(I meant to post this on 9/11, but my computer crashed, and I only now regained access to my documents.)
In another post on the site “Not the Religious Type,” the author refers to a recent NY Times editorial by Stanley Fish (see http://notreligious.typepad.com/notreligious/2010/09/their-kooks-are-representative-our-kooks-are-lone-nuts.html#more and http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/30/weve-seen-this-movie-before/?pagemode=print). In his editorial, Fish points out the double standard used to discuss violent acts by or against members of a religious community, and concludes the following:
“The formula is simple and foolproof (although those who deploy it so facilely seem to think we are all fools): If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon.”
What is going on here, I think, is something which we humans easily and naturally slip into, a kind of tribalism whereby we assume the best of those who are part of our people, and read their actions in light of our own best values (and with a generous dose of excusing and explaining away bad behavior), but assume the worst of those who are part of a different group, especially during times of conflict and tension between the communities.
(In terms of a model developed by Bennett – his “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity” – which explains how people progress in their experience of cultural difference, this would fall into the second phase, “Defense,” in which people have a negative experience of difference, and tend to generalize and polarize and talk in “us”/“them” terms, where the “us” is generalized positively and the “them” is generalized negatively. More on the DMIS another time.)
The ability to assume the best of our people and the worst of others is rooted, I think, in lack of self-awareness in the first instance (glossing over how bad “we” are and can be) and ignorance of the others in the second instance. When we don’t know people from the “different” group, it is easy to assume the worst of them.
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus would encourage us to be bigger than our tribal allegiances. (As a human being, I would hope that any religious faith would encourage those who follow it, in this same direction.) In illustration of his most important teaching, that the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, he told a parable of a despised Samaritan (whom his Jewish listeners would have nothing to do with, and through whose territory they would not even pass) helping a wounded Jew who was abandoned by the road side. And he himself not only passed through
, he stopped and conversed with a Samaritan woman, someone who would have been looked at by Jewish men as a non-person. By his teachings and by his example, Jesus showed us that God’s perspective on humanity is different than the tribalism we so easily embrace. Samaria
My question is, can we – not just Christians, but people of any faith – rise above our tribalism (which is worse when wrapped up with religion – which happens with people of all religions) and learn to relate to other human beings who are not members of our tribe, as if they were people also created in the image of God? And can we defuse the generalizing and polarizing, and work toward a more accurate understanding of those of other groups, that can only come as we enter into relationship with those others?