Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Danger of Crowd Psychology
Willingness to stand alone, and to do the right thing, no matter how other people react or think, is a hallmark of a true Christian. To refuse to condone group inaction, to refuse to follow the majority, the crowd, for conscience's sake, requires steadfast character, independence of thought, and willingness to sacrifice the respect, admiration and acceptance of friends and society, or your own church group! Do you have what it really takes -- to be a true Christian?
by HOIM Staff
Some years ago the world was horrified to watch a video tape of a large group of Los Angeles policemen sadistically beating, kicking, stomping, and abusing a helpless, hapless black man who had been stopped for speeding. A neighbor caught the action on his new video camera, and the world was stunned to see the racism, brutality, and sadistic evil perpetrated by men in authority, wearing the uniform of cops. The defense attorney planned to sue for $56 million -- $1 million for each of the 56 blows which were rained down upon the victim, a black man whom friends said was a sensitive, harmless, friendly kind of guy. Even President Bush called the display "sickening."
Four cops in particular were indicted by a grand jury for misconduct and assault, but at least 21 cops were present at the scene of the action, and none of them took any action to stop the vicious assault. Why? Carol Tavris, social psychologist, wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
"The ghost of Kitty Genovese would sympathize with Rodney King. Genovese, you may remember, is the symbol of bystander apathy in America. Screaming for help, she was stabbed repeatedly and killed in front of her New York apartment, and not one of the 38 neighbors who heard her, including those who came to their windows to watch, even called for help. . . ."
She mentions in her article, In Groups, We Shrink From Loner's Heroics, that one of the appalling things we see in the savage beating of Rodney King is the image of many police officers watching, and doing nothing to intervene. What was the matter with them, we wonder. Tavris goes on:
"Something happens to individuals when they collect in a group. They think and act differently than they would on their own. Most people, if they observe some disaster or danger on their own -- a woman being stabbed, a pedestrian slammed by a hit-and-run driver -- will at least call for help; many will even risk their own safety to intervene. But if they are in a group observing the same danger, they hold back. The reason is not that they are lazy, cowardly, or have 50 other personality deficiencies; it has more to do with the nature of groups than the nature of individuals."
What is this thing called "herd instinct," or "crowd psychology"? Why do people in groups tend to suppress independent thinking, and refuse to take responsibility for acting? Why is true leadership suppressed and undermined when most people become members of a group? This weakness of human nature is very evident in Church settings. When members of a Church meet and visit together, as part of a larger group, they tend to follow the leaders of that group without questioning, without serious intervention, even when the group begins to deviate from truths it once taught. They would be "embarrassed" to stand out. Their desire to be "accepted" as members in good standing by their peers and the authorities in the group over them is greater than their desire to be faithful to the truth of YEHOVAH God; they fear men more than YEHOVAH God.
Seemingly, when we get in groups, personal decision-making is often relegated to the control of the group and those in charge of it. Desiring to please the minister, and to be looked up to by our friends and associates in the Church, we tend to avoid all unpleasantness, avoid criticizing changes, or negative statements, or even to ask probing questions which would express any doubt as to the direction the Church is going, or about any changes in Church doctrine. People would rather go along, like so many dumb sheep, than to be regarded as a potential "troublemaker." They fear the threat of social ostracism, of becoming a religious "outcast," and are terrified at the prospect of "disfellowshipment," which could cause all their erst-while friends in the Church to shun them, avoid them, and to regard them as spiritual pariahs and "lepers." YEHOVAH God forbid!
In one experiment in behavioral psychology, students were seated in a room, either alone by themselves or in groups of three. A staged emergency was created, and smoke began pouring into the room. Students seated on their own within a minute got up, checked the vents, and went out of the room to report what seemed to be a fire. But those who were seated in groups of three did not move! For six minutes they sat their, rubbing the thick smoke from their eyes and coughing. The students in groups said later that the smoke was caused by "steam pipes," or "truth gas," or else "leaks in the air conditioning," making excuses for their inactivity. Not one group student said what the individual students who were alone said: "I thought it was fire."
In another experiment psychologists staged a situation where people heard a loud crashing noise, a scream, and a woman moaning that her ankle was broken. Seventy percent of the people were were "alone" when they heard the uproar got up to go to the woman's aid. Of the people who were in the presence of another person when the commotion occurred, only 40% took any action.
