I’ve been reading Noel Rae’s The Great Stain, Elif Shafak’s Island of Missing Trees and The Bastard of Istanbul, and beginning to whet my mind on some of Zymgunt Bauman’s writing on ethics (which resonates powerfully with Charles Taylor’s, Hannah Arendt’s, and Miraslov Volf’s respective works). Then I ran into this article on Tribalism:
What Bergson calls instinct would be classically seen as a corruption of the Good, and what he calls an “open soul” is best expressed by the old Hebrew term “mispat”: judgement that shows no partiality based on externals, but arrives at conclusions through careful consideration of motive, action, and words, all of which point to the character and heart of a person. This is the foundation on which Martin Luther King’s built his hope that “a man will be judged on the basis of his character…”
Tribalism in our era (like slavery in our era) is uniquely distorted, and has no counterpart in the pre-modern era. Instead of resting on a genealogical record of definite people whose stories we can narrate, modern tribalism is an extension of the same package-labeling phenomenon that disguises an insubstantial and fleeting product with artificially vibrant colors and catch words and phrases that trigger immediate associations. These associations, in turn, stem from behavioral modification rather than from reasoned instruction. Indeed, modern and post-modern language itself is so fluid that it evasively deceives, evoking rote response, (repelling or indiscriminately embracing) not studied thought.
Our culture has traded allusion and substance for empty trigger words, traded just thought and action for shallow moral categories and pre-packaged moral systems, and traded a God who calls men to repentance and justice for a cosmic therapist who indiscriminately ushers people into a happy hereafter. This cosmic therapist, defined more by characteristic enabling than actual character has no interest in purging men and women of evil and making them fit to live in a Kingdom whose throne is founded on justice and righteousness, whose King’s mouth is full of truth, and whose “right hand is filled with justice.”
William Harper, like Jereboam with Israel, had his way with the visible church in the South, a church that clearly ignored the Pentateuch, Wisdom Literature, History, and Prophets and therefore had no idea what the New Testament, through its numerous allusions to the Old Testament, was signifying to the reader. As Harriet Beecher Stowe observed, the visible church in the North fared no better, adopting many of the same shallow, tribalistic arguments based on scientific racism and other modern assumptions rather than on Scripture. At some point early in American history, a veil dropped on the American Church. That veil remains yet in place.
Even a cursory read of Exodus 34, Deuteronomy 29, Ps 50, James, and II Peter ought to provoke the anxious response of the Ninevites to Jonah’s warning. There is no forgiveness or salvation for a tribal “christian” who “invokes a blessing on himself while pursuing his own way.” For those who put their trust in red tribalism rather than Lady Wisdom, and assume they are somehow better off for having rejected the folly of blue tribalism, Isaiah’s warning ought to provide some bracing irony: “even the donkey knows his master…”
Where are those blessed people who so “hunger and thirst for justice” that they refuse to commit the all-too-prevalent sin of partiality that James decisively condemns? Where are those who humbly recognize they are but sojourners on earth, that their soul alone is eternal, and their wealth and worldly accomplishments merely ephemeral?
Walker Percy incisively exposes the shallow tribalism of this culture: “one-hundred percent of people are humanists, and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead.” If we are to escape sure destruction, that escape will not come from a church which contrasts itself with main culture only by a tribal label, yet lacking justice. Only the just shall live by faith, and that by hungering and thirsting for justice by seeking a revival of just “mispat.”
The call for repentance is a call that the Church alone responds to, and since “judgement begins with the household of God,” the Church must return to the Scriptures, to every iota and kappa in those Scriptures, forsaking the deceptive cliches and assumptions that have imprisoned both mind and heart. Matthew chapters 23-25 clearly communicate that the Christ repudiates a mere tribal label of “Christian.” He will have “truth in the innermost parts,” not men and women “whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful,” who render lip service while denying that God “is a rewarder of those who seek Him” with all their heart. The only path to the city of Peace, ruled by the “King of Rigteousness,” is the path of righteousness, which only those who hunger and thirst for justice will follow. “The just shall live by faith.”