TRIBES AND TRIBULATIONS

tribal, adj. Of the nature of, or relating to, a tribe.
tribe, n. 1. A unit of sociopolitical organization. 2. A political, ethnic, or ancestral division of ancient states and cultures [such as] a. the three divisions of the ancient Romans. b. the 12 divisions of ancient Israel.
–Webster’s New College Dictionary

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If anything seems clear from the seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it is that tribalism and religion are at the heart of the madness. This is not to suggest that tribalism is confined to the Middle East (far from it), or that other forces haven’t played a part. But buried beneath the overlay of foreign intervention in the region (or meddling, if you prefer) are roots with a “history as old or nearly so as that of humanity itself” –Edward O. Wilson, biologist, naturalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

In his book THE MEANING OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, Wilson posits that tribalism and religion are inextricably bound together by what he calls “the instinctual force of tribalism in the genesis of religiosity. People deeply need membership in a group, whether religious or secular.” In a chapter titled simply “RELIGION,” Wilson states:

The great religions are inspired by belief in an incorruptible deity–or multiple deities. Their priests bring solemnity to rites of passage through the cycle of life and death. They sacralize basic tenets of civil and moral law, comfort the afflicted, and take care of the desperately poor. Followers strive to be righteous in the sight of man and God. The churches are centers of community life [and] ultimate refuges against the inequities and tragedies of secular life. They and their ministers make more bearable tyranny, war, starvation, and the worst of natural catastrophes.
The great religions are also, and tragically, sources of ceaseless and unnecessary suffering. They are impediments to the grasp of reality needed to solve most social problems in the real world. Their exquisitely human flaw is tribalism. It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thought of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.
Unfortunately, a religious group defines itself foremost by its creation myths, the supernatural narrative that explains how humans came into existence. This story is also the heart of tribalism. No matter how subtly explained, the core belief assures its members that God favors them above all others. It teaches that members of other religions worship the wrong gods, use wrong rituals, follow false prophets….

Food for thought — but thought that leaves questions to chew on: if “love makes fools of us all” (to quote Thackeray), does it follow that tribalism makes blind fools of us all? Are we unwitting tribalists to the siren song of political/religious saviors, some of us to the extent of becoming tribal or religious fanatics? Are tribal/religious fanatics born or made (nature vs. nurture)? And, given that all religions are invented by man, does that entitle Wilson to tar them all with the same brush?

For example, Wilson regards it as a mistake to fold believers of particular religious and dogmatic ideologies into two piles (moderate versus extremist), because “The true cause of hatred and violence is faith versus faith, an outward expression of the ancient instinct of tribalism.”  While that may be true, I question the notion that all religions/tribes wash out equally. For example, in pre-colonial times in North America, there were both peaceful and warlike Native American tribes. And so it is elsewhere. Aren’t secular humanists equally guilty of bad faith who don’t recognize/won’t separate the wheat from the chaff/laissez-faire from doctrinaire? Who and what have incited and fed religious wars and persecutions throughout history? It’s not the likes of the Quakers, nor is it directives from the heavens.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

 

 

 

 

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17 comments on “TRIBES AND TRIBULATIONS

  1. This was a great read!
    I play my drum to a different beat and prefer to not be part of a group or religious. I like to read about these topics tho, as I want to understand it. I don’t feel left out, but sometimes don’t understand why people do things. Maybe it’s my O- blood? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      Thank you. I concur, but though I don’t seek to be part of a group, there is one group I can’t help belonging to: the human race. In that sense, we’re all in this together, which is why all the ongoing political and religious extreme dogmatism is a plague on all our houses.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. arekhill1 says:

    Well put, Sr. Muse, and undoubtedly true. I’m an agnostic myself, thank God.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mistermuse says:

    Growing up Catholic put the fear of the Lord in me, Ricardo, so I’m still too chicken to be an agnostic. Some people may think I’m an egghead, so perhaps I’m now an egg-nostic. At least that would solve an age-old question: the chicken came before the egg-nostic.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Todd Duffey Writes on Things says:

    This is the first blog of yours I’ve read, Mistermuse. I feel like there is a LOT more I will be learning from you! Bravo – you have opened this reader’s eyes to a much broader playing field!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      Thanks. I usually write in a more creative, humorous vein, but my art-ery takes a serious turn every once in a while. I only post every fifth day, so your eyes shouldn’t get bloodshot from over-learning! 🙂

      Thanks again.

