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‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’: Why We Matter

 This is a draft of a chapter for a forthcoming book called “Why People Matter,” edited by John Kilner.  I am expanding on questions and affirmations Kara Slade and I made when we gave a keynote address at the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics.  That essay is online here at this site.  It is thanks to Kara also that we are posting this draft here.  Having worked on it for so long, I’d lost perspective on whether or not it is helpful.  She says it is!  And thanks so much to Meghan Florian for editing this draft and creating the bibliography! – ALH


Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Matthew 10:29-30 (RSV)

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. Civilla D. Martin, 1905


You and I are not only individuals. Each individual Christian is part of a larger body. We are part of the Body of Christ. But we are not “just” part of the Body. The Body of Christ cannot itself be measured or parceled. Take the Lord’s Supper as a weekly reminder of this fact of Christian faith. Christians believe the Body of Christ is indiscriminately there, on the table, across the world in ways that not even Google Maps can map. And each individual in the Body of Christ cannot be authoritatively measured or parceled or evaluated numerically. Being part of Jesus Christ means that each individual, as a whole, is whole in an incalculable way. We are each, as little bitty parts of the Body of Christ, unto our own, beloved beyond reckoning by God as individuals. Here I further suggest, with centuries of Christians, that Jesus came in one single body with a name and a history and a story for a reason. Jesus is not a “symbol” of some other truth that is beyond his particularity, whether that truth is political or spiritual or aesthetic. His individual body marks our individual bodies as known by God in ways that must shape how we seek to know one another not as symbols or instantiations of another reality but as real, as incarnate. Numbering people – and trying to know them by a category that can be counted, and assessed, and sent by experts into the right pen – is a lie that Christians need to refuse. This essay is one way to explain why the particularity of Jesus Christ matters for the particular matter that makes each person a unique person. You, and I, and that woman next to us in the pew, each one of us is too inscrutable for a larger description and decisive evaluation by another human being or another group of human beings who seek to study us.

Here is another way into this argument. I have borrowed the title for this essay from a song that was sung at my grandmother’s and at my great-grandmother’s funeral, each held in Mineral Wells, Texas.[i] Both mother and daughter were war widows. My great-grandmother’s husband came home from World War I, “the war to end all wars,” and, like many veterans of that war, he came home with wounds on his soul from which he never recovered. My grandmother’s husband came home from World War II, specifically from the war in the Pacific. Historian John Dower has termed that theater of war to have been a “war without mercy,” and my grandfather had sustained so many wounds from a sniper that he was never the same.[ii] Before the war, he had played the mandolin regularly in a band with his four brothers. After the war, his hands shook from trauma. He was not able to play the music that had given him joy. Both of my grandmothers had three children, and each watched changes as their hometown shifted from a regional, health destination (“Mineral Wells”) to a military town with one of the largest infantry replacement training centers in the U.S. (Fort Wolters). My great-grandmother was known for her impeccable skills as a seamstress, taking in alteration requests to supplement her modest pension. My grandmother, her daughter, was known for her fried pies and her downright profligate shopping sprees, almost always for her daughters and granddaughters. Neither woman was famous. Neither woman changed the world. But his eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watched them and watches them still. When Jesus Christ returns, he will restore every single hair to their beautiful heads, and restore their healed husbands to their ready arms. If Jesus Christ was indeed raised from the dead, then my grandmothers’ very particular, nuanced, singular lives were not in vain. They are not redeemed as part of any humanly created strategy for national progress or as part of a large sweep of all of human history. They will each individually be redeemed and raised by grace through Jesus Christ alone.

I will here make a case for Christian attention to each individual human being, against what I will call epistemological socialism. Epistemology is a word philosophers use for how people (usually philosophers) think about thinking. Socialism is a word often used for forms of governance that seek to control and hold different industries in common and distribute goods perceived to be common goods in a more equitable way. The two words together have been used to describe a form of knowing that undergirds a political theory of socialism. That is not my interest in using the two words together. I am not going to evaluate state-sponsored programs that provide food, public education, health care, or interstate highways. I am using the word “socialism” differently. I am using the words “epistemological socialism” together to describe a way of thinking that sorts, orders, understands, directs, or even seeks to control groups of people. I am putting these two words somewhat clumsily together to try to describe a way of thinking about thinking that describes the best way of thinking as a view from above the fray of individual faces and affections and particular idiosyncrasies of lived lives with real people, as a real person. One form of epistemological socialism (as I am using the term) is social Darwinism, a term that itself means applying ideas about the history and development of the earth to human beings, sometimes with an aim to direct those human beings toward a goal, sometimes with an aim simply to try to understand and predict how human beings will move about in the world politically, sexually, domestically, etc.

The most immediately accessible version of epistemological socialism for most readers may be niche marketing in post-industrial capitalism. All you have to do to watch this form of thinking about thinking is turn on the television and view critically. Advertising and even entire channels on radio or television use predictive models to determine how to attract particular eyeballs or ears to their brand. Readers may best have experienced this tactic when they have been accidentally or occasionally subjected to messaging aimed at a very different demographic than their own. Some grandparents who have been watching television in the U.S. since they were young have found themselves watching the Super Bowl in the last decade thinking, at each advertisement, “Clearly I am not their target audience.” The mechanisms of marketing to particular demographics in order to persuade and direct people about what to buy and what to care about make up a whole field of study. One of the bluntest declarations of this intentional form of study and control came from Bob Pittman, the co-creator of MTV (or Music Television) in 1982. Christian Williams, in his 1982 Washington Post article on Pittman’s creation explained, “MTV’s target audience is aged 14 to 34. It is a classic example of ‘narrowcasting,’ as opposed to ‘broadcasting.’ That is, MTV delivers an audience with specific demographics.” Note that Williams has explained here that MTV first creates a particular audience and then delivers an audience to advertisers. The social body that makes up people-who-watch-MTV was not there before. That social body of MTV-people was created by the carefully wrought construction of a plan to create a demographic that would be then useful for people eager to market and persuade a particular, newly-created audience. Williams goes on to quote Pittman as distinguishing between the old fashioned term “demographic” from a new form of marketing Pittman called “psychographics.” Pittman then says something that should be cause for alarm and protest by even those Christians who actually like secular rock music. “At MTV, we don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds–we own them.” Noting that music itself has been used by many different cultures at different times for self-definition and for top-down control, Williams quotes Pittman again “You tell me the music people like and I’ll tell you their views on abortion, whether we should increase our military arms, what their sense of humor is like, what their favorite TV programs are, their response to political candidates, even their taste in jokes.”[iii]

