It is a truism that we build societies in the image of the God we worship. The Psalmist put it this way:
15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them. Psalm 135:15-18
Likewise, Marvin Olasky reminds us, “Cultures build charities in the image of the god they worship.” We see this in the three distinct models of compassion today. The Biblical worldview has given rise to Social Protestantism. The atheistic worldview has birthed two forms of compassion: Social Darwinism, pessimistic in nature, and its optimistic counterpart, Social Universalism.
Social Protestantism was the application of a comprehensive moral philosophy found in the Bible. God cares about every human and all his/her relationships. God’s agenda is wholistic healing, thus Christians should be concerned about the causes and solutions to all forms of poverty. Marvin Olasky describes four principles of Social Protestantism which I have paraphrased as:
- God is Creator. He has established a creation order – a framework for healthy living. He also personally intervenes to bring healing to those who violate his order. It follows that human beings are to personally intervene to help the poor.
- Because God loves human beings he chose to walk in their world, to be in relationship with them. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This precludes charity done at arm’s length. It is better to know people in their poverty, to know them and their families as individuals.
- God’s laws govern the universe. Poverty comes from violating God’s order. If people are to be helped out of poverty, they must be taught to obey all that [Jesus] commanded (Matthew 28:20).
- Sometimes the most compassionate act is withholding help. We create dependency when we give charity to those able but not willing to help themselves. We leave them enslaved to their vices.
In the Christian scheme the giver was not merely a donor of money, but someone who shared their time, talent, and treasure. Both parties benefited from the arrangement: poor people received opportunity to help themselves out of poverty and the benefactor grew through “suffering together with” another human being. The charity was connected to the virtue of work – the protestant ethic of labor, saving, and giving that established life patterns that lifted people out of poverty.
Social Darwinism is the logical application of Darwinism’s survival of the fittest in the social and economic realms. It produces a class of pessimistic humanists who in fact were anti-compassionate. Man is merely an animal; only the economically fit should survive. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), the British Social Darwinist who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” wrote: The unfit must be eliminated as nature intended, for the principle of natural selection must not be violated by the artificial preservation of these least able to take care of themselves.
In The Cause of Pauperism, the 1876 report to the New York State Board of Charities states:
The examination has made it clear that by far the greater number of paupers have reached that condition by idleness, improvidence, drunkenness, or some form of vicious indulgence. It is equally clear that these vices and weaknesses are very frequently, if not universally, the result of tendencies which are to a greater or less degree hereditary…. [V]igorous efforts must be instituted to break the line of pauper descent.
Social Darwinists dehumanized the poor. Their desire was to eliminate poverty by getting rid of the poor. There have been two strains of Social Darwinists, the passive and the proactive. The passive simply wanted charities to stop intervening and let nature take its course. In 1880 Social Darwinist William Graham Sumner wrote,
Nature’s remedies against vice are terrible. She removes the victims without pity. A drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be, according to the fitness and tendency of things. Nature has set up on him the process of decline and dissolution by which she removes things which have survived their usefulness.
The proactive Social Darwinists wanted to “help nature,” to speed up the process of survival of the fittest by actively eliminating the poor. The eugenics movement, popular in the first half of the 20th century, sought to employ science in the improvement of human kind by getting rid of those human beings deemed unworthy of life. The death camps of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich were proactive Social Darwinism. In the United States, Margaret Sanger, the founder of the Birth Control League (now Planned Parenthood), led a proactive Social Darwinist lobby. She sought to help evolution along by eliminating people of color, the poor, and people who were mentally retarded through sterilization and abortion. As we begin the 21st century, these forces are back again with abortion, infanticide/ ”post-birth abortion,” fetal stem-cell research, and euthanasia.
While Social Darwinism is the logical extension of Atheism in the social realm, Social Universalism is the specious class of optimistic Humanists who are sentimental, not compassionate, about the poor. They proclaim the love of mankind without a love for God. Many are altruistic: they live for others.
The British children’s writer, Beatrice Webb (Potter) of The Tales of Peter Rabbit fame is an example of Social Universalism. She wrote of her optimistic Humanist convictions in her diary:
Towards Humanity, who is the only true Great Being, we, the conscious elements of whom she is the compound, shall henceforth direct every aspect of our life, individual and collective. Our thoughts will be devoted to the knowledge of Humanity, our affections to the Love, our actions to her service.
In the universalist’s world, consciousness of sin shifted from personal sin and personal responsibility to class consciousness and group responsibility. The wealthy class created poverty, thus it was their responsibility to end poverty. The poor were no longer individuals and families, but rather a class of people. Individuals were not big enough to solve this class problem. Only the government was big enough to deal with poverty.
Liberal theologians, whose presuppositions were born out of a secular humanist worldview, gave “biblical justification” to the humanist agenda. As Olasky points out:
Liberal theologian George Herron went one step further, claiming “that the public ownership of the sources and means of production is the sole answer to the social question, and the sole basis of spiritual liberty.”
Their theology, labeled with public relations brilliance the “social gospel,” emphasized God’s love but not God’s holiness, and thus urged charity without challenge. The materialist bias played up physical needs but were embarrassed by evangelism and spiritual need. “Save the world but not the individual” became a motto.
As the Christian memory faded, personal involvement diminished and was replaced with “writing a check.” Nonprofit organizations became surrogate care givers. Taxes – coercive giving – replaced volunteerism and personal charity. The idea that man is good and structures evil has led to wild utopian visions of the future and invested in increasingly powerful central governments whose responsibility is to bring “heaven on earth.”
- Darrow Miller