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Competition, Rivalry and Status

Some Biblical and Practical Reflections

Can it be that competition is not a good, but an evil?

I had long assumed it is good, in sport to drive human excellence, and in business, to drive innovation and efficiency. But I now wonder. Sport competition puts unnatural stresses on people, business competition drives despair, suicides, plundering the planet. Both kinds drive people to cheat. I see very little good and much harm coming from nations competing for glory, land and resources, warring and plundering to get them. There is competition in academia, in art, among families, between individuals - and everywhere, and it does much harm.

However, I am not so much concerned about the harms that competition brings, which many have discussed, but about that which underlies both, the attitude of competitiveness. Competition is so much part of our Western culture that we take it for granted.

But was competition really what God intended for the Creation? What is the heart of God? I want to take into account the whole picture painted by Scripture, via its bits.

This page questions a deep seated presupposition: that competition is good - whether in individual relations, in business, in international relations, in academia or even in sport. I seek Biblical principles, because they apply not only for the 'spiritual' life but also in practice in 'secular' life - in all such spheres of Creation.

(Note: This is not about biological competition, e.g. of species for resources, but about the attitude of competition among humans.)

More Early Examples

Cain saw himself in competition with Abel, and did not like it when Yahweh God accepted Abel's offering but not Cain's. It has been suggested that Abel gave of his best while Cain probably didn't, but whether or not that is so, it is evident that Cain saw himself in competition. God lovingly challenged to Cain to do better next time, but Cain chose to see himself in competition with Abel, and deliberately got rid of him by killing him.

I do not see God competing with Adam and Eve for glory. Instead, I see God coming down to the Garden of Eden to walk and fellowship with the humans. Was there not love there? Did not God give humans the dignity of shepherding the rest of Creation, rather than treating humans as mere slaves or robots?

Might we see the seeds of the competitive attitude when the serpent tempted Eve with being "like God"? (Even though she was already like God: Genesis 1:27-28].) If Satan is a fallen angel, was it because he saw God as a rival, in competition with him?

Abraham was a friend of God and understood something of God's ways and attitudes. So, when there was resource-conflict between his shepherds and those of Lot, and decided they must separate, did Abraham competitively try to get the better land for himself? Did he not rather give Lot the choice and accept it? And then, did not God honour his lack of competitiveness with a blessing?

When Israel became a kingdom, Saul treated David as a competitor, but did David treat Saul as one? Did not David rather accept Saul as Yahweh's anointed king and treat him always with honour? Even when Absalom rose up against David, did not David treat Absalom with love rather than competition?

God, Abraham and David - and we could add Moses, Samuel, and many of the prophets - all eschewed competition, rivalry and status-seeking [Note 1]. They all wanted blessing for others rather than themselves. And God blessed them for that.

When Jesus the Messiah came, did he treat others as competitors or rivals? Did he not seek the blessing of others rather than himself? He healed. He taught - and spoke against the attitude of competition between brothers, both in the famous parable and when one brother complained to him against the other. When he saw the crowds "harrassed and helpless", did he see the people as nuisances, competing for his time, or did he have pity on them as "sheep without a shepherd"?

Jesus served. He chided his followers when they were arguing about who among them was the greatest, and turned the tables, emphasising humility and service. Even when going to his execution, Jesus spoke kindly to the women who were weeping for him, and to one of the thieves being executed with him. And, we now understand, his death was a willing sacrifice for all of us.

I could cite more, but all these point in one direction only: competition is not the heart of God, the attitude of competitiveness, is not what God intended.

What About Us, Today?

What about us, here and now? Competition - though it might seem good, "harmless fun", is it not often harmful? Especially in its long-term effects? Not least in corrupting our outlooks?

When we see ourselves in competition with others, we seldom relax and observe, and tend not to learn and absorb new ideas. Are we defensive, resisting rather than welcoming new ideas? Are we always looking for opportunities to attack others, stopping rather than encouraging their help and collaboration? That is not the route to wisdom.