Why is it that being the member of a crowd suppresses individual action and response? Writes Carol Tavris:
"For victims, obviously, there is no safety in numbers. Why? One reason is that if other people aren't doing anything, the individual assumes that nothing needs to be done. . . . Often, observers think nothing needs to be done because someone else has already taken care of it, and the more observers there are, the less likely any one person is to call for help. In Albuquerque, N.M., 30 people watched for an hour and a half as a building burned to the ground before they realized that no one had called the fire department. Psychologists call this process 'diffusion of responsibility' or 'social loafing': The more people in a group, the lazier each individual in it becomes" (ibid., "Los Angeles Times", Mar. 22, 1991).
As gruesome as these thoughts are, when we apply them to such situations as the Rodney King beating, or the Kitty Genovese killing, or similar instances of "crowd psychology," this fundamental condition of human nature is also rampant in Church congregations. Many people will not stop to question what normally would be very questionable activities, or changes in Church doctrine, because nobody else seems to be questioning. They will not call a halt to changes, or stop to criticize, because it would make them feel ridiculous or embarrassed, or look like a "fool" to their friends and peers. Also, they don't want to sacrifice the "safety" feeling they have in being part of a group. Standing up by themselves might be a very lonely, a frightening possibility. People shrink from being "loners" even if the cost of apparent "security in numbers" might be their very own salvation!
There was no mistaking the cruelty and brutality of the beating being administered savagely to Rodney King by a few policemen while a score of others looked on, doing nothing to stop it. No doubt some had qualms of conscience, feelings of repugnance, but they suppressed them. Why? Says Tavris:
"Or the observers may have hated what was happening and been caught in the oldest of human dilemmas: Do the moral thing and be disliked, humiliated, embarrassed and rejected. Our nation, for all its celebration of the Lone Ranger and the independent pioneer, does not really value the individual -- at least not when the person is behaving individually and standing up to the group. (We like dissenters, but only when they are dissenting in Russia or China.)
"Again and again, countless studies have shown that people will go along rather than risk the embarrassment of being disobedient, rude or disloyal.
"And so the banality of evil is once again confirmed. Most people do not behave badly because they are inherently bad. They behave badly because they aren't paying attention, or they leave it to Harry, or they don't want to rock the boat, or they don't want to embarrass themselves or others if they're wrong."
Therefore, evil triumphs, and good is squelched. Good impulses are squashed, and the tyranny of sin and wickedness reigns. People are too prone to condone what even appears to be evil, or wrong, rather than "make a scene," or become an "object of revulsion" or reproach by the others in the group. After all, they reason, they could be wrong, couldn't they? If there are problems in the Church, leave it to the ministers to take care of. Don't assume any personal responsibility about "doctrine." After all, YEHOVAH God is in charge, isn't He? Let YEHOVAH handle it. As for the individual member, he or she will just "go along" and not make any "waves." Thus our fear of rejection, ridicule or ostracism overrides any impulse we have to act. Alone, we might be more likely to study into the issue thoroughly and to do the "right" thing. But as members of a "group," we are prone to become unquestioning, accepting, condoning, and undaunted by the evil being done. We become blaze, indifferent, our consciences become seared and scarred. Insidious evil takes over, and wickedness triumphs in what was at one time the very Church of YEHOVAH God!
The apostle Paul warned of this danger, especially in these last days. He expressly wrote: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron" (I Tim.4:1-2). Such people become "hardened" to sin. They are like the frogs put into a pan of lukewarm water. When the temperature is slowly turned up, the frogs become accustomed to the changes, and their energy is sapped by the warm water. They feel comfortable. By the time they notice what is happening to them, it is too late -- and they die as they begin to boil in the water!
These are very serious matters -- things which none of us can afford to take lightly! Do you trust a group, or a particular man or minister, with YOUR salvation in his hands? The apostle Paul wrote, "Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed -- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence -- continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling" (Phi. 2:12).
It is your OWN responsibility -- not somebody else's!
Paul warned the Church at Ephesus, "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from YOUR OWN NUMBER men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears" (Acts 20:29-31).
