Evangelical tribalism is not healthy for children and other living things

Jason Pitzl-Waters is a wise man. In his regular music round-up, he captures just why so-called contemporary Christian music is not something to be emulated:

The yearning to develop something akin to “Contemporary Christian” music within our own communities is, I believe, counter-productive to the impulses that actually move us into sacred territory.

When I construct A Darker Shade of Pagan each week I don’t think about the Pagan pedigrees, I think about what inspires and envelops me. When I think about music that makes the dead dance, I don’t think about whether that artist is “one of us,” I ask if that artist moves my Pagan soul.

Concern with “one of us” — and the totems, slogans and “stances” that arise to confirm such tribal membership — is at the core of why no one, anywhere, should want to develop anything akin to contemporary Christian music. Or to contemporary Christian politics. Or to the contemporary Christian theology reshaped by that music and politics.

Once “one of us” and it’s its more-important corollary “not one of us” become your concern, they quickly become your main concern, and then eventually your only concern.

And here is a perfect illustration of what that does to music, to religion, to politics, and to any capacity you once might have had for love:


For those who can’t watch video — or who recognize Carman there and thus prudently refuse to click “play” — let me try to describe this for you. It’s a song by Carman and 1980s Christian rock stalwarts Petra.

The lyrics begin by lamenting the 1962 Supreme Court decision ending state-sponsored establishment prayers in public schools. Carman, rapping like MC Neil Diamond, offers a litany of post-hoc argumentation, blaming everything he considers bad on the court’s ruling. He calls it “religious apartheid.”

“It’s our turn now” proclaims the chorus — a rallying cry for the tribal rule of sectarian religion. And everyone else, everything outside the tribe, is on the side of the “devil.”

It’s fairly similar to the rallying cry Mike Huckabee gave this week, when he chose to illustrate what religion-as-tribalism and politics-as-tribalism look like combined.

The former Arkansas governor and former Southern Baptist pastor spoke on a conference call to hundreds of Missouri clergy, drumming up their support for his man, Rep. Todd Akin. “This could be a Mt. Carmel moment,” Huckabee said:

You know, you bring your gods. We’ll bring ours. We’ll see whose God answers the prayers and brings fire from heaven. That’s kind of where I’m praying: that there will be fire from heaven, and we’ll see it clearly, and everyone else will, too.

Huckabee knows, and the right-wing pastors he was addressing all know, the ending of that biblical story:

Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.

Nice guy, that Huckabee. Avuncular. Affable. And oh-so-very civil, don’t you think?

For the Carman video above, you can blame Ericka M. Johnson at the Friendly Atheist. Ericka describes how Carman’s music, and especially this song, played a key role in her faith journey as a teenager. “I was a big fan of it and played it over and over for a long time. I even had ideas for creating my own video to go along with it,” she writes.

Today, she’s a board member with Seattle Atheists. Religion-as-tribalism had it’s its turn. It’s her turn now.

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  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    That doesn’t make sense on so many levels. The first being that it is a parable, and so has nothing to do with workers or wages, but is about salvation. And then there is the fact that it has nothing to do with minimum wage, there isn’t anything in there to suggest it at all.

    Plus, if you’re going to put an industrial spin on the parable, the wage the workers were all paid was the amount needed to feed a family for the day. So if anything, you’d have to interpret it as supporting a living wage, not arguing against minimum wage.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Addendum: if the minimum wage is ever great than the living wage, let me know.

    By way of illustration, MIT has an online calculator that estimates the living wage for workers with different family structures in different parts of America. E.g. the living wage for a single adult living in Michigan working full-time is $8.73 per hour; for an adult with 1 dependent child it’s $18.33 per hour–18% and 147% above the minimum wage.

  • *sighs*

    Okay, Fred – I love you. But my inner editor keeps screaming, so…

    It’s – apostrophe – means “it is”.
    Its – possessive – has NO APOSTROPHE.

    Please, dude, I’m dying over here.

  • Matri

    *pats* Just be glad he enforces the difference between “could have” and “could of”.

    Those just… Grinds my gears.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart
  • Like maybe it was “water of life” that he used?

  • Loki100

    If minimum wage increased in proportion to maximum wage (as defined as the average increase of income of the top 1%), minimum wage would currently be $26.96 an hour. Now tying minimum wage to maximum wage would get the economy going again. Making it impossible for the elites to help themselves without helping everyone can only improve society.

