SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST, OR LOVE OF GOD AND NEIGHBOR?

 

Does it bother you that 47 million of our fellow citizens live in poverty in the richest country in the world? It bothers me. It bothers me a lot.

As a pastor, I preach and teach a lot about why this bothers me, and why it should bother all of us who have enough.

You know what I sometimes hear people say in return?

They say versions of, “Well, it’s a dog eat dog world,” and “It’s self-preservation,” and even “The survival of the fittest.”

Really? Is that what Jesus of Nazareth taught, “Survival of the fittest?”

No. When Jesus was asked what was most important, he said, “Love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 30-31)

What should matter to people of faith is what Jesus taught, not a superficial version of evolutionary theory.  But what is even more amazing to me is that the teachings of Jesus are more in line with human evolution than many people realize.

For 90% of human history, we lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers.  And you know what?  We shared with each other back then.

Anthropologist Richard Lee maintains that an egalitarian lifestyle was essential to hunting and gathering societies.  People in these societies “had an ethic of sharing that was central to their way of life,” Lee notes. (http://www.sciencemag.org/site/special/inequality/index.xhtml)

A study of the 330 nomadic foraging societies that currently exist backs up his statement:  for all but the last 10,000 years of our existence, we shunned hierarchies.  We shared what we had.  We favored cooperation over competition.  Some of us still do.

But why? We are born unequal.  Some of us have always been bigger, brainier, stronger and more aggressive than the rest of us.  So why weren’t we all cut-throat from the get-go?

Apparently, key to equality among humans is scarcity and a nomadic lifestyle.  When food is scarce and people are on the move, no one accumulates a surplus of goods. Cooperative hunting results in more food for the entire group; sharing food between members ensures the strength of the entire band.  What is more, sharing promotes more sharing.  It’s an altruistic cascade that works to maintain harmony in the group.

And harmony has to be worked for.  The existing hunter-gatherer communities deliberately use humor, humility, self-deprecation, collective shunning of too violent or too aggressive individuals, and strict protocols regulating meat distribution to keep dangerous hierarchies from developing.

These lessons on how to sustain harmony in human communities in the face of scarcity, are increasingly relevant in an era of climate change and planetary shortages of food, water and even shelter.

What is crucial, however, is to realize that loving the neighbor as yourself, as Jesus taught, is not exactly selfless.  It is the way many selves can survive together.

That’s a message I can preach and teach with joy, especially these days when it seems like “dog eat dog” is the highest value.

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST, OR LOVE OF GOD AND NEIGHBOR?

  1. Nice post! It is direct and well-worded. One thing I would suggest — in addition to Dr. T’s note about the hyperlink — is always looking for the best quality image available. Sometimes, I add HD in my search to help with that. This is not a huge deal, but just something to consider as you continue to write and publish.

    Shea

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    • thanks for the tip! I did look for a sharper image, but the one I found, was copyrighted. I looked at several others, but liked this one so much I decided to go with it even though it was a bit blurry. That’s a good idea, to add the HD. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Kathy, this post touched my soul again, also my sociological curiosity to find the answered to your question, “why that happen in the richest country of the world?” As a pastor for 42 years today, I was serving in Latin American countries before I came to live here in USA, and my experience did teaches me the injustices reposed on the laws build by elites of power that get dominion, legally over the nation, law that legitimate political economic and social power, producing oppression over people that lost everything, lands, education, dignity, inclusion, respect, self-stem, and life. Poverty, in other word is a crime; there is a power organized with laws, ideological statements, and repression that “kill” justice and peace. It is a structural problem; it is not an accident.

    Thanks for your contribution
    Tito.

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  3. Kathy,
    Thanks for your thoughtful post on this important issue, and you are so right about our interdependence. Frederick Douglass said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”
    We are fooling ourselves if we think our lives aren’t impacted by the suffering of others.
    Can you offer any advice or guidance on the best ways to devote our time or share our resources effectively? Here in Chicago, where there is such need, The Night Ministry and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless do good work. Other ideas would be appreciated. Deborah

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    • In our (very) small town, we share resources quite naturally – at least among the older people who remember a time when this was common. Seriously, not to be ageist, but the generation of WWII and slightly beyond, do seem to have a sense of community and common good that I tap into via my sermons, and try to share with everyone I can.

      Once a sense of community is achieved, the rules-of-order that seem to work best for us are the same ones that have always worked: humility (realizing that much of what you have came your way because of gifts of the DNA or social location), humor that defuses conflict (why are we so easily offended??), generosity (love, love, love all “freecycle” events), and gratitude. Perhaps that, above all.

      There are three mainline churches in Constantine and we partner together in a community food pantry and soup kitchen. Our current and ongoing project is to promote a women’s co-op group modeled after the one in Battle Creek. This is an attempt to address root causes of poverty.

      I think we know enough already, at least in our particular locations, to begin to address root causes as well as helping individuals….but the work is hard, no doubt.

      That’s why we need each other.

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