      Like

  5. Don Frankel says:

    Good stuff Muse. A little heavy but sometimes we have to do heavy. I haven’t read Wilson so I wouldn’t want to characterize his stuff but if his basic premise is to blame it on Tribalism well it sort of a non-starter for me. It doesn’t matter what the Tribe says or the Government says or even and this may be heresy but even what the Supreme Court says. You make your decisions in this life and then you have to live with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      You make a good point, Don. We tend to think of tribalism as something uncivilized, something they do “over there” — but all you have to do is look at our own politics to see mindless tribal followings (albeit with a modern veneer).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. John Looker says:

    I have a great deal of sympathy with your analysis. Tribalism does appear deep rooted in the human condition — perhaps it is inescapable until societies can find ways of evolving appropriate forms of government. I found myself writing a group of poems on tribal loyalties a year ago. They might not interest you but, just in case, they can be found on my own (poetry) blog at: https://johnstevensjs.wordpress.com/category/looking-at-life-through-work-series/tribal-loyalties/ They also had a place in a book of mine published a year ago, but that’s another story. Congratulations on raising this in a thoughtful way.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. mistermuse says:

    I appreciate your comment and like your tribal poems, especially THE DAWN RAID. I tend to think that the perversion of tribalism (mindless, dogmatic allegiance to its worst forms), more than tribalism itself, is the main problem….and one (skeptic that I am) that I believe will probably always be with us.

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  8. John Looker says:

    Yes. In any society there is going to be a reassuring sense of belonging to a familiar homogeneous group, but it is dangerous (or perverted as you put it) when there is no imagination about or empathy towards others. Such a pressing issue for our times! Glad you’ve raised it in the manner you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. linnetmoss says:

    Religion is like science–not evil or good in itself, but depending on the use we make of it. (Although Christopher Hitchens made a pretty comprehensive case against it in “God is not Great.”) IMO science has relieved much more suffering than religion ever did. (And of course has caused its share.) As to tribalism, I don’t see much benefit in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. mistermuse says:

    Thank you for more “food for thought.”

    I suppose, given that “People deeply need membership in a group, whether religious or secular” (as Edward O. Wilson wrote), one could say the same of tribalism–“not good or evil in itself,” but depending on the ends pursued (and the means used to pursue them). Another thought: how widely or loosely to define, or think of, tribalism. In a sense, fraternities, sororities, sports teams — such as the Cleveland Indians 🙂 — any group banded together for common cause, could be considered tribes.

    I own Hitchens’ GOD IS NOT GREAT, but haven’t read it in a long time — though I’m familiar with his arguments in general. It’s too complex to get into here, but I’ve written a few posts on these things before and will probably do so again.

    Like

  11. literaryeyes says:

    H.L. Mencken ripped apart the basic foundations of religion in his book, Twilight of the Gods (I think that’s the title, or maybe that’s a movie-I plead senior memory). Religion started early when tribes were the social construct, so it’s plausible they are inextricably and at this time, irrevocably, intermixed. But to put a little humor in, here’s a quote purportedly from Mencken: “For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing.” In other words, the improbable, in his opinion. I’m not as pragmatic as Mencken, by far, and believe we have an inherent spiritual nature that’s connected to our physical selves, and possibly to something outside ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. mistermuse says:

    Well said. Neither the god(s) of religion, nor the concept of creation without a creator, is convincing to me. To quote from WHY DOES THE WORLD EXIST (by Jim Holt):
    “A scientific explanation must involve some sort of physical cause. But any physical cause is by definition part of the universe to be explained. Thus any purely scientific explanation of the existence of the universe is doomed to be circular. Even if it starts with something very minimal–a cosmic egg, a tiny bit of quantum vacuum, a singularity-it still starts with something, not nothing.”

    Like

  13. restlessjo says:

    Sadly, I don’t have an argument. I simply wish it were otherwise, but wishing will never make it so.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. mistermuse says:

    The good news is that with a creator, there remains the possibility of life after death for us. The bad news is that with a creator so above all the suffering it has deliberately made the lot of its creatures, what would that bode for our next-life relationship with such a creator? Sadly (to say the least), it’s enough to make thinking people careful what they wish for.
    But, for now, I wish for the best for you and everyone reading this.

    Like

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