Charles Darwin has done a real number on us, hasn’t he?
But it’s not his evolutionary theory that is the problem. Fifteen billion years instead of 6,000 should be more evocative of anything divine than destructive of it. Who (besides God!) could even imagine 15,000,000,000 years? And it’s not that silly monkey thing. It’s pretty obvious we’re kin, isn’t it? Just take a good look in the mirror.
No, the bad news from Darwin has nothing to do with actual evolution (which is not “just a theory”), and the damage he’s done is not really his fault. The problem is that most of us have misunderstood what he said, or what he meant by what he said. (Isn’t that usually the case?) He said, “survival of the fittest,” and we heard, “survival of the meanest,” “survival of the most violent,” “survival of the strongest.” Maybe we heard it that way because, deep down, we’re just too mean and still — after all these evolutionary years — crave violence, believing that being strong will overcome our greatest insecurities.
It will not. It never has. And that’s not what Darwin meant, anyway.
The “fittest” are just those who survive, somehow. In the long run those who survive aren’t necessarily the strongest — they certainly aren’t the meanest — they are, necessarily, the smartest, the most agile, the most flexible, those most willing to cooperate, share, learn, admit they’re wrong, change, adapt. In a twist of irony that is 15 billion years in the making, it is the kind who survive, those who are the friendliest, not those who are mean.
I wish this were my own, unique theory of evolution, but it’s a new view of our development (and our hope for survival) that is outlined in Survival of the Friendliest by Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist, and Vanessa Woods, a research scientist and journalist. I don’t know where the journalist and her husband, the Duke University professor, got their insight for this book. Maybe they grew up in Sunday school? You see, this evolutionary strategy has been promoted in the Bible for a couple thousand years. Jesus and Darwin both speak truth to me.
There are plenty of biblical prooftexts we could cite, words about strength and might, chariots and horses, loving enemies, turning the other cheek, sacrificial love — and this simple truth is also stated, outright, in Ephesians 4: Just “be kind to one another.”
“Meanness is the oldest game in the book. And it never has produced peace.”
Meanness is the oldest game in the book. And it never has produced peace. It never will. Not between siblings. Not with political parties. Not among nations. We teach our children that part of growing up is learning that we do not hit back. It’s a simple truth that really could solve the world’s problems, but some people, as we all know, never grow up.
The meanness of these last three and a half years has worn me down. I’m just weary of it all. Aren’t you?
I’m tired of the Democrats and the Republicans fighting. I’m worn down by all the angry social media posts. I’m exhausted by the tweets that just jab and wound and divide. I’m demoralized by all the tension within homes and churches.
And I’m weary of being embarrassed by a president whose only “diplomacy” is bullying, whose tactics all, only, follow the oldest game in the book: hitting back with childish name calling, petty tweets, broken treaties. This diplomacy of bullying follows the oldest, most unfortunate strategy in our long, broken human history: Survival of the Most Violent. More walls, more bombs, more riot gear, more troops, more “law and order.” Meanness by executive order. And it’s all being “sanctified” by the loudest “Christians” on the planet.
I’m so weary of it all.
Why has this pandemic been so unnecessarily devastating? Why have the protests held such unending fury? Why have the halls of Congress remained so dysfunctionally gridlocked? A spirit of meanness pervades the nation. It starts at the top.
As a people, we are soul-starved for leadership, true leadership that can only come from words of daring, unconventional wisdom, words of courageous compassion, words of lived integrity — and words laced with just a little kindness to help us get through one more difficult day.
Administration by meanness is not a strategy with a future; that’s not what survival of the fittest means. We need a little kindness.
Russ Dean is co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. He holds degrees from Furman University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Beeson Divinity School. He and his wife, Amy, have been co-pastors of Park Road since 2000. They are parents of two sons. Russ is active in social justice ministries and interfaith dialogue.