Social Darwinism harms all Christians

"Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.”  So says Proverb 16:8, but is this really something we heed in 21st century American culture?  In our culture today “red in tooth and claw” competition is so engrained in our way of life that we are insensitive to its presence but very sensitive when someone challenges it.  This is especially so in the way we conduct business.  As Christians we must be aware of this attitude so as not to be “conformed to this world.”  Unfortunately, however, many Christians do not understand the nature of this “sin” because they do not understand its origin.

The heart of the problem is greed, selfishness and dishonesty and a follower of Christ must understand that just because this is the American way does not make it right.  Economic gain at the expense of principle is not just on the part of business but also on the part of the customer.  For example, people brag about getting an extra five dollars back from the cashier or how they were able to dishonestly use an expired coupon.  After all, we have been told that the “customer is always right” and it is this commandment that we choose to live by even though it may mean being dishonest.  What about taxes?  Perhaps the Christian has decided to live by the rule that I have seen many Americans live by: “What Uncle Sam doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Greed, selfishness and dishonesty are almost expected in many businesses today.  At least this has been my experience in eighteen years of the retail business.  Businesses proudly boast about being on top, no matter whom they have had to push out of their way to get there.

In order to understand how we got this way it would be helpful to know the history of this version of capitalism that we have chosen for our country.  When America looks back on her economic history two men stand out as icons for business the American way, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.  Both Rockefeller and Carnegie believed in social Darwinism.  This gave them the “scientific” rationale for their greed, ambition and ruthless competition. 

Rockefeller wrote in an address to a Sunday School class at Riverside Church pastored by Harry E. Fosdick.  “The growth of large business is merely a survival of the fittest…the American Beauty rose can be produced in splendor and fragrance which brings cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it.  This is not an evil tendency in business.  It is merely the working out of the law of nature and the law of God.”  By the way, primarily Rockefeller funded this church and Fosdick became a spokesperson for liberal theology in the early 20th century.

Andrew Carnegie wrote in his autobiography, “I remember that light came in as a flood and all was clear.  Not only had I got rid of theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution.  ‘All is well because all grows better,’ became my motto, my source of comfort.  Man was not created with and instinct for his own degradation, but from the lower he had risen to the higher forms.  Nor is there any conceivable end to his march to perfection.  His face is turned to the light; he stands in the sun and looks upward.”

Darwinism gave them the “apparent” scientific rationale for their ruthless business tactics.  James Rachels, even though still committed to evolutionism admits in his book Created from Animals, “The ‘survival of the fittest’ was quickly interpreted as an ethical precept that sanctioned cutthroat economic competition.”

 Stephen T. Asma, in  “The New Social Darwinism: Deserving Your Destitution” points out that this attitude is still present today.  He wrote, “Indeed, domination is for us a virtue rather than a vice.  If one pauses for a moment to reflect on whether or not the ‘natural law of competition’ is sound, then one is immediately suspected of impiety.  The church of capitalism watches its flock carefully.” 

It just seems un-American to question capitalism.  But it is the “red in tooth and claw” capitalism based on “survival of the fittest” that has caused many, including Christians, to justify unbiblical practices both at work and home.  The “customer is always right even though the customer may be wrong” attitude is based on the same concept of self-centeredness that Social Darwinism is based upon.  As Christians we need to be careful not to justify our attitudes toward such things just because most people do.  We also need to be the ones in the business world to identify and condemn capitalism based upon survival of the fittest which promotes making money while sacrificing principle. 

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©Tom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen