Game Theory and the Kingdom of God (A Quirky Series Installment), Part 12: "Reciprocity and the Kingdom of God"


Today I want to talk about reciprocity and the Kingdom of God. I'll be assuming you've read my prior two posts in this series.

Many psychologists now believe that humans innately converge on the Tit for Tat strategy in life. That is, most of us have a bias for cooperation but will quickly turn toward defection if we are defected upon. This Tit for Tat "strategy" is sometimes called strong reciprocity. We found with Tit for Tat that a "nice" strategy can be remarkably adaptive, even in an environment of "survival of the fittest."

But the trouble with a Tit for Tat strategy is that, despite its bias for cooperation, its conservative defensiveness means that mutual cooperation is fragile. Once defection occurs, real or imagined, mutual defection begins to avalanche. True, a Tit for Tat strategy will "forgive," but the other party must "make the first move." However, cascades of offense can be so long and so distorted by memory that it is often unclear who defected first. Thus, no one feels compelled to offer an olive branch.

We see the Tit for Tat dynamics all the time in life. Generally, people start off open and trusting. But, once a "defection" occurs, the good will vanishes and is hard to reclaim. Particularly if the mutual defection creates deep wounds.

In sum, although Tit for Tat reciprocity is an effective "survival" strategy, it often falls short of being a Godly strategy.

In a similar way, the Ultimatum game highlights our innate tendencies to monitor the "fairness" in human relationships. And fairness is tightly associated with reciprocity. We often use reciprocity to achieve some sort of balance and equity in our social relationships and exchanges. But again, a yearning for "fairness," although at times important, is a minimal ethical standard. Members of the Kingdom of God should strive for more. We don't give to or serve others expecting them to do the same for us. That would surely be "fair." But we serve to create "unbalanced" accounts. We don't expect repayment. We also forgive those who injure us. And this also creates "unbalanced" accounts.

In sum, our brains are wired as fairness and reciprocity engines. It is our innate tendency to "balance" our exchanges and play Tit for Tat with the world. But in the Kingdom of God we are to transcend our innate psychological tendencies. As we have shown, Tit for Tat is a Darwinian strategy. True, it is wonderful that "niceness" is adaptive, but followers of Jesus are not called to be "nice." We are called to love. And love plays the game differently than Tit for Tat.

Matthew 5: 38-48
You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

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One thought on “Game Theory and the Kingdom of God (A Quirky Series Installment), Part 12: "Reciprocity and the Kingdom of God"”

  1. It seems to me that in the "moral progress" argument, it makes sense to say that our world is increasingly moving towards an advanced tit for tat philosophy. I think that may be why the religious big wigs you spoke to were not receptive to the idea of moral progress.

    However, I think it would be fairly safe to say that our world is not really progressing towards a Godly view of morality that seeks the good of the other despite a lack of reciprocity.

    Finally, Did you get my e-mail? I am still waiting on those references. Also, I think there is a way you can tell who reads your blog, my xanga site tells me automatically. You should also look at "bloglines.com" which is a way you can subscribe to any blog, and download a notifier that will tell you when they have updated it.

    P.S. I have read just about all of it.

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