Tribal Integrity

cain-abel

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4:8-9 KJV

The irony of Cain’s retort is that he was technically not his brother’s keeper- at least in the paternal sense- for Able was a grown man. He smugly asked the question to dodge the confession God was clearly importuning. Cain’s words are particularly aggravating because he was obviously not expected to be his brother’s keeper in that sense. What further revealed Cain’s callousness is that he didn’t desire to be his brother’s keeper in any sense.

Cain’s first sin was self-exoneration. In the very act of sacrifice, he revealed his own delusions of self-importance. He had prepared an offering that was displeasing to the Lord but convenient for himself. God chided Cain for his inward motives. His delusions quickly devolved into an entitled self-centeredness and then into covetousness. God compassionately warned Cain to “master his sin.” Instead he left his covetousness unbridled, and it resulted in the first murder in recorded history.

Human beings have always existed for worship of our Creator. Worship is not merely wrapped up in art or song but in the very activity of our lives. Our fellowship with God was always intended to be the hub of our existence- from it all else flows. When the parents of Cain sinned, corruption and brokenness became humanity’s inheritance. There is, of course, a greater inheritance gifted unto the children of God. But until death or the fulfillment of the second act of Christ’s coming, humanity will suffer the plight of our fallen nature.

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”

Isaiah 14:12-15 KJV

Our befallen nature distorts our reality and predisposes us to see false gods everywhere, even in ourselves. The devil himself is our example. The story of Cain reveals to us the logical conclusions of our idolatry. His self-adulation deluded him into entitledness and thus covetousness. James reminds us “when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

The majority of mankind are not so murderous, but we do have a propensity toward individualism due to our delusional self-appraisal. To be clear, it is natural and necessary for one to pursue their own needs primarily, but the individualist pursues his own needs exclusively.

Humans have always been tribal by nature, and this has protected and enhanced civilizations throughout history. We are social beings who thoroughly depend upon one another. While self-concern is necessary to the success of the individual, and therefore to the tribe; individualism is damning to the tribe and therefore to the individual.
There are many variables that encourage individualism in a society, and one must be keen to break free from these influences. For they arrouse in us the greatest defects of our humanity- wantonness and vanity. Individualism may transpire into ruthless competitiveness or devestating indifference (such as neglect)- all of which diminish the integrity of the tribe. But there is another motivater that agitates our unity as a people. Fear.

I don’t mean fear in a legitimized sense. There are enemies of humanity ever pursuing havoc and seeking to goad a society into submission. They are the ones for whom fear exists. Fear is reaction. It is not a reaction that springs up to transform us into cowards. It springs up to motivate our preparedness for battle. Fear exists to be overcome, and it is overcome by tactical confrontation. In this sense, fear is an appropriate motivator. Unfortunately, fear is often treated more harmfully. In a society so motivated by comfort, virtues like courage become all but lost.

In modern western society this notion has become endemic. A successful human society has always been tribalistic. Tribalism requires that all men be keepers of their brethren, for both love and survival. Any threat to the integrity of the tribe must be dealt with properly, lest it corrode the entire society from the inside out.

In the 1980s the media helped to proliferate a pedophile scare. Anyone growing up around this time may recall the warnings to beware of perverts apparently lurking around every corner. My church even had its very own “Tickle Man.” He was a fat old man with a beard who would tickle random children. When his sordid, pedophiliac past was eventually revealed, the pastor promptly excommunicated him from the congregation.

Perhaps there was an uptick in perverts in the 80s. It’s hard to say. In the very least, a great many of them were put away or more carefully monitored. While monsters still do exist in our society, the vast majority within have, in the very least, a desire not to harm one’s neighbor. We would all be better for it if we took a step further.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves….”