Two decades later, if you do a simple internet search for this particularly provocative statement “we own them,” you will find that most commentators are most troubled that it was the creator of MTV who spoke these words. Christian parents have indeed objected over the decades to the aim that Pittman took at teens in America. My point is more direct than that and has nothing really to do with whether the music on MTV is debauched or inspired. I want readers to consider what it means that human beings are seeking through meticulous study of “psychographics” to “own” any group of people, whether the group to be “owned” is impressionable Midwestern teens in the 1990s or economically insecure, working-class white men in the 2010s. It is not the hip-shaking or sagging jeans on a television station that troubles me here. It is the intentional study and creation and manipulation of a group of people by another group of people. God created human beings out of nothing, and saves each of us by Jesus Christ. Those who perform today predictive programming really do try to “play God,” a term that is over-used by ethicists. And they try to make other merely human projects, whether idle ones or grand ones, that will claim our attention and even our worship.[iv]

While this chapter could focus exclusively on the presumption of advertising, there are other forms of epistemological socialism that are worth attention and criticism. I will explain why forms of social Darwinism prevalent in common discourse about individuals and about whole social groups beg for an account of holy individuality. Specifically, I will note the work of social Darwinists E.O. Wilson and Jonathan Haidt, legal scholar and cultural critic Amy Chua, neurobiologists Joan Chiao and Katherine Blizinksky, and social psychologists Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama. I do not wish to argue that any one of these authors is nefarious. As far as I have been able to determine through research, none have so bluntly stated, as did Pittman, that they hope to “own” a particular group of people. But what they have written is contrary to the witness within Christianity that human beings matter in their specificity. Basically, each of these writers has made a mistake in the category relevant to this volume. They have forgotten, or perhaps have never quite known, “Why People Matter.” Unlike scholars who try to find common ground between new forms of social science and Christianity, I will do the opposite – showing the different assumptions in social biological scholarship that require critical engagement and even refusal. I will describe what is at stake when Christians take on ways of seeing the world that blur the lines between particular children of God, making persons seem primarily part of something larger called a “people.”

In the final third of this essay, I will explain how seeking a view from “above” mere mortals can shape an individual soul in such a way that he forgets himself. Wilson, Haidt, Chiao, and the others I will discuss do wrong by their “human subjects” by climbing up a ladder to look down and count or dissect groups. I believe it is important to note that this view from “above” can lead a human being to lose himself. I will use Errol Morris’s documentary about Robert McNamara, The Fog of War, to help you understand this point. In one scene, McNamara tries to sort out why it is that he thought his architectural plans for fire-bombing civilian populations in Japan (in that “war without mercy”) were required of him.[v] McNamara worked as the President of Ford Motor Company after serving in WW II and before serving as the Secretary of Defense. And he served as the President of the World Bank following his resignation from the cabinet of L.B. Johnson. As a documentarian, Morris elicits from McNamara both vulnerability and dignity, even while encouraging in him a recognition of what his particular story says about American ways of war. McNamara’s story is about an individual human being and also about that one human being’s part of a story that caught him up and perhaps carried him away.

His Coming Kingdom of Peace

 Between the God of evolution and the God of Christian faith there is contradiction: the general “struggle for existence” knows only survivors and victims; but the God of the crucified Christ is the saviour of the victims and the judge of the survivors. Out of the victims in the history of nature and the victims of human history, God builds his coming kingdom of peace.[vi]

If Jesus was raised from the dead, in all his particular beauty and mortality, so do Christians witness to the truth of individual dignity in the face of epistemological socialism. This requires a reckoning with a form of epistemological socialism wrought from popularized notions of social Darwinism. I have in mind narrative forms of thought that range from Francis Fukuyama’s teleology of capitalism, in The End of History and the Last Man (1992) to Jonathan Haidt’s recent reclamation of the “hive hypothesis” for public policy. [vii] To put this in terms that may be more familiar to a philosophy or religion major, it is important to consider critically not only Immanuel Kant’s version of Enlightenment individualism, but also the abiding significance of his main conversation partner, G.W.F Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel had sought to solve the problem of “individualism” in his day with a collectivist, progressive account of human history, an account that inspired thinkers ranging from Karl Marx (1818-1883) to Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Immanuel Kant had left in his work a question that troubled his successors. Either individual duty stands alone, and the individual must learn to stay true to his duty regardless of reward or consolation, or, the individual is consoled by the probability, given the structures of human thought, that God and heaven are plausible. Philosophers in the eighteenth-century eager to throw off the shackles of Christianity were hardly satisfied with the reintroduction of God into Kant’s account of individual freedom. But many of those same philosophers were not content to leave their beloved Western Europe bereft of hope in a future wherein truth, goodness, and beauty all could eventually and materially cohere. This is where Hegel was so useful for his era and continues to be useful today for people who find belief in the absurdities of Christianity to be onerous, embarrassing, or inconvenient. Hegel wrote that human beings of a particular sort are able to stand above human history, observe it (and us) and push the future forward.

Hegel’s legacy of human ambition is at least as problematic for determining “Why People Matter” today as the call to individual conscience that Kant left behind in the eighteenth-century. Here I can do no better than to quote an obscure, Danish philosopher who studied both Kant and Hegel in Germany in the early nineteenth-century, and then returned home to write in his quaint, native tongue. In a section that he ultimately deleted from Philosophical Fragments, Søren Kierkegaard explained what was at stake in Hegel’s way of thinking about thinking:

 “Too bad that Hegel lacked time; but if one is to dispose of all of world history, how does one get time for the little test as to whether the absolute method, which explains everything, is also able to explain the life of a single human being. In ancient times, one would have smiled at a method that can explain all of world history absolutely but cannot explain a single person even mediocrely . . .”[viii]

Kierkegaard wrote indirectly, through a pseudonym, in many of his books, including Philosophical Fragments. He sought to prompt questions in each of his individual readers about how Hegelian assumptions had made their way into the sense of what makes “common sense” sensible in their day.   More importantly, he sought to help each reader consider the ways that philosophically sophisticated forms of Christianity in Western Europe, at the end of the nineteenth-century, had taken within their systems assumptions about human progress and the movement of history through advanced forms of human knowledge. His point in the little scrap about explaining individuals is that, for all of Hegel’s expertise, he lacks the capacity to explain the nonsensical existence of this, one, particular, singular human life. Kierkegaard is hinting for his readers that the existence of this one, single, individual human being is not to be explained at all, but taken as an inexplicable, incalculable given. That knowledge, however, requires going backwards in philosophical progress, from before Kant’s deism, to consider again the gratuitous case of Jesus Christ and salvation through him. To explain Kierkegaard’s indirect way of prompting each reader again to return to Jesus Christ would take another essay, for another volume. (I will include a suggestion for further reading at the end of this essay.)

