Going Against the Tribe, or How Not to Be Popular at Dinner Parties

My Classical Greek prof in college said you would not want to invite Socrates over for pizza

In the current political climate, I am grateful for liberals who have the temerity to question their own movement. I may disagree with them greatly on political matters, but it is refreshing to have some thinkers who do not march lock step with their own tribe

 
It seems to me that whenever two or more people gather to do business, or to congregate around an idea, a stifling GroupThink sets in. Any deviation from the norm, or anything that questions the fundamental paradigm or Unquestionable Presupposition makes people distinctly uncomfortable.

This makes reasonable discourse nearly impossible. There are ways of dismissing almost every idea with the wave of a hand, or a sit down and shut up.

This can even be true (maybe especially true), when the questioner shares the basic core commitments of the others of the group. Yet, asking, “Is this really a given?” will make one distinctly unpopular.

I see this in my own line of work a lot. I pastor in an evangelical church, connected together for accountability and oversight with other churches. A church that desires to take the Bible seriously is a good thing. But, a church that comes to view policies and procedures, originally intended to further that mission, as important in and of themselves, has lost sight of the Primary Thing.

Unquestioned assumptions, it seems to me, of all churches these days are these:

  • Big churches are the best of all, and growth is always desirable. (nevermind that Jesus turned some willing disciples away).
  • A church must have a Grand Building, with all the accouterments, to be effective.
  • We plant churches where the people are who can afford to support them.
  • Most of our money should be spent on OUR program, not the needs of others.

Challenging those fundamental assumptions is a recipe for alienation and loneliness.

And, one has to be very careful of his own motivations. Simply being the fly in the ointment, and then being shut out because of that, is an invitation to pride –doing the right deed, but for the wrong reason is truly the greatest treason, as Eliot said.

Yet, one must constantly challenge his own presuppositions, and the presuppositions of whatever tribes with which he associates himself: political orientation, religious affiliation, national citizenship. The cold light of truth needs to be shined upon all things.

But, it also needs to be noted that diagnosing a problem is very easy: Health care is too expensive and should cost less! Yes!! Energy production is filthy and fuel is scarce –we need a clean abundant alternative, yes!!! Positive and workable solutions are far more difficult.

I have boundless respect for my mentor in the ministry. He is one of the greatest minds I have ever known –not just in theology, but of wide-ranging interest. A man of bedrock convictions, he lunched regularly with several other theological luminaries in Grand Rapids, one of whom was the legendary outspoken atheistic pastor of the self-proclaimed liberal church. That friendship raised quite a few eyebrows, in our church and others, to be sure.

I once had the temerity to ask him why he did what he did. His answer has shaped me. He said, “He keeps me honest.” In other words, we need people to challenge our set patterns of thinking. And, we, who are on the inside of any given group, need to help the group see where its unquestionables may, in point of fact, be questionable indeed.

In the current political climate, I am grateful for liberals who have the temerity to question their own movement. I may disagree with them greatly on political matters, but it is refreshing to have some thinkers who do not march lock step with their own tribe. I would single out for mention NPR’s Juan Williams, the always-readable, sometimes-infuriating Camille Paglia, and Jacob Weisberg of Slate magazine.

These people are not easy to live with. My Classical Greek prof in college said you would not want to invite Socrates over for pizza for this reason. We take great comfort in the things we take for granted. But, nothing ought to be taken for granted –we are test all things and hold fast to what is good.

Ken Pierce is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS.  He blogs, occasionally, at The Quiet Protest where this article first appeared.  It is used with his permission.

 

 

 

 

 



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