Competition is the sister of power. According to Mary Beard, in her recent hook (4 October 2021), our idea of power developed from Rome and its Caesars. Others, like Tom Holland (2021) and Herman Dooyeweerd (1979), have made similar points. The Caesars were competitive, and an attitude of competition surrounded them, so that only one died naturally in his bed. Competitiveness, especially in the guise of fear of enemies, drove many to heinous acts of cruelty and injustice. That attitude pervaded the entire nation, and has left a legacy in Europe that lasts even today, and has spread throughout the world. It affects us all.

Competition reigns in business. Those at the top of businesses might enjoy it and find it fun - even their kind of sport. And they, of course, are the ones who are very influential in setting the agenda for, and opinions of, society. They say, for example, that competition encourages innovation - and imply that without competition, no innovation would occur. (They often refer to the evolutionist paradigm in which it is competition between species that stimulated change.)

But I wonder whether what they claim and assume is actually true.

Some Examples of Competition

1. As I write (August 2021), the energy industry in the UK is failing, with many energy companies closing down leaving millions of people facing uncertainty of energy. One third of people are with the smaller companies, which are forecast to close down. This situation was brought about by the government, media and industry over-encouraging competition only a few years ago, enticing people to switch suppliers, and companies to set up too easily. The government, industry and media all seemed to idolise competition in a market.

As Goudzwaard [1984] points out, an idol is seen as the solution to problems yet is false. We allow it to tell us what to do. We willingly sacrifice to it (the poor whose energy companies fold). Yet in the end it does not deliver its promise; for example, when there is a cap on energy prices in hard times the firms just max prices to that cap. While economists who idolise competition say that comes about because we contaminate pure market forces with other ends, might it not be because of their insistence that we ignore the "other ends" that are important in real life? Idolatry goes against Reality, and those who serve the idols are like them.

Is competition part of the problem rather than the solution? It might drive prices down, but it also drives wages down, and the people end up no better off in being able to afford things. In addition, and in the process, the attitude of competition replaces attitudes of generosity, helpfulness and self-giving love among us and this change of attitude harms rather than benefits society. This and other effects are what some economists call "externalities" - harmful impacts that they cannot explain and usually do not want to. In the longer term, competition in business is not a solution but a problem.

2. The Facebook Like button, followed by showing how many likes you have compared with others, is almost pure competition. Apparently an innocent measure of preferences, it has led many young people into depression and even suicide when they find they have fewer likes than somebody else. Because the apparently innocent device became something on which we base our self-esteem, and then our esteem among others, and esteem is one of the deepest motivators of what we do and think.

As I write, Frances Haugen, once a manager within the Facebook company, is giving testimony to United States Congress that "The thing I saw at Facebook, over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money." Self-interest and competitive attitude go together, each reinforcing and increasing the other.

It is not surprising. Mark Zuckerberg's precursor to Facebook was itself pure competitive mischief - a student prank. While at university, he somehow managed to get photographs of all the girl students. He wrote a programme called FaceMatch that would put up pairs of girls at random and ask which was deemed prettier. (Hence the name Facebook.) Male students loved this, and the program soon build up statistics on the 'likes' of the girls. Great for those with most likes; but some of those with few went into depression. It was 'only' a prank, but not a harmless one. It was based on competition, and it was mischief.

3. Has the media as a whole become too competitive? Do journalist now seek scoops rather than that which can lead us towards understanding, wisdom and truth? Even the once-respected BBC seems now always seeking scoops. I remember, and was appalled, a few years ago to learn how it hired helicopters to invade Sir Cliff Richard's privacy so that it could enter the film it made for "Scoop of the Year"! I am equally appalled today that news presenters - especially on BBC Today Programme - try to trip people up in order to get a scoop.

4. Economics courses teach, convey, instil and drill into students, the presupposition of intrinsic self-interest as the ideal in all economic activity. It has been found that economics students become more selfish in their attitudes, even in life and relationships.

