Wednesday, March 11, 2015


The Herd Mentality

It.s behind a pay wall, but Christianity Today carried a piece that starts:
Cows like to turn their backs to the wind. At least, all the cows I know do. Slowly, awkwardly, eventually, all that beef will run parallel to the breeze.

People aren't too different. We align ourselves safely into herds, comforted by the hot breath of others breaking on the backs of our necks and ears. Then we huff and we puff and we blow at the fools turned in the wrong direction.

Is there anything more compelling to us than the heavy synchronized breathing of a mob, especially when combined with cocked eyebrows of disdain and curled lips of disgust? This is the zeitgeist, inside the church and out, and it will judge you until you conform and commune. This is cool-shaming, and it will make you squirm and itch to turn your back to the wind, to stand with all the other cows.

The trendsetters and vision-casters in a herd start the movement, motivated by profit or power or personal gain, as well as genuine striving for holiness and righteousness. They target their breath, their words, their media, and their coolness accordingly.

But for the rest of us, the single greatest factor in our decision-making is simple compliance. We turn with the crowd because we want the awkwardness to stop. We want them all to stop looking at us like that. We want to feel the wind of opinion at our backs.

How did otherwise intelligent people go along with the Third Reich, the invasion of Poland, the extermination of Jews? We may assume they were evil, brainwashed, or a bit of both, and in part we're right. But when was the last time you hedged on an opinion because of the hot breathing of those around you? When did you last choose your words based more on the politics of a situation than on truth?
The subtitle of the piece is , "When we fear no one but God, we're free to really serve him." I figure I do not need to pay the subscription fee to get the gist.

Being a science/engineering type, the herd mentality has always baffled me. Since earliest memory, I have sought data and fact - human behavior, individually or collectively is data but it does not comprise fact. It is too erratic and unpredictable to be a fact. It is not consistent nor is it repeatable. I cannot form a reliable testable theory around it. Therefore I cannot rely upon it to make decisions. Now gravity I can rely upon. If I jump, I will come down. Human behavior not so much. Yesterday, my comic book reading habits made me odd - today they make me interesting. Yesterday those that engaged in homosexual practice were deviant, today they are lauded as heroes. But where is the truth? Where is something that I can rely upon? This is what drives me.

Therefore, there have been long periods of my life where I am an outsider looking in. In my youth it troubled me, it hurt, today it is simply a fact of life - at least most of the time.

I am therefore a better Christian than everyone else? That's the question I confront routinely. I have been told I do not have the love of Christ because of my willingness to declare an issue when I see it. I admit my own blindness to my issues and admit the sting when people point them out to me. But I do not deny when people see truth in me. When I was much larger than I am today and small children would tell their parents to "look at the fat man," they were rude and it would hurt, but it was true. I could not deny the essential truth. Rudeness and directness do not change truth. And truth is what matters. Love first and foremost grasps truth, the rest is messaging.

Once one figures that out, it is easier to work on the message, but hold fast to truth. Love without truth is empty and void.


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