Philippians 2:3 NASB

Christ famously prepares his disciples for their ministry by admonishing them to be “gentle as doves, but wise as serpents.” We truly have an obligation to be suspect of others. In any society, trust out to be earned. The trouble comes when we lose our ability to even issue trust because we are so motivated by a fear that is rooted in the toxic generalization that every peer is a probably threat. There needs to be a sense in which we can plan for the worst but give a benefit of doubt to presume the best about others. A society crippled by fear of one another will be a society easily subjugated. Even in the absence of threats of domination, a society will be totally maimed by fear.

The integrity of a society demands personal discipline coupled with deep love and servitude for one’s family and peers. Individualism (in the form of neglect or aggression toward others) and fear (in the form of total and general societal distrust) are the acids that deteriorate the fabrics of a society. These truisms are applicable to any society, though I would argue that a society is all the better off in the presence of shared creeds that regard the reason humankind exists at all. But that is another matter.

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Meekness and Free Speech

It’s 12:30 am, and I work tomorrow. But I had to make note of something before I got to bed. Trump won the New Hampshire primary tonight. It was a landslide. I went out to Tuesday night trivia that my friend hosts as I do every Tuesday. I decide to wear my Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat. It seemed like a good night to celebrate the win.

I always get occasional weird looks from people. I am well aware of the feelings liberals have associated with Donald Trump. But I am also so well-versed in the guy’s ethos, that I take none of it seriously. And I see no need to censor myself in order to cater to the willful ignorance of others. I understand that wearing the hat might court assumptions that I am a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, chauvinistic, and Islamophobic bigot. The problem with all of those terms is that they mean  very different things to different people. They are unhelpful for thoughtful dialogue, but they are exceedingly helpful in an effort to censor other people.

A tall young man, maybe twenty-five, starts mean-mugging me within inches of my face. I stare back and lock gaze with him. I assume he’s joking. I talk about how Trump won the primary. I ask him if he’s excited. He pouts like a small child. I think he may have been trying to intimidate me. It certainly wasn’t working. Then cue the name-calling. I assume he’s joking. I laugh and pat him on the back. “Don’t fuckin touch me,” he demands. The tensions escalate. My blood pressure begins to rise. My girlfriend chimes in and tells him to chill out. He says, “fuck you,” to a woman half his size.

Meanwhile his short friend chimes in. He calls me all of the buzzwords. He says I am ignorant, racist, homophobic, Islamohophic, etc. He tells me to get rid of my hat. He talks about how he’s a PhD student, hoping to prove how enlightened he is. He goes on. Meanwhile, as my girlfriend cries after the other guy yelled at her I motion for the bartender. I tell her these guys got to go. She comes around and starts talking the taller guy down. The little guy talks about his need for a safe space. I am not even joking.

The bartender, a friend of mine, takes the taller guy over to the other side of the bar to talk him down. I call out the little guy for a little bit. I say nobody cares about his PhD. I say if he wants a safe space he can get the fuck out of there. I tell him I’m not any of those things, and he makes assumptions about a hat that says four words- MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. I tell him he is so enlightened that he tries to censor me. I say this is not way to have a conversation. He starts to calm down and becomes apologetic. He extends an invitation to discuss. I tell him I forgive him, but that this is no time to engage in a discourse. I probably cussed him out more than I should.

This is the second time this week I have somewhat narrowly avoided a physical altercation. The other day I was dealing with a horrific troll at the gym. Fortunately I am pretty good at keeping my cool, but I don’t take well to people trying to censor me. As my nerves calmed down and I headed home I started to reflect.

As an evangelical, how well had I handled this situation? I was glad that I had stood my ground, but certainly I could have been more loving even in the midst of confrontation. I did forgive him. That was the righteous thing to do once the little guy apologized. But I didn’t need to curse at him. I was livid. I am still livid. The way people like this try to censor free speech is incredible. Because they have feelings about a hat, I am supposed to surrender my rights to what I wear or publicly express, even if it is not actively harming anyone? Not only this, their approach to express their indignation is to begin a vicious altercation.