5. Businesses presuppose competition as their working environment, especially the harsh form known as survival of the fittest. In this they are taking what seems to be a norm (accepted way of operating) from the biotic sphere and assuming it should apply in the economic sphere. As a result, much human effort is devoted to stoking up this competition (is it like when in the sport of racing everyone is putting huge amounts of time, effort, stress and money into getting faster because everyone else is doing so?). Does this not stress out people - at huge cost to health services? Does it not waste huge amounts of human effort that could otherwise be devoted to bring more Good into the world? When a company turns from an initial aim to bring good of some kind into the world, to focusing on its own preservation, protection and competitive position, it goes sour, and begins to let the world down - including its attitude to and service of customers.

No wonder! - when we begin to understand competition.

Why Is This? Understanding Competition

C.S. Lewis put it very well, into the words of the demon, Screwtape [p.92, The Screwtape Letters]:

"The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and especially that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. 'To be' means 'to be in competition.'"

The Hellish competitive attitude leads to many evils, by causal links that are often hidden and long-term. I see this as applying at several levels.

First, the individual. Seeing ourselves in competition with others - whether siblings or those outside the family - can lead to many evils, and stifles the life of both parties. We see the example in Saul, who ended up almost mad. In the case of Abel, it ended his life. Can we not see many similar examples today? [Note: Individual competition]

We should not see ourselves in competition with others for status, love or wealth. Our real life will be in the New Earth, and this life here and now is only a training ground for that. It is where we learn to face up to Reality - that we together with all others, are intended to be God's representatives to the Rest of Creation, and not living for ourselves. We are invited and urged to learn the reality of our own deep sinfulness and need for a Saviour (Jesus, who died to our salvation possible, in all three of its dimensions [Note 2]) Let us no longer see ourselves in competition with each other, let us not see others as rivals, let us not seek status, but "take the lowest place" and "serve" as Jesus did. After all, we are in this together, not separately. And nevermind how many 'likes' we get. Will you impress God even with a billion likes? The real status is the one we receive at the end, when the Living God says, "Well done ..." Are we headed for that?

Second, the family, group or business. The Facebook company sees itself as in competition with others. That is why it bought up those it considered rivals (WhatsApp, Instagram), and that is why it, according to Frances Haugen, puts its own interests before that of users, especially younger users. Such evil also comes when other organisations see themselves in competition with others, and even when families do (the extreme example of which may be the Mafia).

We should see ourselves, no longer in competition with each other, but collaborating with all others for bringing more and more real good into the world. No more family honour and rivalry (and in the Middle East, no more shaming or honour killings [Note 3]). In business - and especially among universities! - no more being enslaved by league tables! In the light of Eternity, it matters not a whit who was Number 1 or Number 2 in 1995 or 2025! [Note 4]

Third, on the international level of nations. Nations expend - and waste - massive resources of both human capital and money on trying to beat other nations. This might be in military prowess, sporting prowess, economic prowess, academic prowess (- but sadly seldom prowess in self-giving generosity!) Much of this effort results indirectly in destroying nature (biodiversity loss) and indirectly damaging the climate.

Do not let fruitless competition shape our policy-making at the national level. The Living God calls all peoples to devise policies that "tend and care for" the rest of Creation. This is why, for example, we set up the website Climate Change and Global Economy. When a nation's people, from bottom to top, follow God's ways, and especially when they welcome the Gospel of Christ, then that nation succeeds for a time. Over decades, the 'seed' of the Gospel germinates, grows, flowers and brings fruit, and that nation seems to gain status in the world - but the status is not there for its own glory but because through it God can bless the rest of the world. [Note 5 But when it becomes proud, and sees its status and prosperity as something to protect and fight for, then God abandons it, to let all know that we are not there for ourselves, but to represent God to the Rest. [Note 6]

Some Initial Philosophical Reflections

Philosophy enables us to recognise and question presuppositions. What does most of the above presuppose? Is it not the absolute right of the entity - individual, business, nation, etc. - to put its own interests above those of others? Absolute right presupposes supreme importance of the entity's existence and enhancement (preservation, growth) in this life. In more ordinary speech, it presupposes that the entity should be protected and fought for at all costs.

Questioning Presuppositions

The Bible is useful even to philosophy because, with its different standpoint, it opens our minds to question that presupposition.

