The Easy Evil of the Tribe
It’s Friday and it’s time to rustle some feathers. I’m re-reading Crazy Love right now, so I am feeling really uncomfortable and want to share that with you.
Something I observe and tweet about, on the regular, is the danger of tribalism. Tribalism is the natural go-to for humanity. We want tribes. We crave them. We want to belong. If anything, it’s one of the few things, as a high-level concept, we all agree on. We do. We don’t agree on the value of cats as a species, but we totally want to be either a cat person or a person who hates cats. So why is that?
It’s far more comfortable to be within a tribe than outside of one.
And here’s the interesting thing to me: we create ever smaller tribes when we no longer feel like we’re an important enough piece within our own tribe. So subtribes of subtribes of subtribes form. Instead of being a vegetarian, now I’m a vegan, and wait that’s too big so now I’ll journey to being a fruitarian. But the health benefits aren’t the reasoning. The moral aspects stop being even the bigger thing, at a certain point. And those people in the middles of these rankings are less aware of the nature of the tribe than those at the farther extremes. Hear me: if you are a vegetarian/vegan, that’s your choice, I’m just using that as an obvious example of the “leveling” that all tribes create.
Am I exempt? Hardly. In my job, there are levels within levels. It’s a million-dollar company and there are so many levels that it’s hard to keep track. In church? Oh wow. I have heard men debate, with heated anger, between being a four and a half point Calvinist and a five point. And when you zoom out, you ask, “What in the world are we doing here?”
Tribalism, whatever mask it wears, is nothing more than cruel legalism. Why?
You are defined by your adherence to your tribe’s particular distinctives.
Think about this. You have to maintain a set of beliefs, of dogmas, in order to maintain your acceptance into the tribe. I remember when vegetarians used to argue over being a vegetarian or just not eating pork and beef. Yes, that was once an argument. Now, people argue over the morality of using a grain or seed that an animal might eat and that the deprivation of said food is immoral. Or even whether or not we can conscience using animal waste.
Your tribe is ridiculous. All tribes are. But what we exchange for acceptance into said tribe is our freedom. We take on a burden to be slaves to the expectations inherent to the tribe.
You are excluded when the tribe must purge.
I have listened to people talk about losing friendships, losing relationships, growing cold with their family, over tribalism. It’s usually because either the person refused to follow the tribal line into the next level or refused to maintain the strict expectations placed on them. Tribes, by nature, must do this. They must purge their rolls because it’s the only way any sure sense of “purity” of thought can be maintained. So yesterday you did DEATHWODs or whatever Crossfit thing there is, and today you do SUICIDEWODEXTREMEZ. Why? Well, because the standard must shift, it must move. You can’t expect a tribe to exist with an unchanging, single standard. If it did, how would you know how important you were in the tribe?
How can the gospel free us from the tribe?
When God saved me, He didn’t just take me out of tribe A and insert me into tribe B. Salvation is far greater than just tribal affiliation. A good example of this would be the writer’s tribe. And oh my, it is such a tribe. With levels and layers like you wouldn’t believe. I had an exchange with a person asking if all my work was diverse or just the work I was pitching at that moment. Because, if I was a person who only wrote diverse fiction, I could jump in on a hashtag (that I will not be naming) to help get my name noticed for having written diverse fiction. If you write YA Sci-Fi, then you had better always write that. If you write Christian Fiction, well good luck selling anything else, ever. The world of writing is so specific, and so intricately categorized, that tribes are almost a no-brainer. They just happen.
If God’s salvation of me had included a Christian fish on my car, all my fiction changing to Christian fiction, and instead of listening to Neutral Milk Hotel I now listen to Starflyer 59, then it was just a tribal affiliation that changed. Why? Because my heart didn’t change, just the group that accepted me.
When Jesus comes along, He says to us, “Your tribe is now your mission field. And they might kick you out because of Me. But your comforts and your acceptance, is in Me now, not this tribe.” And in that, He receives glory. So maybe you’re now a Jesus-loving vegan who doesn’t necessarily give up veganism, but no longer finds any sense of identity in it. Maybe now you’re a Calvinist who finally saw the Jesus behind the theology you used as a cudgel for so long. Maybe now you’re a League of Legends player who enjoys the game more because you don’t have to be the poster-child for their standards. The little tribe member within you, who used to be so loud and proud and powerful has now bent their knee in submission.
See, Jesus frees us to be missionaries, rejected and sometimes accepted, to every tribe and nation. And if my tribe kicks me out? So be it. If a new tribe accepts me in? So be it. The gospel says my tribe is just this world, trying to make sense of itself, and that Jesus offers the better answer.