Beyond Theological Tribalism: A Checklist of Challenges

I recently read a helpful comment by ChristianAtheist on my March 30 entry, “The Tribal Trap.” I asked permission to share her comment, so here it is. (I have bolded some key phrases and I slightly modified item number two.)

[The comment begins:] Being an atheist often seems to be defined purely in terms of what one does not believe or how one is different from believers, which makes it more difficult for atheists to avoid outgroup derogation. Religous believers similarly are often defined in terms of how they are separate from non-believers, and how they must try to convert them. So the challenge to the tribes of atheists and non-atheists is:

1. To see oneself as a member of multiple ingroups, some of which one will share with the outgroup on the belief category.

2. To value … [outgroups] on dimensions other than those which seem most salient [or which] enhance the ingroup.

3. To resist the temptation to succumb to the outgroup homogeneity effect, in which we see all members of the outgroup as more similar than they actually are, by e.g. getting to know outgroup members better and allowing our emotions to become involved and reducing depersonalization processes. Research shows that friendship is the best way to reduce prejudice (cognitive, behavioural and affective), and increase empathy and trust.

4. To resist the temptation to succumb to the accentuation principle, in which we exaggerate the similarities within our ingroup and the differences between ingroup and outgroup.

5. To be humble, relaxed and not defensive about our current beliefs: to make the boundaries of our group more permeable and allow overlap between ingroup and outgroup.

6. To resist the temptation to make beliefs a test of loyalty or a “marker” to our group membership.

7. To ensure our self-esteem is not dependent on this one group membership.

I expect there are more, but this is a start! [End of Comment]

We could use these points as a checklist, in thinking about communication between different theological and political viewpoints, as well as interactions between different national and ethnic groups. Thanks to ChristianAtheist for these ideas, and I welcome additional suggestions.

Roger Christan Schriner

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