Throughout human history the tribe has been both the context and safety zone for the individual. Without any choice of our own we are born into a tribe, a collection of families and individuals under a common banner, labelled by some distinctive characteristic that separates us from the other.
In my own case I was born into the somewhat politically and religiously obsessed tribe that goes by the name of ‘The Ulster Protestant’. With its heady mix of a strong work effort and a distrust of the Church of Rome, the Ulster Protestant is a strange wee creature. His or her love for duty and a shrunken world view make for an insular and somewhat claustrophobic life experience.
And yet the members of my old tribe don’t realise it, at least until they escape from the disputed ‘Six Counties’ for a career abroad or indeed a two-week break to the cheap sun-drenched Spanish holiday resorts. Bizarrely though the old defensive and somewhat self-inflated sense of being something special among the sons of men quickly re-establishes itself, once back in the gold-fish and tense dual-tribed space known as Northern Ireland or The North.
The Ulster Protestant is usually a decent but somewhat emotionally frigid creature who takes great security from the wealth and prestige accumulated by having the right contacts within the often hierarchical society based on the God down model and fear of lack. No wonder the Ulster Scots made great frontiersmen in the Old West – Daniel Boone and all that.
When it comes to religion the Ulster Protestant loves his God with a guilt-driven zeal or abandons himself to an earthly vices or strong language and very strong drink. The former half of my old tribe are constantly on a war footing to try to bring the latter half back into their god-fearing, church based fold. When one of the other tribe, the Roman Catholic, Irish Nationalist jumps ship and sees the evangelical Light, the Ulster Protestant jumps for joy, for such a conversion only reinforces the predominant view that God is truly on our side, for God and Ulster and all that.
Many of my old friends have managed to hang in there with the tribe, albeit the Christian Charismatic version, with their bubbly love for all; at least all who believe as they believe. Raise the issue of serious theological doubts and the back door will be opened for one’s ushered escape.
So how weird are our tribes?
They promise much but eventually after years of containment the human psyche-soul screams out for release. At least it can do. If the sedative of tribal acceptance is stronger than our desire to find our Self, then we remain, to be buried and laid into the ground of our forefathers.
The transpersonal crisis that cuts through our psychic equilibrium is often the critical game changer in our identity setting. Such an experience often shows the world view of our tribe to be erroneous or somewhat lacking at best. The painful energy of such an event often projects us into a whole new view of both life and God.
The god of the tribe is left behind as a totem representation of the tribe’s perception of itself and its raison d’être. The god around whom we dance the illusory dance of victory each Sunday morning in somber suits or trendy Charisma.
Living outside a tribe is a somewhat scary experience and yet one where we are not alone. Here in the desert of our Being we find One that draws alongside – One who knows what it is like to be hung out to dry outside the city walls of the Tribe.
So, which tribe do we presently associate with? Which rituals and identity games provide us with a pseudo-sense of security and well-being, the benefits of being on top in the human rankings. If we look carefully we shall see the bars of our prison with its inviting open door. The courage is given. Enough said.