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December 14, 2008

Actually, it came from us

When my sister was in high school in the late 60s, they used a history textbook that included something like this: "As Jesus said, 'Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.'" We all had a laugh about that, because hundreds of thousands of people had said the same thing before Jesus. The line is from Deuteronomy 6:4. *

I recalled this after reading Dinesh D'Souza's article in the latest issue of Hillsdale College's Imprimis -- Created Equal: How Christianity Shaped The West. The title adequately describes the thesis, so read it only if you feel like it. D'Souza notes that Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. He says:

This idea of the preciousness and equal worth of every human being is largely rooted in Christianity. Christians believe that God places infinite value on every human life. Christian salvation does not attach itself to a person’s family or tribe or city. It is an individual matter.
Now, I certainly don't mean to disparage the contributions of Christianity to Western Civilization, which are significant, especially post-Enlightenment Christianity, and at a broad level D'Souza has a pretty good argument. But still, just like the line from Jesus, the equal worth of humans is not exactly a Christian innovation. It comes from Genesis 1:27, which says that God created man in His own image. I think it's fair for the Jews to get some credit for this.

And personal to DD'S: We know what you're implying when you say Christian salvation doesn't attach "to a person's family or tribe or city." You don't have to be cute about it. But if you were going to be fair, you'd have to admit that Jewish tribalism has little to do with the concept of salvation. Salvation just isn't terribly important in Judaism, which rejects original sin -- one of the innovations Christianity can really take credit for.

* Something gnawing at me tells me it was actually, "As Jesus said, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.'" Which would make more sense but would be equally amusing, because, while Jesus said it, the line comes from Leviticus 19:18.