Christians during Kierkegaard’s day who wanted to keep up with their peers in a German coffee shop had to show they knew and respected the mastery of Hegel. A marker today of cultural sophistication is a thinker’s obeisance to the work of Charles Darwin, who was himself strongly influenced by the Hegelianism of European thought. The late Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) tried, in various ways, to correct and complicate the form of “Darwinism” that prevails in the popular, academic imagination in the late-twentieth and now early-twenty-first century. As Gould notes, the way many people think of Darwinism is embedded in a notion of upward progress across the entire history of the world, and, when applied to humans, embedded in a notion that some human groups or individuals are more advanced at any particular point in time than other groups or individuals. And, when part of Western thought, this notion is often embedded in an account of how democratic capitalism will save the world. This is not the only possible reading of Darwinism, but it is the reading that is most useful for thinkers and writers hoping to promote any scheme for pushing human history onward and upward. In his essay “Ladders and Cones: Constraining Evolution by Canonical Icons,” Gould explains:

 The most serious and pervasive of all misconceptions about evolution equates the concept with some notion of progress, usually inherent and predictable, and leading to a human pinnacle. Yet neither evolutionary theory nor life’s actual fossil record supports such an idea. Darwinian natural selection only produces adaptation to changing local environments, not any global scheme of progress. We can interpret local adaptation as “improvement” in a particular circumstance (the hairier elephant that becomes a woolly mammoth does better in ice age climates), but a historical chain of sequential local adaptations does not accumulate to a story of continuous progress.[ix]

Gould was not trying to correct specifically Christian Darwinism, but to give all readers who consider themselves in allegiance with Darwin a perspective on the interpretive lenses they had balanced on their own noses, so to speak. He wanted to show how people using Darwin’s thought had taken on a way of seeing the world that was not internal to Darwinism, but was instead a way of interpreting the world through an interpretation of Darwinism.[x] Gould contended it was bad for scientists to be stuck seeing the detailed particularity of the earth through only this prism.

There has been a recent debate on the compatibility of social Darwinism with Christianity that is a helpful supplement to read alongside Gould’s essay. This debate does address Christian Darwinism in particular, and it is an important corrective to different funding schemes to present a form of religiosity that is supposedly compatible with both traditional Christianity and “social biology.”[xi] This debate went on between Jurgen Moltmann and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the second half of the twentieth-century. Jurgen Moltmann’s Nein! to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Oui! is a response that bears repeating, as social Darwinism reproduces itself today in different epistemologically socialist accounts of human and natural history. Moltmann jumps us from the nineteenth to the twentieth-century, as mainstream, Western theologians reckoned with the success of Darwinian Hegelianism. In his Phenomenon of Man (1955) Teilhard de Chardin had written an account of Christian eschatology that took natural selection and progressive evolution (from lower consciousness toward higher consciousness) into the story of God’s salvation. Teilhard de Chardin embedded the mechanisms popularly associated with Darwinism into an account of God’s redemption of Israel and the nations.[xii] (It is worth noting that the foreword to the book was written by unrepentant eugenicist Julian Huxley.) German, Reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann responded to this French Jesuit’s synthesis repeatedly in his own account of Christian hope and the future of the earth, refusing the confluence of this form of Darwinism and a Christian eschatology. Here is a representative quotation:

 Evolution always means selection. Many living things are sacrificed in order that ‘the fittest,’ – which means the most effective and the most adaptable – may survive. In this way higher and increasingly complex life systems, which can react to changed environments, undoubtedly develop. But in the same process milliards of living things fall by the wayside and disappear into evolution’s rubbish bin. Evolution is not merely a constructive affair on nature’s part. It is a cruel one too. It is a kind of biological execution of the Last Judgment on the weak, the sick and the ‘unfit.’[xiii]

Moltmann contends it is vital for Christians to testify explicitly against any worldview that presents human lives as “fertilizers” of a redeemed future.[xiv] As in the quotation with which I started this section, Moltmann witnesses against a story that solidifies a “struggle for existence” as the motor toward God’s goodness, and he posits a fundamental “contradiction” in any form of Christian Darwinism that cannot be resolved. God “builds his coming kingdom of peace” with what Darwinism deems to be the flotsam and jetsam of the wave of progress: “out of the victims in the history of nature and the victims of human history” God makes a new world that does not cohere to what social Darwinism posits as the rules of scarcity, competition, and death.[xv] We may read Moltmann as refusing a system that would call Christians either to sacrifice themselves on the altar of divine progress or to fight for their place in a struggle toward a teleology of collective flourishing for the sake of future generations. Neither sacrifice nor victory is warranted to secure God’s good future, because that job has been taken by Jesus Christ. As many Christians affirm weekly in the liturgy for the Lord’s Supper, “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” God’s “coming kingdom of peace” anchors hope in a different mode of thinking and living than the Darwinian, socialist accounts of survival, sacrifice, and humanly wrought progress.[xvi]

One local example of how this debate about social Darwinism works within Christianity may help the reader understand the import of Moltmann’s witness. Duke University is a school with an ambitious, Methodist robber-baron as our founder. The relationship between Duke University and the town, Durham, where most of Duke’s workers live, is complicated in many ways. One of those ways is the palpable Southern Christianity (both African-American and Anglo) that endures in some Southern areas. The Duke administration sponsored a series on “Science, Religion, and Evolution” in 2006, and faculty across the university received a message from the University Provost (our boss) specifically to invite not only colleagues but also all staff to attend this important series.[xvii] It was, by the estimation of many people on staff, an attempt to disabuse the locals of their backwards ideas about religion and evolution. The series happened to fall the very same year that the “town” (Durham) and the “gown” (Duke) were embroiled in a human tragedy and convoluted media disaster known as the “Lacrosse Scandal.” The story had divided Durham in ways that people were only beginning to sort, but one of the images that people used repeatedly about Duke, in conversation and in articles on the story was “ivory tower.”

