We Need Better Tribes
Humans are a tribal species. We know it as soon as we are old enough to realize our world has been divided into “us” versus “them.” The American myth of rugged individualism is an illusion. So, we might ask, what do we need from a tribe?
In his book, Hauntings – Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives, James Hollis says a tribal myth needs to answer four basic questions:
- Why am I here, in service to what, and to what end?
- How are we to live in harmony with our natural environment?
- Who are my people, and what are the rights, duties and expectations of my tribe?
- Who am I, how am I different from others, and how am I to find my way through life’s difficulties?
Castles and cathedrals are a common tourist destination in Europe. Our deep yearning for these places is a reflection of our desire to return to a day in which tribal life was simple, if not very satisfying. God and King set the boundaries. We were beholden to our creator and our geography. Today life is not so simple.
Carl Jung said the key question of all humans is, “Are we related to something infinite or not?” If we feel connected to the infinite, our desires and attitudes change. But modern man has been told there is no Infinite, at least not a capitalized one. In our devotion to Western science we have shut off all but the logical, reasoning side of the brain. It has left us with a world of information, bereft of meaning.
Mike McHargue (Science Mike) tells of a discovery physicians made after severing the corpus collosum (the nerve bundle that connects the two halves of the brain) in severe epilepsy sufferers. They discovered the left side of the brain, the logical and rational side, often silences the right side of the brain, the intuitive and creative side. To use Jungian terms, the ego silences the psyche.
In these patients, their more intuitive side gained equality with their more rational side. Their left hand might literally pick out one dress, while the right hand chose another. Severing the nerve bundle did not solve the epileptic problems of these patients, but it did result in a lot of curious scientists.
One of their discoveries was when they were able to isolate the right brain, the scientists said they believed in God, something their logical left brain rejected. While they were shocked by the wars taking place within the two hemispheres of their own brains, Jungians would not have been surprised. They had spent decades helping clients listen to their psyches through the constant noise of the ego, primarily by helping them access their dreams.
Dreams allow the psyche to bypass the ego and tell us what we really feel, and what modern man often feels is cut off from any larger story, or metanarrative. Our current tribes, shallow and extreme, do not provide an adequate framework to answer life’s basic questions. As Jung said, man is left with “no love, only sexuality; no faith, because he is afraid to grope in the dark; no hope, because he is disillusioned by the world and by life; and no understanding, because he has failed to read the meaning of his own existence.” Modern man is in quite a dilemma.
What might be the solution to such existential despair? How about better tribes? We need tribes that depend on compasses, not maps. Emily Dickinson wrote, “a sailor cannot see north, but a compass can.” Too much of American religion demands fealty to outdated maps. Jesus taught us to be compass followers. He replaced detailed maps with the true north of loving God, loving neighbor, and loving self. He made us partners in the ministry of reconciling all things to the creator. He gave us work to do, applying the law of love to an ever-changing world.
Following Jesus requires an open heart, a good compass, and wise discernment. Jesus speaks to ego and psyche, right brain and left, body and soul. If the tribe of Jesus will follow his instruction to love God, love neighbor and love self, we might wander a bit every now and again, but our trajectory will always be toward true north. And confident of that goal, instead of arguing among ourselves, we could get back to the ministry of reconciliation. How marvelous would that be?
I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?