Francis, the object of Modern Tribalism

If you aren’t laughing at the idiots all fighting amongst themselves in reaction to Pope Francis’s interview, yet, then I hope this post will give you a perch from which you can start to laugh with me.  Yes, I was irritated at first, rightly so, but as I think it over, I’m finding a lot of Divine humor in this mess.

If you are looking here for me to beat someone up and get all worked up into an emotional frenzy, then click somewhere else. This post is long, but it’s a lament over the stupidity and ignorance into which our confreres and media have sunk.

As I hear top of the hour news updates on the radio, the big announcement is the “house of cards” soundbite that secular media has twisted into an expectation that the Church needs to change God’s mind on sodomy.  Did you chuckle at that yet?

I read somewhere online that Pope Francis is trying to destroy the Church because he’s siding with progressives.  I read somewhere else that he’s destroying the Church because he’s siding with conservatives but not admitting it.  And yet, I’ve been reading over the past several months that he’s “not one of us” so he’s bad, or he said this, which means he is one of us, so he’s good.  The tone of all these reactions reveals the problem in the Church: we have become like roaming tribes, like the mongrels of old raiding villages and finding warriors to lead our survival cause!

I can thank God for exposing the folly of Mammon, even inside the Church, with Pope Francis.  For decades, many within the Church have been adopting tribalism within as a survival instinct gone wild.  Tribes are a pagan thing, for they gather people up around an idol of common interest and then the tribe goes on the path to kill or convert others to make the tribe larger.  Rival tribes taunt each other.  Read the Old Testament sometime, or pay attention to the first reading at daily Mass, and you get a pretty good idea of that mess.  Read the news, even, sadly, a lot of the Catholic news, and you can see that we don’t fashion a giant pole with a flag and symbol anymore, rather we do it with words.

The Gentile Leaders Lord it Over the Others

The Church got suckered into this mess before she was born.  Sudduccees and Pharisees fought about this that and the other.  The Apostles themselves at times were confused and thought that Our Lord was come to be the “Great Tribal Leader” who would vanquish any other tribe, especially the Romans.

The tribal mentality is not without casualty, and this part of it is not a laughing matter.  Judas thought Jesus was going to finally set the Temple straight if he could only arrange a confrontation.  Judas was wrong in thinking that Jesus would turn violent and use His miraculous power to vanquish the Temple opposition merely because the Temple would resort to violence, but that didn’t stop him from proceeding with his plots.  Judas saw Messiah as a religious political thing.  Too bad Judas didn’t realize that Messiah really means saving us from error, mostly by forgiving us of it.  Thank God St. Peter came to find Jesus as Messiah, but not after He had his own tribal moments with that sword in the garden.  I’m not overlooking the damage of tribalism, but trying to show the folly afoot today.

Gentile Tribes Today are made with Labels

I’m not going to list all the labels used today, and there are many.  Not too long ago, I found a stray discussion forum on the internet wherein a discussion over an article on this site occurred and somebody dismissed the entire thing by calling us “neotrads.”   That is funny to me.  It should be to you, too.  First, I doubt that the utterer of that tribal dismissal even knows anything of the people who write here or what motivates us.  Secondly, it is hilarious because of the academic pomp with which it was uttered is like a magic spell cast onto its audience to convince them that we are from a foreign tribe and anything we say is subversive to their own.  Now that’s where the humor lies!  (careful, I really intended a triple pun there)

The first problem in all of this is that our battle is between truth and error, that is, Jesus and Satan.   Yet, Catholics today tend to reduce this battle into linear dimensions, instead of recognizing that there is more than a single line on which truth rests — it is in fact something greater.  Metaphorically speaking, if the two standards where geometrically expressed, it occupies all space where error is not.  The second problem is the ignorance both of the method and object.  Academically, throwing a label onto something for all assertions is both lazy and a fallacy – ad hominem, at least, more likely a red herring to boot.  But the human emotions that are satisfied by calling someone a label that either puts them in or out of the tribe is irresistible in today’s lazy age.

Tribalism Caters to the Laziest Convenience

It just feels better to call someone a label and be done with them.  You don’t have to be confronted, you don’t have to be involved, and most importantly, you don’t have to change.  Let the tribes work it out.  They will battle and at the end of the day, we win.  Utopia comes when there’s one tribe left standing!  We can’t help ourselves, especially today where sports teams, politics, brands, and everything else around us serves to constantly reinforce this desire that the world would be just right if my tribe won.  And so it is in the Church today…

Tribal Utopia is by Force and Destruction

The Church would be just right if…

some answer, “we went back to the 1962 Missal.”

others answer, “we went back to the 1955 Missal.”

yet others answer, “everyone was charismatic.”

and still yet more, “the Church accepted gay marriage.”

or “ordained women.”

on and on.  You can fill in all the other tribes seeking utopia here.

