There are stories of humanity. Of course there are individual stories, which are often very interesting. I think most of that comes from the fact that individual humans never fit a mold. They are complex, messy, unpredictable, and more. There are stories of tragedy and overcoming great odds and everything in between. These stories can be of individuals and even groups of people.
But that’s not the focus of this post. No, I’m talking about the stories of humanity, as in the whole of humanity. I wonder if these stories are less interesting. Or maybe we try to not talk about them because they are just too painful. Maybe those stories expose unpleasant things about humanity that we would rather not think about. If we did, we might feel compelled to have to do something. Often these stories are predictable. We’ve seen the story many times. In many ways, these are just repeat tellings of the same story – the only differences are the names and the situation. But what happens and the result are always the same.
How would you classify the stories of humanity? Often, whether we the want to admit it or not, the stories of humanity involve people willing to sacrifice everything, including others, for the sake of a false god – an idol. And the tragedy is that the idol never returns the favor. How could it? Idolatry at its core sees humans and everything else as disposable.
Often the stories of humanity involve great human effort and energy put into dehumanizing others and ultimately oneself, by trying to make human beings either less than human or more than human. It just depends on where someone or a group of people rank in supposed worth.
Right now there are stories going on about fighting and death and destruction in Israel. This isn’t new. I don’t even need to know the details. It’s the same story that has been going on for a long, long time. It seems as though there are people invested in making sure that the story continues.
In the last week or so, I’ve seen the ongoing stories about the ouster of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the fall out from that. Harsh words thrown at scapegoats, threats against other members, power struggles in the midst of a power vacuum – simply put, there is chaos. But is this story really new? Has the human story of power seeking and control been told for a long, long time?
We can read and see stories about fights over ideas, ideologies, and more. Sometimes they show up in a group of people who claim one thing/set of beliefs and feel threatened and work to silence another group of people who believe something differently. These end up being book bans, or disinvites to speak, or labeling something as “woke”, or efforts to “cancel” someone, or whatever the popular term of the week is. But is this really new? Hasn’t the human story been laced with people trying to impose their beliefs on others? It’s been going on for a long, long time.
I could easily list so many other things that fit into this. Fights over money, rights, privileges, laws, policies, salvation, race, gender, economics, creation, land, history, and more.
The most common human story is one of fighting. It’s just a matter of who the participants are and what they are fighting over. The results are always the same – someone gets to claim victory. But is it really a win? Are victories ever forever? It seems as though fighting is the only constant in the human story with an occasional break in the action that we falsely claim as a time of peace. But it’s not peace really.
Why is humanity so prone to fighting?
I imagine that the answer is very complex and involves far too many variables that are directly related and many more that are indirectly related.
Let’s just look at one of these. It’s the idea of control and the apparent need for humans to feel like they are in control of something – either their environment, their lives, others, their beliefs, etc. But have you ever considered the size and actual impact of a human in relation to the size of the universe? It’s almost ridiculous to even compare. Who are we that we think we are in control of anything, at least beyond ourselves. And even then, how much control do we really have? And what is control anyway? Is control about getting someone or something to do what you want them to do? Is control knowing the outcome? Is control equivalent to force? What is the relationship between control and order? I’ll acknowledge that humans have a need for the sense that they are in control because without that, they often feel lost and rudderless.
Is control about having the right set of beliefs? Some would argue that. Some people argue that correct belief is the most important thing. It’s a type of fundamentalism, regardless of whether we are talking about theology or anything else. I’ve seen several definitions and descriptions of fundamentalism, but I have to admit that Wikipedia might surprisingly actually have the best description:
Fundamentalism is a tendency among certain groups and individuals that is characterized by the application of a strict literal interpretation to scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, along with a strong belief in the importance of distinguishing one’s ingroup and outgroup, which leads to an emphasis on some conception of “purity”, and a desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. The term is usually used in the context of religion to indicate an unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs (the “fundamentals”). (Source)
This might be another way of talking about the stories of humanity. How many times have there been fundamentalist movements in history who have tried to impose their beliefs on others? Too numerous to count. It always involves fighting, scapegoating, death, destruction, violence, abuse, and toxicity. And someone claims they won. And they control things for a while until someone rises up to throw them and their ways and beliefs off.
But the pull of fundamentalism is complex. At its care are a group of people who are having difficulty accepting the reality that they are not in control. Fundamentalism offers certainty, simplicity, and knowing – a sense of control. And there’s nothing more comforting for many people who are struggling with uncertainty, complexity, and feeling like they are not in control, than someone who claims to know what to do or how to think.
Contrast this with governance. Governance, when it’s done well, is about constantly coming across complexities and perplexities, listening to how people are dealing with it and struggling with it and what they value, and then deciding how society is going to manage the situation and challenge, knowing that regardless of what is decided, it will have to be adjusted later.
The stories of humanity are mostly about fighting. But the stories that have the most impact are the ones of governance.
In a way, aren’t these two things contrasts that we see in larger concepts. The pull of certainty and concreteness versus the pull of complexity and abstractness and relationship?
A related story of humanity is the story of how people separate from one another. This is certainly related to what we talked about earlier. We see this in partisanship right now. It’s been a common story in religion for a long, long time. We see it in the stories of immigration and how to deal with the challenges of immigration. History is full of stories of people who just can’t stand being in the presence of other humans and so they separate. Christianity has over 10,000 denomination and that number continues to climb because far too many are more concerned with being right about God, rather than being in a right relationship with God and others.
The real question is – are we surprised by any of this? Should we be? At least in this country, where individualism is a core value, I’m not sure why we should be surprised by the repeated stories of humanity based on control and separation. The logical result of individualism is that you are separate from others and so you end up with your own understanding, your own experiences, your own property, your own language, your own truth. In short, you are a separate universe. You end up alone with a permanent wall of separation between you and anything else and anyone else.
We have congregations, businesses, politicians, sports figures, etc, who live their lives looking at reality through the lens of individualism and instead of making adjustments to the reality around them, they insist that reality and the world adjust and conform to their ways and beliefs. Isn’t this just really a cry for connection, but attempting to use force and control, rather than seeking relationship?
What is the point of life if everything is about having things my way and having to constantly fight and separate? How can we be a nation or community if the main focus is just the self? How can we communicate at all if the only language that I will consider is my own and my definitions of the words I use? How can I possibly be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, if everything centers on my desires?
We can’t. It just doesn’t work. Because that’s just idolatry. And that’s a heavy burden to bear. It collapses under its own weight.
It’s well past time to tell different stories of humanity. Stories not about fighting and control and separation, but rather stories that draw us together to see how interrelated we are. Stories in which we can see the humanity that exists rather than trying to remove it or adding to it. Stories that set people free rather than stories that impose on others. Stories of hope for a better future, rather than predictable stories that confirm that this is just the way it is for us. Stories that show how the world can actually make sense, rather than the long told story that makes no sense at all of humanity or the world we find ourselves in. Better stories. Truthful stories. More human stories.