Darwin, Jesus and Christians in the United States

Darwin, Jesus and Christians in the United States September 25, 2012

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It seems as if many people in the United States have fallen in love with Darwin and his “survival of the fittest” evolutionary discoveries. Now I am not talking about the debates between creationism and evolution – I am one of those who believes that the two are not mutually exclusive – but how this idea seems to have infiltrated American politics and culture when it comes to how we treat the poor and struggling in our society.

For some reason, extreme wealth, power and privilege has become the norm to which we should all aspire and if you are on the other side of the equation, you are blatantly ignored, at best, and publicly castigated, at worst. With the ways in which our congress spends money on our military, the idea that some institutions are too big to die, assumptions about people’s motivations in life and and the ways in which money influences our politics, Darwin would be proud of the United States of America.

When I am my least hopeful self, I look at the world and the country of my birth and it seems as if he was right, the strongest: militarily, economically and politically will survive . . . and those who are weaker will slowly, painfully, invisibly go extinct. But then I remember that this is not the lens through which Jesus would have view the world and live our lives, in fact, I believe that he has something to say to Mr. Darwin and those Christians who ascribe to his evolutionary mentality when it comes to life in the United States and around the world.

Only the strong will survive . . . the more you have: strength, wealth and power the better off you will be.

Jesus might respond with Luke 16-21 

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Not only do we Americans hate to be perceived as unsuccessful or to have less than our neighbor, our thirst for unlimited wealth, power and resources has become an idol that is only widening the socioeconomic chasms between the rich and poor. Our need to feel superior to the other, accumulate wealth and exercise power creates a context in which we will do anything we can – vote, work, act – in order to reinforce those things that maintain divisions that most benefit the building up of our own kingdoms.

The weak deserve to go extinct . . . it’s their own fault, we do not need to help them, they deserve what they get.

Jesus might respond with Matthew 25:37-40

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

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

Contrary to what many Americans believe, the quote, “God helps those who help themselves is not a passage from the Bible. The idea that all anyone has to do in order to succeed and achieve the “American Dream” is to work hard is a fallacy that ignores generation after generation who have both helped people succeed, as well as have been unjustly hindered in their struggle to achieve. Born out of this belief is an American individualism that manifests itself in a short-sighted “every man for himself” attitude that dishonors those who have come before and constrains those who will follow. We not only perpetuate this cycle, but we institutionalize the barriers by the ways in which we disproportionally incarcerate our citizens, care for senior citizens through the end of their lives and fail to educate all children across our socioeconomic spectrum.

Self-preservation is the ultimate success . . . death is bad and our ultimate goal should be survival.

Jesus might respond with Mark 8:31-33 

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said.“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Of course it is one thing to talk about our own physical death and our natural inclination to survive, but quite another when we think about the death of institutions, systems or status. The idea that some things are “too big to die” is not just about bailouts and economic recovery, but a mindset that perpetuates unhealthy systems throughout our society. As Christians, death plays an important role in how we experience new life and hope. I fear that, as a people who believe in resurrection, our constant stream of energy directed at keeping withering institutions – ecclesiastical and governmental – alive might do more damage than healing and ultimately be an obstacle to experiencing who God intends for us to become.

There are many things about Mr. Darwin’s legacy and contribution to science that I very much appreciate, but when absorbed into the fabric of our culture and society in unhealthy ways, not so much. And while it is hard to be hopeful when it does seems as tho the biggest sticks and the fattest wallets are going to win out again in church, politics and life I lean on some very wise words from Dr. Stephen Ray when he said, “You either trust God, or you don’t.” It is through this lens of trusting that the goodness of God is somehow woven into all things that I live and, yes, survive, in the world today.

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