Is that really the answer though?  I thought the point of the Church was to bring me, and every other sinner, to union with God as part of the body of Christ.  Part of Her mission is to bring the graces to repair the damage I’ve done by sin, and teach me how to avoid error.  It’s not to be a cult of tribes.  But, from Her beginning there have been personalities and a variety of expressions – that’s because God made us that way!  How funny it would be if tomorrow there was found near the Dead sea, the lost Reply of Some Romans to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans

We might imagine that there were some Romans, who upon hearing that St. Paul’s letter was to be read in the Churches the following Sunday, “that blow hard again?  geez… on and on that guy goes, we’d all be better off if Peter wrote the letters.  Peter is better than John, I can’t even understand stuff John says, but Paul is atrociously labored.”  You know someone said that.  You can laugh, it’s OK.

But we don’t hear about the crowd fighting that the Church would be just right if St. Luke’s liturgy was preferred over St. Peter’s.  There isn’t any utopia attached them as a final solution.  (I mean the pun there).  Rather, utopia is found in avoiding error and following Jesus, the Standard of Christ.

The Church isn’t the NFL, with Rival Teams Vying for the Ring

That doesn’t stop people from contention today — all too loudly in the media no less, which is a little too comfortable handicapping Super Bowl teams on every issue it sees.  The problem is that we do it in the Church.  We’ve replaced the Messianic mission of the Church, that is, being channels of grace that repair the damages of sin (error), and restore people to union with God, to being one of a tribal standard that will vanquish all things different and make a homogenous utopia for us.

That’s the animus driving the characterizations of the Pope.  People want to either use him as their battering ram, or destroy him as their enemy.  They did that to Jesus, too.  (you can see me discuss this immediately upon Francis’s becoming Pope).  The problem with tribes is that they act as tribes, and eventually, if they can’t use you, they destroy you — as they did to Jesus.  In modern times it’s done with words.  Somehow people think that’s OK to destroy someone in words because they view words as virtual things, not for the real bullets and arrows that they are.

I’ve intentionally avoided direct quotes of the interviews and statements, save for that made on secular news outlets, because I think you’ll see what I mean when you read the others.  There is a real tribalism among us, and there’s the temptation to a utopia that can be achieved if only the Pope would be our battering ram!  We want the super bowl ring!

We do, but that comes at the end of time, and we’ll see it.  For now, our work is to identify and destroy error (not people) as well as rescue people from error.  That’s work.  It’s easier to moan and complain and destroy.

Francis Gets the Authority of the Church – It’s not by Tribal Means

So how does all of this play out in Pope Francis’s interview?  What can we glean from it that is being abused elsewhere?  For one thing, I was struck by the time Pope Francis took to mention collegiality.  In many places and with care, he mentions that there needs to be collegiality, and not authoritarianism.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in the popular 50 talk retreat set that circulates about (I have an old copy of these tapes produced by Keep the Faith years and years ago), defines authoritarianism beginning with an observation of peck order among chickens (much like I’ve done with tribes above) whereby force and pecks on each other determines who has more authority.  He calls this a drive for authority.  But he points out that Our Lord got rid of the peck order (first should be last, and servant of all).  Thus, Our Lord sees authority for service, but the gentiles see it as “lording it over others” (as would a tribal leader).  Sheen points out that Our Lord asked Peter three times “Do you love me?”  That’s the beginning of Our Lord’s authority — Charity and Love.  Not by destruction.

Sheen’s points are borne out in the Apostles and the way in which Peter consulted the Apostles prior to making a decision.  Pope Francis refers to this as collegiality.  The problem with collegiality is that it isn’t certain and predictable along tribal lines.  It can’t destroy everything and be done as the tribal gentile lot pagan leader would do.  Our Lord’s authority is not tribal!  Our news media wants tribal leadership!

It’s funny to see everyone trying to fit Pope Francis into their molds, though.  Their leader wears a gold helmet, or carries a red spear, or puts war paint on his cheeks, and he pecks at his enemies to show his strength.  So it is in the Church today, even.  It’s kind of funny that even in this detail, all the high brow self-professedly advanced understandings of things Catholic are not much more than little tribes.

The Marxist March Played Out in Authoritarianism

Archbishop Sheen defines the authoritarian in his tape talk titled “Communism and the Church” as someone who starts with a party line and by force issues a decree that all followers must adhere themselves to this party line dogma.  Sheen contrasts the authoritarian to that of God.  God expects us to be in communion with Him Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.  The object of faith is therefore, communion with God, a person — rather, three persons to be precise.  Faith is not adhesion to an abstract party line (dogma).  We start with Our Lord, the Son of the Living God, Who said, “I am the Truth.”  That’s the heart of the spiritual exercises — the first week as it were.   Most importantly, contrast this point:  the object of the Catholic faith is Jesus Christ.  A person.  The Nicene Creed has therefore always been called a symbol.  It is not the object, but a symbol of the object.

The errors of Marxism among the Church reduce this all to party lines.  And party lines are construed as tribes.  And tribes war with each other and peck at each other.  There is one problem:  you can’t love a party line.  You can, however, love a person, especially a Divine Person.

