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July 30, 2017

“The Young Beggar” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (c. 1648), Louvre Museum (PD- Art, Old-100)

“Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed”

-Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam AHH (1850)

Social Darwinism – now discredited – was a late 19th Century theory by Herbert Spencer that human beings were subject in society to the same pressures of natural selection applicable to plants and animals.

Capitalism, like nature, was viewed to be red in tooth and claw.  Survival of the fittest governed.  Pity was counter-productive.

According to this theory, members of the wealthy upper class were inherently superior, as their status in society demonstrated.  Members of the lower classes were considered inherently deficient.

Social Darwinism was used to justify racism, imperialism, and a laissez-faire attitude toward societal ills like poverty and child labor.  Not to be forgotten, the theory was, also, closely associated with eugenics – the selective breeding, forced sterilization, and involuntary euthanasia programs later pursued by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis [1].

A recent PBS series, Victorian Slum House, served as a vivid illustration of social Darwinism [2].  Volunteers lived for a period of weeks under the same conditions prevailing in the slums of London during the latter half of the 19th Century.

The program highlighted the biases and misconceptions on which social Darwinism was based.  Among these were beliefs that the poor “liked” to be dirty; that they lacked initiative; that they were criminally inclined and generally undeserving, as reflected by their lowly status.

While Christians like Jane Addams were intimately involved with the Settlement House Movement which was a response to social Darwinism, modern Christians seem to have retained many of the biases underlying that theory [3][4].

Many slum conditions have not changed a great deal in the past century either.

Much poverty housing is still decrepit, even dangerous.  Roofs leak.  Repairs have been haphazard for decades, assuming they were made at all.  Asbestos and lead paint can be present in older homes.  Plumbing is likely to be ancient, lead pipe based, and only occasionally functional [5].  Water is rust colored.  Pipes crack.  Sewers back up.

Children are still undernourished.  Adults still have few marketable skills, living paycheck to paycheck if they can find work.

When did suburban Christians decide we were so much better than “those people”?  Are we more deserving because we have had better breaks?  Spiritually superior because our bank accounts are larger, or our zip codes more exclusive?

Are we so certain of our rectitude?  Or are we blind to our obligations?

So the people asked Him, saying, ‘What shall we do then?’  He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise’ ” (Luke 3: 10-11).

[1]  Encyclopedia Brittanica Blog, “Beyond Darwin:  Eugenics, Social Darwinism, and the Social Theory of the Natural Selection of Humans” by Kara Rogers, 2/9/09,

[2]  PBS, “Victorian Slum House”,

[3]  Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries, Social Welfare History Project, “Origins of the Settlement House Movement” by J. Scheuer (1985),

[4]  According to the Office of Management and Budget, General Accounting Office, and other federal agencies 10.1% of Welfare payments lacked sufficient documentation, were fraudulent or otherwise improper in 2015.  That, of course, means 89.9% of payments were necessary and proper.  No more than 4.6% of WIC payments (Women, Infants, and Children’s Food and Nutrition Service payments) were improper.  See, Federal Safety Net, “Welfare Fraud”,

[5]  Up to 20% of lead exposure in children is from drinking water.  SeeUniversity of Pittsburgh, “The Significance of Lead Water Mains in American Cities:  Some Historical Evidence” by Werner Troesken and Patricia Beeson,


  1. Being graduate is Sociology..i was thrilled studying about social darwinism context in your writing…i think disregarding all the worldly knowledge..we should embrace what Bible tell about poor…we should provide them if we have two tunics and food to those who have not…this is why we were given more tunics and food to share with others in need….this is also how poverty can be abolished…

  2. You shed a light on a feature of the human condition that has fueled such (perpetuated) suffering and alienation…self-righteousness is a such a curse…you, on the other hand, are a blessing who can not be over-appreciated…thank you for giving, and caring so deeply….you are definitely a game-changer 🙂

  3. That part about when did Christians decide this whole white superiority complex is something I’ve wondered about as well. I’m tempted to say during the Middle Ages, but I’m pretty sure it started right around Jesus’ death. The whole thing is so ridiculous and not in tune with anything I can find in the Bible (although I dare say you’re far better versed in this area than I am), it just makes me wonder. Chanced on a book from 1867 recently (a paper really) in which the author argues very logically for white supremacy. I managed to get to page 25. Then I had to stop reading. It was so vile. How people can live like that and call themselves a good Christian / Jew / Muslim / Hindu etc. is completely beyond me. I know atheists with more Christian values than these idiots. Sorry about the rant.