1. Is the entity of supreme importance? Other than arguing that individual human beings are "made in the Image of God" (which might be a misreading of that Genesis verse; see Imago Dei - Image of God) there is little to suggest that businesses, nations, etc. should be treated as of supreme importance. Did not God bring the various nations, and even great empires like Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, to nowt? Did they not all crumble into dust that is blown away on the wind [Daniel 2]? The only nation that God promised to keep in existence is that of Israel - and God showed that even that is not sacrosanct, in that God scattered and exiled them, and it was because of God's promise not because of any inherent value in them [Deuteronomy 9]. Likewise businesses. At the time of the Bible, there were few (or no) businesses as we know them today; history moreover tells us that none exist forever.

2. What is the real value of an entity? Even an entity of value in God's eyes is not to put its own interests above those of others. All is meant to represent God to others, especially the self-giving, sacrificial love of God (see Representing God.

3. What is ultimate Reality? This life and time is not the ultimate one; it is merely a 'practice ground' for the next, the Real Life to come, the New Heavens and Earth.

So, the Bible urges us to question those three components of the presupposition of inherent absolute right and importance. It has opened our eyes.

Philosophical Understanding

Having done so, we can seek a philosophical understanding of entity-ness that can stand up the Bible's searching critique.

Briefly: Greek philosophy - on which most Western philosophy has been based - presupposes entity-ness was the most fundamental 'property' about a thing - that it Exists. Eastern philosophy presupposes entity is an illusion, that each is like a drop of water in an ocean with no ultimately distinctness.

The Dutch thinker Dooyeweerd argued that even more fundamental than both is meaningfulness. This enabled him to acknowledge and affirm the idea and dignity of entity without elevating it to absolute, supreme importance. All entities Exist because they Mean in various ways; they do not just Exist-as-such but Exist-as a mode of existence. Dooyeweerd explored the diversity of meaningfulness that we encounter in living, and identified fifteen fundamental "modalities of meaning" which are also "modes of being" - fifteen ways in which things and events can be meaningful, which he called "aspects". (See Aspects of Reality.)

Example: A pen exists-as a pen by virtue of its lingual meaningfulness. Each type of thing exhibits multiple aspects - the pen has a physical aspect of the materials of which it is made, a kinematic aspect of the movement of ink, and a lingual aspect as a writing instrument (as well as more aspects). It is the lingual aspect that defines its 'destiny' and importance and Existence as a pen, in a way that its.

Likewise, a business Exists-as a business by virtue of the economic and social modes of meaningfulness - though it also has other multiple aspects too.

The importance of an entity is lodged not in itself but in is meaningfulness. Meaningfulness implies Good, something that contributes to the well-running of Reality as a whole. Each aspect defines a different basic kind of Good - whether the biotic Good of health, the lingual Good of information and communication, the social Good of friendship, the economic Good of frugality, the aesthetic Good of harmony and enjoyment, the juridical Good of justice, the ethical Good of self-giving love, mercy and generosity, the pistic Good of faithfulness, commitment and courage, and openness to the Divine, and so on. All these are kinds of Good that an entity brings to the Overall Well-being (shalom) of Creation.

Notice, it is the ethical aspect that makes self-giving love possible, as Christ demonstrated on the cross, and which those who follow Christ are called to. This is the aspect above all that denies the goodness of competitiveness.

Most types of entity have one aspect that most defines its meaningfulness, and the Good it can bring. Plants, qualified by the biotic aspect, bring life and health. Books, qualified the lingual aspect, bring information. Laws, qualified by the juridical aspect, bring justice. Or each should do so. The corruption of the world can bring the opposite. This most-meaning aspect is what is the "mode of being" of a thing. Each type of thing has a role and responsibility in Reality, which may be understood by reference to its main aspect.

It is important, however, that every type of thing functions in every aspect, not just its main one. Indeed, one could say that its main aspect is intended, not to be elevated, but to be abased, in service to all other aspects. Egbert Schuurman (1980) for example offer an interesting suggestion that still resonates even today. Technology gains is main meaningfulness from the formative aspect. However, he suggests, that what should govern technology is not the norms of its its main formative aspect but the norms of all other aspects. Technology should enable us to, for example, inform and communicate better, to be more friendly, to be more frugal, more just, more self-giving, and more faithful. Technologies should not compete with each other to be 'most innovative' but rather serve all others.

