Religion is often the scapegoat for violence. Indeed, it is also so often the excused used by those committing violence. The recent violence in Egypt is a fresh reminder to all of us about the role religion plays in many of the worst atrocities in our history. However, religion is itself a victim of a more underlying and ubiquitous engine for violence: tribalism. Understanding tribalism the key to reducing and eliminating the seeds of violence.
Us vs. Them
It is the most basic instinctual response to the need to survive, “Who is with me? Who is against me?” We all figure out, to one degree or another, that the world isn’t perfect. As we experience various hurts and pains, we want to know who is to blame. Certainly it isn’t “us, ” we are upright, decent, and reasonable people. It must be “them, ” yes “those” people must be to blame for why everything is so messed up. Let’s get ‘em!
So once we have figured everything out and know who is to blame for all the problems of the world, we discover we have a major problem: We all look alike! So how can we tell “us” from “them?” Herein lies the answer to all of societies various affectations. We use colors, symbols, clothing styles, and accessories to help us visually align and identify ourselves with our “us’es.” Now we can see who is “us” and who is “them” from a distance.
But wait, outward signs are not enough because they can be “faked.” Just about anyone can slap on a colored scarf or put a symbol on their car. How can I know someone is REALLY one of us? This is where religion and propaganda comes into play. We abuse religion to be a “code” for us to establish our tribes. Religion is full of complex and intricate doctrines which serve little purpose for our lives, but we use to see if someone is really from “our tribe” if they agree with them.
Poverty and Tribalism
Again, tribalism is a survival mechanism. The more scarce we believe our resources to be, the more desperately we establish our tribes. This is how we justify giving to some, and withholding from others. The ultimate end of tribalism is genocide, so that there are less people to consume resources.
The first key to eliminating poverty is for those who “have” not to react to tribalistic response from those who “have not.” Impoverished neighborhoods and communities are most likely to form gangs, cults, and religious extremism. Islam is not to blame for terrorism, poverty is. As many of the impoverished regions of the Middle East are predominantly Islamic, it is simply the religion at hand for the poor to use to justify violence.
The more we respond to desperation with tribalism, the worse it gets. No one who has a healthy and loving family with a promising future is going to want to be a suicide bomber. Only desperate people who have no hope in this life are going to strap a bomb to their chest. Never be fooled, our battle is over the selfish division of resources in this world, not religious dogma. Religion is simply a masked used to justify our hatred for each other, it is not the cause. The more we say “Islam is the enemy” the more we are ignoring the root, and putting fuel on the fire.
Christianity and Tribalism
“There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.”
– Romans 2:9-11 (ESV)
Jesus was blatantly against tribalism. He demonstrated this in words and in actions. From the parable of the Good Samaritan, to meeting the samaritan woman at the well, Jesus shocked the culture of his time by ignoring accepted tribal divisions. It is not the teachings of Jesus Christ or Christianity which is to blame for our behavior, Christianity is a victim of our tribalistic habits which we bring into it.
In our thinking, in our prejudices, and in our church communities we need to examine ourselves and ask, “How do we use our faith to bring the love of Christ into the world, and in what ways do we use our religion to keep the world out?” Anytime we use our faith in Jesus Christ as an excuse to distance ourselves from our fellow man, we are perverting and desecrating his message.
The key to ending violence is ending tribalistic behavior. We are called, as Christ himself demonstrated, to respond to the tribal desperation of poverty with grace and compassion, not more tribalism. “Us vs them” is a self-perpetuating cycle, without one side choosing to sacrifice for peace, there is no end.