Enter Daniel Dennett, philosopher and cognitive scientist, who came as part of the series to instruct the “Duke community” on “Darwin, Meaning, and Truth.” Toward the end of his lecture, Dennett showed a large slide of an indistinct item and asked the audience to guess what it was. I attended the lecture in part because I was concerned that Christians on staff and staff people of other faiths were going to be depicted as ignorant and in need of correction. The people gathering for his lecture made up a large group of scientists and non-scientists. As Professor Dennett showed his slide, people were brave in calling out their best guesses. “A close up of a tongue?” “A swarm of insects?” After other guesses that were not on target, Dennett suggested we take a perspective from high above the earth and try again. After more incorrect guesses, Dennett explained that the image was a satellite photograph of “mammals gathered at the Ganges.” The image was a photo of people practicing the Hindu ritual of bathing in the Ganges. Dennett’s lecture was in part on the evolution of religious practices, from “folk” religions to “sectarian” religions to religions that are open to Enlightenment principles and are explicitly tolerant of Western forms of science. In showing the slide of people practicing the Hindu ritual, he gave a palpable example of the God’s eye view he was proposing everyone take, over and even against religious practices and people who practice them. The only way to answer his question correctly was to see the individual people from a satellite perspective, blurred of their distinctive stories and particular faces. It was the worst sort of example of detached, “ivory tower” seeing, and Dennett had embedded the superiority of exactly that way of seeing other human beings into his intellectual scheme.

Rituals of Allegiance to the gods

I have kept in mind Dennett’s perspective as I have thought about myrmecologist E. O. Wilson’s work on humans as hive insects. But first, it might be helpful to have a pastoral reminder. God has God’s eye on you, me, and the curious sparrow sitting here on my porch. And, God has each of us in mind not so that we can be cast into the dross, but so that we can be part of a heavenly banquet. While I type, E.O. Wilson’s eyes are on insects, particularly hive insects that practice what is called “eusociality.” (Myrmecology is the study of ants.) Eusociality involves a set of humanly recorded behaviors that seem (to particular observers who use a particular language) to indicate: 1) the perpetuation of newly hatched insects not directly genetically related to those tending them and, 2) what scientists have termed “caste” systems of “governance.” E.O. Wilson not only uses the word “caste” for non-human animals and “governance” for groups of bees and wasps, but he turns the terms back around to aver that termites, bees, ants, and wasps that exhibit non-genetically specific feeding systems, caste divisions, and hierarchical governance systems signal how functional human societies will conquer (over time) non-eusocial groups of people. Here, in his candidly titled treatise, The Social Conquest of Earth (2012), E.O. Wilson describes the social evolution toward such forms of human flourishing:

Responsibility is divided among specialists, including soldiers, builders, clerks, and priests. With enough population and wealth, the public services of art, sciences, and education can be added – first for the benefit of the elite and then, trickling down, for the general public. The heads of state sit upon a throne, real or virtual. They ally themselves with the high priests, and clothe their authority with rituals of allegiance to the gods. The ascent to civilization, from egalitarian band and village to chiefdom to state, has occurred through cultural evolution, not through changes in genes. It is a spring-loaded change, unfolding in a manner parallel to, but far grander than, the one propelling insect groups from aggregates to families, then to eusocial colonies with their castes and division of labor . . . They may then continue to expand if they are able, ultimately blossoming into empires or fissioning into new, competing states. With larger size and farther reach comes greater complexity. And as with complexity of any physical or biological system, the society, in order to achieve stability and survive and not quickly crumble, must add hierarchical control.[xviii]

E.O. Wilson counts “hierarchical control” as a marker of “civilization itself,” and “division of labor” as essential for “ascent” into societies that function as beautifully as the insect groups he has chosen as markers of excellence. “Allegiance to the gods” would presumably require, in such a society, reinforcing hierarchy and division of labor as part of liturgical (or, as he would put it, ritualistic) practice. Wilson makes it explicit that a civilized system that fails to reinforce the division of labor would experience dysfunction: “hierarchies work better than unorganized assemblages . . . Put another way, you cannot expect success if assembly-line workers vote at executive conferences or enlisted men plan military campaigns.”[xix] The way that the sanctity of an individual human being is lost in such an account of human history may be apparent to some readers. As much as many of us appreciate the intricate beauty of ants or bees, to suggest human beings are at our best when we are like ants or bees seems, to some people, to be odd. To return to our opening passage and song, to compare me to a sparrow is to reverberate back and forth from bird to human being in a way that makes each one of us glisten with significance. While Jesus Christ often spoke in parable, this story is not the kind of story where the sparrow stands in for a human being, merely as a symbol. The point is that each feather is known, and each hair is counted, by God, in such a way that non-Christian readers might deem to be “magical” and Christian readers might describe as incalculable grace.

It is obvious how a human being becomes a matter of mere, scientific interest in an extended section of another one of Wilson’s popular books, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. The passage requires repeating, in order to convey Wilson’s story of human beings in time. He asks readers to “imagine” a scenario that will clarify his particular way of seeing how people matter:

Five hundred miles southeast in Amazonian Peru lives Pablo Amaringo, mestizo shaman and artist. Drawing on the traditions of his Amerindian forebears . . . Imagine that we can speed or slow the time we spend with him, while expanding or shrinking the space we see in and around his person. So we enter his house, we shake his hand, and Amaringo shows us a painting. The actions consume seconds or minutes. An obvious fact, so why mention it? The question makes more sense when put in another form: Why did these familiar actions not consume millionths of seconds, or months, instead? The answer is that human beings are constructed of billions of cells that communicate across membranes by chemical surges and electrical impulses. To see and speak with Amaringo entails a sequence of these units covering seconds to minutes, not microseconds or months. We think of that span of time as normal and somehow standard for the world in which we live. It is not. Because it involves Amaringo and us, all of whom are organic machines, it is only organismic time . . . Imagine now that with the best of our instruments (and his permission!) we can look into the brain of Pablo Amaringo . . . We are now in biochemical time . . . Amaringo shrinks in proportionate size and speed-walks jerkily out of the room, like an actor in an early silent film . . . Detached from other human beings and shorn of their emotions, godlike at last, we witness the world in evolutionary time and space.[xx]

The blurring of an actual individual like Pablo Cesar Amaringo into a symbol for a group of people is problematic. He becomes, in Wilson’s description, an example of a person in an exotic area of the world perceived, without special, descriptive help, to be symbolically Edenic, or prehistoric. So, even though Pablo Amaringo himself has emerged sufficiently out of the Peruvian boondocks to appear with his art on “Wikipedia,” in Wilson’s description, he is still symbolic of an idea, not an individual. This blurring of distinction involves a “godlike” form of vision that Kara Slade and I have written elsewhere is contrary to the gracious vision that is possible when human life is viewed liturgically. To view any person as individually intricate and uniquely problematic is a gift of the Lord’s Supper, a gift possible as we perceive one another as of the same body that is a church.[xxi]

