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.

 

 

 

 

GOD’S QUESTIONNAIRE REVISITED – THE END IS NEAR

From 1977 to 1984, God, in the guise of George Burns, starred as Himself in three OH GOD! movies, the last two of which (by earthly standards) stank to high heaven — indicating that even God can overdo a god thing. With Car Talk’s Nine-Question God Questionnaire, I have a good script to work with, but at the rate of one question per post, it would take six more sequels after this one to finish the job. From both an overkill and a don’t try to out-do the Deity standpoint, it doesn’t seem prudent to do more than three posts….especially if the Trinity Pak turns out to be the One True God. Consolidation is in order, or I be in trouble.

Question #3 asked, Did your God come to you undamaged, with all parts in good working order and no missing attributes, and if not, what was the problem? Choices included:

__Not omniscient
__Not omnipotent
__Permits sex outside of marriage
__Prohibits sex outside of marriage
__Requires virgin sacrifices
__Makes mistakes (Geraldo Rivera & Jesse Helms given as examples)
__Makes or permits bad things to happen to good people
__When beseeched, doesn’t stay beseeched
__Plays dice with the universe

Other than updating early 1990s’ mistake examples (to Rush Limbaugh & Ann Coulter, for example), no quibbles here.

Question #4 dealt with relevant factors in your decision to acquire a Deity, such as

__Hate to think for myself
__Need to feel morally superior
__Indoctrinated by parents/society.
__Needed focus on whom to despise.
__Graduated from the tooth fairy.
__Wanted to meet girls/boys
__Like organ music
__Desperate need for certainty

No updating necessary.

Question #5 wondered which false gods were you fooled by in the past:

__Mick Jagger
__The almighty dollar
__Left-wing liberalism
__The radical right
__Beelzebub
__Barney the Dinosaur
__Elvis
__The Great Pumpkin

Update false gods to include Fox News, Chicago Cubs, New York Jets ( to Don) & SWI (to mistermuse)

Question #6: Are you currently using any other source of inspiration in addition to God?

__Astrology
__Fortune cookies
__Playboy and/or Playgirl
__Self-help books
__Sex
__Drugs, alcohol
__Bill Clinton
__Tea leaves
__Human sacrifice
__Ann Landers

Now that you’ve got the idea, you can do your own #6 updating.

Question #7: Divine intervention-wise, would you prefer:

__More
__Less
__Current level just right
__Don’t know … what’s divine intervention?

Just for the hell of it, I’d add __A helluva lot better choices

Question #8 wants you to rate God’s handling of disasters (such as plague, pestilence and spam) and miracles (such as rescues, spontaneous remissions, crying statues and walking on water).

Who are we to judge?

Question #9: Last but not deist, Do you have any suggestions for improving the quality of God’s services?

Deists don’t believe this is a relevant question. Unluckily, it would appear that
God has Alzheimer’s and has forgotten we exist. –Jane Wagner

 

 

 

GOD’S QUESTIONNAIRE REVISITED (THE SECOND COMING)

And now two — question #2 in NPR’s “Car Talk” God’s Total Quality Management Questionnaire:

2. Which model Deity did you acquire?

__ Yahweh
__ Father, Son & Holy Ghost (Trinity Pak)
__ Jehovah
__ Jesus
__ Krishna
__Zeus and entourage (Olympus Pak)
__Odin and entourage (Valhalla Pak)
__Allah
__Satan
__Gaia/Mother Earth/Mother Nature
__God 1.a (hairy thunderer)
__God 1.b (cosmic muffin)
__None of the above; I was taken in by a false god

You know, even at my advanced mile-age, I still don’t know which Deity is the real deal, but given the bewildering number of choices, how could any truly benevolent Big Dealer blame a prospective buyer for test driving as many of the above models as thought warranted? After all, no one wants to pay a lot of lettuce for a lemon. Many are called guarantees on paper, but few are the guarantees worth the paper chosen to be written on.

You can consult the Blue Book all you want to when you go to trade in your used model for, let’s say, a New Testament, but take my word, “they” know the only reason you’re getting rid of your clunker is because there’s something wrong with it and you’re desperate for reliable transportation. My old Trinity Pak wasn’t worth a denarius when I traded it in for a Deist, but that’s what I get for holding on to it for so long. What’s in your garage?

NEXT comes question #3.

GOD’S QUESTIONNAIRE REVISITED

I have a folder of old magazine and newspaper clippings which I’d filed away years ago because of their interesting and/or oddball subject matter. One such clipping (undated, but in a batch of others from the early 1990s) is titled God’s Total Quality Management Questionnaire (As presented on National Public Radio’s “Car Talk”) — which may sound like an odd venue for such a questionnaire if you’re not familiar with the show’s hosts, the auto mechanic-comics Magliozzi Brothers. Tom and Ray Magliozzi’s CLICK AND CLACK car advice appears in newspapers weekly and at http://www.cartalk.com.

If you’re like me, you find most questionnaires too simplistic (answer yes or no, or agree or disagree, to questions which beg for more nuanced response). Not so here — most of the questions offer many choices, such as these in response to question #1: How did you find out about your Deity?

__Newspaper
__Bible
__Torah
__Book of Mormon
__Koran
__Divine inspiration
__Dead Sea Scrolls
__My mama done tol’ me
__Near-death experience
__Near-life experience
__National Public Radio
__Tabloid
__Burning shrubbery
__Other (specify):__________

Now, for those of you who have had different Deities at various stages of your life, even the above choices may be insufficient, which is never a good thing unless you’re absolutely sure that you’ve finally found the divine equivalent of Mr./Ms. Right. One can only be disillusioned so many times before one says to hell with it.

How did I find out about my (current) Deity? Basically, by a process of elimination — I’m a deist, which is probably the last stage before “to hell with it”….though I must admit I haven’t tried all possible Deities. This leads me to question #2 of the questionnaire, but that will have to wait until next time.