Darwin’s theory on the origin of the species prompted the idea of the survival of the fittest. Even the most casual observer of nature will note that animals often display a violent ruthlessness in the pursuit of self interest. On occasion I have heard believers make note of this violence and ruthless as evidence supporting their belief in a wrathful, vindictive god. They note that Paul said the creation taught of God’s existence and by extension highlights His character.
Such an approach to explaining and defending Orthodoxy’s picture of God is fascinating when we consider how the mention of Darwin and his theory is anathema to many believers. Apparently, people are not aware of how much of Darwinian thought has been co-opted into our culture and even our theology. The notion that the most fit are superior and therefore rightly predestined to thrive is the basic principle behind our love affair with a capitalist, free market economy. In that system, competition is supposed to encourage the best efforts of everyone with success and therefore survival coming to the very best of the best. The not so good fall by the wayside, i.e. don’t survive, just like in Darwin’s theory. It is axiomatic in such a system that ruthlessness is required because survival depends on being the winner. Losing is not an option.
The idea that winning means survival carries over into our politics. The endless sense of competition that permeates our political institutions leads to the very scenes from Washington that we witness and often deplore. The competitive spirit is so strong in government that we now experience a non-stop campaigning approach to governing which substitutes theatrics and public posturing for actual efforts to resolve problems and promote the public good. As long as people get re-elected, i.e. survive, all else is a sideshow.
Despite Orthodoxy’s protestations against Darwin, his theory offers a perfect compliment to its theology. An obvious corollary to the survival of the fittest mantra is the age old adage: might makes right. To that we might add the expression- he who has the gold makes the rules. These two aphorisms encapsulate both the theological and the political application of Darwinian thought. In the case of the former, it provides at least one of the ways believers rationalize a God who seemingly operates in a ruthless, arbitrary, and unjust way in regards to eternal punishment. The assumption is that God is all powerful and therefore gets to make the rules and man is in no position to question them. In the case of the latter expression, we see evidence of the survivalist mentality again in the economic and governmental realms. The “thrivers”, the economically rich and successful in this case, are recognized as superior and destined to propagate themselves with legislative assistance. The remainder of humanity, those whose characteristics don’t lend themselves to successful competition in a survivalist economy- too lazy, too stupid, too unmotivated, too unself-reliant- rightfully fall by the wayside and that is natural and therefore inevitable in accordance with Darwinian reasoning.
One will undoubtedly notice how the theological, political, and economic application of this survival of the fittest mentality all dovetail together and become mutually reinforcing. One could justifiably conclude that those who espouse the cited examples of religious, political, and economic thought are the greatest proponents of the man many of these same people would claim to hate.
Admittedly, the ideas of survival of the best and superior and the use of money to influence rulers in favor of the rich preceded Darwin by centuries. During much of the period prior to Darwin the church at least ostensibly taught that the economic success and political influence were not the mark of God’s favor. Instead God’s favor was reserved for the hereafter. The most fit in God’s eyes would be noted after death and divine judgment. The poor and disadvantaged were never encouraged to feel inferior because of their economic status and lack of political influence. God’s ultimate approval was all the mattered.
Post Darwin, however, we see a steady drift in church teaching toward the theology of today in which God intends economic success and political power for those He judges most “fit” (righteous!). In this new theological environment, the poor and disadvantaged are even further marginalized by being made to feel inferior not by circumstances but rather by flaws of character and effort. At the same time those of privilege and advantage are elevated to ever higher opinions of themselves and their own importance to the welfare of the nation at large. It is a heady theological shift for the “fit” and continues to serve the longstanding purpose of muting the voices and opinions of the majority.
Perhaps Darwin has done the institutional church a big favor. Not only has it provided that institution a convenient threat to which it could always point in order to divert attention away from its own self evident problems and issues, but the subtle influence of one of its key tenets has provided the perfect background for sustaining its theology and maintaining the favor and support of the rich and powerful.