Who Is Your Them?
I keep seeing this phenomenon in the last couple months. There is this tendency in us to separate people into Us and Them. Christian and Atheist. Democrat and Republican. Rich and getting by. Muslim and… well… not Muslim.
Wiley Miller, years ago, wrote a wonderful little series of Non Sequitur comic strips wherein a man finds himself stranded on an island where there are two tribes. He has the hardest time figuring out who each tribal member is referring to because both tribes refer to themselves as “Us” and the other as “Them”. Once the amusing confusion finally clears, he asks, “So no matter where you go, you either mindlessly follow the crowd or end up an outcast?” “Isn’t that how it works everywhere?” replies the native. The man finds himself struck dumb and horribly disillusioned.
Now that I’ve butchered Wiley’s strips (my apologies)…
Wiley attributed the problem to a lack of critical thinking, which is certainly part of the issue. However, I’d like to suggest there is more going on than lazy thinking. I think our fears and the sin in us make us look for targets. Isn’t this the Garden in some ways replaying itself over and over? We want someone else to blame. Who wants to step forward and say, “Yeah, I’m partially or even wholly at fault for that.”? Or “This is a result of a complex set of circumstances that I don’t fully understand and will probably require a significant amount of time, sacrifice, and struggle to resolve,” when it’s easier to just say, “They’re making it bad, and if we just make them stop, then it will be good again!”
So we create a Them. Paul notes that there are times to create a Them (e.g., 1 Cor 5), but he also, along with Jesus, notes that love remains the highest virtue. If all we end up doing is reviling our Thems, then we end up missing what is more important.
And in many respects, I imagine we’re trying to give ourselves security. We so often are afraid and look for simple solutions to that fear or someone else to take the blame for it. What’s underneath “The country is going downhill, and it’s all the [insert political party or ideology]’s fault!” Is there fear of the uncertain consequences beneath this? Is there a more broad fear underneath, and this particular issue is just a means of giving the fear a name and face to point at? Could it be that fears for our personal safety are making us lump entire groups together as enemies?
So who are your Thems? A political party? An ethnic group? A social class? What drives you to separate them off? Is there fear or anxiety underneath? Does enmity get in the way of seeing them as people or loving them? Could God be calling you to see them in a different light?