Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, a much admired British leader, wrote a book entitled Not in My Name: Confronting Religious Violence (2015). Although I have not read the book (yet), I have come across it in other books I’ve read. Sacks maintains that at the heart of religious extremism is groupishness. (Some would call it tribalism.) He believes that humans are born with two primal instincts: “altruism toward those in our own group and aggression toward others.” We assign goodness to our group and badness to the other group. This saves us from having to deal with the badness in our group–as well as the badness in me personally. It also gives us permission to use violence against the other group. After all, they are bad
Too often violence has been blamed on religion. Heaven knows that throughout history and in our own day there’s been plenty of violence inflicted upon others by so-called religious people–or inflicted even in God’s name. We cannot deny that. But Sacks says violence is not restricted to religious people. He cites the wholesale violence dealt out to millions of people by essentially non-religious individuals such as Hitler and Stalin. He concludes, it is neither secularism nor religion that fuels our violence, but our fundamental groupishness.
Groupishness rears its ugly head in all kinds of places. Consider the 2014 Miss America pageant. That year the pageant was won by Nina Davuluri. Born in Syracuse, NY to Hindu parents, she was the first American of Indian descent to win the competition. Within moments of her crowning, Twitter erupted with comments such as these:
“I am soo mad right now that an ARAB won Miss America.”…
“So miss america is a terrorist…”
“Asian or Indian are you kidding this is america omg.”
What fuels such anger? Perhaps the anger is rooted in fear–fear that those people (people in other groups) are taking over our my group’s country!
Anytime we use words like “us/them” or “those people,” we know we’re succumbing to groupishness whether we’re dividing people into groups based on gender, age, race, religion, country of origin, occupation, sexual orientation, political leanings, and so forth.
Did Jesus say anything about groupishness? Yes! In fact, he demonstrated his own ability to engage with individuals NOT in his “group.” One of his apostles, Matthew, for example was a tax collector, an occupation considered treasonous by many of the Jews. Yet, Jesus welcomed him. Another time a Roman soldier, a member of the occupational force, asks Jesus to cure his servant. Jesus praises this “outsider,” saying he has never seen such faith even among his own people. Once a Phoenician women, a Gentile, begs him to cure her sick daughter. He not only praises her faith, he expands his own understanding of his mission because of her persistence and spunk. A Samaritan, an enemy of the Jews, returns to thank Jesus for curing him of his leprosy. Jesus tells him that it was his faith that had cured him. In addition, Jesus had many women who supported his mission and were his disciples. Women in first century Palestine were certainly not in Jesus’ “group.”
We are living in a time of great polarization in our country and in our world. May we take time to reflect on to what extent we are “buying into” this polarization, this groupishness.
+ Do we recognize the “groupishness” in ourselves?
+ Do we ever think or speak in terms of “us” and “them”?
+ If we do detect groupishness within ourselves, what is the underlying cause: fear? ignorance? a previous bad experience? ingrained prejudice? reluctance to do the hard work of getting to know individuals who are unlike us in many ways?
My prayer for all of us is this:
Loving Jesus, give us the strength to follow in your footsteps and to be open to all people. Help us to see the good in others. Remind us every day that we are all children of one Heavenly Father. Please give us the wisdom to see that we are one human family on our earth. And give us the courage to follow your persistent call: “Love one another… love one another… love one another.” Amen.
Our song for today is Marty Haugen’s “All Are Welcome in This Place.”
I invite you to comment below on this reflection, the pictures, or the song.