In the same way, businesses, banks and money, most meaningful in the economic aspect, should not be governed by the norms of the economic aspect but by those of all other aspects: to increase harmony, justice, generosity and faithfulness, and so on. Businesses should not compete with each other to be the 'biggest' but rather serve all others.

Likewise, governments, which Dooyeweerd says are most meaningful in the juridical aspect, should not compete with each other about their jurisdiction, but should see themselves as serving and enabling Good of all kinds. (And not make various kind of Good mere excuses for growing their economies or jurisdiction!)

Similarly, with religions, art, social clubs, and so on. Serve, not compete.

An attitude of competitiveness goes against all that. To compete implies some standard by which competitors are measured. And that presupposes isolating one aspect to measure - whether health, size of economy, aesthetic prowess, technical excellence, or even faith (competing religious and ideological beliefs).

Instead, Dooyeweerd believed, no aspect should be "absolutized", that is elevated above others to be made all-important, ignoring the others. All aspects are equal in importance, in principle. All are intended to work in harmony.. That is the intention of their Loving Creator.

Dooyeweerd's actual philosophy of things is, of course, much more complex than this, and allows things to have multiple modes of being and even change them, but that should do for now. But what Dooyeweerd offers us is a clear way of understanding the various kinds of role, responsibility, and opportunity to bring Good, and how competitiveness undermines that. He offers us a conceptual tool with which to think about these things philosophically.

It can be applied in any field - jurisprudence, politics, morals, religion, ideology, ecology, psychology, technology, linguistics, and so on (each of which is led by one of Dooyeweerd's aspects). An example of how to work this out in economics in detail may be found in A Rethink of Economics: Towards Aspectual Economics.

Is there not Some Good in Competition?

But does not competition in sport and in business help to stimulate excellence? By God's mercy, it can do so. But why should excellence be stimulated only by self-centred competition?

Can there not be other motivations? For example, what about doing things for the glory of God whom you love? (Or to please anyone you love?) Eric Liddell, as portrayed for example in the classic film Chariots of Fire entered the 1924 Olympics in the 100 metres race, but could not take part because the 100m heats were taking place on a Sunday, and he wanted to honour God by keeping his Sabbath. Instead, he entered for the 400m race, a distance for which he had not practised. So, he decided, he would give his all to the first 100m, according to his training, and leave the rest to God. Surprisingly, after running the first 100m as a sprint, he actually speeded up, and he won in a world-record time of 47.35 seconds. That, we may reasonably think, was God's doing!

Another motivation is just skill itself. While I have been writing this, Emma Raducanu has won the US Open Tennis Championship, the first qualifier to do so, and the first British woman to do so since Virginia Wade nearly 50 yaers ago. She did so without losing a single set! How? Because she focused on the play itself, and not on the fact that it was a competition - yes even in the final. She was the epitome of excellence, in both serving and returning, in accuracy of shot, and being all over the pitch fast.

It has also been pointed out that Paul seems to use athletic competition to emphasise "the importance of spiritual discipline in one's life" [I Corinthians 12] (from What does the Bible say about competition?). However, I would note that what Paul is emphasising is not competition as such but discipline. Others also emphasise discipline without resorting to comparisons with competition, not least the Mosaic law.


So, why should not excellence and innovation be stimulated by fun, devotion, worship or even just the thrill of good work? God has designed those joys into the very fabric of the way Creation works; why not avail ourselves of them, rather than resort to competition? We can "run the race" being motivated by these, and by love, not just for "a wreath that fades." Or do we love our pride so much that we will not change our minds?


Think about all this. Then be challenged to allow the Holy Spirit to change your noos [Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23], your mindset, the way you see things, away from competitiveness. And boldly step out in faith with the new heart. We are trying to rethink economics with the help of such a Christian perspective, as well as trying to live individually in its light.

