survival of the fittest

well it was definitely an interesting week here at the carnival and i had no idea what a lovely little hornets nest would get stirred up.  or i guess i did kind of know but am always amazed at the passion that comes out in the wildest of ways.  i think the part that i have been most struck with is first of all how i wish we could have a conversation around a table instead of in this weird static way that makes it really hard. on this one i do believe there are no easy answers and i don’t pretend to have one.  but i think we’re supposed to think about these things.  and what they mean for us.  and what God is stirring up in how to respond, whatever that looks like.  none of us have the market cornered on God and so it can be very easy for each side to claim “well God says this and God says that” and we believe wildly different things.

one prevailing thought rose to the surface for me on this conversation.  it is related to how pervasive the culture of “survival of the fittest” is in our society, definitely including christian culture.  sure, lots of christians like to dis darwin but what has become a common notion of darwinism is played out very tangibly in our culture in more ways than we probably even think or recognize. self-protection, self-survival, self-made are all really strong values in our culture.   the strong, the powerful, the ones-who-can-somehow-figure-out-how-to-make-it-work will always “win”.

Christ’s incarnation & the powerful message that he not only taught but embodied reminds us that God’s economy was always supposed to be different.  right from the start, with the beatitudes & the sermon on the mount Jesus turned the world’s ways upside down and kept on going from there.

but i can’t help but think that so many of us have become so inculturated—subtly & directly–into the contemporary culture that we have actually made “christian values” match the world’s ways when it comes to money & stability & self-preservation. i know i do in many more ways than i’d probably like to admit.

anyway, i’d love to hear some of your thoughts very specifically:

  • what do you think of this idea of “survival of the fittest” in christianity?

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ps: i have two other posts up in other places.  christine sine has been doing a fun series on spiritual practices. as a spiritual director, i really love any ideas that help us notice God not just in the super-spiritual moments but in the ordinary beautiful rhythms of every-day  life.  she asked me to contribute & i decided to share on “parties & celebrations as a spiritual practice.” check out the most entire list here, lots of great ideas.   also christine is a doctor & mission cultivator &  added her perspectives on health care if you want to check it out.

also voca blogita is our weekly blog at voca femina focused on getting a little creative infusion each week.  my post is called “new voices” & hopefully will be a little encouragement for those of us who get stuck creatively.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

21 Comments

  • Kathy…
    I was just having this discussion this week and of course it has been on going before that…with friends from our days in the I.C.

    I am convinced that ‘survival of self’ is covertly and often overtly practiced and encouraged in Chrisitianity at large today. I have been blown away by the number of my very “all-in” Christian friends who fear loosing all kinds of their ‘personal’ constitutionally provided’ rights…and also panicking at the thought of loosing their grip on the popular concept of the ‘American Dream’.

    I observed a very beligerant church lady sittin at my kitchen table sharing her American Christian beliefs with my Assyrian Iraqi gentlemen friends… that she is fearful the president with take away her or her husbands right to ‘bear arms’…or to own an assult riffle( or 6)…so they can feel safe and protect their personal property…It made me angry…and get a little sick.

    When I inquired of my ultra conservative friend why she so adamantly opposes healthcare reform…She remarked…because I am fearful that our family will have to pay too much money in taxes as business owners and we will lose everything we have worked so hard to get. We have to protect our way of life and our property.

    Another conversation with a male friend and ultra conservative exposed his feelings that anyone without health care or insurance or a job is lazy and apathetic…and he doesn’t feel like it’s his or any other “productive” member of societies responsibility to “carry these dead beats on their backs”. Following that with ” I earned my way…I earned my education…I …I…I…”

    Over and over it came down to preserving their American Dream…self preservation…self protection…promotion of the most able bodied, most educated and most successful.

    When I see the church fixated on these same values…and they don’t equate any of it with the worldliness…I am perplexed. IF their is anything that screams way of the world its trusting in wallstreet, arms and military, governments and powerful people.

    Reply
  • “The price which society pays for the law of competition is great, but whether the law is benign or not it is here; we cannot evade it; no substitutes for it can be found; and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race because it insures survival of the fittest in every department. We accept and welcome therefore, the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few as being not only beneficial, but essential to the future progress of the race.
    But even if we admit for a moment that it might be better for the race to discard it’s present foundation, Individualism, -that it is nobler that man should labor, not for himself alone, but in and for a brotherhood of his fellows, and share with them all in common, realizing Swedenborg’s idea of Heaven, where the angels derive their happiness not from laboring for self, but for each other, -even admit all this, and a sufficient answer is, That is not evolution, but revolution. It necessitates the changing of human nature itself- a work of eons, even if it were good to change it, which we cannot know.
    In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who would help themselves; to give those who desire to rise the aids by which they may rise; Neither the individual nor the race is improved by almsgiving. Those worthy of assistance, except in rare cases, seldom require assistance. He is the only true reformer who is as careful and as anxious not to aid the unworthy as he is to aid the worthy…”

    excerpted from The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie

    “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

    “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
    Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    excerpted from The Gospel of Jesus by Matthew

    Two Gospels, which one do you really believe?

