It may have sounded like routine political platitudes. On Friday, when President Donald Trump signed a declaration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he said, “Today we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that … we are all created equal by God.”
Far from being platitudes, however, today those are fighting words. King’s vision of equal rights is no longer “self-evident” to many of America’s opinion makers in media, politics, and academia. Why not? Because they have embraced secular ideologies that sabotage King’s ideal.
Listen in on some of the thinkers who are busy destroying King’s vision of inalienable rights.
In a UNESCO lecture, the atheist philosopher Richard Rorty observed that throughout history, societies have excluded certain groups from the human family—those belonging to a different tribe, class, race, or religion. Historically, Rorty noted, it was Christianity that gave rise to the concept of universal rights, derived from the principle “that all human beings are created in the image of God.”
However, Rorty went on, because of Darwin’s theory of evolution, many people no longer affirm the idea of creation. Therefore, he argued, they no longer have a basis for maintaining that everyone who is biologically human is also part of the “moral community” (people toward whom we bear a moral responsibility).
Ironically, Rorty admitted that he himself had to borrow the concept of human rights from Christianity. In fact, he dubbed himself a “freeloading atheist.”
Historian Yuval Harrari elaborates in greater detail on why secularism undercuts King’s concept of universal rights. In his international bestseller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” Harrari says if life evolved by material processes, we must dismiss the Declaration of Independence with its concept of “unalienable rights ... endowed by [the] Creator.”
Why? Because natural selection is a process for culling the most viable variations among living things. Thus, Harrari says, the key to evolutionary advance is not equality but difference: “‘Created equal’ should therefore be translated into ‘evolved differently.’”
In secularism, of course, the Creator invoked in the Declaration does not exist and therefore does not “endow” humans with intrinsic rights. “There is only a blind evolutionary process, devoid of any purpose,” Harrari writes. Organisms simply do whatever their evolved capacities enable them to do: “Birds do not fly because they have a right to fly, but because they have wings.” And those evolved capacities are not “unalienable.” They are constantly mutating and changing.
So much for inalienable rights. Harrari concludes that the concept of equal rights is merely a “Christian myth.” It has no grounding in a non-personal universe operating by blind, material forces.
An attack on King’s concept of rights is also coming from another front—from defenders of abortion and euthanasia. In a Salon article titled “So What If Abortion Ends Life?” staff writer Mary Elizabeth Williams acknowledges that the fetus is biologically human: “I believe that life starts at conception. ... Throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me.”
Nevertheless, Williams argues that women’s needs and interests always trump the rights of the fetus. She states flatly: “All life is not equal.”
For supporters of abortion, the sheer fact of being biologically human is no longer enough to qualify for human rights. The result is a callous mentality where only select people are allowed to live, based on an arbitrarily defined level of autonomy, self-awareness, and cognitive functioning.
If King battled discrimination based on race, today we are witnessing discrimination based on cognitive development.
And it is just as exclusive. The argument for abortion says some people don’t measure up. They don’t make the cut. Their lives are expendable.
By contrast, the pro-life position is inclusive. If you are a member of the human race, you’re “in.” You have the dignity and status of a full member of the moral community.
In my new book Love Thy Body, I make the case that no matter how passionately secularists proclaim their commitment to liberation and rights, their underlying philosophy does not support their claims. Liberal elites are tipping their hand, acknowledging that a secular view of life denies human dignity and destroys the basis for human rights.
When Martin Luther King was assassinated, that was a national tragedy. But it is equally a tragedy that secularism is destroying the basis for the inalienable rights he fought so hard to protect.
Nancy R. Pearcey is author of the just-released Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. She is professor and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University and editor at large of the Pearcey Report. Her earlier books include Total Truth and Finding Truth.