Digest of terms

equality

now affirmed as a basic presupposition of liberalism and democracy: each person has the same moral worth as every other. Variations in abilities between individuals means that their strengths and weaknesses, their needs and capacities, can be quite different. Equality cannot therefore entail literal sameness or identical treatment. It can be helpful to interpret it as meaning the absence of unjustified inequality. What counts as 'unjustified' varies from culture to culture, and from religion to religion, but today increasingly, especially in liberal democracies, the forms of inequality mandated on grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion are condemned as unwarranted discrimination and a violation of people's rights. Slavery too stands condemned, while serious questions are raised concerning the justice of social hierarchies based on inherited wealth or class status, or the Hindu caste system (which, of course, rests on completely different presuppositions).

All religions have traditionally sanctioned most forms of social inequality. In the New Testament slaves are encouraged to obey their masters, so when Paul famously teaches at one point that there is neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28), it is plausible to interpret this as an ethic of spiritual and social equality internal to the church, but not thought to apply to wider society - in effect an in-group ethic (as too, perhaps, in aspects of the communal life of monks and nuns). It was eventually, though, to lend itself to radical reinterpretation as being of universal social relevance, and a reinforcement or inspiration for a variety of egalitarian movements (including Anglican campaigns for women priests).

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