    Speaking of minimum wages, if there is one thing I hate, it is the right-wing loons who claim that minimum wage shouldn’t be increased/shouldn’t exist because adults are not supposed to have minimum wage jobs. Apparently the fact that adults, lots of adults, have minimum wage jobs is completely ignored. It always amazes me the right-wing’s ability to utterly ignore reality.

  • Carstonio

    I can imagine that atheist music might provide some comfort to young atheists who might feel lost and alone in a world that they perceive is hostile to their beliefs. (Assuming the music was good, and I make no such assumption.) But the concept either ignores or accepts the larger problem – the mentality that drives CCM rejects freedom of belief, because the tribe assumes that everyone should belief in its religion. Atheism in general doesn’t have the same mentality, although one could make a good case that anti-theism does. Fred is right that the answer to tribalism isn’t more tribalism. Atheist music would wrongly treat the issue as the type of belief, not the freedom to hold a belief.

  • Yeah; I saw Carmen in concert when I was a kid…& listening to Huckabee my first thought was “okay, you bring your gods & we’ll bring SCIENCE & yeah.  Let’s see who gets fire first.”

  •  Heh. I’ve never seen that before.

  • Francis

    … I’ve been listening to the video, and am having problems believing that it’s not a parody.

  • ReverendRef

     So, if Akin loses will Huckabee admit that his god got his butt kicked?

    Someone may have said this, but I’m currently in North Platte, NE and pressed for time on our drive home after the college thing . . .

    But the answer to your question is, “No.”

    Remember how Dubya’s election was attributed to divine intervention and all the right wingers called referenced Paul’s admonition to obey him because government leaders were put there by God.

    Fast forward to Obama’s election and those same people created posters and coffee cups and whatnot referencing various biblical verses that called for people to pray to God for the smiting of evil leaders.

    Yeah . . . If we know anything about these people, it’s that the only consistent thing in their faith is that they are consistently selfish.

  • Carstonio

     It’s both pathetic and infuriating that Huckabee doesn’t understand that this isn’t about competing gods, as if atheism only alternative to theocracy. (I can Obi-Wan Kenobi saying that only a Sith thinks in absolutes.)  The point of nonsectarian government is to take rival claims about gods off the table.

  • Tricksterson

    No, not really.  Not in the sense of calling out “Oh mighty Science, strike down those who follow you not!”  any more than it works for Pat Robertson.  You, or someone acting on your behalf will have to do the heavy lifting.  Give Elijah credit.  He may have been a murderous fanatic but he did his own slaughtering.

  • Tricksterson

    I still vote for babypults.

  • Some time ago, I wrote Just One Tree, and was startled when a friend asked to repost it to a couple of atheist communities… I hadn’t thought of it as especially about atheism when I wrote it, but rather about a broader understanding of what it means to be sacred. But in retrospect I could understand her point.

    That has since then informed my position on “atheist art.”

    There’s lots of art out there that lives comfortably in a narrative universe where there is no guiding
    intelligence that makes everything work out in accordance to a plan,
    where events occur as part of an unfolding of earlier events, and where
    whatever glory and beauty and love and compassion exist in the universe
    have emerged as part of that unfolding, rather than being imposed upon
    it by an external force.

    As far as I’m concerned, all of it is atheist art. Much of it is also Christian art, or Buddhist art, or Pagan art, or all three.

    That’s as it should be. What unites us covers much more ground than what divides us.

  • If it helps, our esteemed host does admit to this failing in his about page. And I quote:

    Fred knows the difference between the possessive “its” and the contraction “it’s,” and he is acutely bothered when others mistakenly confuse the two, yet he himself just kind of instinctively types the apostrophe whether or not it belongs there. Some feel this is his greatest hypocrisy, but those who know him better know better. He’s guilty of much greater hypocrisies.

  •  When are we going to stop humoring these people and admit that they are consumed with bloodlust and just as dangerous as the Taliban?  I have watched the rhetoric evolve over the last 15 years or so into something more and more violent.  They are no longer speaking in code.  Time to get these people on the FBI watch list.

  • Tricksterson

    The trick would be getting one that can pass for water.  You need one that not only looks like water but also doesn’t have a smell strong enough to tip off the priests of Baal or the onlookers.