Suggestion for a research project that needs doing by some Business School: How much money (trillions of dollars equivalent globally?) has been devoted to encouraging competitiveness, and setting up structures to do this? And, if that money and human effort and creativity had instead be devoted to merely encouraging excellence directly, would more excellence likely have been achieved? Measure, while you are at it, the harm that this competitive ethos has left in its train, in stress, broken lives, exhausted people, broken families, forlorn unloved children, and so on.

See Also

Notes and References

Note 1. Status. But, some might ask, did not God see the idols of the nations in competitive terms, as rivals? Was not God concerned about status in relation to them? Did God not, several times, say "for the sake of My Name"? When Yahweh God said "You shall have no other gods before Me!" was this not a competitive statement? We - Christians, Muslims and possibly Jews - tend to read it that way - but are we correct? Might it not be that we have been infected, very deeply, by the attitude of status-seeking? It's hard to eradicate. But maybe there's another interpretation of God's seeming rivalry with the idols. It is that Truth, Reality and Shalom all require recognising that all idols are false, and will always entrap us, enslave us, and let us down. They will always give the opposite of what they promise - slavery while promising freedom, deep frustration while promising superficial pleasure, and failure while promising success. Only Yahweh God - the Creator and Designer of all, and the One Who knows how all works well, and Who loves the Creation and wants all to work well - only Yahweh God is True, Real and the source of Shalom. And Yahweh God, in love for all Creation, desires this for all. Might that be the reason why God always warned against committing ourselves to idols?

Note: Individual Competition. I intend to build up examples here. The rich compete for prestigious London properties, which drives up house prices in London to the point where ordinary people can no longer afford to live there.

Note 2. Three dimensions of Salvation. Salvation has three dimensions, not just one: 1. acceptance by God through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, 2. experiencing God here and now, in love and power, because the Spirit of God indwells us and grows fruit in us and transforms our very mindsets, 3. serving the Creation as mature 'sons' of God, so that our original mandate and calling to represent God to the Rest of Creation is resolved. See exposition of Romans 8 and Three Dimensions of Salvation.

Note 3. Honour killings in the Middle East. An excerpt from Good News paper, February 2020: "In the honour-shame culture of the Middle East, if a woman is raped it brings shame upon the family and they have a duty to kill her. ... One Yazidi man's three daughters were all taken by ISIS [and used as sex slaves]. If they ever returned, he faced the awful prospect of having to kill them. // But one night he saw Jesus in a dream. He recognised Jesus because Jesus showed the man his nail-pierced hands. Jesus told the man, 'You don't need to kill your daughters or anyone. I paid for everyone, so go get your daughters.'" [The dream happened three times] - one dream for each daughter. In the morning he gathered the (Yazidi) elders and told them what happened. 'Jesus showed up in my tent,' he declared to their astonishment. 'I'm going to get my girls and nobody is going to touch them.' And amazingly, he was able to find his girls in the camp [refugee camp], bring them home safely and persuade the other Yazidi men to take back their daughters without harming them. Six weeks later the camp closed and all 280 girls went back to their families."

Note 4. Pride before a fall? I remember being trained in Vision Statements in the 1990s. An airline's vision was "To be the leading airline of the 21st century." Just a few years later, it went out of business!

Note 5. Nations. God allowed the Assyria to become a powerful nation and take the Northern Israel away. God allowed Babylon to become and empire, and then Persia, to take Judah away and then return. Then Greece and Rome. Then, as in Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a four-empire statue in Daniel 2, the small rock cut out of a mountain not by human hands felled the statue and became a mountain that filled the world for all time. That rock was Christ, and his way of humility, love and service rather than pride, competition and status - and Christ's way is the one that Works, and does so for eternity. The epitome of competition was ancient Greece, and the cruelty inherent in competition was Rome. Christendom sought erroneously to follow those - though despite that, Christ's Gospel filtered through to bless the world. In his 2019 book, Dominion, historian Tom Holland shows how, even with all its faults, it is Christianity that has brought into the world the power of love and mercy rather than of competition and self-centredness. Over the past 2000 years God has allowed various nations and groups to grow in power, so that God's Will and Plan may proceed by means of them, and then taken their power away when they became proud. It happened with Babylon [Habakkuk 1:11; Isaiah 13,14] and has happened to each one ever since.

