Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.
-Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
As someone living in the United States of America during this particular moment in time, I often struggle with what could be labeled as an overblown sense of nationalism. I have no issue with taking pride in the place in which you live or the culture with which your identify. I feel very lucky to live in this country. The type of nationalism I’m talking about is the kind of tribalism that creates and ‘us versus them’ mentality. The type of nationalism that says that God blesses one particular country over another. The type of nationalism that puts more value on a flag than on a human life. This is a very specific and dangerous sort of tribalism that if unchecked risks dehumanizing anyone outside of the accepted circle.
In his book, Essays on Ethics, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks expands on Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s quote by tying it this type of tribalism. Tribalism, when healthy, binds people together over common ground. Who doesn’t like to be a part of something? Look no further than rabid sports fans who speak in ‘we’s’ and ‘us’s’ when referencing their favorite team, or how people identify with one political party over another. However, tribalism when unhealthy, immediately creates a division between that particular group and anyone outside of it. That “outside” group is seen as “different” and is often identified as somehow “less-than.” It thus “blinds” us to the shared light of God that exists in each and every one of us. During WWII the Nazis compared the Jews to rats and during the Rwandan Genocide, the Hutus referred to the Tutsis as “cockroaches.” This type of dehumanization allows the “in-group” to justify their treatment of the “out-group” – in this case to the worst degree imaginable – the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people. For a more modern example, you wouldn’t need to look any further than the current conditions at the United States border. Families that in many cases are fleeing horrific violence are being torn apart and labeled as criminals or worse. This is what happens when we rob humanity of its dignity by magnifying our differences instead of sharing in the beautify of our diversity.
The bible is filled with a multitude of references to the “stranger” or the “other” – those that exist on the fringes or on the “outside” of the “in-group.” And the bible makes it pretty clear as to how we should treat the people on the outside. Ranging from the story of the Good Samaritan to the story of Ruth – these stories show people from very different societies and cultures interacting in a way that breaks down the human divisions between them. The story of Ruth is the story of an immigrant and a widow, and yet, she’s afforded the ability to earn a living and the same level of respect and protection as a native Judean. The Good Samaritan is such a powerful story because in the end it is a Samaritan who stops and helps the dying man after both a priest and a Levite pass him by. Samaritans were massively despised by the Jews, yet it was his “enemy” who showed compassion and mercy and ultimately saved his life. They are examples of God’s intention for ALL of his children to live in harmony. No border, or flag, or invisible boundary stands in the way of God’s love for God’s own creation. These diversionary markers are all human creations. We are all each other’s neighbors.
Starting with the Garden of Eden and the loss of our collective innocence – human beings have longed to be part of a collective whole. We have sought to be a part of something far greater than just ourselves. But the issue becomes when the unifying object that we seek is something other than God’s desire for all creation. When we kneel down before an idol whether it’s to a flag or boundary or political ideology, we risk making demons out of the very people the Bible instructs us to love the most.