Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter, the In-group, and the Out-group

Sometimes Easter does not evoke foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies, pastel candy eggs, and marshmallow peeps...

It being the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox it's the weekend of Christian Easter, and (by a related calculation) it's precursor, the Jewish Passover.  For many folks attending services Saturday or Sunday this will be one of those half dozen visits to their house of worship this year.  A blog post and subsequent comments at Homeland Security Watch, of all places, provoked me today.  It's worth a read, especially because it drew out a variety of responses and possible directions.  Here's the orbit it knocked me into.

There is certainly human wisdom to be found in many religions, but they are also repositories of human weakness. At their worst, religions represent the institutionalization of In-group Out-group distinctions. Fear of the Other is an instinct older than humankind, but we have outlived any selective advantage it once conferred. We must remember that for much of their histories the major monotheistic religions enforced their calls to universality and transcendence with the sword and with fire.

These past ten years our country's Global War on Terror has drawn its strength, funding, and authority from Fear of the Other. We have killed the innocent and betrayed our commitment to justice to defend the interests of those in authority. While doing so, these authorities cloaked killing, torture, and lies in the rhetoric of Fear of the Other. In our pride and conceit, with moral certitude that our cause is just and preeminent, we have made sharing a ride, or a meal, or a roof with a high value target a death sentence for many women and children, whose numbers go uncounted because they are Other.

Our taxicabs are driven, our meals are prepared, and our roofs are repaired by brown-skinned poor people who don't speak English very well.  Some Americans know their own and would rather these Other people not be here.  Alone among Western countries, in the USA the quality of our health care is determined by whether we have a job and by our ability to purchase benefits and pay deductibles.  There are Americans who think that is the way it should be, because they have theirs and the Others could have their own if only they worked hard enough.

When you celebrate the story of the angel of death passing over your home to instead kill other children is your faith community celebrating its In-Group status?  When you rejoice in your savior's victory over death (which should have been a forgone conclusion if the rest of the story is true) as proof that the only path to eternal salvation is to worship your particular god in your particular way have you drawn a line between Us and Them?

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  1. Michael:

    You have identified an important truth. Religion is used to justify in-group, out-group distinctions... and with that done, it is a very slippery slope to justifying many terrors.

    For what it is worth, on Easter morning I will be rejoicing in a narrative that promises transcendence to all, guaranteed, and very difficult -- potentially impossible -- to turn down. I am not alone in this understanding. But you are right, some would insist I am fundamentally wrong.

    Beyond the personal, I am interested in addressing the in-group, out-group problem through inter-religious and areligious-with-religious dialogue. So I especially appreciate the cross-posting and the dialogue.

    We seem to agree on the problem. I am not sure of a solution.


  2. It is in the nature of humanity to want to believe that somehow we are special and unique and part of the intelligent design of the universe. Religions help to foster that belief.

    My personal choice is to believe not to doubt but that is not the choice of many and perhaps not the best choice for the rest of mankind.

  3. We're gonna die and no one knows what that really means. The most fearful people turn to the most stable and enduring stories they can find. Skepticism can only result from some other kind of security and strength - whether it be in materialism, or individualism, or family, or science.

    All's we gots is narrative interpretations of signs, of signals, of concrete events. No matter how sophisticated our tools get we'll always be scared animals pawing at the monoliths, struggling to make sense of it, killing each other for dominance over the story.

    What can we do? Tell a different story. Courage in the face of fear, light hearts in the face of ignorance, human grit and community in the face of a vast and hostile alien universe.