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Justice: “Survival” of the fittest?

What images and associations come to mind when you ponder the phrase, “Survival of the fittest?”

All my life I have assumed that the phrase meant the strongest ones become stronger and more numerous while the weakest ones diminish and eventually die out. I picture ads for fitness clubs showcased by hyper-muscled super-humans. I’ve also assumed that this summary of Darwinianism undermined biblical notions of justice; thus, my calling as a Christian was to defend and support those weaker ones. Survival of the fittest? NO! That’s not the “Jesus way.

Recently I learned that my assumptions were wrong in two ways. 

First, I learned that survival of the fittest refers to the skill of fitting in well with one’s environment. The “fittest” are those who grasp the deep interrelatedness of all creatures and have learned to find their place inside that grand and profound web of interrelatedness. The second creation account in Genesis 2 is the account that celebrates creaturely interrelatedness: Humankind tends the garden. Four rivers water the garden. Humankind gives names to the creatures, and the act of naming clarifies relationships. Through this naming it is discovered that there is not a suitable helper (i.e. a “fit” helper) for the male. The chapter ends with a celebration of the interrelatedness of male and female.

When creatures find their rightful fit in their ecosystems, it leads to flourishing.

Science also celebrates this “fittedness” and interrelatedness. Works ranging from the 1960’s classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard to the more contemporary Braiding Sweetgrass by Indigenous scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer unfold the wonder and delight of “good creational fit.” British Columbia’s forest scientist Suzanne Simard has pioneered profound discoveries concerning how trees live in community through both communication and actions, protecting and nourishing each other. The NPR program “On Being” celebrated this beauty with a reflection on creation by theologian Ellen Davis interspersed with poems by farmer / philosopher Wendell Berry. All of the works listed here are like meditations on Genesis 2 - celebrating a justice-based creation where each creature finds it rightful place. 

A second learning for me: the operative word here is not “survival.” Rather, when creatures find their rightful fit in their ecosystems, it leads to flourishing. Psalm 104 is a paean to such flourishing as all creatures thrive in humble dependence upon the provision of their creator. At the poem’s central apex we read, “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle and plants for people to cultivate, to bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine and bread to strengthen the human heart” (PS 104: 14-15). Bread, (olive) oil and wine: a life-feast fit for kingly service. 

From survival of the “fittest bully” to the flourishing of those who humbly find their proper fit. What a difference! As spring spools into summer, I invite you to experience and take great delight in the flourishing of thousands of wondrous “fits.”  

Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash


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