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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Groupishness and Jesus


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

Rabbi Sacks (1948-2020)



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!

At what age do we learn about groupishness? These children don’t seem to have learned about groupishness yet. Despite their obvious differences, they’re having fun together.
(Photo by Pavel Danilyuk – Pexels)


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.

19 Responses

  1. What an interesting article. He really nailed it. I love the name he made up. I will definitely look into his book. I loved the picture of the children.
    Priceless. The division today is heartbreaking. Seems it’s everywhere.
    Thank you once again.

  2. Good morning, Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    “Groupishness” is something I’m working on, as in trying not to be so “groupish,” especially regarding politics and my very own Catholic Church. Yes, Jesus would have none of it!

    A note about the song: I have heard this song before, but I’m not sure if I ever heard the whole thing or read all the lyrics. Its words are truly beautiful! Thank you! Have a great week!

  3. Sr. Melanie,

    I encouraged my husband a Deacon to write a homily regarding groupishness. Strong topic to address especially in our Parish church!

  4. I have worked for a carholic health system and their Congregation for a good number of years. At so many of their masses, this was the opening song and I loved the welcoming, inclusive feeling. They celebrated their 200th anniversary on January 24th. They were /are so welcome and open. This area of our lives, my own included, needs daily work, prayer and practice. As always, thank you for bringing so many opportunities for reflection as well as so many interesting things to read. I love your blog.

  5. Very interesting and timely article. The divisiveness in society is troubling, even here in Canada. Keep it coming Melanie!

  6. How ture. If I deal with “us”, I don’t have to deal with “you”. And so I never get to know and encounter “you”. God bless you.

    Father John

  7. I read another book he wrote entitled The Great Experiment. It discusses his views on the compatibility of science and religion. I plan to read them both again. Thank you for Sunflower Seeds!!!

  8. Thank you for this needed and timely reflection. And for the video! I love this song, and my choir sings it often as a processional. Such a lovely way to start a Eucharistic celebration!

  9. It seems our judgments are always our biggest stumbling blocks in seeing into the hearts of others. My ego almost always gets in the way! (“Let me pull that splinter out of your eye, pal.” Lk 6:41)
    How wonderful how all things come together! I have just been listening to a podcast- Learning How to See with Brian McLaren. Episodes 40-47, The Seventh Story, deals with this very topic in depth, and in a very engaging, enjoyable and insightful way.
    Thank you Sr. Melannie for always showing us the way. I will look into the book by Rabbi Sacks.

  10. Thank you Melannie for a very timely reflection. I’ve never heard of the term but it seems very apt at this point in time. I will refer to it in my presentations, especially in the heat of our coming political campaigns.

  11. Your message is right on point! The groupishness in our world is rampant, pervasive, and destructive. It is so sad. How did we get here? But more importantly, how do we change that? We need to spread the message of Jesus, and live that message so others see it in action, and hopefully learn, trust, and emulate. An uphill battle for sure, but we cannot give up.

  12. WOW!!! this is a wonderful reflection for me to read, re-read and think about.
    Thank you so much!!
    Hope you continue on a good healing path from your hip surgery.

  13. I love how Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries puts it: “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is just ‘us’ “
    Thank you for this timely topic.

  14. Book Title Correction: “The Great Partnership” Science Religion and the Search for Meaning. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

  15. Thanks so much! This topic is so powerful in this time of such division and polarization in our country and communities. I hope to use some of the suggestions in my daily life.

  16. Great and timely message, Melannie. Thank you. I am becoming more and more aware of the “whiteness” of our Church and cannot help but notice this in the accompanying video of the hymn. I am glad to see a person in a wheelchair, elderly persons among the younger ones.
    Praying for your continued good recovery from hip surgery,
    Judy, FSSJ

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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