I see in Pope Francis someone content to have a God, rather than be one.  And He understands that God is a community, and union with God is to be in community with persons.  How do I know that?  How could I know it from the first day of his papacy?  It was because I saw him approach this Papacy from the best expression of western spirituality as a master of it.  No doubt, according to all but 2 of the last 42 popes or so, the heights and perfection of western spirituality is expressed in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.  Even among protestants, notes Father Hardon in the introduction to his book, All My Liberty, the numerous people inside and outside of the Church that praised the perfections of the exercises.  It was even declared so in St. Ignatius’s lifetime, eight years to the day before his death, on the issuance of the Papal Bull Pastoralis Officii by Pope Paul III on July 31, 1548.

In short, I thank God that I had opportunity to be guided through the Spiritual Exercises over my own objections for lack of asceticism by an old Oxford Jesuit, may his memory be eternal, and later by Fr. Hardon, his memory be eternal, too.  When Pope Francis mentions that some approach the exercises that they are only to be silent and ascetic, I see some of my own struggle with this.

God is a Person (not a Party Line)

When Pope Francis made a point early in his Papacy to highlight “God is a person,” I can recall how my first week encounter when it (finally) sank in and I had that “Eureka moment!” wherein I realized that God is living and among us, not a mere abstract graph like a geometry equation.  This difference in approach alone changes everything.  The authoritarian preferred by Marxists and tribes alike, rules by positivism and it puts its subjects in fear to restate the party line.  If you don’t state the party line, you get pecked into line, or worse.  That’s not how Jesus works, and that’s not His authority.  When one projects authoritarianism onto God however, you like asceticism because it seems to be the way you peck yourself into line.  It cracked me up as an inside joke to see Pope Francis poke fun at those who reduce the exercises into such.  The news doesn’t get that part.

The spiritual exercises aren’t authoritarian.  In fact, if you’ve experienced them yourself, you realize that they seem to offer too much freedom!  Even in the spiritual inventories, you have to do work.  You have to figure out what each creature in your life is there for.  How?  Through prayer (conversation with the living person of God).  You get four choices:  you can (1) enjoy; (2) endure; (3) remove; or, (4) sacrifice.  There isn’t a party line there.  You don’t come into the spiritual exercises with how to guide that suddenly tells you move a chair, check this box, write this phrase, and all will be happy ever after.  Instead, there is a framework within which personal free will is exercised.

There are other principles the rise to the surface of the spiritual exercises.  These are:

Free will (liberty) as our only thing we truly possess on our own;

that holiness is there that you may be a more perfect channel of grace (i.e. to enable God to do things through you);

that there are three degrees of humility, and they have nothing to do with sackcloth and making sullen expressions to others;

that we are to be obedient to the Bishop of Rome;

that we are to love the Cross; and,

that there is a certain providence of sin (which is a necessary consequence of free will).

You come out of the spiritual exercises seeing that we all have liberty, and God gave it to each of us.  For Pope Francis, you can see all of these in his interview.  Even in his answers on thinking with the Church.

I can remember this old Jesuit telling me “you’re a busy man, we’ll apply Rule 19 and spread this out over time.”  I was convinced he was giving me something less than the real exercises.  I told him so, he offered me a drink and told me to relax.  Over time, I now see the wisdom of that old Jesuit, and I see it in Pope Francis.  Whatever else he is, he’s not a label.

For the news, though, talking about the evident choice of Pope Francis to either remove or sacrifice the trappings of the Papal apartments and fineries of Rome doesn’t make good news.  They want a battering ram.  They want Monday Night football.  They want a spectacle!  They also don’t know any better as they expect him to lay down a party line and the rest of us fall in line.  Don’t get trapped into it.  Pope Francis isn’t about reducing Jesus into a label.  He also isn’t into authority by destruction.

Now, if the news was really doing their job, they’d be getting the Tchaikovsky and Chopin fans to argue the demerits of the Pope’s preference for Mozart. That’s a far better deserved fight!

This article, Francis, the object of Modern Tribalism is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.
  • Sarah Lentz says:

    Thank you for this. I know from experience how easy it is to fall into the habit of looking at everything the holy father does and says through dark lenses. Only when a friend–one whom I considered a “fellow traditionalist”–decided to go the extra mile and become a sedevacantist, did my perspective on everything change in a hurry. Suddenly it became imperative to show him the flaws in sedevacantist reasoning and bring him back to . . . And that’s where I had to ask myself just where the level ground was. And that’s when I asked him to talk to the one person I know whose perspective has always (for as long as I’ve known him) been balanced and reliable (he also happens to be my friend’s parish priest).
    I’ll have to read your article again (when the kids are asleep) to get everything out of it, but I’m thanking you now–while I have the opportunity to do so.

  • Miklos Molnar says:

    Brilliant, John! “People want to either use him as their battering ram, or destroy him as their enemy.” That sums it up. When he became Pope, I told my wife “This guy is going to piss-off the Right and Left because he doesn’t fit into their box.” You have explained this eloquently.

    The worst type of sickness is when a person cannot even recognize their behavior as sick. Today, that sickness is tribalism. Francis is our balm. Thank you Holy Father… and thank you John.

  • […] my post about the Pope Francis interview the other day, in the aftermath of that interview, we see people picking […]

  • […] themselves to a party line.  That is authoritarianism.  I reported more on the idea in the unpacking of Pope Francis’s interview posted here.  Essentially, he is developing the theme further in his homily […]

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