“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” -Martin Niemöller
I love C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m sure I’ve read the entire series at least seven times, several of those aloud.
In the final installment titled The Last Battle, the dwarfs, most of whom have been sympathetic characters, refuse to take sides in the climactic skirmish between the followers of Aslan, the great Lion who rules Narnia, and the followers of Tash, the god of the Calormenes.
As much as it depends on you, try to live at peace with everyone…
Claiming that they had been equally mistreated through the years by both the Narnians and the Calormenes, the dwarfs’ rallying cry is “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!” They even begin shooting at both sides, killing combatants from their rocky firing position.
Of course this goes badly for everyone involved, and when the dwarfs are thrown through the door of a nearby stable (that is to say, they are killed) they are in the presence of Aslan. But because they refused to be his subjects, they can’t see him — or anything else.
What Aslan can and cannot do for them.
One of the heroes takes pity on the dwarfs and asks Aslan to help them. He replies that he will show her both what he can and can’t do for them. He speaks kindly to them, but all they hear is a ferocious lion’s growl. He sets a feast before them, but they imagine it to be straw and manure. They spend their eternity blind, bickering and complaining in the presence of splendor.
It makes me wonder if we aren’t like them at times.
The error of parochialism
The dwarfs in the story succumbed to the error of parochialism — a focus on their own well-being to the exclusion — and at the expense of — everyone else. We see this all the time in our world. Despite the sizable overlap in common interests and agreement regarding what would benefit almost everyone, we see political parties and factions drawing bull’s eyes on each other.
Politicians stir up the base by painting their opponents not as honorable opponents, but as enemies — evil incarnate — and it is hard to watch without wondering if their mission is to keep people divided in order to make themselves needed. We see this dynamic at play in the fomenting of suspicion between races. Despite the communities we share, the businesses we all frequent and our common humanity, we allow ourselves to get swept up in the fervor of “The Dwarfs Are For The Dwarfs!”
Closer to home
Until they united around the pro-life cause, protestants and Roman Catholics found little to join them despite the significant number of essential beliefs they held in common.
Unfortunately, parochialism has also affected the realm of male and female. Despite our biological and spiritual complementarity, and the plain fact that in roughly 98% of our domestic arrangements men and women need each other, we find ourselves facing off over “women’s issues” or less often “men’s issues.” If you’re reading this, you had a mother. It seems ridiculous that half the population would write off the necessary other half in order to gain some advantage.
Games people play
In Dr. Eric Berne’s book, Games People Play, he describes a phenomenon known as “Let’s You And Him Fight.” In this game, a provocateur creates a conflict between two parties for his or her amusement or advancement. This dynamic can occur when a woman pits two suitors against each other with the implicit promise that the winner will be her man. It also occurs in the workplace or in civic groups where a disinterested chump finds himself goaded into a confrontation — fighting for someone else’s cause — that ends up making him look bad. And as I pointed out above, this game appears to be a favorite of those who want to rule over us by keeping us at each other’s throats. I want to offer the antidote.
The theology of the body
In the first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul the apostle wrote these words:
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” – 1 Corinthians 12:15-20 (NIV)
We can overcome parochialism when we realize that in the church we are all parts of the same body, connected to one another, and dependent on each other for our mutual health. I submit to you that we need to take this same attitude into our work and in the broader community.
Why it matters
The quotation at the top of this post is from Pastor Martin Niemöller and encapsulates the folly of thinking only about one’s own group. (Niemöller was a pastor in Germany as Hitler took power.) If we shrug our shoulders when other tribes suffer, we weaken the social fabric and become more like the benighted dwarfs in Lewis’ story. If they had joined the fight for Narnia, they likely would have died anyway, but their eternal condition would have been one of delight instead.
It takes courage and a deliberate decision to seek justice and wholeness for those who are not as obviously like ourselves, but it begins by emphasizing what we hold in common. There are legitimate causes for disagreement, and there are plenty of issues on which people of goodwill will differ. Taking a broader view can help us find a way to respect each other as we resolve conflicts.
So how about you? How do you avoid the trap of parochialism? Add your comments below.