On September 5, 1918 in Game 1 of the World Series the Boston Red Socks were playing the Chicago Cubs. Tensions ran high in a nation where 100,000 soldiers already died during the US involvement in WWI. A heaviness was palatable at this lower-than-usual attendance game.
In an effort to lift the spirits of all present, the US Navy Band played the Star-Spangled Banner, a song that was not yet the US national anthem and was typically reserved for rare occasions. When the song began, Fred Thomas, a Red Socks infielder and Naval sailor, turned toward the American flag and saluted. Players and fans also turned toward the flag, with hands on their hearts, and began singing. When it was complete, the stadium erupted in thunderous applause. Because of the solidifying response, the song was then played at the rest of the 1918 Series games and would soon find its way into National culture as the Anthem in 1931. By the end of WWII, the National Anthem was being played at every NFL game, and eventually made its way into other sporting venues.
In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt takes a deep dive into social psychology to examine human tribal tendencies. He notes humans are 90% chimps and 10% bees. To highlight his theory that “human beings are conditional hive creatures,” he tells of how soldiers training for war developed “muscular bonding (which) enabled people to forget themselves, trust each other, function as a unit, and then crush less cohesive groups.” Haidt proposes this transition from individual to unified group is facilitated by the “hive switch,” which occurs as a survival mechanism for the group to thrive. This primarily happens through emotive capacities, rather than logical or strategic processes. It is solidified when an everyday experience moves from the profane into the transcendent realm of the sacred, where individuals feel as if they are part of something bigger than themselves. Culturally, we see this hive effect kick in for sporting, political, and musical movements. Haidt also discovered a nation that is full of hives, is a happy nation, as people are able to find like-minded community within a particular hive, be it a school, church, business, etc. Sadly, while unity is found within smaller hives, it does not always translate from hive to hive, or to the general population.
In our current culture, the effects of this hypothesis are evident, as those who stray from the norm are seen as deviant, or worse almost treasonous, especially in regard to National Anthem decorum. Images of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee or sitting during the National Anthem “because of his views on the country’s treatment of racial minorities” abound. The outrage from Kaepernick’s actions reverberated throughout the sports world and beyond, causing great divides between individuals typically united by a sport or particular team. It’s interesting that Kaepernick’s actions led to a hive effect, though not due to a proximal, repeated experience like soldiers in training. Unlike the unifying experience of the Anthem being played at the 1918 World Series, players on different teams and from different levels of the sport began to follow suit. Degrading language by the US President led to a wave of solidarity, both for the protesting players and against them. Megan Garber, in her cultural analysis, noted how this wave of solidarity progressed much like a game of football where small incremental movement happens initially, but within a moment, the whole game changes. Sadly, it seems in this instance, no team really wins. Particular hives may survive, but few really thrive.
So how do we bridge the great divide separating various hives? In a TED Talk interview, Haidt notes it takes an awakening of sort, where people realize that living angry and scared is of no benefit for individuals or society. He remarks that it is important to make the effort to meet someone on the other side, initiate a conversation that begins with appreciation of common ground, be willing to listen and learn, and be quick to apologize when needed. He said religious groups usually embody belief systems that position them in such a way as to be bridgebuilders and peacemakers.
Jon Huckins, Co-Director of The Global Immersion Project, reiterated this stance at a recent conference for peacemakers. He highlighted four core principles everyday peacemakers must take to not only bridge but also mend the divides that separate people and groups. They include:
- see the humanity, dignity, and image of God in everyone;
- immerse yourself in the reality of another by moving toward conflict with tools to heal and transform rather than win or destroy;
- contend for others, not by getting even, but getting creative in love;
- and restore relationships by sharing a table with former enemies to celebrate the big and small ways God is healing our broken world.
The obvious question is, “What hive do we belong to? One that ascribes a civil religion that divides, conquers, and excludes; or one that seeks justice, shows compassion, extends mercy, and is compelled to love others through the righteousness of Christ Jesus?”
As Christians, I want to say we must immerse ourselves in Jesus’ “hive” which welcomes all through a posture of humility and grace, and then actively engages in peacemaking solidarity to bring forth restorative healing and reconciliation to individuals and communities that encounter damaging divides every day of their lives. But the reality of which hive we choose is more complicated than that, and often, we choose poorly. In fact, often, I choose poorly.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
 Becky Little. 2017. “Why the Star-Spangled Banner is Played at Sporting Events: The Tradition Began During a Time of National Sorrow.” History.com, Sept 25, updated August 31, 2018. Accessed February 24, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/why-the-star-spangled-banner-is-played-at-sporting-events.
 Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York, NY: Random House, 2012) 258.
 Ibid., 257.
 Ibid., 257-284.
 ESPN.com News Service. 2016. “Colin Kaepernick Protests Anthem Over Treatment of Minorities.” The Undefeated. Accessed Feb 24, 2020. https://theundefeated.com/features/colin-kaepernick-protests-anthem-over-treatment-of-minorities/.
 Megan Garber. 2017. “They Took a Knee.” The Atlantic. Sept 24, Accessed February 24, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/09/why-the-nfl-is-protesting/540927/.
 Video shared by Paul Constant in a published article from three years ago. “Why it’s Hard to Talk about The Righteous Mind.” Seattle Review of Books, 2017. Accessed February 24, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/09/why-the-nfl-is-protesting/540927/.
 Personal notes taken from lecture and PowerPoint presentation slides of Jon Huckins, at Alongsiders Church, Portland, OR. February 22, 2020.