Caelum et Terra Has a Fine Little Essay

on transcending tribalism.  When you read the story about the Planned Parenthood nurses helping the abortion protester who was hit by the car, it might be a useful diagnostic to ask yourself if your first thought was “Thank God!  Even they aren’t all bad.” or is is a sort of disappointment, a fear that people will not think the worst of them, and the dogged will to remind yourself that they (not, you know, principalities and powers) are The Enemy?

A reading from the Prophet C.S. Lewis:

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

  • Mary Alice

    Mark, where is the Lewis quote from? I want to keep it.

    • Mark Shea

      Mere Christianity

  • Thinkling

    Interesting, pretty nice. That throwaway line about “orthodox catholic”s was a clunker though.

    I try to rise above Mere Tribalism as best I can. But no one is perfect — my first response to reading how quickly the nurse called 911 was basically “you wouldn’t do that if an abortion patient was hemorrhaging on your operating [sic] table”. Yikes.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    A great point, and certainly not uncommon. Though I think it has less to do with the idea of tribalism, and more something that all people struggle with at times for a host of reasons.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Did not Jesus say something once about “tax collectors and prostitutes” making their way towards salvation sooner than some self-righteous people (or something to that effect)?

  • John

    It’s easy to fall into the trap of wishing to make those we disagree with as dark as a demon and as sooty as Satan. I can’t claim to be immune from this blackness-wishing. I don’t think you should damn those who do, however. I’m not trying to excuse them. But I know how easy it is to think that way.

    One of the best things to happen to me to make my attitudes shift a bit (still not all the way there) was Abby Johnson’s book Unplanned. After reading that, I realized that many abortion-workers (not all, but many) really believe that they are helping women. We know how misguided, deluded, and simply wrong they are. Nonetheless, they truly believe this. Ms. Johnson was just this way. She changed. Not overnight. But she changed. I think the most important lesson from her book for me was that abortion workers are not evil. What they do is. But they themselves are not (of course, I speak of those who really believe that they are helping women and not those who knowingly and greedily profit from this evil trade).

    I am reminded of our Lord’s promise that there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one repentant sinner than a hundred righteous people. I pray that more abortion workers show real humanity in moments like this. That just might be the first step to seeing the light and leaving their work behind.

    So, I do not think that those who work in abortion clinics are evil. They have been misled. That in no way excuses what they do – their work is wrong. But I won’t condemn them. I pray that our Lord will do the same for me.

  • Jenny

    Reminds me of the people who behave as if you can’t be a true Catholic unless you work yourself into a lather of hatred for Obama and believe every conspiracy about him.

  • Beaven

    That sounds kind of hateful Jenny.

  • Jenny

    It’s not hateful. It’s a just criticism of my own “tribe”.


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