  • Carstonio

     No argument there. I was criticizing the specific idea of an atheist equivalent of CCM, which is far different from what you describe. Art created not from love but from fear. Art that divides rather than unites. The musical equivalent of “La la la I can’t hear you.”

  • AnonymousSam

    Heh, even during my “angry atheist” phase, I loved Samael – The Cross, whose lyrics include “Whatever you may say, whoever you may pray, Christianity worldwide.” It helps that it’s not a very Christian-sounding song. Song and lyrics here.

  • Tricksterson

    I think you both need to talk to Stannis Baratheon.

  • Lori


    Remember how Dubya’s election was attributed to divine intervention
    and all the right wingers called referenced Paul’s admonition to obey
    him because government leaders were put there by God.

    Fast forward to Obama’s election and those same people created
    posters and coffee cups and whatnot referencing various biblical verses
    that called for people to pray to God for the smiting of evil leaders.   

    This crap just irritates the crap out of me. It’s the combination of transparent hypocrisy + self-righteousness that gets me. Same goes for the  “patriotism” variant that says that criticizing a Republican president in “war time” borders on treason, but doing the same to a Democratic president is the mark of a true patriot.

    FSM these people work my very last good nerve.

  • Lori

    I have this problem too. I wish I had a dollar for every apostrophe I’ve had to go back and take out because I know full well it doesn’t belong, but typed it any way.

  • Lori


  • You know, you bring your gods. We’ll bring ours. We’ll see whose God answers the prayers and brings fire from heaven.

    Fire from heaven?
    That’s penny-ante shit, Mike.

    How about we raise the stakes a little: you bring your way of relating to the universe, we’ll bring ours, we’ll see which one is more effective at healing the sick.

    Oh, wait… we did that already. Turns out that understanding and learning to manipulate reliable patterns of causality in the universe is a lot more reliable at that than prayer. Once we got good at the former, average lifespans increased, previously untreatable diseases were practically eradicated, plagues were prevented, and overall health increased radically in large subsets of the world.

    Well, OK, we’ll see which one is more effective at providing shelter against the storm… huh. Nope, we did that one already too.

    Well, what about feeding the hungry, then? Oh, right.

    No, wait, I’ve got it: what about seeking a sense of common humanity, a way for people to live together in love and peace and harmony and mutual understanding, so nation shall not strive against nation and we need study war no more? Modern science is starting to get a handle on that, as we develop tools for understanding psychology and group behavior in a reliable way, but that field is in its infancy and doesn’t have many success stories to point to yet. The truth is we really kinda suck at it, and we might be able to learn something from religious practice in that space.

    Oh… but that’s not really what your god is about, is it? No, your god is about winning wars. About defeating the enemy, not about loving them.

    And, well, no, our approach turns out to be better for winning wars, too. One hydrogen bomb in the right place can kill more people than all the Crusaders who ever lived. The challenge facing us is how to avoid killing off people on a vast scale, not how to achieve it.

    So, OK, fair enough. I guess calling fire down from heaven really is an appropriate contest for your level, after all. So, OK, sure, we can do that. A little later, though; we’re kind of busy right now.

    I said, go run along and play with your friends, Mikey. The grownups have work to do.

  •  Yeah, absolutely agreed. Sorry… I started out responding to your comment, which morphed into something completely unrelated to it; I ought to have gone back and made it top-level.

  • AnonymousSam

    After reading the link in there about the girl who posted a picture of herself and got a flood of r/atheists and their wonderful view of fellow atheists who just so happen to be female, I now fully understand the objections to r/atheists.

    That was an education I could have done without.

  • AnonymousSam

    And part of what makes us grown-up people is knowing when not to call fire down from the sky. Not all of us subscribe to mass annihilation to prove our deity’s unmentionables are bigger than everyone else’s. In fact, that kind of thinking is not only exceedingly juvenile, but mentally unsound.

