Dinesh D'Souza, in his exemplary new book, What's So Great About Christianity (which I am partially through reading), argues persuasively that the origins of human dignity proceed almost entirely from Christianity, the truth of which was asserted by none other than Friedrich Neitzche--albeit contemptuously-- in The Will to Power:
"Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights."
Jefferson's statement in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," has become so common to the American psyche that we easily fall prey to the notion that everybody thinks this way, and always has. ...and always will. The most casual examination of pre-Christian history, or non-Christian societies, will demonstrate that pre and non-Christian societies not only did not think this way, but would have considered such an idea a type of madness just as Neitzsche did.
It has become fashionable for even elements of the Christian church today to deny the influence of Christian thought on the foundations of American law, but what I find even more alarming is their insistence that American principles can be maintained divorced from the Judeo/Christian moral truth that served as their primary source.
The folly of this belief can be seen in the constantly shifting line of the definition of "person" in American law. The human fetus, according to Justice Blackmun's decision in Roe vs. Wade, is not a "person" (and therefore due his or her own right to life) until after the first trimester of its existence. "Person", you see, has become the legal word substitute for "human" in attribution of rights, since science has confirmed the undeniable humanity of even the single cell of fertilized ovum, zygote. But the advent of "partial birth" abortions has changed even this demarkation to one, not based on the duration of its life, but the location if its cranium: if the fetus' head is still in the birth canal (though the rest of the body has been pulled out with the use of forceps), it can be legally judged a de facto "non-person" and destroyed in deference to the mother's wishes, even up to the eighth month of its life.
For further understanding of the directions such ideas will lead, read the social theories of Princeton professor Peter Singer.
Christian moral truth, upon which American law and government was founded, defined human life as being endowed by its creator with inalienable rights, and consequently all human life is to be viewed as morally equal. But those who would redefine the value of human life predicated on utility destroy the foundation of this most cherished right: human equality. Men cannot be deemed morally equal if the value of their lives is graded by conditions outside their control--race, intelligence, genetic endowment, disease.
As the United States goes the way of post-Christian Europe and repudiates the Judeo/Christian underpinnings of its foundation, it will witness the inevitable degradation of the rights enumerated in the American vision.