    • You are absolutely right. There is no biblical support for self-righteousness or white supremacy.

      There is a verse in the book of Isaiah that compares mankind’s righteousness with God’s. It reads, “…And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away” (Is. 64: 6). Christ abhorred the Pharisees for their self-righteousness. Christians, more than any others, should know that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.

      However, because human nature is inclined toward sin, even Scripture can be misinterpreted. Noah’s youngest son Ham is viewed as the father of the Canaanites, Arabs, Egyptians, and other Africans. He is described in Scripture as having been cursed for disrespect toward Noah (Gen. 9: 20-25). African slavery was “justified” on this basis. In fact, there was a distorted gospel preached in the Antebellum South. That the situation of Southern slaves paralleled that of Hebrews enslaved in Egypt remained obvious.

      • Yeah, I remember that part about the Pharisees. People should take a page from that really.

        I remember those justification. Did a lot of research on the Antebellum South for my degree a while back. I’m still reeling from the information.

        The book I mentioned basically refuted the entire theory of Ham on the basis of forehead and hair, and then employed logic to justify how black people were not human.

        One idiot writing this tripe is already bad enough, but I know for a fact there are people jumping on this bandwagon. Yet they’re the righteous ones who believe in God. The mind really boggles.

      • There is growing ignorance in the world — both among those who consider themselves godly, and those who do not. Very few Christians are biblically literate any longer. Lies spread easily in such an environment. And Satan never sleeps. His goal is to stir unrest, envy, pain, hatred, and discord.

        If anyone ever raises the issue of racism and the Bible with you, here are some examples that should set them straight.

        — The Hebrew words for Adam and the soil from which Adam was created signify swarthy, reddish brown or black. Coincidentally, scientists now believe that early man was black. White skin color is thought to have evolved in colder climates.
        — The patriarch Joseph married an Egyptian woman who would have been a descendant of Ham. There is a strong likelihood that Asenath was dark skinned. Yet she was the mother of Manasseh and Ephraim.
        — Moses’ second wife was Ethiopian (Cushite). Evidently, Moses’ siblings Miriam and Aaron objected to her skin color (Numbers 12: 1). God made Miriam into a leper for this. Ironically, that disease would have turned her skin pasty white.
        — In the New Testament, the Ethiopian eunuch (one of the first Gentiles to be baptized) (Acts 8); Simeon and Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13) are all believed to have been black.

        There is no racial requirement for compliance with the Beatitudes (Matt. 5: 3-10). Paul, of course, taught: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ” (Gal. 3: 28).

      • Thanks. I was actually familiar with some of these, since my dad – an atheist – knew the Old Testament inside out. My grandfather was studying to be a priest when he met my grandmother, and decided his mission on Earth was to raise a family with this woman. 🙂

        The growing ignorance always surprises me. We are in the 21st century. Seems to me that at the beginning of each century there’s always a step or two (or twenty) taken back somehow. And, like you said, they all “know” the Bible like they know their neighbor. An Anglican pastor told me it’s all about “I’m a better Christian than you are.”

        I’m honestly more spiritual than religious, but I grew up around mindless fanatics. In my mom’s culture, the go-to authority is always the priest. No need to learn passages from the Bible when Father Ignatius will tell you everything, including where to look. I love to have discussions on religion and beliefs where we respect each other’s boundaries with people, but the stuff coming out of some people’s mouths really begs the question, “how do you call yourself a Christian?”

        I also know Christians who really live according to the Bible. They are good people, they don’t judge, they know they’re not perfect.

        Did you read Anne of Green Gables? In the third book (iirc), Anne is talking to her chaperone who lives with them while they’re studying at college, and the older woman says she doesn’t believe the Devil is ugly, but instead imagines him as dashing. “Otherwise I don’t believe he’d be able to do that much damage.” Even as a kid I knew that to be true.

