Our founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, which is a Declaration that could easily apply globally. In it, he states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These rights were also secured just after World War II by the United Nations in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The first three articles spell out specific rights, which are as follows:
Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Our Consciences Convict Us
When we apply these important rights to every aspect of our lives, we are acting in accordance with our conscience. Our consciences convict us when we don’t (c.f., 1 John 3: 20-22; Romans 1:18-22).
St. Paul pointed out that we are all endowed with a conscience in Romans 2:14-15: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
Everyone knows we are endowed with a conscience and we can thank our moral lawgiver God for that. Only a benevolent and transcendent moral lawgiver could endow all of humanity with a conscience to follow the Golden Rule and to desire to be benevolent to humanity. Numerous global studies (Schwartz, 2012; Kinnear et al., House et al., 2004) have supported this assertion.
This is why the only way for people who have promoted morally reprehensible actions towards their fellow humans have claimed their fellow humans are lesser humans or not human at all! Three examples come to mind: abortion, antebellum slavery, and Nazi Germany.
When I was pregnant with my second son, I had an ultrasound around 12 weeks. The doctors confirmed that my son was a son. They then told me that he had two soft markers for Down Syndrome: echogenic heart and echogenic bowels. I recall vividly the specific words of the nurse that followed: “If the amniocentesis indicates he has Down Syndrome, you have the option to terminate the pregnancy.” I sat in horror and determined on the spot that I would be having my son, no matter his condition. Dehumanizing my son by referring to an act of murder as “terminating the pregnancy” made me cringe, but that’s what some doctors and nurses do. They claim babies are clumps of cells or tissues so that those who have abortions can clear their consciences.
Just prior to World War II, Adolf Hitler launched his campaign against Jews, claiming they (and others) were from inferior, non-Aryan races. He defined them in 1919 as a “race tuberculous of the people” and called for their “removal.” He ran propaganda campaigns in which he depicted Jews as rats who were infecting the German population. Because Hitler dehumanized Jews, some Nazis were able to clear their consciences.
Slaves who were kidnapped from Africa and brought to the United States against their will were also dehumanized. People – including Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence – considered them less than human. This approach helped slave owners to clear their consciences.
Overall, these three examples provide solid reasons for NEVER dehumanizing our fellow humans. We’re all entitled to LIFE, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of HAPPINESS. Let’s be sure we’re consistent in our application, as all men and women were created equally.
Thank you for your time.
House, R.J., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W. & Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kinnear, R.T., Kernes, J.L. & Dautheribes, T.M. (2000). A short list of universal moral values. Counseling and Values, 45, 4-17.
Schwartz, S.H. (2012). An overview of the Schwartz view of basic values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1) https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1116