I contend that it is a Christian idea, and believe or not I find an ally from an unlikely source – Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche in his work, The Will to Power wrote:
Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.
This idea, which throughout ancient history was largely unfathomable, was the force behind the campaign to end slavery. It also was the basis of the movement for democracy and popular self-government. You can also link it to the international doctrine of human rights.
Dinesh D’Souza in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity, writes that if Christianity is in decline in a nation we’ll see these ideas and values which benefit the whole of society decline as well. He writes:
My celebration of Christianity’s role in shaping these great social changes comes with a sober corollary: if the West gives up Christianity, it will also endanger the egalitarian values that Christianity brought into the world. The end of Christianity also means the systematic erosion of values like equal dignity and equal rights that both religious and secular people cherish, (pg. 69).
Scripture does teach us that all are created in God’s image, and that they are moral equals. The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise, (Galatians 3:27-29, ESV).
Also among Jesus followers and disciples were women. Among the resurrection accounts among the first eyewitnesses were women – something that was unheard of in ancient cultures. Women were extremely active in the early churches (and throughout today). The Apostle Paul in the Epistle to Philemon advocated for a runaway slave. Slave owners were told to treat their slaves well… and it was eventually phased out. The New Testament never encourages slavery, as some would like to have you believe.
So if Christianity were to decline in a society, would this idea of human dignity and equality decline as well? D’Sousa says that if Nietzsche is right we will.
As secularism continues, Nietzsche forecasts that new values radically inconsistent with the Christian ones – the restoration of infanticide, demands for the radical redefinition of the family, the revival of eugenic theories of human superiority – will begin to emerge. These, too, are evident in our day. And they are some of the motives for attacking Christianity and insisting that its values are outmoded and should be replaced.
Unfortunately for the critics of Christianity, even the values they care about will, according to Nietzsche, eventually collapse. Consider our beliefs in human equality and the value of human life. We may say we believe in human equality, but why do we hold this belief? It is the product of the Christian idea of the spiritual equality of souls. We may insist we believe that all human life has dignity and value, but this, too, is the outgrowth of Christian tradition in which each person is the precious creation of God. There is no secular basis for those values, and when secular writers defend them they always employ unrecognized Christian assumptions, (pg. 80-81).
What say you?