        I do believe in demons, dark forces. What always gets to me though is how a) they can take on Hunan form (or inhabit a human body) and b) how they project love and goodness. I’ve met two where this was especially pronounced. And they lured me in by projecting all this goodness. I can read people really well. But these two got me. I now believe they somehow tsp into that goodness you have (I’m not saying I’m the world’s greatest person, but I try to be good and kind) and project it back onto you as though they were the good guys. Kind of makes me think of the movie Incubus.

      • I was an atheist for many years. I had been molested as a child, and held God responsible. That made for alot of anger.

        Anne of Green Gables got it right. We are told by Scripture Satan was once an angel of light; that he and his demons were cast out of heaven for their rebellion against God; that they prowl the earth disguised (2 Cor. 13-15). You might like “The Screwtape Letters” by CS Lewis, if you haven’t read it. Wickedly funny correspondence between 2 demons.

        Human beings are though responsible for the evil they perpetuate. The possibility for love exists only if the possibility for choice exists. Evil is the dark side of free will. What generation has been free of war, crime, poverty, or injustice? Some will choose darkness.

        Unlike you, I believe in a personal God – a God so personal He gave His only begotten Son to die for the sins of mankind. I don’t just believe in the theoretical possibility God might exist. I know Him. He was with me on my darkest nights. And He has used evil for good.

        The pseudo-Christians can’t fool everyone. On the last day, all will be judged and justice will at last be done. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness‘ ” (Matt. 7:23).

      • So sorry to hear that. But glad you found your way out.

        I do believe that humans are responsible for their own actions, I won’t make it that easy on them, but like you said, there are those who choose darkness, and once they’ve made that choice, I believe they (can) let demons in.

        More people should keep in mind what you wrote about love. It would definitely make the world a better place.

      • My thanks for the compliment. I agree with you that we can make ourselves susceptible to demons. I should have been more clear. Be well.

      • No, you were very clear. My mind just jumps around all the time. Have a good week, and hope we can continue this exchange and many others very soon.

      • Count on it!

      • God is wonderful. I have followed you for a while. Except that you mentioned it, I could not believe you were an atheist seeing how much the love of God dwells in your heart. Stories like yours are the ones that convince me that there is power in the the word of God. It is easy to claim to be a Christian when you come from a family that raises you that way. It takes the blood of covenant and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform an atheist. There is no argument that can do that job except Christ reveal himself to those He chooses.

      • Thank you, Gbolabo. I enjoy your website, as well. I agree that God is wonderful. He came to find me when I was still a lost lamb. The years I was away from Him grieve me. But my constant prayer is that He may use me for His purposes — great or small. ❤

  4. Anna this is an important message! Thank you for your courage in sharing it.

  5. What a great post, and such heartfelt responses! You know Anna, when I was about 35 or so I was first told of this belief that black people were cursed because of the sin of Ham. Not only was I shocked to hear this, but it was an ordained minister that told me. I subsequently learned that he was not alone in his belief, but that many in his denomination believed this way (albeit discreetly).

    Being a Christian for as long as I have, one hears many things that are supposed to be found in the Bible, but are not. As you say, very few Christians in our day are Biblically literate. For sure, I know many unbelievers that know as much as many self professing Christians.

    While many would say I am naive, I honestly do believe that the cure for society’s ills lies in the person of Jesus Christ. If all everyone did was to follow the two commandments of loving the Lord with all of our hearts and minds, and our neighbors as ourselves, evil would disappear.

    Fairy tale to many, I suppose. Mankind has always excelled at making things harder than they need to be,and that would include the simple act of caring for one another.

    • Thank you, Ron. You are always a great encouragement to me.

      I first learned of the racist implications of Ham from a black woman who had rejected Christianity for that very reason. Satan quoted Scripture out of context to Christ, Himself. Unfortunately, some Christians latch onto a phrase or the fragment of an idea, and misapply it fervently. We so easily delude ourselves.

      You are not, in my view, naive in believing that Christ is the cure for society’s ills. That recognition reflects profound wisdom. But we are incapable of grasping it without faith. Not all will choose that course.

      Communism, socialism, even democracy are incapable of establishing an earthly paradise without Christ.

  6. Great post Anna! Thankfully I can get to your posts through WP Reader..

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