Note 6. "America First!" A century ago the people of the USA responded to the Gospel of Christ and the USA became a great power. But now is it following the same course as all the others? It is seeking its own greatness, but has turned away from its God-given mandate to serve the Rest of Creation, to serve itself. Might Christ be removing its lampstand from before Him? See

On Webpage What does the Bible say about competition? (Link) This page argues that competition is Good - though at the end it qualifies this with a paragraph warning that our attitude should be to glorify God rather than win ourselves. Sadly, however, that attitude does not pervade the message of the whole page; it seems a mere bolt-on.

After a brief paragraph about bits of competition in the "spritiual" life (of which more below), it argues for competition in business and in school. It disparages those Christians who dislike competition for making people feel bad (note: that is not my main thing against competition! read the whole page!). Then it cites Paul using athletic competition to encourage disciplined lives. Then he turns to war, as the most severe kind of competition, and spends two whole paragraphs seeming to say that war is good - in the spiritual realm and by implication (though not wording) also in the earthly realm.

Its bits about competition in the "spiritual" life are four, and are clearly, succinctly and helpfully given: "Competition is important for the believer if he is to have spiritual victory and faithfully follow Jesus Christ. Jesus competed against Satan in the wilderness, and He defeated Satan with the Word of God (Matthew 4:1 - 11). As believers, we fight for the souls of lost people by sharing the gospel with them, and we must compete with alternate worldviews to defeat false truth claims." However, in all four, I do not find competition to be the necessary, nor even an important, ingredient.

All in all, I get the feeling that the writer (unnamed!) seems to be wedded to competition and uses the page to load up Bible verses and secular arguments in favour of it, rather than really looking at what the Bible says. I find it disappointingly shallow, rather than deep, defending its own preconceptions rather than looking at the heart. I might be unfair, especially because s/he obviously is aware of the importance of attitude. But the "keep competing" message comes across much more strongly than "watch your attitude", which could get lost.

Comments by Others

From Tim Brown, 1st October 2021

"Hi Andrew,

"I like the bit in the competition link, " In business - and especially among universities! - no more being enslaved by league tables!". Very true.

"I think the interesting one about this article is that it asserts competition as an evil, yet inherently we have always more than one business selling the same product (maybe in different forms) and in a sense there is always a "win some, lose some" for any business but maybe some businesses have too much more than some and more like monopoly that is unhealthy. It may be that it's more a case of 'competition is evil, variety is wholesome' in that there is a variety of Universities existing in different forms, locations and different purposes that meet the demand of a population with the variety it requires. This may form some kind of good article counter to the unhealthy nature of league tables. Thanks,


AB Response: "Interesting point you make. About monopoly and variety. Must think about that. I suppose (thinking out loud) we might ask "What is so bad about monopoly?" Why is it bad? Is it an inherent evil, or is it evil only in certain contexts? Is it evil in itself or is it the results of it that are evil?

"When I think "Monopoly - boo!" it is because I see (a) lack of choice, (b) imposition by a powerful faceless burorat, (c) or by a selfish organisation (like Facebook!) (d) something arbitrary about that power. It arouses my hatred and maybe even jealousy. Which are themselves wrong."

From Andy Sawyer, 13th October 2021

"a lot of sense in this too I thought. One question though:

"Would (Godless) people give their best to their milk round/brain surgery/painting and decorating if they weren't competing with other milk-men, surgeons, and decorators? I don't think they would. Doesn't make competition right, but it might be necessary in a Godless world?"

AB Response: Usually probably not - maybe partly because affluent western society has presupposed competition as its dynamic. However, sometimes the answer is Yes. I witnessed that during the first pandemic lockdown. Love is indeed an excellent motivator, and so is belief. See suggestion about other motivations above.

Response by Maurice Manktelow to Article and Tim Brown, 1st Novembe r2021

"Dear Andrew and Tim,

"I am responding to your recent emails.

"Is a monopoly inherently bad / is competition evil?