    Reply
  • Kathy, I especially love when Christian churches and organizations have seminars with big name finance people who instruct people in “building wealth”.
    A month ago Joy and I were stopped by a guy in the grocery store. He was asking about my “One” (www.one.org) bracelet. Then he told us about how much more important his church was becoming to him as he worked on his new philosophy of being “money motivated”.
    Joy just very bluntly tells him we are trying to find ways of getting rid of the stuff we have.

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  • “Survival of the fittest” has no place in Christianity, at least not in any Christianity that cares about the life and teachings of Jesus. It isn’t even good science anymore, as I understand that biologists now talk more about the survival of species that have learned to cooperate with each other in systems.

    I don’t understand how some “Christian” folks reject Darwin’s views on evolution and at the same time embrace this survival of the fittest stuff (social Darwinism), which has even less in common with any biblical values.

    But then there’s a lot I don’t understand. Find me some passage in the gospels that has Jesus being “money motivated.”

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  • “Survival of the fittest” looks so much like our culture, and not at all like Jesus – Which is our Lord? We are like the grass – here today and gone tomorrow. Even if we have a billion dollars, it may be gone tomorrow. The only one we can depend on is Jesus. Whether it’s our bodies or our stuff, it will soon be gone. The real treasures in life are those that endure not only in the Kingdom of God on this earth, but in the Kingdom that is to come. Read what Jesus has to say about this in the Gospels. Oh that we would really live this way!

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  • I ain’t lettin’ them limp wristed liberal infidels steal my stuff. I’m a survivor, let the weak one take care of themselves.

    I’m trustin’ in revolvers, Republicans, and Jesus.

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  • As my good friend BP always reminds me, “The powerful do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.” ….that is the economic system of the world.

    It’s funny but when I lost my “faith” a few years ago, the way I looked at the world changed. Where before I looked at the world as an us vs. them, good vs. bad, Jesus vs. Satan, in vs. out; I began to see it differently.

    Jesus is pretty clear that when you identify yourself with him, you must reposition yourself in a way that will align with his economy.

    “You want to be first, seek to be last.”
    “You want to be rich, give it away.”
    “You want to call me Lord, then serve the poor, hungry, naked, thirsty; because that’s where I AM.”…..this is God’s economy.

    While it seems so simple and clear, i have friends who twist this to make it fit what they believe and fit what they think God/Jesus is……

    When you have a little money, it’s east to feel blessed. And when you feel blessed, it’s easy to feel that in some way you are doing it right. And when you feel like you are doing it right, well that’s called being a christian…….

    “Our church is growing, we’re moving to 13 services on the weekend. We just bought 6 acres and will be breaking ground. We have 11 million in the building fund…God’s spirit is really moving!”

    I not saying it’s true, i’m just saying that’s how i think it gets rationalized in modern christianity.

    When it comes to money, stability and self preservation no one can match Jesus’ unique and revolutionary ideas. too bad there seems to be so many “christ-ones” who blatantly disregard them.

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  • I have to admit I’m being overly simplistic in saying this, but I can hardly see how one can claim to be a Christ follower and believe in survival of the fittest.

    Matter of fact I was thinking of this earlier today… I have heard many preachers talk about how it is not genuine sacrifice till you give until it hurts, I used to even believe that. However as I was reflecting on this earlier I realized that to my sinful nature any giving without the expectation of gaining something greater for myself causes pain and distress to my sinful nature. Therefore, then will it not be genuine sacrifice until I give until it stops hurting, because self with all its selfish motives has died. And then only then will I be able to say I know how to be in need and I know how to have more than enough, because only then will I not care whether I have plenty or want of anything.

    I wonder is professing Christians believing in survival of the fittest evidence that they have believed a false Gospel and are deceived into believing that they are followers of Christ.

    Reply
  • Insightful as always, Kathy! There is a very Spartan-esque, harsh and brutal attitude in American culture (that does cannot fit with the example and teaching of Jesus).

    And yes, it is completely ironic that this is embraced by Christian culture – but there is a lot of Christians in America (which makes God into our image, in accordance with our culture – rather than Him conforming us to His culture).

    I’m reading a book called “The Powers that Be” by Walter Wink. It’s about this very thing. Maybe you’ve read it. If not, I think you would really enjoy it.

    Reply
  • I think you know where I’m comming from – the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18).

    Btw – you cannot call upon Jesus Christ and not be heard.

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  • Ken, your alliteration is weak. Jesus does not start with R. I would help you, but my latte is getting cold.

