Contrary to popular belief, cunning and innocence do not strange bedfellows make.

In a recent issue of Fortune magazine, an article titled “Killer Companies” cites Ray Kroc, the late, legendary genius behind the McDonald’s hamburger success story. Kroc said if a competitor is drowning, you should stick a hose in his mouth. Think of that next time you order your Big Mac and soft drink!

Assertive personal qualities play a huge role in the functioning of our corporate life, in the market system, and in American society at large. And weakness, “wimpiness,” harmlessness, and innocence rarely score competitive advantage. Society cultivates and rewards shrewd, cunning, assertive—even exploitative—behavior.

In this aggressive and competitive context, Christian ethics gives priority to three virtues—harmlessness, shrewdness, and caring—all of which are identified in a seemingly obscure teaching of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, an instruction that we almost never mention. We will concentrate on the first two of those virtues.

To fully grasp his teaching about these virtues, however, we need to understand the cultural impact of an influential philosopher of competition, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Although Nietzsche argued his perspective more than 100 years ago in Germany, his writings vividly capture traits that our competitive marketplace and society often foster.

A Christian “Slave Mentality”?

According to Nietzsche, there are two types of people: slaves and masters. Slave types value serving others and cultivate the virtues of gentleness, harmlessness, protection, innocence, forgiveness, and love. They cling to being nice, self-giving, passive, useful doormats.

For some reason, Nietzsche thought Christian morality nurtured this ...

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