A recent post by Mark Vernon of Religion Dispatches traces some findings of David Sloan Wilson who is a biologist researching and suggesting that the so-called “selfish gene” proposed by evolutionary biologists of the past is a fallacy. Instead, Wilson’s research has lead him to posit the idea that we haven’t, as humans, evolved toward the ends and purposes only of the self but rather more toward the aims and benefit of the groups in which individuals live.
Although I haven’t delved very deeply into the findings of Wilson, what he’s suggesting is quite exciting to me. The notion that we are genetically geared toward doing what’s best for the communities in which we work, play, love, live, etc. just makes sense to me from my own personal experience of the world but also from the perspective of evolutionary theory. That is, the maximum potential for survival and sustainability for individual organisms seems best when the larger group of relationships is taken care of primarily. This is because we are, as most if not all life-forms, social beings and thus need the safety, security, and social identity of the community in order for us to survive and prosper as individuals. In other words, the well-being of the group maximizes the well-being of the individual, and not necessarily the other way around.
This lines up quite nicely with the beliefs and practices of most world religions which emphasize the spiritual importance of the community. In Christianity, the Church as the Body of Christ is the community that mystically participates in the love of Christ, carries the good message of liberation from sin, suffering, and death into the world, and supports each other in spiritual growth and transformation through the Spirit of God dwelling in and among its members. Though some Christian denominations emphasize this aspect of community more than others, it was certainly part and parcel of Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God and has historically always been of central significance in the life of the Christian individual. Without the Church, the individual Christian is somehow unfulfilled in the sense that the community of Christ in the Spirit is an essential aspect of the identity and well-being of the Christian. Through the support, loving relationship, and teaching of truth of the Church, the individual Christian finds a home, a family, an identity that shapes their spiritual life. As Thomas Merton has stated in quoting John Donne, “No [hu]man is an island.” Amen to that.
To read the whole article, check it out at Religion Dispatches here.
Posted by Jesse F. Tanner at 10:59 AM