Life In A Tribe

Growing up a Seventh-Day Adventist among other WASPs, it never occurred to me that it was OK to cheat, steal, abuse outsiders. Sure, some Adventists did it, but there was no widespread belief that such cheating of outsiders and the government was ok. Rather, there was the belief that what belongs to Caesar belongs to Caesar. In Adventism, as I recollect, there was no different moral code for treating those inside and outside the group. I never heard from anyone that it was religiously OK to cheat the government with taxes, etc.

I’ve learned over the past 20 years, however, that the tribal approach to life is different. When you practice Orthodox Judaism, for instance, that tends to limit your social interactions with non-Jews and can easily spill over to dismissing them. The tribal racial approach to life emphasizes your group over outsiders. On the other hand, when Jews are in trouble, such as when they were kidnapped for ransom in the Middle Ages in Crete etc, fellow Jews would rally around and ransom them while Christians kidnapped were ignored by their group. Coptic Christians are slaughtered in Egypt and their co-religionists around the world do virtually nothing. That’s an inconceivable approach to one in a tribe.

* The typical Christian reaction to terrible medical news such as a kid is autistic or has paralysis or progeria etc is that this “is for God’s glory.” The most religious Jews also believe that everything that happens is God’s will. Most Jews, however, would not react “This is for God’s glory” to a terrible medical diagnosis. The Jewish reaction is, “Suffering stinks”, and that includes when the air conditioning is one degree too hot.

The Christian view, in large part, comes from the example of Jesus. Jesus suffered. He was crucified. We too will suffer like him.

I suspect that most religious Christians, if hit by a drunk driver and still rooted in their faith, would ascribe this to God’s will while most Jews (with the exception of the 10% most religious) would not.

* Almost all of my buddies are like me in the following ways — depressed, not working in their chosen career, trying to get their lives in gear, in therapy, trying things that don’t seem to shift their lives, single, aging, aching, struggling with their weight and with their place in community. So when we hang out, we may enjoy each other, but we hardly get inspired. I get inspired when I hang out with my married friends who have kids and rewarding work and esteemed positions in the community.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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