It is a symptom of Wilson’s perception that he suggests his reader imagine not only recalibrating time so as to perceive this group of people in Peru within the scope of evolution, but also that his reader enter “into the brain” of this person-as-symbol. As Wilson suggests that “a century of their time collapses into a minute of ours,” he has narrated himself and his readers into the place of a skilled entomologist, viewing “them” as if they are beneath “us.” For Wilson, inasmuch as we are all moving toward a goal wrought by the great entomologist in the sky, creatures that are human are still somehow, sort of, related. For our purposes in this essay, I would add to the argument Kara Slade and I made three years ago. The writer known as Paul, in his account of the church as body in, for example, 1 Corinthians 12, makes it clear that any arm that forgets to listen to a hand, ear, or foot is going about church all wrong. Christians should respond to Wilson that we long ago refused to see people in the way that he suggests people should be seen. Even though Christian caste systems survive in some way through honorifics of various sorts (on British Airways tickets or during academic processions) at our core we are to know that each of us receives the same gratuitous portion of the body of Christ at the Lord’s Supper, and each ingests that body into our very particularly quirky, beset, blessed and confused bodies. In sum, Wilson’s thought experiment fails on three counts. He suggests readers imagine themselves outside of mortal time and space. He suggests readers imagine themselves entering into another human being’s brain. And, finally, as a fancy, scientifically dressed-up version of that horrible pop song by Julie Gold, Wilson suggests readers can best understand another human being “from a distance,” from a “godlike” vantage point. Whether Bette Midler or E.O. Wilson sings it, a story with a god who sees “from a distance” is about a different God than the one revealed in the flesh in Jesus Christ.[xxii]

Another social scientific theorist who has made himself indispensable is Jonathan Haidt. Although I disallow students from using “Wikipedia” as an academic source, the site is a useful way to see how a subject is narrated by that subject or fans or critics of that subject. It is notable that Jonathan Haidt has made sure to note on “Wikipedia” that his “TED” talks are very popular. (“His three Ted talks have been viewed more than 3 million times.”) His books are bestsellers, and his smiling image is reliably the first result if you “Google” (internet search) his last name (accessed September, 2014). In other words, Haidt is not merely a public intellectual. He is now a celebrity, dispensing wisdom about human beings, morality, and happiness itself. Haidt is the ostensible author of so many pages it is hard to choose quotations, but the words that have had the most palpable effect were from his op-ed in the New York Times after the execution of Osama bin-Laden. This essay was entitled “Why We Celebrate a Killing,” and it crystalizes well the idea that he and Wilson share about how human beings best function as a collective. Kara Slade and I have written on this essay in our own article on “The Single Individual,” but the analysis bears repeating. The problem with the essay is the way Haidt describes the supposed wisdom of the crowd who surrounds and celebrates an execution. I have written elsewhere that violence is not the way Jesus has called Christians to encounter enemies. The way that Haidt describes our encounter with friends is the problem on which I want to focus for my essay here. He describes human love as a kind of cohesion of one group against another, and joy as the force reverberating within a group when it perceives itself to be more like a hive than like a gathering of individuals. Here is an excerpt from Haidt’s account of morality:

[H]umans, far more than other primates, were shaped by natural selection acting at two different levels simultaneously. There’s the lower level at which individuals compete relentlessly with other individuals within their own groups. This competition rewards selfishness. But there’s also a higher level at which groups compete with other groups. This competition favors groups that can best come together and act as one. Only a few species have found a way to do this. Bees, ants and termites are the best examples. Their brains and bodies are specialized for working as a team to accomplish nearly miraculous feats of cooperation like hive construction and group defense . . . We have all the old selfish programming of other primates, but we also have a more recent overlay that makes us able to become, briefly, hive creatures like bees . . . This two-layer psychology is the key to understanding religion, warfare, team sports and last week’s celebrations. [Using Emil Durkheim’s theory of] ‘collective effervescence’: the passion and ecstasy that is found in tribal religious rituals when communities come together to sing, dance around a fire and dissolve the boundaries that separate them from each other [Haidt argues that the] celebrations were good and healthy. America achieved its goal — bravely and decisively — after 10 painful years. People who love their country sought out one another to share collective effervescence. They stepped out of their petty and partisan selves and became, briefly, just Americans rejoicing together.[xxiii]

When read alongside Wilson’s account of how people matter and how people who think about thinking are best able to see rightly, this account of “love” stands out. Wilson depicts tribal religion as functional inasmuch as religion binds people together to accept and reinforce the systems that define them. Haidt here explains that “10 painful years” are redeemed through what some sociologists might describe as “love.” I contend that Christian readers should be able to discern his essay as agitation propaganda. Meaning, Haidt describes humans at their best in a way that solidifies the celebration of a nation-state and the aims of the nation-state.

If a Christian writer suggested that even the crucifixion of Jesus was cause for “joy,” theologians would rightly ask whether the death of Jesus is so quickly swept into the realm of “rejoicing.” Much less the death of Osama bin Laden. Christians who practice the liturgy of Lent do not use the word “Alleluia” during those 40 days. “Rejoicing” is rightly reserved for the season of Eastertide, when Christians rejoice that death has been overcome, through the Resurrection of Jesus. Joy is reserved for the Resurrection of the one and the only one who can redeem Peter, Saul, me, you, and my grandmothers, all of us waiting for the time when Jesus returns. Jonathan Haidt’s description of religiosity turns people into ants and turns Osama bin Laden into a source of ritualistic joy. I suggest his work is at the best pagan, describing and prescribing rituals to other gods. In language borrowed from Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), both Haidt and Wilson take what might indeed be an “is,” and turn it into an “ought.”[xxiv] It may be that groups of people sometimes resemble hive creatures. (There have been many scientists who have disagreed with Wilson and outright dismissed Haidt on that point alone.) But to turn that apparent observation into a virtue is to forget something as basic to Christians as the distinction between what we currently see around us and what we hope to see. Or, to put this in epistemological terms, both Haidt and Wilson cannot begin to speak to how Christians are called to see one another when together at the Lord’s Supper. Neither can they begin to describe how Christians are to pray for and with people far away from the publishers who make Wilson and Haidt currently famous in the book-buying markets of the U.S. This is a form of epistemological socialism that Christians have and should continue to counter.

Hardwired to Connect – or Not?

