The mass meeting is also necessary for the reason that in it the individual, who at first, while becoming a supporter of a young movement, feels lonely and easily succumbs to the fear of being alone, for the first time gets the picture of a larger community, which in most people has a strengthening, encouraging effect . . . In the crowd he always feels somewhat sheltered . . . When from his little workshop or big factory, in which he feels very small, he steps for the first time into a mass meeting and has thousands and thousands of people of the same opinions around him, when, as a seeker, he is swept away by three or four thousand others into the mighty effect of suggestive intoxication and enthusiasm, when the visible success and agreement of thousands confirm to him the rightness of the new doctrine and for the first time arouse doubt in the truth of his previous conviction–then he himself has succumbed to the magic influence of what we designate as ‘mass suggestion.’ Adolf Hitler1
At the same time we see our huge globe becoming ‘‘McWorld,’’ we also see the tribalization of its people into Orwell’s ‘‘Group-think.’’ The individual today (and his ability to think for himself) is lost in the sea of Globalism, Pluralism, Multi-culturalism and Jihad. One has to be a member of a group to find identity or even to claim his rights as a victim. A law-breaking gang has more clout and voice than an individual law-abiding citizen. If modernism exalted rugged individualism, postmodernism swallows the individual into a soupy sea of ethical relativism controlled by the perceived needs of society.
I believe the individual Christian is also in danger of losing something very vital–the reality of his faith! These aren’t the best of times but neither are they the worst of times. Christian history has recorded far worse times of persecution and distress when it took monumental faith to endure. There have also been times of great individual achievement when believers found tremendous strength to be creative and productive. I am not discounting the strength of fellowship (of which I have written often this year). I am expressing a fear that the emotion of a group can easily replace the calm reserve of individual faith needed so much in our culture.
We have been reminded recently that a show of strength in a public place can be mere symbolism without substance. But there is a supposed substance! One can be a ‘‘brother’’ because of the color of one’s skin and the identity with that group. Then that one can be given the Christian charge of brotherhood as if that were the type of brotherhood he entered. He then is instructed to return home and carry on this new definition of brotherhood among his own family. As long as he remains attached to the group and retains the memory and feeling of the rally, he can carry out the principles that he learned. But when all the feeling is gone, so is the commitment because it was generated from without rather than from within.
Rather than faith being a personally received conviction involving absolute truth, it becomes a means for group conformity. In describing our culture, Gene Veith writes, ‘‘Under the canons of postmodernism, those who act as individuals and dissent from the way the group is supposed to think often face intense criticism for violating group solidarity. Conversely, group members often surrender their individuality and their true opinions in order to conform to their group.’’2
I read of a man going to a play where, in the middle of the performance, the audience was given a ballot and asked to vote on the outcome of the play. The actors actually arranged the play to end in the way the audience voted. As absurd as it seems, that is exactly the attitude of a society without a belief in a transcendent God who controls His world. But since a culture cannot exist without cultural norms, an atheistic society creates those norms, not from an outside Authority but from within itself and from the needs of the group as a whole. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. If that group happens to be fascist or some other form of a gang, then power to enforce those needs can also be justified.
I am not being simply reactionary to popular trends. Anyone who has grown up in an evangelistic church knows the value of feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit as a speaker addresses a group. But there is a significant difference between that and the phenomenon we are seeing today. In a Christian gathering, an individual brings his conviction, generated by his personal commitment to truth, to the group. In today’s group-think, the individual draws his conviction, generated by the emotion of the event, from the group. The Christian would perform his responsibility, with or without the group, because it is done by faith before God.
There is something demeaning to our faith when we have, for example, a group of Christian young people sign a pledge to live virtuously. We are saying that their faith alone does not have the power, nor the integrity, nor the urgency it takes to live the plain Christian life as described in God’s Word. We are saying that faith is one thing but reality is another. We have simply refused to walk by our faith. And experience tells us that a person who will not live virtuously because of his faith, will not do so regardless of how many promises he makes. It is not the promise that gives us integrity, it is the faith.
When, in C.S. Lewis’ book, the master demon Screwtape instructs his nephew demon Wormwood about deceiving a believer, he explains, ‘‘The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And.’ You know–Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.’’3
If our faith in a transcendent God will not cause us to walk Christianly, no amount of sight in an immanent crowd can do it for us.
Notes: 1. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), 479. 2. Gene Veith, Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 154. 3. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: MacMillan, 1982), 115-116.