  • QXZ

    2 maccabees 1:30-1:36

    30 Then the priests sang the hymns.
    31After the materials of the sacrifice had been
    consumed, Nehemiah ordered that the liquid that was left should be
    poured on large stones.
    32When this was done, a flame blazed up; but when the light from the altar shone back, it went out.
    33When this matter became known, and it was
    reported to the king of the Persians that, in the place where the exiled
    priests had hidden the fire, the liquid had appeared with which
    Nehemiah and his associates had burned the materials of the sacrifice,
    34the king investigated the matter, and enclosed the place and made it sacred.
    35And with those persons whom the king favoured he exchanged many excellent gifts.
    36Nehemiah and his associates called this ‘nephthar’, which means purification, but by most people it is called naphtha.*http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=2+maccabees+1

  • Vermic

    You know, you bring your gods. We’ll bring ours. We’ll see whose God answers the prayers and brings fire from heaven. That’s kind of where I’m praying: that there will be fire from heaven, and we’ll see it clearly, and everyone else will, too.

    You know, when atheists ask why God doesn’t simply prove his existence to all with a universal miracle, it’s guys like Huckabee who protest that their God isn’t some dog performing tricks on demand.  I guess the story’s changed — God does do tricks, but only when a big shot like Huckabee holds the biscuit.  The 99% still have to make do with faith.

  •  http://freethoughtblogs.com/bl… –Atheism+!

    Yeah…not so much.

    Atheism+ is just the Emergent Church of atheism.  I know that atheists hate it when people say, “Atheism is just another religion.”  This is not what I’m saying.  It’s more like the argument from fandom, which Fred has made about Evangelicals in the past.

    Religion (or lack thereof), when it gets right down to it, is the least useful way of deciding if you’re going to like someone.  People who make their religion the central focus of their lives are harder to deal with to anyone outside of their particular tribe, but someone who’s just, “Eh, I grew up Catholic and never go to church anymore,” is probably more likely to identify as a Cardinals fan or a lover of the art of Vermeer before they say they’re Catholic.

    Movement Atheism seeks to do the same thing.  It wants people to gather together under the banner of atheism.  They might be doing other things, too, but it’s still ultimately a bunch of people gathering together to say, “Hey, let’s be atheists together.”  I can assure you that Christians do the same thing.  They have conferences where they discuss missions or go to hear music or meet their favorite authors, but the umbrella purpose is, “We’re Christians all up in here.”

    As such, in my way of looking at things, the solution to, “Atheism isn’t doing what I want it to do,” isn’t, “Let’s create a new form of atheism.”  It’s, “Let’s stop identifying ourselves and everything we do by saying we’re atheists first and, instead, go over there and work with the people who want to solve this problem that needs to be solved.”

    That said, this only works in a perfect world.  I think that in the world we live in we do need some sort of atheist collective.  I don’t, however, personally care what it does.  I don’t find my lack of believe in gods particularly interesting, so I self-identify as a whole lot of other things first, then eventually get to atheism when I feel like it.  So it doesn’t matter to me if they have Atheism or New Atheism or Atheism+ or Cherry Vanilla Atheism Zero.  All they’re doing is creating denominations of atheism to squabble amongst themselves in exactly the same form as Christian denominations.

    Atheists don’t get to be special snowflakes who get to ignore standard human group behaviors just because they’re different from previous humans in a fundamentally trivial way.  That’s really all I’m trying to say.  That’s also why I feel no urge to participate in anything more than a cursory fashion.  I read a couple blogs, I keep up to date with whatever the big fight of the moment is, and then I go watch baseball or play video games or walk the dog or, y’know, do things that don’t suck.

  • Carstonio

    To put it more crudely, it’s the theological equivalent of truck nuts.

  •  Yeah.  I mean, we really do kind of suck at that, collectively… even those of us who don’t actively seek out our enemies’ annihilation aren’t typically great at building and maintaining systems that inhibit those of us who do… but that’s definitely the challenge facing us.

  • Monala

     Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego said something like that in the book of Daniel — that even if Yahweh didn’t save them, they wouldn’t worship the Babylonian king as god.

  • Monala

     If you do look at that parable economically, it says the opposite of what the right wing says it does.  No, the workers weren’t paid by the hour. But all of them were paid the same denarius (which, I have heard, was the equivalent of a full day’s wage back then), whether they worked a full day or not. In other words, everyone received a living wage, regardless of work hours. If you focus on the workers who only worked an hour, that’s a good deal. They weren’t blamed for lacking work earlier in the day, and were given what they needed to survive.

  • We can do the ‘fire from heaven’ routine bit too (orbital bombardment, anyone?).  Its just, well, wasteful.   We have way more cool things to be doing (Curiosity! New Horizons!  Medicine!  Higgs boson!).