The Institute on American Values published a book in 2003 with proof that human beings need to create “Authoritative Communities” for the sake of our young. The book is called Hardwired to Connect, and I have capitalized the A and the C in the term above because the concept has become a way of thinking (as of this edit of this essay) about parenting and childhood. (Theories about the best form of family and the best ways to form the optimal family have shifted often over time.) “Authoritative Communities” has become a phrase to describe the solution to families beset by niche marketing from men like MTV founder Bob Pittman, and a currently increasing workday for men and women in the economic classes ranging from professional to working, and images of what any family is supposed to be like, from sources such as Martha Stewart and Bill Cosby.[xxv] A popularized account of an “Authoritative Community” is a 2011 bestseller by Amy Chua, called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. [xxvi]  The book describes for mothers in the U.S. why students in China continue to score more excellent grades in state-standardized tests for math, science, and musical precision than students in the U.S. Chua does not talk about how the Chinese feudal system was tragically hierarchical and brutal. She does not discuss the way that a newly Maoist China divided families from one another and continues to dictate how many births families from different regions are allowed by law to receive without punishment. She does not describe the way that the tyrannical Chinese government tests pre-school children for aptitude in different forms of learning and then, as logistically and geographically possible, channels children into the rubbish or the specialized bin. Chua’s book played on fears among mothers who have time to read books like hers or to watch shows that feature women talking about books like hers that, in spite of their paying attention to every kind of optimal diet and optimal toilet training plan, and in spite of their taking off years of employment to follow these plans, their own children were going to be less secure financially than they had been during their own or their parents’ childhood. One year later, another media darling, Peter Kiernan was on the talk show circuit explaining his own bestselling book entitled Becoming China’s Bitch. Taken together, the two books reach both mommies and daddies in the U.S., explaining why Chinese ways of raising children and disciplining workers are beating out mushy, non-authoritative, liberal parenting and egalitarian management styles. Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld came out with a sequel to Tiger Mother in 2014, called The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, describing why certain immigrant groups in the United States seem culturally conditioned to beat out competitors.

These books assume a functionalist account of human affection. I first learned the term “functionalist” when I was an undergraduate taking classes in sociology. I heard people I loved and a faith I loved described as either functional or dysfunctional, and Christianity was often on the side of dysfunctional. But then, as I became a part of the faculty at Duke, I heard really smart people trying to make a case that “religion” is “functional” by some marker or another. I was and am still clear that families, friendship, and faith are not measurably functional or dysfunctional. As I suggested in the introduction to this essay, Jesus did not declare human beings as either sheep or goats. This is not the way that Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld have written their popular books. “Communities” that foster obedience and success are good inasmuch as they foster obedience and success. The logic of their work is both circular and insular, defining as good systems that reinforce the definition of good with which they are working and including as good those systems of seeing other people as competitors rather than neighbors or even as friends. These studies and books and warnings abound as of the writing of this essay. There are many highlighted voices on “TED” talks and on the shelves of the few remaining on-site bookstores about fear of losing in an economically competitive and brutally war-torn time. These best-selling gurus of parenting and economics use a logic of scarcity and competition that renders human beings very much like groups of insects vying to stake out territory for our eggs.

The scriptural passages that most come to my mind as students bring me books like Becoming China’s Bitch are those in which Jesus warns his disciples against trying to discern the signs of the end times. Does the charge to keep your wick burning mean you need to sort the price of oil first? And what if the servant next to you misunderstands the master’s charge and buries his talents? How do you sort for the lost coin if you don’t know how much a coin is actually worth, in relation to a Chinese yuan? These parables from the New Testament have been so wrongly interpreted over the last two centuries in the U.S. that it is hard to remember that Jesus mocked the Roman Empire by telling complicated puzzles to create a thirst for the Good News. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, then the logic of how much the sparrow is worth in the global economy seems very clearly not the point. God’s eye is on the sparrow.

There is another, even more problematic, wing to this body of literature on authority and personhood. The authors do not write bestselling books. Instead, they receive funding for their studies, which may, in turn, encourage funding for future, bestselling books. In numerous publications, Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama contrast “Western” ways of perceiving “the Self” with “Asian” ways of perceiving people. Markus and Kitayama write articles with charts and drafts, rather than with Chua’s form of mommy-blog narrative. I am not doing disservice to their narrative style by explaining their work in a less rhetorically subtle form. According to Markus and Kitayama, there are groups of people who believe in a “construal of the self as independent” and people who believe in a “construal of the self as interdependent.” They write that “these construals can influence, and in many cases determine, the very nature of individual experience, including cognition, emotion, and motivation.” They open one essay with this: “In America, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ In Japan, ‘the nail that stands out gets pounded down.’” These are the kind of “anecdotes” that Markus and Kitayama seek to document and explain using social psychological research for abiding differences between Asians and Western Europeans. Acknowledging that “the self” is a “delicate category” to try to investigate, the authors make such generalizations. According to Markus and Kitayama, in the West, “there is a faith in the inherent separateness of distinct persons.” In the East, responsiveness to others is a matter of “strategically” gauging one’s options “to express or assert the internal attributes of the self.”

Quoting research from as far back as 1946, the authors contend that “In Chinese culture, for instance, there is an emphasis on synthesizing the constituent parts of any problem or situation into an integrated or harmonious whole” and “persons are only parts that when separated from the larger social whole cannot be fully understood.” Markus and Kitayama quote other studies that contrast Western with non-Western peoples, for example, the “importance of simpatico among Hispanics” and “Thais place a premium on self-effacement, humility, deference and on trying not to disturb others.” Groups within “American culture” who test as more non-Western are deemed part of “subcultures” like “the Quakers.” [xxvii]

This extended, well-funded, and ostensibly scholarly effort to contrast Asian and Western ways of seeing the world reminds me very much of the literature I have read from Germany during the Third Reich. During Hitler’s rise to power, a whole apparatus of science and popular writings encouraged human beings to see one another not only as of a different sort, but of a different kind of human. A marker of the difference in species was the way that a group of people thought about and reckoned people in relation to money. The ways that people are divided into categories is so crude in this literature about Western and non-Western people that I have lately wondered about the academic standards in the social sciences. In one extended passage on the contrasting etiquette of making a sandwich for a friend from another culture, Joan Y. Chiao and Katherine Blizinsky inadvertently display precisely the problem with all of these generalizations about “Asian” and “Western” people. They have tried to explain other people’s ideas of themselves using generalizations that collapse distinctions between particular individuals in a group. The idea that there is a quantity called “Asian” and an “Asian” way of being a self in the world is to make a research sandwich out of someone else’s reality. And here is the kicker, Joan Y. Chiao and Katherine Blizinsky are using what they call “neuroscience” to show that “collectivistic cultural values” are actually written into the “gene coevolution of human brain and behavior,” so that Asian peoples are, due to an interaction of genetics and cultural adaptation, more naturally suited to “collectivistic cultures.” To borrow a phrase from the Institute on American Values, Asians are depicted as quite concretely “hard-wired to connect.” They write, “our findings illustrate that gene frequency plays a unique role in explaining global variation in the adoption of cultural norms and is fundamental to any comprehensive understanding of culture.” Certain genetically similar people are adapted so that they are interested in “maintaining social harmony.”[xxviii]