Yeshua the Messiah warned the Church at Philadelphia, "I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that NO ONE will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God" (Rev. 3:11-12).
Following presumed "Church authority" is NO EXCUSE in the sight of YEHOVAH God to live in sin, to condone wickedness, to deviate from sound doctrine, to embrace compromise, or to adulterate the truth of Scripture! Group psychology, the herd instinct, "groupthink" will NOT gain you admittance into the Kingdom of YEHOVAH God! All who follow "groupthink" will gain their portion in the Lake of Fire which will burn day and night to consume every last vestige of the wicked, the incorrigible, the faithless and foolish!
The early apostles did not follow the "groupthink" of the Church leadership of their day, which was in the hands of the Pharisees. They stood up against the pressure to be counted as one of the "good old boys." They resisted the temptation to compromise. They were even willing to be beaten, brutalized verbally, to be whipped physically, and even to be killed, for the sake of the truth, true doctrine, true revelation from YEHOVAH God! They did not shrink back for one moment. They did not allow "diffusion of responsibility" which occurs in groups to cloud their thinking or judgment. They responded to the threats of the Church leaders who called them on the carpet, saying: "We must obey GOD rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
Joshua the servant of YEHOVAH God told the assembled Israelites in his day, "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:14-15). Joshua was willing to STAND ALONE to serve YEHOVAH God. He did not allow "crowd psychology" to influence or affect his decision making.
Are you willing to "stand alone"? Are you willing to stand up to a crowd? Are you willing to stand up to a minister who looks you straight in the eye and condemns you? Are you willing to be a "Lone Ranger," if necessary, in your immediate area, serving YEHOVAH God all by yourself, and to have no fellowship with wicked, apostasizing congregations?
YEHOVAH God commanded ancient Israel, in the Law which He gave, "DO NOT FOLLOW THE CROWD IN DOING WRONG. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit" (Exodus 23:2-3). To mindlessly follow a multitude in wickedness is SIN! To silently go along with error and change in doctrine which you have not proved for yourself is STUPID in the sight of YEHOVAH God! Writes Carol Tavris:
"Every time the news reports another story of a group that has behaved mindlessly, violently and stupidly, including the inevitable members who are just 'going along,' many people shake their heads in shock and anger at the failings of 'human nature.' But the findings of behavioral research can direct us instead to appreciate the conditions under which individuals in groups will behave morally or not. Once we know the conditions, we can begin to prescribe antidotes. By understanding the impulse to diffuse responsibility, perhaps as individuals we will be more likely to act. By understanding the pressures that reward groupthink, loyalty and obedience, we can foster those that reward whistle-blowing and moral courage. And, as a society, we can reinforce the belief that they also sin who only stand and watch."
To be forewarned is to be forearmed -- prepared for any situation. Yeshua said, "See, I have told you ahead of time" (Matt. 23:25). Once we recognize the danger of crowd pyschology, we can take personal steps to CONQUER it in our own lives. To begin, we should pray to YEHOVAH God for strength and endurance, and the power of His Spirit, to RESIST Satan and all his ploys and wicked devices, so that we may be able to STAND UP spiritually (Eph. 6:10-18).
Before his conversion, the apostle Paul was guilty of this sin. When Stephen testified that Yeshua was the Messiah, the assembled crowd of Pharisees became an enraged mob, "and, yelling at the top of their voices, they rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. . . And Saul [who became Paul] was there, giving [silent] approval to his death" (Acts 7:58-8:1).
Paul didn't stone Stephen -- but he participated in the heinous crime. He stood there and watched, while Stephen was being stoned to death, like the policemen who stood by at the beating of Rodney King. Are you guilty of "standing there and watching" while Church leaders pervert doctrine and destroy the truth of YEHOVAH God? Are you giving "silent approval" to their misdeeds?
The Bible is full of warnings against being caught in the trap of "group psychology." It warns against placing confidence in people -- even in Church leaders. Will you fall into this Satanic snare? Will you become a victim of this hidden trap which will catch the unobservant, unwitting, and careless? Remember, YEHOVAH God does hold YOU responsible. You cannot "diffuse" your responsibility. Remember -- they also sin who only stand and watch.
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