Evolutionary and Religious Exclusivism

This Speed Bump cartoon got me thinking. The cartoon depicts what might be called an exclusivistic and egotistical ethos: we’ve succeeded, now let’s keep the advantages of doing so to ourselves.

Exclusivism is found in religion, in nationalism, in economics, indeed in all areas of life.

But perhaps it is worth observing that neither the story of life on this planet told by science, nor earlier ones that humans created which are now embedded in a variety of sacred and other ancient texts, naturally leads to selflessness rather than selfishness. Even in religions that emphasize concern for others and self-sacrifice, often we find people being concerned for others because they believe that they must do so in order to be rewarded themselves. Self-interest on the individual and collective levels are hard to combat.

And so instead of dividing people into religious and non-religious categories, or sub-dividing beyond that, or distinguishing between nationalities, ethnicities, genders, or anything else that can be understood in terms of “us vs. them,” the biggest and most important distinction, cutting across all others, is between those who genuinely believe that it is worth loving and caring for others irrespective of recompense, and those whose morals or lack thereof ultimately lead back to a concern for one’s own reputation, rewards, or immortal soul.

Valuing others, valuing life, valuing anything at all is a matter of conviction, or perhaps one could even say “faith.” It is a matter of placing value beyond anything that can be demonstrated objectively.

It is a “faith” that many religious people lack, while many people of no religious persuasion and of different religious persuasions share.

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  • Porlock Junior

    Two things strike me about this posting.

    First, the cartoon is an allegory of the Volterra-Gause principle: Only one species can occupy an ecological niche at any one time. By asking us to seek the allegorical meaning under the surface, it is very suitable for a Christian theological context, no?

    Sorry, it’s late and I couldn’t resist. Anyway, when one species has established itself on land, another would have to out-compete the first or get into a different way of exploiting land. Fortunately evolution is pretty effective at doing that.

    Second, it reminds me of a thing I wondered about for some years: Why does Saint Paul bother to tell us that Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity? I mean, did one expect that a high virtue would rejoice in iniquity?? Finally I saw a translation which gave the sense that love is not made glad by seeing bad people show how bad they are by being bad, but wants them to be better. I like that one.

    And it is a warning against the really ugly side of Christian moralizers. All too often, maybe to the point of obsession, I see a defiance of this principle in what highly moral people lecture us about; rejoicing in iniquity is, it seems to me, a major motivation for the kind of exclusivism you describe here.

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