I contend that the kind of social science going on in such research is not to be used by but refused by Christians hoping to begin the arduous work of forming friendships across cultural divides in the name of Jesus Christ. I contend that this is precisely the sort of mishmash of cultural hegemony, hubris, and plain stupidity that had missionaries from the West paving literal highways across the continent of Asia. Under this social scientific, neurobiological framework, Maoism is a hereditary trait, rather than a grand, brutal, and geopolitical lie. It seems a good place to begin to declare that any discourse that puts itself above other human beings is most likely off-kilter, overly optimistic, and lacking in eschatological humility. Again, this is a form of epistemological socialism. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, then who are humans to try to determine how to see other human beings, as if we were scientists dissecting sparrows or mapping an ant hill. To bring this section of the essay full circle, it seems a very bad way to raise a child to encourage her to learn the skills to survive in a struggle of ant against ant or queen bee against queen bee. This cannot be how God intends Christians to think about one another, as we look at our children, ourselves, our neighbors, and the people who appear on the television morning show to talk about standardized testing and our inadequate showing as this or that demographic in the latest tallying of excellence or failure.

 The Inner Ring

The title of my essay, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” is taken from a song sung at both my paternal grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s funerals. In addition to being a Christian ethicist, I am also a Methodist minister who has inadvertently specialized in hearing the stories of people who are two generations older than I am. I was called to the ministry while serving “shut-ins” on the membership list for two Methodist churches in Texas and Connecticut. If you go to visit people who cannot easily move about and who have a Christian heritage, they will, if you convey genuine care for them, tell you stories. It did not hurt that I brought to my ministry many stories from my grandfather and his beloved wife, my grandmother, about the ways that war functions in the U.S.

McNamara was high, high above my grandfather in the chain of official command. McNamara legitimized the war in Asia that followed long after the Second World War. He was the strategist responsible for the plan to fire-bomb Japanese cities during World War II. The strategy kept Allied military casualties low and killed 100,000 people in Tokyo in one night and an estimated 350,000 civilians in one year. When asked specifically by Errol Morris in Fog of War about the rationale for fire-bombing Japanese cities, McNamara says something that has remained with me since I heard him on the film in 2003: “Well, I was part of a mechanism that in a sense recommended it.” He understands himself to have been part of a mechanism. Later in the film, McNamara surmises that both he and General Curtis LeMay would have been tried as war criminals had the Allied forces not won the war. McNamara says this without cynicism, but with a sense of what might be called moral realism. Using C.S. Lewis’s essay “The Inner Ring,” I will explain how a sense of an inner-circle, epistemological socialism may have been just the poison to control and dehumanize a “Whiz Kid” like McNamara. McNamara was “part of a mechanism” that encouraged men to believe themselves in a category above mutual accountability. I want to give words for a hope in individual salvation through Jesus Christ that is not only crucial for my otherwise anonymous late grandmothers, and my late grandfather, but also for a notorious architect of war like Robert S. McNamara. God’s eye is on the sparrow, even on the sparrow who mistakes himself for a hawk.

C.S. Lewis wrote an essay about “The Inner Ring” as an address from a “middle age moralist” to a group of students at King’s College, London, in 1944.[xxix] Lewis was part of the famed “Inklings.”  The “Inklings” were a group so beloved by people who love Western Christianity that the pub where they went to talk serves now as a mecca of Christian friendship, in Oxford, England. Lewis’s essay has turns of phrase as he describes a mutually deluding process of exclusion and encirclement:

There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names.

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.

Robert Strange McNamara was also part of a kind of “inner circle,” called the “Whiz Kids.” In The Fog of War, filmmaker Errol Morris overlays images of intelligence testing scan sheets, running through a large computer, with the audio of McNamara’s recollections. McNamara recounts with amusement being chosen as an elite statistician during World War II, remembering that he and his colleagues were deemed the “best and the brightest” of their generation. A group of them went on, after the war, to reestablish the faltering Ford Motor Company.

In teaching The Fog of War for a decade, I have come to appreciate how Morris was able simultaneously to narrate particulars of geopolitics during World War II and through the Cold War, while eliciting from McNamara glimmers of his singular conscience. Historians have noted that McNamara flat out lies at certain points in the film, but the viewer cannot discern with any certainty whether McNamara is lying to himself or to the camera. Memory is a tricky business, and confession is a trickier task. What strikes me most each time I have watched and taught the film over the last decade is the question of McNamara’s capacity to confess. When faced with the straight-on question of his responsibility for targeting civilians through firebombing in Japan, McNamara notes that he was part of a “mechanism.” He names straight on the way that a human being can be individually distinct as a person, but also part of a larger regime that renders him a tool. This is the form of “individualism” that should trouble Christian readers for decades. How do any of us become part of a mechanism that recommends killing civilians? How do any of us become part of a mechanism that describes our own children as combatants in an economic war or a conventional war or an unconventional war? How does a mother raise her child to resist a story about a state of perpetual conflict? How does the assumption of scarcity and competition shape our perceptions of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper?

With Lewis, I want to ask how inner circles of individuals are encouraged to see one another as set apart for something through their quantifiable gifts, in such a way that they are, paradoxically, rendered machinery for the future of a larger, national or international economic or cultural project. Morris depicts this starkly with the imagery of the intelligence tests rolling through the computer, but also, later, in a visual where numbers fall through the sky, like bombs, onto maps showing cities where human beings were incinerated using the statistical analysis of war. In McNamara’s case, he seems to believe that he and others with him were guilty of crimes of war. McNamara also suggests that this guilt is blurred by their participation in a larger project, beyond their individual accountability.

In closing, I return to the hymn we started with. I thank God that it is not my responsibility to reckon with McNamara’s guilt or innocence. It might have been the responsibility of a judge at the United Nations, should he and General LeMay actually have been held accountable for the firebombing of Japan. But their and my final reckoning involves a logic that is incalculable, and qualitatively different than human computation. It is a world of knowing and not-knowing that Christians practice each week through the means of grace at worship and each year through the repetition of Advent to Ordinary Time to Lent to Ordinary Time to Advent . . . Lewis’s address to the young men in 1944 depends on the possibility of their recognition that there is something awry when human beings believe themselves set apart, individually distinct through their human traits to be responsible for pushing human history forward up the hill toward the Kingdom. His appeal depends on there being a residual conscience in their midst, in his particular hearers. McNamara’s own narrative breaks apart at points. Students often note that he sheds tears at moments in his story that seem almost nonsensical, given the scope of what he has seen and what he has wrought in his lifetime. It seems important to contrast this film with Morris’s latest endeavor, interviewing Donald Rumsfeld.[xxx] For such set-apart men, trained to see themselves as gifted for the sake of national security, it may, someday, come as Good News that the hairs on their head have been counted, and counted with a calculus that will make no sense at all in the world they have known. As C. S. Lewis explains, “The true road lies in quite another direction.”

