Friday, August 23, 2013

Tribal Thinking

Tribal thinking, believe or not, is one the strongest characteristics of our human condition. Here is one of the best, if not the best explanation of “tribal thinking” that I have read. This comes from John Shelby Spong’s latest book on the Gospel of John, “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”.

            …It is the nature of human life to feed our ever-present security needs by displaying fear in the presence of anyone who is “different.” This fear grows out of not knowing how to interpret behavior that has not been vetted by the norms which govern tribal life and into which tribal members have been incorporated. This is why it is in the biological nature of human life for us to respond to the stranger with heightened suspicion. Strangers speak a language we not understand, so we do not know how to process their words; and as a result we fear their motives. When we do not understand their words, our latent paranoia is fed and excited. Strangers who are not of our tribe also have different ethnic characteristics. Tribal thinking always defines the characteristics of one’s own ethnicity as “normal,” which immediately suggests that to be different is to be “abnormal.” Strangers also worship in a different way and since the primary, primitive meaning of worship is to solicit divine protection for ourselves, worship that is different from our norms might turn out to put us at risk of losing the protection of our deity to the deity of another tribe, who might well be malevolent.
            For all these reasons, xenophobia is a natural human survival technique that is present in all of us. We cannot lay it aside because it is part of what it means to be human. We can escape it only by escaping the limits of our humanity. Making that escape thus reflects a transformational moment, one in which we cross a boundary and enter a new level of consciousness and begin to perceive the reality of human oneness. That is not easy, for survival drives all life, and survival always demands barriers behind which we can find security.