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Ending tribalism

From the January 2014 issue of The Christian Science Journal


While I was in Africa recently, I heard someone say, “God loves everyone in the Western world more than us.” Believing this would create a pall of hopelessness that would hover over our lives. And this view isn’t just held in Africa. Often we hear things like, “If I just lived somewhere else, I’d have a job, or a better life, or more opportunities for happiness.”

We read in the Bible that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). In other words, God loves all His/Her creation equally. He doesn’t play favorites! He doesn’t love one group of people more than another. God fills all space. Since God is Love, Love fills all space. It would be absurd to think that there is something outside of “all” that wasn’t loved, because “all” is unequivocal.
All is all.

The thought that God might play favorites can be based on a sense of tribalism. “Those people, that party, this nationality is better/worse than we are” forms a reasoning that leads to sharply divisive, and even dangerous attitudes. Many challenges facing us today are a result of this kind of tribalistic thinking, found, not just in Africa, but in many countries, including the United States. If you think about it, we have “tribes” all around us. For example, cliques at school: “The popular kids,” “the athletes,” “alumni tribes” after graduating from college, etc. And then there are all those other tribes—ethnic, political, and religious.

Jesus’ example countered any sign of tribalism. For instance, when he asked for water at Jacob’s well, he talked to a Samaritan woman (see John 4:1–42). His disciples “marvelled that he talked with the woman” for as she herself said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” And in his parable of the good Samaritan, he specifically picked a Samaritan to illustrate the need to love and care for others of different “tribes” (see Luke 10:30–37).

While it is true that God, Mind, includes infinite diversity, that doesn’t mean that there needs to be conflict over our differences. There is only one spiritual man, infinitely expressed. Each one is God’s son or daughter first. Other ways of identifying ourselves have to be subservient to that fact.

Recognizing individuality as determined by God—instead of outward circumstances such as nationality, race, social status—might be a good beginning to free ourselves and others from the strictures of tribalism. We are born of God. We inherit all good from God.

Our spiritual makeup comprises our only true identity. We don’t need to get it from a team, a tribe, a fraternity, a race, or any other group.

In fact, Mary Baker Eddy says about man, “He is the compound idea of God, including all right ideas; …” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 475). Accurately identifying ourselves as born of God certainly qualifies as a “right idea.” So our spiritual makeup comprises our only true identity. We don’t need to get it from a team, a tribe, a fraternity, a race, or any other group.

There also seem to be ingrained characteristics that would dictate various behaviors and even identify various tribes accordingly. But when we think about our spiritual origin, we inherit only traits that are from God. These traits include infinite intelligence, spiritual equipoise, honesty, care for others, and so forth. No one is a born enemy or “outsider.” And if this seems to be the case, Jesus gave us the solution when he said, “Love your enemies … do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Christian Science reveals the power of love to be supreme. Love is omnipotent. It is unopposed. It heals!

How can we love our enemies? One way to start is to acknowledge that God, being All, includes everyone in this love—even those we think are unlovable. If God includes them in love, they must have value. To recognize this is a form of scientific prayer. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes this: “The ‘still, small voice’ of scientific thought reaches over continent and ocean to the globe’s remotest bound.… It is heard in the desert and in dark places of fear” (Science and Health, p. 559).

To understand that this prayer for our enemies is effective reaches deeply into human consciousness. It reaches into the “desert”—the stark, stripped, lonely land of what might feel like hopelessness and into the “dark places of fear”—where the specter of deprivation and suffering lurks. The Bible assures us, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

We may not feel that we actually have “enemies” simply because we belong to certain groups or “tribes,” but there is often a subtle division that takes place between people who are in different “camps,” which makes us think in terms of “us” and “them.” I’ve had people say to me, “You’re OK, even though you’re a (fill in particular political party)!” Amusing, maybe, but also a little disturbing.

In today’s global atmosphere of highly polarized viewpoints, we can’t afford to tolerate divisiveness, even in small instances. We are all created by one Father-Mother God. That means we are all brothers and sisters, members of the same family—God’s family. We can’t let our differences creep in to affect our viewpoint of our brother man in negative ways. Our actions and attitudes help make up the world’s situation.

When we bow to a certain culture, we lose our individuality—and this can dictate our behavior. Our actions and attitudes become pretty well laid out for us. For example, in order to become a member of a certain club, gang, or fraternity, there is often an initiation rite that is required—and sometimes this involves acts of cruelty and humiliation. To gain the status of manhood in some cultures, prescribed actions are expected, such as animal sacrifice. Here is where we can claim our spiritual identity, first and foremost. We don’t have to conform to a societal or a tribal code of conduct if it runs counter to our own inner sense of right. Sometimes it takes courage to assume a position different from that of the “tribe.” But because “divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (Science and Health, p. 494), we can be confident that God supplies courage, guidance, support. Whatever we need will be there. It is the nature of Love to provide us with all good, at all times, and in all circumstances.

Tribalism divides people. For there to be peace in the world, there needs to be unity. This has to begin with the individual. We can’t afford to think that tribalism is a problem that exists somewhere else. It is in our own backyards, and needs to be healed there.

As we each reach out for a practical expression of the Father’s inclusive and all-encompassing love, we will be inspired to break down the barriers of prejudice and fear wherever they exist. This kind of prayer eliminates exclusivity, which underlies tribal thinking. We will experience the arms of divine Love, bringing all mankind together, starting in our own neighborhoods, extending to other countries, and eventually reaching the whole world.


Deborah Huebsch is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in San Juan Capistrano, California.

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