The notion of a tribe as “people who have bought into my idea” completely misses the bigger picture of what it is to be part of a community…
There is a difference between asking “Why do we eat unleavened bread?” and asking “What do you regret? What do you fear?” The first is asking “Who are we?” The second asks “Who am I?” and “Who are you?”
The point of a sacred meal is that the people who partake in it are expressing their consent to be part of one tribe. Our collective history, the story of who we are as a people, becomes more important than the stories of each of the members as individuals.
This is why the restaurant context of the agape idea is off. There is no sense in a restaurant that the participants will meet again, will not only get to know each other as individuals, but agree to tackle the problems of life as a family with mutual interests.
In any society and any time the needs of the individual and the need to be part of a community will be a balancing act. We want to make the most of our beautiful, difficult individual personalities and to live in an environment that gives us that opportunity, while at the same time none of that feels particularly meaningful if it is not put into the service of a larger community. Have we tipped so far in the direction of the individual that we have trouble even conceptualizing what it is to be part of a tribe?
You are not part of a “tribe” unless you have a fairly strong answer to the question “Who are we?”
A few years ago I was working as the newsletter editor at a Unitarian church. I happened to be working in a time of staff reorganization. The highly active volunteer church board had posted its goals and objectives around the church. All of the objectives were based on the idea of growth. We needed to do x, y, and z in order to grow.
What struck me at the time was that there was no explanation of why we needed to grow. Why was a larger membership needed? What could we do with more people that we could not do at our present size?
This is an older guest post which appeared on the Fighting Monkey Press Blog. Read the full article on our bias that bigger is better there.
— Donna Schaper, The Occupy Movement and Sacred Space
The opening sequence of the film (and the play) Fiddler on the Roof features Tevye joyously and unforgettably celebrating his culture’s traditions.
On the surface, Fiddler on the Roof is about a Jewish community in early 20th Century Czarist Russia. More essentially, however, it is about the conflict between tradition and change. Which traditions are simply outmoded and which are essential to our sense of history and balance as a community? How do you allow for positive change without losing the value that comes with tradition?
One of the vital roles that religion plays in society is tradition keeper. In the church and other religious institutions people record and remember the every day lives of their members. The history that is kept in church is different from that taught in schools. It is not the history of monarchs, kings, politicians and powerful political and economic interests. It is the history of our seasons, our harvests, our births and deaths. This is where our sacred ordinary lives are recorded, if not in name, in rituals that tie generations together.
The other side of this, however, is that in its role as tradition keeper, the religious institution tends to be the segment of society most resistant to social change.
As Mark Twain wrote: “Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch — the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it has persuaded them to do.”
Does this tendency towards inflexibility mean that religion is inherently outmoded or bad? I do not think so.
The problem I see with the idealistic atheist argument, most poetically rendered in John Lennon’s Imagine, is the assumption that if you eliminated religion all of the world’s people would live together in peace. If you eliminated religion you would change human nature.
If there were no religion we would still have all of the conflicts that arise when people try to come together in community. There would still be tension between the needs and desires of the individual vs. the demands of society. How much should a person compromise to get along? When is conformity positive courtesy that allows a community to have a cohesive sense of being “us,” and when is the demand to conform simply wrong?
If there were no religion, you might not have Catholics fighting Protestants or Muslims fighting Jews, but you would still have cultures and communities with traditions and ideologies that would inevitably come into conflict with those of the neighbors. You might be able to eliminate the use of sacred texts that would allow each group to claim “God is on our side,” but you would not eliminate certainty, inflexibility, and passionate belief in conflicting ideologies. (Think Republican vs. Democrat. They do quite well at vilifying each other without a Republican or Democratic Bible.)
This is not an argument for God or religion, nor against them. What I am saying is that the question of whether “religion” is “good” or “bad” is overly simplistic and will not yield much in the long run. It is more likely to serve as a distraction from the real underlying question of the role of the individual in society.
— Why Libraries Matter at We Love Libraries
— Lee Barker (Unitarian Universalist, minister, educator)
In his article in the New Statesman, the chief rabbi builds on Robert Putnam’s recent research on the role of religion in public life. Sacks argues that religion and its institutions can, and should, play an important role in civil society — as an instructive model and a great convener of people.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
(photo: Dean Ayres/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)