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  • “Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.”
    ~ Wendell Berry

    In the great words of Forrest Gump,
    “That’s all I have to say about that.”

    Tami

    Reply
  • joy – so well said! it is so pervasive and often so subtle. i know that i have it in me, too. i have something in me that says my “hard work” should equate to stability. it is also clear to me that we perpetuate it in all kinds of ways. let’s face it, there aren’t too many bestselling books on downward mobility, other than the bible 🙂 as always, thanks for your thoughts, and i really loved your last post on WORD. i love your honest wrestling with all of this, really, it is so beautiful.

    sage – whoa, powerful stuff, sage…wow.

    jim – yeah, those big ol’ churches don’t get built with pennies. and casinos don’t get built because everyone wins there a lot. ugh, ick, not the way it should be.

    paul – yeah, there’s a lot i don’t understand either….i do definitely see a social darwinism very very present in christianity, though, and it has no place there. the pervasive ideas of put-togetherness-and-spiritual-strength vs. spiritual poverty is even bigger than the money issue, in my opinion.

    sam – i agree, “oh if only we would live that way…” that is what i want. i know i don’t in so many ways but that is the heart that i want beating inside of me, a kingdom heart.

    john – so well said….thanks for adding to the mix, really hits in on the head, i think, in so many ways…

    tom – well i don’t want to question anybody being a true follower of christ or not, that would go against so much of what i believe. i just think that there are all kinds of us out there who have bought into a system unknowingly that mirrors the world and not the kingdom. i know i still do in different ways that part of my journey is to get more and more in touch with. that is what i like about these conversations, they stir me to question ways i live & think & act & believe.

    ken – you make me smile 🙂

    sarah – yes, it is so pervasive in our culture, interesting, interesting, interesting to me! and very sad, too. i do dream of the kingdom here on earth now and what would be possible if we really collectively followed the ways of Jesus in examples not words. i haven’t read this but i will have to check it out!

    mark – that’s what i love about you. your kingdom heart. i love that passage, btw, and yes, i am thankful that our “hitting it right or not” has nothing to do with God’s presence.

    paul
    – yeah, we try to justify they can both be there but it sure doesn’t line up with Jesus’ teachings, does it?

    sage – 🙂

    tami – lovely.

    Reply
  • Kathy: I don’t usually respond to your responses. I agree with you and that is partially why I wrote those things in question form. In the 32 years I’ve been in Christ I’ve seen AND EXPERIENCED so many uncharitable attitudes and actions myself. I too see so much in myself that does not reflect Christ. Though I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have doubts. Then the scriptures says you will know them by their fruit. However I also believe that it is a scriptural fact that everything in the kingdom of God flows out of relationship and that with out relationship with someone one I am not in a position to know their fruit. Then the fact that providing for those in need and for those who cannot care for themselves is such a huge scriptural theme in both the Old and New Testaments and is so the complete opposite of survival of the fittest. And knowing that I am one of the least of these…Sorry for belaboring this further.

    Tom

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  • tom – no need to apologize, i appreciate you trying to clarify. i think i was reacting to the thought that maybe people thought they were christians but really weren’t…that is just dangerous territory for me because i know there are people who think i’m not a “true” christian and that always feels really unfair. the bottom line that i think we really agree on and was your original point is that in christianity “survival of the fittest” shouldn’t even remotely be in the equation. it is a complete antithesis of Jesus’ teaching. it is nutty, really, how pervasive it has become. but as we know institutions don’t get built with bread & water. thanks as always for sharing your thoughts here.

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  • Kathy, you mirror my thinking – I doubt it is possible for us to really know if someone else is a Christian. We may know people by their fruit, but sometimes even that is difficult to discern.

    If someone claims to be a Christian, then who am I to say they are not, even if they were baptized by the “wrong” method or church, don’t believe in eternal security, don’t believe in tithing, do not attend “church services” every time the door is open and believe that women should be given equal status to men in the “church”? Who am I to say they are not, even if they are a stripper, gay, Muslim, just had an abortion, are on welfare, vote Democratic, didn’t support Prop. 8, marched in Pride or live with their girl friend?

    Actually I could give dozens of examples (but won’t), complete with names, of pastors, youth pastors, church treasurers, elders, deacons, priests and other church leaders who said they were Christians and to all appearances were “walking the walk”, who I have known personally, who were child molesters, adulterers, thieves, embezzlers, abusers of women and children, etc.

    We don’t really know, do we? So perhaps we should all hold our tongues, whatever our beliefs, and however erroneous we think another’s beliefs, theology or actions might be.

    I really do have problems with Christians who are unloving and unkind to others. How can a Christian oppress anyone? How can a Christian use the Bible to justify this kind of behavior? How can a Christian see someone in need and pass by on the other side of the road, assuming that it is the responsibility of someone else (the Samaritan?) to help out the poor person? Yeah it is hard to think of that person as a Christian, but hey – it’s between them and Jesus. He didn’t appoint me, or you, or you to be sin inspector.