"In commenting on the second point - the question is where does competition come from? It is not how the three persons in the God-head work - rather the opposite is true. So, in that sense, competition cannot be seen as something which is 'godly'.

"Competition is very much a western concept - and one built into the belief in the virtue of a free market.

"Many years ago Pam & I 'adopted' a Christian Egyptian MBA student whilst he was in Bradford. (His cultural background was that he wanted to be part of a family and not a single man, although he was approx. 30 years old). He once said "you westerners are a pain. You get an assignment and then go off and research it individually. You are too competitive. You won't share. Those of us who are not Westerners a) meet to discuss the assignment b) each go away and research an agreed aspect of the assignment c) subsequently meet to pool and discuss our findings and only then d) write our individual work. So why is competition a western concept no found in the same way in other cultures?

"As a case in point the Egyptian student mentioned a married couple on the course who made certain that they were not in the same seminar group. They worked on the assignment together and submitted the same piece of work with the exception of the name on the cover page to their respective seminar tutor. One got marked with a 'C' grade and the other an 'A' grade!! They relied on the competitive nature of the western lecturers (but obviously could not complain about the inconsistent marking!).

"Is monopoly bad?

"Tim's view is, and I quote, "that it is "unhealthy". We currently have a monopolistic ambulance service. Would Tim like to see the ambulance chasing activities as in the USA where the first question they ask is "Who is paying for this?"

"Well, I suppose that since we live in a broken world there is no perfect system. Monopolistic communism in Russian had/has its problems. Democracies have problems - they are just different. Each also had its advantages.

"45 years ago Pam & I drove to Romania. Once we got behind the 'iron curtain' we found that, for example, a jar of jam cost much the same as in England. However the quality was in an entirely different league - it was full of fruit. There was no choice of brand - only flavour. Analysing the constituent economic parts of the jar there were no marketing associated costs - so those aspects of the jar contents were dedicated to the actual jam - whereas when we got back into the west we found that the actual jam was watered down to allow for the marketing costs. Even the best quality was not as good as in the communistic block countries.

"It really is not the case of either one way or another is not which is best. in practice each have their own merits and problems in a world where wheat and chaff grow alongside one another.

"Hope these musings help



Note. Idols. "Suppose we consider the worship of a wood, stone or porcelain image, a practice still common in the world today. This worship has several steps. First, people sever something from their immediate environment, refashion it and erect it on its own feet in a special place. Second, they ritually consecrate it and kneel before it, seeing it as a thing which has life in itself. Third, they bring sacrifices and look to the idol for advice and direction. In short, they worship it. Worship brings with it a decrease in their own power; now the god reveals how they should live and act. And fourth, they expect the god to repay their reverence, obedience and sacrifices with health, security, prosperity and happiness. They give the idol permission to demand and receive whatever it desires, even if it includes animal or human life, because they see the idol as their savior, as the one who can make life whole and bring blessing." [Goudzwaard, 1984, Idols of Our Time, IVP, p.21]


Very many thanks to Andrew Hartley for incisively critical comments on the first version of this page, which stimulated me to think what I really meant, and also drew my attention to the GotQuestions page, which also forced me to set things out more clearly.

This page, "" is part of Andrew Basden's pages - pages that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext, in the style of classic HTML.

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Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material for almost any non-antagonistic purpose (including commercial) subject to certain easy conditions.

Created: 31 August 2021. Last updated: 17 September 2021 Eric Liddle. 18 September 2021 Emma Raducanu. 1 October 2021 Facebook. 4 October 2021 edited the ===; headings; never-learn; rearranged content; problems of competition; note on page of Christian idea of competition. 6 October 2021 amended intro, introduced Frances Haugen, in Understanding, I added negatives as well as positives, and added to GotQuestions; rich in London. 16 October 2021 Andy Sawyer comment. 7 November 2021 Comments from Tim Brown and Maurice Manktelow. 8 November 2021 Media scoops, bit of rw of examples. 26 December 2021 econ, bz; philosophical section. 17 March 2022 At the suggestion of RG, added disclaimer about not concerning biotic competition. 27 May 2022 energy caps; gdz. 5 September 2022 lots of rw and also corrections.