  • Monala

     You beat me to it!

  • Madhabmatics

    Before I read the article or any comments, just going to say I love Jason’s blog. I have a heathen bro and every time some article about Dan Halloran doing a thing comes up we get to laugh about it.

  • Alan Bean

    We must remember the next chapter of the Showdown with the Prophets of Baal story.  Elijah, convinced that Jezebel will be looking for his head, flees to the desert where he sits under a broom tree and complains that he is the only faithful Yahweh man left on earth.  Elijah didn’t see himself as part of a kick-ass movement to take back Israel for Yahweh.  In fact, when God speaks on Mount Horeb in a “still small voice” the point might be that fire from heaven has its limitations.  That said, the Carmen-Petra video captures the spirit of commercial evangelicalism circa 1980-2000 better than anything I have seen.

  • Madhabmatics

     There are two things that disturb me a lot about the video “A Witches Invitation.”

    1) It’s clearly got anti-semitic undertones, drawing from the stereotype that it’s Jewish people behind Every Bad Movement. Isaac Horowitz indeed.
    2) A bunch of nerds probably think the most offensive thing in it was lambasting Dungeons and Dragons.

  •  “…the point might be that fire from heaven has its limitations…”

    I do not have words for how much I love this phrase right now.
    Thank you.

  • Jessica_R

    Oh it’s just a big bucket of offensive. Especially rich that like LB apparently not realizing that Ray and Buck are actually the douchebag villains, the video seems to forget the witch invited him over for a friendly cup of tea, did nothing wrong against him, and just sits there as Carman rants at him. The only evil going on there is the witch’s eyeliner and tacky dressing jacket honestly. 

  • Yeah; I saw Carmen in concert when I was a kid…& listening to Huckabee my first thought was “okay, you bring your gods & we’ll bring SCIENCE & yeah.  Let’s see who gets fire first.”

    Mandatory xkcd:  “I find my courage where I can, but I take my weapons from science.”

  • We can do the ‘fire from heaven’ routine bit too (orbital bombardment, anyone?).  Its just, well, wasteful.   We have way more cool things to be doing (Curiosity! New Horizons!  Medicine!  Higgs boson!).

    I am pretty sure a lot of the people like Huckabee would love to have orbital bombardment too, that they may make their assertions of following God’s will and raining fire from the sky literal.  

    I imagine it would look something like this.

  • After reading the link in there about the girl who posted a picture of herself and got a flood of r/atheists

    I’m really not surprised.

    Forums like that seem to have such a skewed male:female ratio that it’s almost guaranteed all the creepers and Nice Guys will come out of the woodwork the instant an attractive female presents herself.

    One wonder why they are so eager to believe that a coincidence of shared interests and an expression of OMG somehow equals instant lifelong de-friendzoning.

  • AnonymousSam

    Not so many Nice Guys. More like guys whose lifelong ambition is to get a gold grill, who measure their wardrobe by baseball caps whose fronts have never been seen by their wearers, and who have uttered the words “Rapist? More like playah!

    Seriously, the lowest fucking creatures I’ve ever laid eyes upon.

  • Vermic

    I just watched the Carman video from the seclusion of my parked car.

    The phrase “the worst thing ever” is overused these days, but seriously, folks?

    This video is the best thing ever.

  • vsm

     I’m upset the video never properly deals with their UST.

    “Satan Bite the Dust” is also great. He’s a Western hero who goes after Satan and his cronies. It ends with him shooting a defenseless man (well, demon) in cold blood.

    You know, compared to the painful sincerity in much of CCM, I rather like the ironic tone here.

  • VMink

    If I’m in the mood for something spiritual and heavy, I usually turn to King’s X.  (In part because they were ousted from The Tribe despite the strong spirituality of their music.) I have listened to one (1) song by Jars of Clay, and liked it (“40 Days.”)  If I’m feeling irritated at the world, Bad Religion is good for digging deeper into the funk.    Acroma “Orbitals” is almost gnostic.  Despite what I think of most of their songs, Linkin Park’s “New Divide” sounds like it could be sung by Satan to God and appeals to my Alternative Views of Traditional Religion streak.

    Of course, for sheer WTFery and amusement, Lordi’s “The Devil Is A Looser” generally ranks up there. =)