    Lotsa Christians and churches seem to reflect the culture and what they have learned from religion a lot more than they seem to reflect Jesus. But are they really Christians? – It’s between them and Jesus. I have discovered that arguing with them is basically useless. But I have also discovered that answering their questions about the way I follow Jesus with “I do it for the love of Jesus and His love for people” is a statement they do not argue with, even though I think they really don’t understand what I am saying (although, most interesting – non-Christians usually do “get it” – isn’t that interesting?). They somehow seem to think that being a Christian = believing the “right list” of stuff (right thinking) plus going to church and giving the church money.

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  • I am not sure if this is quite on topic but I struggle with the idea that as a Christian if I live right then I will receive God’s blessings. I see other Christians who have nice homes and happy marriages and think God must really love them. I know that is not right but I have a hard time letting go of the idea that what we have in life we somehow deserve.

    I have recently become friends with a woman who is one of the lovliest Christian woman I have ever known. She has very little money but a huge love of Jesus and people around her. The other day she gave me $20 and told me that God told her to give it to me. I know that was huge of her to offer that to me. I am in a bad financial situation right now and that $20 meant the world to me.

    More and more I am seeing that the reflection of God’s love isn’t shown by how comfortable a person’s life is. God is reflected in the grace we offer one another. I don’t think if I was living a comfortable life I would need God in the same way that I do right now. I don’t think I would seek God in the same way I do right now. I am starting to understand the beauty of God through humble circumstances and not judge people based on what they appear to have or not have.

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  • Julie—
    I think that right on subject. So many times I hear that people are only worth something if they are “producing” or “contributing”, and that often id translated into dollars and cents, not sweat equity or time, which are also extrememly valuable and needed!
    Sometimes I feel like a drain on the Church because I need help– The real Truth is, though, that my husband and I are givers in so many other big ways. We could stand to do a lot more, too!
    That’s not to say bucks aren’t needed as well— the right tool in the right place and time are what God’s looking for, and willingness is the only thing that will make sure the thing at hand gets done at that point…
    Good comment, Julie.

    Reply
  • Katia,

    In danger of totally missing the point(s) made, but no importa so aqui vamos….(trying to copy Mun2)

    Pondering your blog with all the responses and wondering what if we superimposed upon your question the parable of the talents, or for that matter, Paul’s comments about running agood race and finishing it; no question that many have a warped idea about work and competition and that Americanism has infiltrated the church, however is there a positive thread we’re missing about effort/work/intentionality….whatever you want to call it…

    Scott Peck, in one of his books, said that “the basic sin of man is lazyness”…. I believe he is right andd so how do we address that? it is sooo easy to not do works of the kingdom, live intentionally, not eat right, not exercise, and the list goes on forever….

    I’m trying to formulate the right question, but am unable but it has to do with the “positive and contributing” aspects of the talents parable…a few years ago I had a converrsation with an Executive from Purina, a beliefer, who said competition, as a result of the fall, was good because man has achieved all this great progress and achievements; I took the position that, had man not fallen, our progress would have far surpassed this what we presently call progress…

    anyway, feel guilty about comenting, as at present I am what you might say a “church disinfranchised person” and I probably did not really express my thoughts clearly….

    Saludos, mi hermana…

    Reply
  • sam – i always so appreciate the thoughts that you add here! yeah, i just think that is dangerous ground to tread but what is always common ground, almost universally, is the belief in Jesus’ ways-in-action.

    julie – i am so glad you added your perspective here and it is a tangible example of how a little love goes a long way. how like you said, “God is reflected in the grace we offer one another.” i do think some of what you are saying is connected to “survival of the fittest” because the “if you do it right you are blessed” has everything to do with ‘success’ somehow, not the quotes. i believe a lot of what you are saying is reflected in john’s comments. thanks for your honesty and real story. i am so thankful to see your faith in action.

    tami – amen, girl. it looks different and in real community it’s give and receive, not just give and not just receive. that’s why i think we need to be careful of the difference between “to, for and with” kinds of relationships. to and for, not that hard to do, but “with” that’s a whole different story.

    carlos – no right or wrong answers here, that is for sure, and i think you bring up an excellent point to ponder. we are supposed to stay “in”, engage, and work hard, whatever that looks like for each person & their individual situation. i have no doubt that those are important qualities that are very biblical and real. i think this is a very good parable for this conversation, though, because so much of the point is “what we do with what we have” not just the outcome. survival of the fittest is only outcomes based and doesn’t address heart issues or what is going on in everyone’s unique situation. it is what “gets results” according to some weird standard that “the system” decides is good and usually doesn’t reflect the upside down ways of the beatitudes. just my thoughts in the moment in response to what you are saying. why do you feel guilty about commenting?

    Reply

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