Religion is not just a collection of doctrinal beliefs confined to churches. It can also be a set of commonly held beliefs that are a part of the make up of a society. One such social doctrine is that all men, all people, are created equal. It is practically a tenet of faith in our national religion. The particular passage can be found in our declaration of independence:
“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.”
This bit of dogma is so ingrained in the American psyche, many probably believe it came directly from the bible. It didn’t. Although, it is clear that the bible had a powerful influence on the declaration. Twice in one sentence, creation is referenced. Creation is a particularly biblical cosmology. One of those references refers directly to the creator. As we all know, the creator, in this case, is the god of the bible. The Declaration presumes religious ideas, and accepts as a given, a literal interpretation of the bible.
Beyond the religious aspect of the document, there are other presuppositional statements. First, that the statement represents truth, rather than one’s best approximation of what is most beneficial for a given society. Second, these “truths” are presumed to be self-eviden, obvious to any reasonable person. Now that we have highlighted the presumptions, let us take a closer look at the proposition.
All men are created equal. At risk of repeating myself, it presumes that all men were created, as opposed to being evolved. This is clear because evolution does not produce equality. It is a rather haphazard process. In fact, evolution is guaranteed to produce inequality. Evolution produces many versions of the same model, each, successively more fit than the last. The versions evolution produces are not the same, and decidedly unequal.
The only way to achieve equality throughout an entire set is to painstakingly craft each one, endowing them with something transcendental. The thing that makes men equal is that they were created by the same god, and each given the essence, or likeness of god. This kind of equality as expressed in the Declaration, requires a literal belief in the supernatural claims of the Hebrew origin stories. Such equality must be dismissed, prima facia.
For many, this is impossible to accept. But when other factors are considered, it becomes a little easier. For instance, when it declares the equality of all men, it did not mean mankind; it meant, MEN, males, non-females. The declarers of this independence did not believe that equality applied to any group other than men. Already, you must modify a major part of this doctrine in your mind before you can accept it.
Second, all men did not include, ALL MEN. What the founders considered a man is quite different from what we consider a man. The term mostly applied to white, land owning males. A black man was not even considered a man. They were considered a different species. There is a reason the early Mormons did not accept blacks into the fellowship. For them, black people did not have souls. They were not men.
Some of the greatest inequality the world has ever known came from this doctrine of equality, because there was no agreement on what constituted a man. Slavery only applied to those considered sub-human. Owning a slave was no more wrong than owning a horse. You had to break a mule so that it could be made fit for the field work it was clearly intended for. To this day, when we buy a puppy, we think nothing of breaking up family groups for our own convenience. That was the plight of the slave. In no way did this go against the intentions of the Declaration.
To this day, many blacks do not celebrate Independence day. For their ancestors, that day and declaration represented nothing that remotely resembled independence. The declaration of the equality of all men was also the declaration of the inequality of women and men of color. It would be some time before the words of that declaration would become meaningful to the majority of US residents. Some still await that day to come for them.
Consider a thought experiment. In your mind, ask a thousand, random Americans if all men are created equal. I’m guessing that you just got a thousand yeses. Now, ask that same thousand if all people are equal. If they understand the subtle difference between the two questions, you probably just got a thousand nos. What explains such disparity?
That we are all created equal is nothing more than a religious ideal that only exists in the metaphysical realm. It has never been true. Even when the words were penned, among those considered men, there would always be some more equal than others. Once you remove the religious component from the equation, it becomes an exercise in futility to describe what ways people are equal.
We do not have equal prenatal care. We do not have equal parental affection and guidance. We do not have equal physical attributes such as IQ, vision, hearing, dexterity, and attractiveness. As a result of these and other differences, we will not have the ability to make equally beneficial life decisions. We will not be able to handle finances equally. We will not have the same fortune attracting suitable members of the opposite, or for that matter, same sex.
We do not have an equal capacity for self-discipline. Given the same resources, we will not be able to utilize them equally. We will never have equal opportunity when it comes to employment. Some people will be masters of industry, while others will be laborers, not even masters of their own destiny.
The myth of equality is at the root of some of the greatest disservices perpetrated against other humans. When we see a person in need, a part of us believes that the person is in that condition based on her own bad choices. We fail to realize that most people choose very little about their lives. A woman with an IQ of 80, who grew up around drug addicts and abusers, has a limited set of choices. Failure to see that is a disservice to humanity.
Assuming that everyone had an equal start in life allows us to judge the outcome of their collective choices. Once we free ourselves from the harmful myth of equality, we quickly lose the ability to judge and keep score. Those who are successful in life, and who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, often believe that if they can do it, anyone ought to be able to accomplish the same level of success.
That kind of thinking demonstrates the inaccurate assumption that everyone is equal in some measurable way. Writing your own rags to riches story just means that you are exceptional. The vast majority of the world, regardless of where they live, will simply never be able to do that.
Once we make the intellectual and emotional leap that all people are, not in fact, equal, we still haven’t solved any problems; we have only defined a major one. If we are not all equal, how can all laws and expectations be equally applied? The answer is, they can’t; they aren’t. The language of equality complicates the goal of defining human rights. Obviously, we will have to address this one again.