David Robertson: How secular equality principles make us more unequal

People wave marriage equality flags in West Hollywood, California after the United States Supreme Court ruled on California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

The European Union is about to renew its failed proposal for the Equal Treatment Directive (ETD). It sounds good, who after all could be against 'equal treatment', but if passed this will become the primary tool to limit freedom of religion, speech, and conscience. Why is that? Because of the way that the mantra of equality is being misused to manipulate, cajole and bully in order that the social and political agenda of the elites be accepted. Remember how when the British public were asked in opinion polls if they were for Same Sex Marriage the majority said no, but when the question was changed to 'are you for equal marriage' the majority said yes? Who after all wants to be against 'equality? It's like being against motherhood or apple pie.

But what does equality mean? The dictionary definition is clear – "the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities (OED) or "being the same in quantity, size, degree or value" – but the political version is more difficult. Few people realise that the modern concept of equality is not a natural one, but one that stems from Christian roots.

How is equality used in society today? The irony is that in a society where equality is deemed to be a core value we are actually becoming more and more unequal. 

Inequality in Wealth – In the early days of the Church, the capital of the empire, Rome was a place where the wealthy bathed in gold baths filled with asses' milk, while people were starving in the streets, unwanted children were killed and sexual perversity meant that the poor were exploited and used for prostitution. Plus ca change! The fact is that as we retreat from Christian values and talk more about equality, we are returning to the Greco/Roman/Pagan inequality.

Inequality in Marriage – What is the fasting growing inequality in the nation today? Marriage. Nine in ten new parents in the top tax bracket are married. For those at the bottom it's 50 per cent. The rich are more likely to marry the rich. Talk about killing social mobility! Meanwhile it is the poorest who are most affected by family breakdown. The reality is that the middle class liberalism of the late 1960s does not mean freedom and equality for the poor – it just allows the rich, as in the Roman Empire, to indulge their own fantasies and sins, often at the expense of the poor.

Inequality in religion – "Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion, in practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it" says GK Chesterton. The secular humanists want all religions to be treated equally and given equal treatment. Does that not sound great? It is until you start to think. Do you really want Westboro Baptists, ISIS and the Satanists to be treated the same as the Catholic Church, the Baptists, the Anglicans and the Church of Scotland? They want all religions to be equally marginalised, equally badly treated and equally put underneath the secular humanist philosophy.

Inequality in Education – Trinity Christian School in Reading is a small independent school that is doing very well. In November 2013 it was rated excellent by Ofsted, the government inspectors, for pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. However in October of this year following another inspection it was deemed to not be meeting the Department of Education requirements. Because of the Equality Act 2010 they were told they should 'actively promote' other faiths. Now we have an extraordinary case where a good Christian school is threatened with closure because it refused to have an Imam come and promote Islam. Meanwhile in our culture the rich can send their children to the best private schools (often with a Christian ethos) while the poor are left with state social engineering and platitudes. The bottom line is that we are not going to get equality in education through a state education system that excludes Christianity.

Inequality in politics, philosophy and ethics – Christ Church College in Oxford recently cancelled a debate on abortion in order to 'protect the mental and physical well being of the students'. Is this really what we have come to in our 'equal' society – that our students are so weak and dumbed down that they need to be protected from views which go against those of the establishment elites?

What is the biblical view of equality?

Larry Siedentop's Inventing the Individual – The Origins of Western Liberalism demonstrates how the modern concept of equality rose out of Christianity. At the core of Greek/Roman/Pagan thinking was the idea of natural inequality. Today it is simply the truth that equality cannot fit with a Darwinian concept of humanity and morality. To try and fit survival of the fittest, with the equality of all, is like trying to make a square circle. Inequality is the way of social Darwinianism. The strong replace the weak in order for the species to survive.

This is where the Christian teaching about equality comes in.

1) We are all equally made in the image of God – Proverbs 22:2, Genesis 1:27

2) We are all equally sinners – Romans 3:23

3) We all live in an unequal and unjust world – Isaiah 10:10

4) We will all equally stand one day before our Maker in judgement. Acts 17:31

Once we grasp this teaching and apply it, it has a radical impact on the whole culture

a) In the Church our relationship with Christ transcends all our other relationships and equalises everything. We are all one in Christ. Galatians 3:28. The Church is the most radical organisation ever known to man. There is equality and diversity.

b) In culture – The Christian view of equality radically affects the culture. The recognition that there is only one Lord is revolutionary. The American Declaration of Independence is a cornerstone of modern Western democracy – "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." Our secular humanists cannot sign up to that because they do not believe there is a Creator. But for the Christian (and Muslim and Jew) all human beings are created, by a Creator. Our rights come from him. They are divine rights, not human. If they are given by humans they can be taken away by humans. Modern atheist secularism leads to the inevitable replacement of God by the State, and the Law of God by the Law of the State (that is the law of whichever elites happen to govern it at the time).

What conclusion can we draw from these observations? Firstly, that liberalism and secularism in the best sense of the words have Christian roots. What we mean by that is the separation of church and state. In the Greco/Roman/Pagan era religion was the state. Now we are moving towards a situation where the state is the religion. We need a return to Christian secularism. This kind of secular state, one based on Christian principles is the best for Christianity. Paul tells Timothy to make praying for political, secular leaders a priority in the church – 1 Timothy 2:1 Why? Because Christianity, unlike Islam, is not spread by force, but by persuasion.

Second, the Gospel is an equal opportunities Gospel. The greatest need of our society is to hear the word of the Lord and for people to come to Christ and be reborn. Legislation won't bring racial, gender and economic equality. Why? Because of the human heart. Humans will always find a way to break or get round laws. We need to be changed. The heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart. The new birth changes everything. When people come to Christ society is changed; people don't come to Christ because society is changed. That's why our first priority as a church is always to proclaim the Gospel...not because we don't care about society and are withdrawing from it (as our secular humanists would want us to) but rather it is precisely because we do care about society and realise that a renewed society needs renewed individuals.

And here is where the doctrine of equality really hits home. Think about how Jesus makes us equal. Philippians 2: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing."

Isn't that astonishing? The Son of God gave up his equality in the Godhead, so that he could make us his brothers and sisters and bring us into that glorious equality.

Those who hold to a merely materialistic, atheistic view of humanity do not have a consistent and logical framework within which to hold their ideal of 'equality' and as a result end up with greater inequality. One of the characters in Dostoevky's The Possessed confesses "I got entangled in my own data, and my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea from which I start. From unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism."I cannot think of a better summary of where contemporary Britain is headed – from unlimited freedom to unlimited despotism.

On the other hand Christianity has a consistent, logical and proven worldview that enables us to treat all human beings equally. The Fatherhood of God leads to the Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) of Man. If you take away the one you will not have the other.

We need to reclaim this vision. We are arguing for Christian secularism. We do not want the Church to run the State (that would be a disaster). We want Church and State to be good friends and good neighbours, but not for either to run the other. But the State has to have a philosophy, principles and values with which to work and why not take the best? If we throw away Christianity we are throwing away the foundation, heart and soul of our society. And for what? The untested, unobtainable fantasies of the secular humanist 'progressives' who think that everything will be just fine if only they were in charge and all of us thought like them! Surely it is better to stick to Christian reality rather than such utopian dreams?

David Robertson is Moderator Designate of the Free Church of Scotland and Director of Solas CPC. This is an edited version of his talk on equality at the Solas Out of the Silent Church conference. Read the full text here.