Say what you will; I do not believe human rights are absolute. I have never been a believer in absolute truth.
Let’s take your statement just as it stands: “I have never been a believer in absolute truth.”
Never? That’s an absolute statement, isn’t it? Which means, you must not believe it. Which means it is not relatively true—it is absolutely false.
The US Constitution is not religious in its essence, so neither is its doctrine of human equality. The US Constitution comes from "A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," which states:
“Article I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”
Notice the absence here of the word "Creator."
It is quite unlikely that the US Declaration of Independence (note: not the US Constitution) originated from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776. The Constitution of Massachusetts was written in 1780.
The latter, unlike the Declaration of Independence, lacks any clear reference to the source of these rights—so it is not relevant to our current discussion. It is illustrative, though, to note the preamble:
“We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe, in affording us, in the course of His providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or surprise, of entering into an original, explicit, and solemn compact with each other; and of forming a new constitution of civil government, for ourselves and posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so interesting a design, do agree upon, ordain and establish the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government, as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
So whom are they saying all their legislation ultimately originates from?
Note too Article II (you have quoted Article I):
"Article II: It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe…”
And then there’s Article III:
"Article III: As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God…”
So the functioning of a civil society “essentially depends” on religion and morality.
This sounds religious to me.
That, plus the obvious echoes of the Declaration of Independence, are suggestive.
Your argument, that equality is a Christian concept, would offend Judaism and Islam, not to mention Hinduism or Buddhism.
If you feel that truth offends you, do you have the right to deny it? That would be a license to lie whenever it is to your advantage to do so.
I feel for my Jewish and Muslim brethren. But I cannot change history, nor the doctrines of their religions. If any Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim reader wishes to justify their own religion on this issue, they are welcome to comment.
As a matter of historical fact, the doctrine of human equality and inalienable human rights as we know it comes from Christianity and Christian theology. It can be traced back from Jefferson, through Locke, through the Jesuits of the Salamanca School, to St. Thomas Aquinas. Perhaps further.
Locke based his argument on Genesis—the point that we are all descendants of Adam, and all made in God’s image. That makes us all brothers, and all of equal, and inestimable, value.
As the Genesis creation story is shared verbatim with Judaism, and in essence with Islam, theoretically, these religions are equally committed to the concepts of human equality and human rights.
However, it would be a distortion not to note that the New Testament gives important boosts to this idea of equality—the Messiah as ordinary man, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the communal life of the early Christians, St. Paul’s dictum that there is “neither man nor woman, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free” in Christ; and, crucially, the idea that the divine covenant is now open to all men. Without this, the Jewish idea of a “chosen people” does tend in the opposite direction. Similarly, Islam seems stricter than Christianity in limiting equality to believers—albeit this “chosen people” is a larger group than in Judaism, and an easier one to join. It can be a bit harsh on “kaffirs” or “unbelievers.”
Now let’s look at Hinduism. The original Hindu story of the creation of man is from the Rg Veda. It explains that man was created, along with the rest of the world, from the dismemberment of the cosmic person, Purusa. But, unlike Genesis, there are four distinct types of men created at the outset:
“The Brahmin was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became the Vaisya, from his feet the Sudra was produced.” (Rg Veda 10:90:12)
This leads to very different conclusions. The different classes or castes are, in this conception, no more similar to one another than they are to other species, or indeed to rocks and stones.
To be fair, Hinduism has several different creation stories. The later Laws of Manu and Puranas give a single creation, more like the Judeo-Christian Genesis, and like Genesis implying that all men are, ultimately, brothers, as descendants of Manu. But the Laws of Manu and the Puranas are, for Hinduism, less authoritative than the Vedas.
In classical Greece and Rome, ancient Egypt, China, or Japan—in polytheistic societies—it was common for royal houses to claim an independent creation, and a uniquely divine descent. This, of course, implied a radical inequality.
If human equality is a religious concept, how to explain great tragedies brought about by religious warfare?
Not so hard. It’s the same question as “police brutality.” Yes, police forces are responsible for some violence. But would society be less violent without the police?
And, of course, many wars are fought for human equality and human rights—at least on one side.