Unscientific Postscript

I am writing this final version of my essay about “Why People Matter,” against epistemological socialism, during the season of adventurous Advent. Advent is corporate and individual, meaning Advent is about the salvation of a chosen people and the salvation of you and me as each uniquely chosen and precious children of God. I have been thinking in new ways about what the individual part of Advent means as I anticipate and edit this essay.

When teaching at Central Men’s Prison in Raleigh two years ago, one of the men said to the group that he hopes he still has himself intact when he is finally out. Meaning, he hopes he still has a self left, after so many years in a place that can suck the life right out of each man inside, whether inmate or guard. God gave me a vision there in that room that has stayed with me since. Ezekiel the Old Testament prophet saw a vision of dry bones being knit back together, sinew by sinew. Ezekiel knew this was about God’s people, Israel, being knit back together as a people after horrible desolation by their enemies. When the student in prison said this to us, I had a vision of each of us there, waiting for God eventually to knit back together our individual lives and individual souls. If God could bring those dry bones Ezekiel saw back to life, then maybe God can bring my dismembered self back to life. I believe it is possible for the man still in prison, for my grandmother, for my grandfather, for Robert McNamara, for Wilson and Haidt, for all of the scholars writing about patterns of ethnicity, for Amy Chua and for me. For further reading, the singular text I suggest is by that tricky Danish philosopher. Kierkegaard tried only to answer Hegel, but he was speaking to multiple generations of aspiring theologians and pastors to come.


Suggested reading:  Works of Love, Soren Kierkegaard


[i] Civilla D. Martin, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” 1905.

[ii] John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon, 1987).

[iii] Christian Williams, “Now, Music to Their Eyes; Bob Pittman’s MTV Changes the Channel,” The Washington Post, September 16, 1982.

[iv] One example of an MTV creation used also by various Christian rainmakers is the phenomenon known as “Bono.” This phenomenon is also a human being, and the lead singer of U-2. But he was highlighted and used as an icon of politically left-leaning Christianity, to the point where even mainstream evangelicals were practicing a U-2 themed “Eucharist” called U2charist. See their website to confirm I am not making this stuff up: Bono has gone on to become a spokesman for Louis Vuitton handbags, but before that, he was used as an example of the miraculous possibility of Christianity mixed with politics, by way of the supposed conversion of Jesse Helms to the importance of funding for HIV-AIDS relief in sub-Saharan Africa. See J. W. Busby, “Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry: Jubilee 2000, Debt Relief, and Moral Action in International Politics.” International Studies Quarterly 51 (June 2007): 247–275.

[v] Errol Morris, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Sony Pictures Classics, 2004).

[vi] Jürgen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, Arise!: God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 223.

[vii] Jonathan Haidt, J. Patrick Seder, and Selin Kesebir, “Hive Psychology, Happiness, and Public Policy,” Journal of Legal Studies 37 (June, 2008): 133-156. See also Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992).

[viii] Supplement to Philosophical Fragments, section deleted from final copy. Søren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 206.

[ix] Stephen Jay Gould, “Ladders and Cones: Constraining Evolution by Canonical Icons,” Hidden Histories of Science, ed. Robert B. Silvers (New York City: New York Review Book, 2003), 42-43.

[x] For another, particularly Christian correction to social Darwinism, see Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998). See especially the chapter “Darwinism,” 28-75.

[xi] Here I mean to indicate schemes and scholars funded by the Templeton Foundation or, more recently, the Gates Foundation, to present a purportedly Christian formulation of the world that is congenial to a Darwinist or social biological description of the human world.

[xii] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, trans. Bernard Wall (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1959).

[xiii] Jurgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1980), 294.

[xiv] Ibid., 297.

[xv] Jürgen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, Arise!: God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 223.

[xvi] One way to read Moltmann’s warning against de Chardin is as a retrieval of the old “Nein” given to Hegel by Kierkegaard in 1843. See Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983). I read forms of social Darwinism today in the U.S. to be both influenced by and to be influencing some forms of aspirational post-millennial Protestantism in the U.S., from the Social Gospel movement during the Progressive Era (in the early twentieth-century) to the supposedly neo-Calvinist movement to “Change the World” led by James Davidson Hunter of the University of Virginia. See James Davidson Hunter, To Change the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). For a classic from the earlier Social Gospel movement, see Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century (New York: HarperOne, 2008).

[xvii] For more information about the series, see Robert J. Bliwise, “In Defense of Darwin,” Duke Magazine, March-April, 2006. Accessed November, 2014:

[xviii] E.O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth (New York City: W.W. Norton, 2012), 98.

[xix] Ibid., 99.

[xx] E. O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 79-90. I am indebted to Dr. Kara Slade for pointed out the importance of this passage for understanding Wilson’s impact on social biology and popular science today.

[xxi] Kara Slade and Amy Laura Hall, “The Single Individual in Ordinary Time,” Studies in Christian Ethics 26 (February 2012): 66-82.

[xxii] Julie Gold, “From a Distance,” 1985.

[xxiii] Jonathan Haidt, “Why We Celebrate a Killing,” The New York Times, May 7, 2011.

[xxiv] David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, 1739. (Available in multiple formats.)

[xxv] Commission on Children at Risk, Hardwired to Connect (New York: Institute for American Values, 2003). See also Kathleen Kovner Kline, ed., Authoritative Communities: The Scientific Case for Nurturing the Whole Child (Heidelberg, Germany: Springer, 2008).

[xxvi] Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011). See also Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (New York: The Penguin Press, 2014. Also referenced: Peter D. Kiernan, Becoming China’s Bitch (Nashville: Turner Publishing, 2012).

[xxvii] Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama, “Culture and the Self: Implications for Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation,” Psychological Review 98 (1991): 224-253.

[xxviii] Joan Y. Chiao and Katherine D. Blizinsky, “Culture-gene co-evolution of individualism-collectivism and the serotonin transporter gene,” Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences (2010): 529-537.

[xxix] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: Harper Collins, 1949), see 141-157. “The Inner Ring” is one of the lectures included in this collection. It is also available online:

[xxx] Errol Morris, The Unknown Known (Anchor Bay, 2014).


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