Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Evangelicals in "bed" with Social Darwinists

It is an incredible and ironic fact that- in order to discredit evolution and by extension, atheists- desperate evangelicals will often use the 'muddy the waters' technique, by quoting "racist" or other perceived remarks out of context - then extrapolating them to evolutionists, and the meltdown of our modern civilization. Many people will buy this hog swill because no one ever presents the other side, or shows how the evangelicals themselves - near the time of their dubious origin- actively integrated Social Darwinian concepts into their beliefs.

Let me then take readers back in time, to show how certain evangelicals not only drooled over Social Darwinian theory, but actively promulgated it and still do! Recall from an earlier blog piece that we distinguish Social Darwinism (as taught by Herbert Spencer) from Darwinism via natural selection as detailed by Charles Darwin.

The latter is a bona fide scientific theory which has met and passed its falsification tests (e.g. showing the nearly identical cytochrome-c protein sequence for chimps and humans) while the former is a sham, a pseudo-scientific extrapolation.

Let us also recall, though some writers dispute it, that Spencer himself set the tone in an 1882 appearance in the U.S. - that the poor and infirm ought to be deemed “unfit” if they couldn’t compete for resources without state assistance, and it was their lot to be "eliminated" if they couldn’t manage. As he put it (author Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought, American Historical Association, 1955):

"The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better. "

These and similar remarks were published in an extended series of articles while making his American foray.

Barely three years later, evangelical Christianity made its first major imprint by demanding literal biblical interpretation (from the King James Bible and no other) and also that "belief on the Lord Jesus Christ" as personal "Savior" be accepted as the ticket to "salvation". In addition, Social Darwinian thought was massaged into the message and probably first occurred in the U.S. ca. 1885 with the publication of the Rev. Josiah Strong's book: Our Country - Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis.

Strong's book succeeded by blending Spencer's Social Darwinism with Christian virtue, and a strict, constructionist view of The Constitution. In the first merger, he invoked the proto-Calvinist doctrine that wealth was "the fruit of a noble, working life. " The corollary was that those who amassed wealth were "righteous" while those who remained in poverty were given to chicanery, sloth, lust, wantonness and all manner of deficiency. Thus, the poor earned their own fate by trafficking in sundry ways with evil.

About this same time, natural law doctrine had probably reached it apex in the world, mainly as taught by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. The teaching on slavery, in fact, had become distilled to mean that it was acceptable under natural law doctrine since "some men were naturally incapable of self-guidance" (cf. Julian Pleasants, in The Catholic Predicament, Fontana-Collins Books, 1964, p. 88).

In context, however, one must not look at this overly harshly - since as I've noted, it was part and parcel of the general zeitgeist in the mid to late 1800s. Even Abraham Lincoln himself bought into it, or at the very least paid lip service to it (in the most hospitable interpretation).

Of specific interest in Josiah Strong's evangelism was the appeal to natural selection as it manifested in Americans. Strong repeatedly made appeals to "demonstrating natural selection at work" in America- especially since "a finer, physical type was emerging in the United States, bigger, strong, taller than Scots or Englishmen." The subtext to this was that part of this natural selection could be attributed to a more religious, devout bent - and more attention to the good Book and especially "salvation". If one attended to these, he'd therefore work much harder - be much healthier, and far richer materially than the laggard atheist, or layabout ....say back in England.

The Rev. Strong also pointed to the validity of his views by citing Darwin in his The Descent of Man(Hofstadter, p. 179) :

"There is apparently much truth in the belief that the wonderful progress of the United States, as well as the character of its people, are the results of natural selection: for the more energetic, restless and courageous men from all parts of Europe have emigrated during the last ten or twelve generations to that great country, and have there succeeded best "

More than a few scholars pinpoint the origin of the belief in odious American exceptionalism - that the fates and furies afoot elsewhere in the world can't keep us down- or that "America is special" - emerged with Strong's tracts.

Alas, too, the "America is special and better" didn't remain with Strong's Evangelicals but spread wide and far - even to the U.S. Senate! Popular figures and politicians took up the meme and ran with it. For example, Sen. Albert T. Beveridge before the Senate in 1899 (ibid.):

"God has not been preparing the English -speaking and Teutonic peoples for nothing but vain and idle self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns..He has made us adepts that we may administer government among savages and senile peoples "

Theodore Roosevelt further reinforced these memes in his book The Strenuous Life, 1899:

"I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease but for strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we merely seek swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at the hazard of their lives at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world"

Thus we see that long before Hitler and the Nazis had emerged on the scene, the tacit image of a "super-race" of Americans- come to deliver governance to "senile and savage peoples" - had already seized the stage. Not long after Roosevelt's exhortations to his countrymen, The American Eugenics Society (AES) was established in 1922. It ensued from the Second International Conference on Eugenics (New York, 1921). The AES founders included Madison Grant, Harry H. Laughlin, Irving Fisher, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Henry Crampton.

But in a more or less indirect way, it was the Evangelical Josiah Strong's tracts and book that marked its conception - based on borrowing the scurrilous ideas from Social Darwinism - especially that life was a contest for "survival of the fittest" and some would naturally fall out - and these were to be dominated (and plausibly exploited) by the strong, the rich and the holy (e.g "saved").

It is also a well-known fact that the Aryan Master Race eugenics program of the Nazis was directly germinated from its American antecdent, see, e.g.

The deliberate separation of the German population by the Nazis into "lower classes" - including Slavs, Gypsies, the retarded and Jews, was directly a result of the class sequestration and sterilization programs by American eugenicists more than a decade earlier. Again, both these eugenics programs can be traced to the virulent meme of Social Darwinism, already circulating - and given great impetus by the Rev. Josiah Strong.

At the crux of this Social Darwinian imperialism lay both an evangelical Christian outlook - since the "savage and senile peoples had to be subdued by grace"- in Strong's words, and also a constant militarism predicated on survival. Little wonder that songs like 'Onward Christian Soldiers' (written in 1865) gained momentum and circulation near the turn of the century. Then too, capitalism would be 'wielded' as the battle axe to subdue countries - and recall that in the period from 1885- 1900 we saw the heyday of capitalism, in terms of folks like Andrew Carnegie etc. By the mid-20th century, capitalism would dig the U.S. out of Depression by amassing and implementing the largest industrialization of defense plants in history. The problem was that even after the main threat passed (from the Nazis) the enormous defense apparatus was maintained and used again and again in undeclared wars - costing the nation more in lives and treasure, than the plants profits delivered to communities. Hence, Ike's warning of the "Military industrial complex" in his January, 1961 Farewell address.

Now, Muslims have construed this massive military infrastructure as arrayed against them in a kind of everlasting religious crusade[1], and reinforced by the offhand comments of numerous military morons - like a certain Gen. Jerry Boykin, who yapped a few years ago: "My God can beat your God".

All of which we have the Rev. Josiah Strong to thank. And also for effectively giving "birth" to generations of fundies who bang their books all around and expect everyone else to mindlessly follow....or else....we will end up "damned to Hell".

Well, if it separates us from the likes of them, it will be worth it. Who wouldn't want to spend an eternity with pals in Satan's den than eternity with a Josiah Strong....or any of his ideological descendants.

[1] For much more on this see the books: 'Dreaming War' by Gore Vidal, and 'Nemesis:The Last Days of the American Empire', by Chalmers Johnson.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for this! I never realized that the evangelicals were responsible for spawning eugenics and the American Eugenics Society - whose doctrines were later applied by the Nazis to their Master Race trash, and their final solution.

The pastor should be proud of his "heritage". I mean, you can really see the connections!