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Reflections on Ethics 98
Equality & the "Judeo-Christian Ethic"

by: JT

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In a speech in Ohio at the beginning of this month, Rick Santorum, a candidate for the Republican nomination for US President claimed that the notion of equality arose from the Judeo-Christian ethic. In his words:

“I love it because the left says equality, equality. Where does that concept come from? Does it come from Islam? Does it come from other cultures around the world? Are men and women treated equally? Are adults and children treated equally? No,” Santorum said. “It comes it comes from our culture and tradition, from the Judeo-Christian ethic. That’s where this comes from-the sense of equality.”

In my opinion, equality is one of the main underpinnings of morality as we understand it today. It arises out of an understanding of our common humanity, a concept which has developed only since the Enlightenment, and which has really only come to have been increasingly accepted within my lifetime. Judeo-Christian ethics had nothing to do with it.

Equality involves, as Santorum pointed out, treatment of men and women equally, something which is contrary to both his political position and his religious position. It also involves treating people equally based on race/ethnicity, religion, and sexual identity.

The fact is that religion generally and Christianity in particular have fought against these equalities from the very beginning, and while Christianity, at least on the surface, has given up fighting against racial/ethnic equality, it continues the war against women, against other religions, and against homosexuals.

Let's start with women. Right from the creation myth of Genesis (I will make a helper fit for him) woman was given a second class role, and that continues through the New Testament. (I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.) And while the more intelligent Christian congregations have chosen to reject a second-class status for women, most continue to insist on remaining true to the Bible on this issue. In fact, ex-President Carter recently announced he has left the Southern Baptist Church over this very issue. He recognizes the equality of women, his church refuses to.

Equality of women does not arise out of the Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic continues to oppose equality. Rather the equality of women arises out of a recognition of our common humanity.

Race/Ethnicity. From the day God supposedly made Jews the "chosen people," race and ethnicity became an issue which carried through Judaism into Christianity. Not only did God supposedly make the Jews his special people, he gave them the right to kill and enslave those of other ethnicities. And this differentiation carried through to Jesus when he initially refused to help the Canaanite woman, likening her to a dog, and clearly stating he was only sent to minister to the lost sheep of Israel. His word was for no-one else.

And over time, Christians used terms such as the mark of Cain, carried forward as the mark of Ham to justify discrimination and enslavement of black people. Christian churches overwhelmingly lent their theology to the continuation of slavery and to the continuation of racial discrimination.

Equality of race and ethnicity does not arise out of the Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic continues to oppose equality. Rather the equality of race and ethnicity arises out of a recognition of our common humanity.

Religion. The very nature of religion precludes treating other religions equally. The Bible first sets up Judaism as the chosen religion - at least for the Israelites, and then follows it up with Christians with their belief in salvation by faith alone. No-one else can be saved, regardless of how they live their lives. And we note that Mr. Rick "Equality" Santorum chose a highly bigoted Pastor spouting hate at followers of other religions to introduce him in Louisiana.

Equality for followers of various religious beliefs does not arise out of the Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic continues to oppose equality. Rather the equality for followers of various religious beliefs arises out of a recognition of our common humanity.

Sexual Identity. We see every day followers of Christianity quoting Bible passages, both new and old testament, against our LGBT friends. They are veritable founts of hatred. While enlightened Christians have managed to determine the Bible is wrong on this issue, the literalists continue to use their religion as an excuse to wallow in hatred and bigotry rather then even pretend to follow the supposed message of God's love. The biggest obstacle to recognition of equal rights for LGBT individuals is that Judeo-Christian ethic.

Equality for LGBT individuals does not arise out of the Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic continues to oppose equality. Rather the equality for LGBT individuals arises out of a recognition of our common humanity.