I began to think, “Should I not wear this hat?” Not because of the altercation, but because of what it communicates to these people. The Apostle Paul says he is a Greek to the Greek and a Roman to the Romans. Am I losing evangelistic opportunities because I wear this hat? I don’t think that I am, but it seems a worthy thought. What are my intentions? Am I trying to boast my own courage? I go into an extremely liberal hub and wear a hat that I know will turn heads. It isn’t my primary focus. I like the hat, and I am a big supporter of Trump. I am excited about the election. I have every right to wear it. I have every right to stand my ground in a situation such as this.

I think I do the right thing to wear it. Where the opportunity comes to show the love of Christ is going to be the way in which I respond in the altercations. I didn’t make a total hash of it, but I could have surrendered my ego some more. I could have held my tongue some as I rebutted. With the one guy, things ended on an okay note.

My concern for modern Christianity is that they might see a scenario like this and assume that it might be best to avoid wearing such a hat to prevent the risk of offending others. When I was a teenager I had a t-shirt I got from a thrift store. It was an old black shirt that said “Old Fart.” I thought it was ironic and funny, so I wore it. My grandparents would laugh whenever they saw it. One evening I wore it to youth group, not thinking anything of it. An old lady at the church, notorious for being a stickler, approached my father about my t-shirt. She told me she was offended. My dad made me approach her to apologize that she had been offended by my shirt.

I never agreed with my dad about that. I still don’t . For all I know, he doesn’t anymore either. But at that time, he thought it was right for me to make peace in a situation where someone was offended. I respect his intent in the situation. I really do. But it always rubbed me the wrong way. I always thought the woman was being incredibly self-centered to be offended by the shirt. It wasn’t a statement to her or elderly people like she seemed to assume. It was a silly shirt from the store. I was too young to be deemed an old fart by anyone. So it was funny. This is why my grandparents found the same humor in it. Maybe it wasn’t an appropriate shirt to wear to church, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was that she was offended for reasons of her own insecurities and assumptions about me, and I had to censor myself and even apologize to her when I had done nothing wrong.

The Apostle also talks about not eating meat around other believers who don’t eat meat as the result of a weak conscience. For them, eating meat was akin to stumbling into sin. For Paul to eat meat around them affected their own attempts at righteousness as they desired to serve God. His point is that his eating of meat is worth nothing compared to the development of other believers. This I get. Christians should have a preoccupation with two things- evangelism and discipleship. This tells me that I should only be altering my behaviors if my behaviors are going to cause another person to falter in their walk with Christ.

In other words, there is a time and circumstance where it is righteous to censor our behaviors. But we ought not censor ourself just because another person is being offended. This would inevitably lead to sin. Jesus says himself that he came not to bring peace but a sword. Paul says in Romans that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, to this day, Christians suffer violent loss and death because they refuse to be censored. They refuse to put their light under a bushel.

Certainly this extends further into other areas of our experience. Surely we have to draw a line somewhere. Censorship is a method of Satan. He seeks to censor all truth. It is one thing to alter behaviors for sake of righteousness. It is another to alter them for sake of serving another’s vainglory. My hat may offend others. And when it does, I have a duty to show love and kindness when they poise for attack. But I also have to defend myself and prepare to do whatever necessary to defend myself or deescalate the situation. But fighting against the tyranny of censorship begins with things like this.

Christians are not called to cater to the feelings of the world, whether our matters pertain to religion or not. Our call is to evangelize and disciple the world under the banner of a message that is extremely offensive to many people. It is important that we stand our ground in small ways and that we assert ourselves. But with God’s help, we must never lose focus of the call to love our enemies and to seek every opportunity possible to win souls for Christ.

Everybody, Stereotype

Image you are driving in your car in an unfamiliar city. Your phone is dead, you are running on empty, and it is pouring rain. You grit your teeth just hoping your car will make it to a gas station or, in the very least, a safe stopping point. You drive deeper into neighborhoods with boarded up buildings, storefront churches, cash advance outfits, and the like. You are lost, and the only thing dissipating more than your surroundings is your gas tank. Your car is hacking along on fumes, and suddenly, as the watery squall gushes at you, your car begins to hydroplane.

