One of the things I love about our culture is the commonly held idea of human rights. But where did this come from? Is this belief in the equality of all human beings one that all cultures in all times have held? The noted French atheist philosopher Luc Ferry, in his great book A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, says that humans rights, as we now have them, came from a particular religion:

But there is more: by resting its case upon a definition of the human person and an unprecedented idea of love, Christianity was to have an incalculable effect upon the history of ideas. To give one example, it is quite clear that, in this Christian re-evaluation of the human person, of the individual as such, the philosophy of human rights to which we subscribe today would never have established itself. It is essential therefore that we have a more or less accurate idea of the chain of reasoning which led Christianity to break so radically with the Stoic past.

Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, 60

Ferry is saying that Christianity is the reason that we, as a society, believe that all humans have dignity as this was simply not held by anyone outside of Christianity in the Roman world. So next time you argue and campaign for the fair treatment of asylum seekers, the release of sex slaves or some other wonderful human rightS initiative make sure you realise that you are arguing your position because you have adopted the Christian idea of the equality of all people.

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