Churches Burning Everywhere

Churches Burning Everywhere April 24, 2019

Most of us watched in horror as the Notre Dame Cathedral burned. I am not a Catholic and cannot feel the pain that a Catholic insider may feel. But to watch that iconic building burn did something even to this non-Catholic. Yes part of it is the history and the artwork that is now lost. But part of it also is the sheer fact that a church built to honor God was in flames. Beyond the fact that a beautiful building was facing destruction, that latter fact just makes the loss seem all the more terrible.

My facebook page went off. On the pages of my progressive facebook friends I saw articles like this one, which noted that the attention given to Notre Dame was being denied to three black churches that had also been burnt. The implication of such articles is clear. That we only care about Notre Dame because it impacts whites.

On the other hand, the pages of my conservative facebook friend had articles like this one, which talks about the damage that was being done to French churches even before the fire at Notre Dame. The implication of such articles is clear. That Notre Dame may not be an accident but is merely the continuation of an attack on Christians in Europe. The likely culprit such articles imply are often Muslims.

One church burning. Two different directions. Each direction designed to promote the political and cultural interest of certain social groups. Forget about the loss of the beauty at Notre Dame. Its destruction is merely another opportunity for us to push our political interest and take a shot at our opponents. Tribalism is quite a drug is it not?

I am not saying that we should not look at the neglect given to black churches. And by all means we need to investigate this fire to see if there are signs of arson and possible terrorism. But do we have to jump right into our talking points while the ashes at the Cathedral are still warm? Could we not take at least a couple of days to absorb the loss of this beautiful religious symbol and mourn with our Catholic friends before jumping back into the political fray? I guess that is too much to ask.

Ultimately the fires at Notre Dame provide us with yet another example of how we are so eager to show that our side is morally superior. Or perhaps more to the point that the other side is morally bankrupt. Look at what the focus became in my example. On the left, it was to imply that the other side is racist. On the right, it was to imply that the other side coddles terrorists. Our tribalism has evolved, or devolved, so that it is not as much as pumping people we like up as it is to tear people we do not like down.

The reactions of those pushing tribalism appear to be knee jerk. It is as if whenever there is a national or international event that their first instinct is to consider how to use the event to promote their political ideals. Or more likely how to use that event to attack the political ideals of their opponents. This type of reaction is to be expected if one’s opponents can be caricatured and not seen as fully human.

To this end, we could reduce this type of tribalism if we simply got to know those on the other side of our political perspective and decided to talk with them in a meaningful manner. I remain convinced that honest communication is going to be the secret to reducing the toxic effects of the tribalism that is poisoning our society. I have written about how such conversations are the key to dealing with our dysfunctional race relations. I remain convinced that such conversations are also the key to dealing with the unhealthy political polarization that is part of our society.

I understand the attraction of thinking of one’s tribe before considering the good for the larger society. I find myself struggling to rein in my tribalist tendencies more often than I want to admit. But the consequence of not controlling those tendencies is that we will consistently be at war with each other. Every event, be it a tragedy or victory, becomes yet another opportunity to exalt our group or, more likely, denigrate another group. Do you want to live like that? I don’t.

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  • Tom Hering

    Public discussion, especially on social media, has become tiresome. Exhausting. Pointless. No one changes anyone else’s mind about anything. Even on a Facebook page that’s dedicated to the good things about the small city I live in, a fair number of people are eager to start arguments about local issues, and they don’t hesitate to dehumanize their neighbors (their actual neighbors) in the process. The rot in our society is deep and widespread.

  • Annemarie

    Thank you for another calm assessment of what passes for discussion these days. I worry that people don’t care anymore about having rational conversations — it’s too much fun to run the other side down.