally loved by the Creator and that He wants us to treat each other with dignity, respect, and kindness, the closer we will move toward the world of the blood and soil fascists and a Hobbesian war of all against all. The more of our Judeo-Christian heritage we toss out the window the more will racism thrive.
The irony is that the more the secular left succeeds in eliminating religion from society the more they will also succeed, inadvertently, in resurrecting fascism.