A film, available for viewing on PBS cable or online called ‘Hacking the Mind’, presents an experiment with 4 and 5 year-old children. Presented simply as a game, one child at a time is asked what color tee shirt they would like to wear. There are two options – orange or blue. The child picks one and then is presented with a series of drawings each showing two children, one in orange and one in blue. A simple situation is represented in the drawings.
The test giver asks each child independently to interpret the drawings. Without exception, the child in the chosen color can do no wrong and the child in the unchosen color can do no right – even when it’s the same drawing with colors reversed.
The point is made by the interviewer afterward that this is an embedded defense mechanism. Tribal behavior is in our genes. There is safety in belonging to a protective group.
In pre-industrial times large families survived more easily than small families. Large families could garner more resources for survival. In early Japanese history an army’s subdivision frequently was a collection of families. In mariner’s lingo, biologically humans are intelligent chimpanzees – inheriting the same tribal instincts and survival chemistry.
It is hard for tribal humans to abide by Jesus’s mandate to love all others before self. In other words, the self is discounted and sacrifices itself to the wellbeing of those in different color shirts – not a relatively protected situation.
So Christians build fortresses called churches; indoctrination into the tribe requires a purifying ceremony called baptism (AKA changing the shirt color); social prejudices are part and parcel of religious practices. Humans can’t help this natural, in-the-genes behavior. Not exactly what Jesus wanted.
But this doesn’t discount the value of faith, morality, and interpersonal bonding. In today’s overpopulated world with its emphasis on personal achievement above tribal obligations and economies that disrupt large family assimilation leaving nuclear families scrambling, every compassionate gesture is sorely needed.