You lose control, slide into a curb, and you blow out your front passenger tire. You are stranded. You drape your jacket over your head and step out of the car. The street is  becoming a lazy river. Your shoes and socks are soaked through immediately. You lock your doors and hurry onto the sidewalk and begin scanning in every direction- looking for bright lights and signs of commercial life. You spot a brightly lit banner about a quarter mile up the road. The rain starts to subside. As you walk toward the fluorescent lights, the once pouring rain is now a trickle.

Things seems to be advancing in your favor. You begin to relax. Your surroundings are unfamiliar and feel rather unsafe, but you tell yourself that your night cannot get any worse. “Surely the weather has kept everyone in for the night,” you say to yourself. Despite your comparatively zen state, you are still on red alert. You finally make it to the bright lights up the road. There is a sign on the door. Haphazardly written in Sharpie it says, “Kenny’s Chit’lins -N- Fish closed- power outage.” You hang your head and let out a sigh. Then the worst happens. A car pulls up to the side of the street, just a few feet behind you.

The muffler is loud. There are men raising their voices. Your stomach sinks. You are outnumbered. You resign to the fact that your night is about to get a whole lot worse. Maybe this is the last night of your life. After all of your years on this earth- your overcoming of adversities; your celebrations of your life’s greatest joys and victories, this is not how you imagined it would end. Sopping wet, staring through the window of Kenny’s Chit’lins -N- Fish. “What even is a chitterling?” you ask yourself. “I guess it’s too late to find out now.” The car door closes. Four-five-six men step out of the car. At least it looks that way from the shoddy reflection. You are too afraid to face them. They seem to be walking toward you. You slowly turn around. One man reaches into the pocket of his large coat. He slowly pulls his hand out of his pocket and brandishes a pocket-sized New Testament.

Now stop. How much relief do you feel in that moment after realizing that these men are on their way to a Bible study?

Do you see what you did there? You just profiled this group of men. You automatically assumed that just because these ostensible goons were on their way to a Bible study that they must be safe. How dare you!

This is the logic of some people in reverse. They might say something like, “See? You shouldn’t stereotype others. Those men turned out to be nice, church-going boys.” What they would fail to see is that they have just traded a negative stereotype for a positive one. Apparently one is allowed while the other is not. To such a person I would explain that they do not have a problem with stereotypes, they only have a problem with stereotypes when they pertain to a group of people they believe are socially oppressed.

It is, in fact, impossible not to stereotype.  When you are walking through the woods, you might recoil at the sight of a vine because your brain has not immediately figured out that it is not a venomous snake. Some paths in the brain are longer than others, and your brain has a tendency to quickly generalize an experience before it has time to analyze it. Stereotyping is the brain’s way of not taking a gamble when the stakes of survival are high.

Go back to the illustration from before. Before you had time to analyze the situation, you had to make value judgements to prepare for your own survival. Upon learning that the men were apparently harmless, you had to incorporate separate generalizations in order to get a picture of what these men might be like based on your general experience with the types of people that attend Bible studies. They may not always be stellar acquaintances, but your experience at least tells you they are unlikely to rob, injure, or murder you. Your knowledge or personal encounter with inner-city crime statistics or criminal encounters tells you the risk of danger is at least more likely.

When your survival is at stake, there is no time to worry about false assumptions. Once you are able to safely gather more information regarding your encounter you are able to determine the probable safety of the situation and make the decision to either salute, flee, or prepare for battle. If and when you are enabled to calculate that you are safe, then you may begin to lay down your arms of generalization.

Stereotypes should never be forsaken. They should only be refined through furthering keen observation and learning. They should be seen as tools for survival, anecdotes of information, and sources of good humor. When need be, they can be surrendered on an individual basis. For by their nature they are generalizations, and generalizations hold different value in the context of genuine relationships. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, but only the foolish will on principle forsake their doubts to seem cordial or accepting. After all, social niceties only exist in those not absolved by danger.