“We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” – 2 Samuel 20:1
This quote comes from the mouth of a troublemaker speaking in a troubled time thousands of years ago. Sheba, a Benjamite, questions King David’s authority as the united tribes of Israel are splintering into factions. It was a time of confusion and grief, anger and betrayal.
“Every man to his own tent!” The call sounds familiar to my modern ears. I read this part of 2 Samuel again recently, because the story felt applicable to the state of the world today.
Many felt grief and confusion this month. The shooting in a Florida high school has affected many hearts. We air our theories, mourn, rage. It seems easiest to pull away, to splinter into comfortable factions–everyone to his or her own tent.
I’m not saying that we should accept the status quo, not speak out against injustice, or push for cultural and political change. I hope we explore avenues of thought, get involved, check in on our loved ones, bend the ears of our leaders. But let’s try to do it in ways that don’t tear us apart.
Because we are tearing society apart. We tear out institutions like organized religion from our lives, sometimes for good reason, but we may weaken connection to community and vision for the future in doing so. We tear up roots from home towns and move away; this isn’t immoral, but it’s hard on social animals who thrive on meaningful connection. We dig ideological trenches and lay waste to what could be neutral territory; critical thinking and civil discourse are things of the past, frets social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.
In “The Age of Outrage,” Haidt describes an idea he calls “intersectionality.” Increasingly popular among young adults, intersectionality is identity politics on steroids: “America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression” and that “a perceived slight against one victim group calls forth protest from all victim groups.” While this might sound forward-thinking and inclusive, the unintended effect is continual conflict and a heightened us-them mentality. Haidt writes,
“‘The American experiment . . . is a thoroughly artificial device designed to counterbalance the natural impulses of group suspicions and hatreds . . . This vast, artificial, trans-tribal construct is what our Founders aimed to achieve.’ Intersectionality aims for the exact opposite: an inflaming of tribal suspicions and hatreds, in order to stimulate anger and activism…. It does not speak of forgiveness or reconciliation.”
Humans are good at tribalism, and we easily revert to tearing ourselves apart–geographically, culturally, ideologically. We stretched bonds of compassion and understanding until they break. When we remove social institutions and revert to infighting among tribes, some don’t feel like they belong anywhere. The consequences of an atomized society are apparent and tragic.
The statistics surrounding America’s opioid epidemic, for example, suggest that many seek to tear themselves away from reality because it is too painful, hopeless, or empty. At the end of his deeply disturbing article, “The Poison We Pick,” Andrew Sullivan concludes,
“To see this epidemic as simply a pharmaceutical or chemically addictive problem is to miss something: the despair that currently makes so many want to fly away. Opioids are just one of the ways Americans are trying to cope with an inhuman new world where everything is flat, where communication is virtual, and where those core elements of human happiness — faith, family, community — seem to elude so many.”
If the truism, “the opposite of addiction is connection,” Americans must be very disconnected indeed. But in this dark conclusion I see hope. If we know why our hearts, relationships, and communities are fraying, we can begin to make repairs.
Women before us knitted, sewed, and wove. While modern women don’t do those things out of necessity, we can knit communities, bind loved ones together. We can help mend the social fabric.
New Christian women could have a unique role in this process, responding to tragedies and cultural blights no matter where we live. Women receive married love and the love of little children from the Lord. With those gifts, we can reach out and support each other in our marriages, collaborate in raising children in loving networks, and support institutions in our church, country, and community that lend life meaning.
We can be mindful of the existence of a hell–influences that encourage human indifference and hatred–and a loving God who wishes for our eternal happiness and connection. If hell has its way, we will trust no one, love no one, but ourselves. We’d crouch in our ideological tents, licking wounded egos and nursing grudges. But the Lord offers a vision of a Holy City, where grief and sickness and pain have no place, and where everyone lives peacefully together under the true King.