The United States Declaration of Independence makes a world-shattering declaration that transformed the modern world:
"We hold these things to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
In his book "Democracy in America" (1835) Alexis de Tocqueville carefully traces this statement and its idea of equality backward through history and lands at Galatians 3:28, the words of St. Paul:
"In Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. All are equal in Christ Jesus."
Before Paul said this, no one had ever made such a bold and sweeping statement. No one. Not the Babylonians, not the Egyptians, not the Greeks, not the Chinese. The concept of equality came first from Paul.
This idea got planted in western civilization and began to grow and develop, little by little dismantling slave trade, sowing the seeds for democracy and spurring technological and political progress.
If you live in a democracy and you're thankful for the ability to vote, if you're thankful that people generally consider you and themselves to be just as good as anybody else, then thank Paul. And his Rabbi, Jesus.
Because – despite what the Declaration says – equality really is NOT self evident. At least it wasn't to any of the ancient world prior to 2000 years ago. On the surface, we're all different. Some are stronger. Some are smarter. Some have more money. Some are politically connected. Some are more savvy.
But when Paul said this, he was declaring that there is an underlying *spiritual* reality, that yours and my true identity doesn't come from accomplishments or money or power but from our Heavenly Father. That once we know that true identity we're no longer slaves to money and power and accomplishments and the 'natural' order of things.
If you read the history of science over the last 500 years, the only reason science succeeded in the West – after getting started but failing in Greece, Rome, China and in the Arab world – is that Christian theology understood God to have created the universe to operate according to fixed discoverable laws. Theology made that prediction, then people had a philosophical basis for having a scientific method.
In his fascinating book "The Victory of Reason" historian Rodney Stark further explains that the forward march of technology began after the fall of the Roman Empire and has marched steadily forward ever since. Equality implied that slavery was wrong, so people had to develop technology in order to free their slaves and still get the work done. So… part of the inspiration for inventions like water wheels was a belief in dignity and freedom and the rights of the individual.
Technology is supposed to empower people, not enslave them. Because, as Paul said, in Christ, all are equal.
In 1445, Johannes Gutenberg invented the world's first movable type printing press. He didn't know it, but he was unleashing a revolution that continues to this day. Even the mighty Internet in the 21st century is just an extension of Gutenberg's original, revolutionary machine.
The first book he printed was the Bible. And that led to controversy, too, because Luther translated it into German, the people's language, instead of Latin, the lingo of the religious elite.
Suddenly, ordinary folks could not only afford a copy, but they could read it for themselves instead of getting some guy's slanted interpretation. Soon the cat was out of the bag–there were copies scattered all over Europe.
When people started to read it, they were alarmed at what they saw, because between the covers of this book was an amazing story that had seemingly little to do with the politics and shell games they saw in some corners of organized religion.
Luther wrote a list of 95 accusations against the church — priests taking bribes and granting 'indulgences', an institution setting itself up as a 'middleman' between man and God.
He argued that God didn't need a middleman, or a distributor, or an agent, or a bureaucracy. People could go direct to the source.
This little 'schism' in Worms Germany unleashed a firestorm of protest and permanently changed the way people approached education. No longer was a big, faceless institution responsible for your spiritual progress — YOU were. Now that you had the knowledge in your hands, you were accountable before God to do something about it.