Preface: several years ago I used to be super rightwing. However, as I’ve grown in Christ and studied more, I’ve realized that rightwing political positions don’t always align with Scripture. I’ve realized that I have the choice to follow Scripture completely or follow rightwing politics completely—but I can’t do both. So, I’ve chosen to align my political thought to the best I understand Scripture. The following post is my best understanding of what the Scripture says coupled with my best understanding of society. I write this to get you to think, but not necessarily so that you agree with me.
In right wing politics, a constantly repeated proverb is “if you work hard, you will succeed.” While there is much truth to this statement, the way rightwing politics uses this idea is essentially social Darwinism. The argument in this post is essentially that of N. T. Wright’s critique of conservative American Christians.
What is Social Darwinism?
The online Oxford dictionary states that social Darwinism is “the theory that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals.” Basically, the fit human beings survive, but the unfit die off.
Classically, this concept played out is racism. It was the idea that the white people were superior simply because they conquered everyone else. This level of arrogance found its ultimate presentation in Hitler’s gas chambers.
Hard Work to Survive
In rightwing politics, it is believed that those who work hard never need to depend on anyone else because they are successful. Conversely, only lazy people are not successful and try to depend on others.
Thus, all of society is broken into two groups: hard working and lazy. In Darwinian terms, the fit people are the hard workers. The unfit are the lazy. Therefore, the lazy should be allowed to suffer so that they do not become a drag on society. If they are allowed to suffer, then we will eventually eliminate the lazy population and produce self-sustaining, hard working people. This is about as classical Darwin as you get.
Applied to politics, it is only the lazy people who rely on welfare or other government help. Therefore, remove all welfare and you remove all lazy people.
Is This So?
The problem begins when you take the generally true proverb and make it a universal truth. It is not always the case that hard work means you’ll be successful. In fact, I know many people who work hard but do not and cannot get ahead. Society has shut them out from success for various reasons including those who come from a race that has been systematically stollen from and oppressed, those who are mentally disabled or confused, those who have been wrongfully convicted as a felon and now can’t get a job, etc. There are a good many people who no matter how hard they work will never succeed. And some of us may have to rely on welfare from time to time in order to survive.
At the risk of oversimplification (I’m not trying to come across as arrogant or condescending. Just trying to get you to think), the result is that when the right-rightwing political position wants to eliminate welfare programs, they implicitly believe in social Darwinism. Indeed, it would rather see those who are defined as “lazy” simply gone from society. Why?
A Christian Response
The point of this article is not to argue for more welfare. Our welfare is a broken one. Nor is it saying that communism is a utopia. Nor am I denying the general truth of the proverb. Nor do I think things should be unregulated. Nor do I endorse taking from the truly hard working to give to the truly lazy.
The point is that Christians need to remove their secular conservative values and replace them with Christian ones. Christ demands that we love. Christ demands we help our neighbors and enemies. Christ shows us that we should help the weakest members of society so that they can survive.
For example, God built provision for the poor into the Pentateuch. I will illustrate this with the concept of the stranger. The stranger was usually classed alongside other poor members of the society and given access to special, state enforced social programs. Israel was to leave the corners of the field, forgotten sheaves, and the leftovers of the vineyard and olive tree for the stranger to come and gather (Lv 19:10; 23:22; Dt 24:19-21). Anything animal that died of itself was to be given (not sold) to the stranger (Dt 14:21). Every three years the Israelites were to pay a ten-percent tax of his crops for a deposit in his town. This food source was to be distributed to the strangers, among others (Dt 14:28-29). As the Israelite devoted his tenth, he was to state that he had given all of it to the needy and had not polluted it (Dt 26:10-15). You can read more about this in my posts called Awakened Church.
How do we appropriate these passages to Christianity? First, understand that we are not obligated to obey the letter of these laws. Second, we look at the laws and see what they teach us about how to love one another. Third, in order to maintain some kind of control, we attempt to find near parallels to our lives today.
The stranger was a member of the nation of Israel (See Awakened Church, post 2). This status did not relieve the other members of the nation from their duties to care for him. The laws of the land, which was the government, mandated that individuals allow the stranger to get the second pickings of the produce. The tithe, essentially a government tax, was designated for the stranger every three years. Applying these texts to modern times, the church should critique the usual right-wing viewpoint that welfare is wrong or suspect. There should be consistent effort both within and outside of the church to promote programs which help the poor. Certainly, these programs need checks and balances and there needs to be constant vigilance against corruption. But the abuse should not be used as an argument to dismantle the system.
If the Law commanded welfare and the Law comes from God, then we must not be opposed to it on principle as Christians. We actually should do our best to see that it is rightfully and carefully administered. Removing government welfare and letting everyone slog it out on their own is essentially social Darwinism—the fit survive, the unfit die. Instead of this, we need to substitute the Christian attributes of love and compassion and be supportive of welfare.
As a side, some people argue that charities should be the groups responsible for helping the poor, not the government. While I agree that charities play a key role, it simply will not do to make them the only player. First, if you shift all the money to charity, you’ll just move the corruption from the government to the nonprofit sector. Second, it will drastically cut the amount of aid which is actually needed to do the job. Charities can do good, but they do not have the capacity that the government can handle.