By Jim Tune
My father was a wise man. He was respected in the community, known for integrity, humor, and wisdom. I had the great fortune to be raised by a deeply principled man. Among the important things my dad taught me was this jewel of counterintuitive wisdom: “Beware of running with the crowd.” It was a warning to be suspicious of the crowd, not to trust the crowd, to resist falling in line with the majority too readily.
Crowd energy is dangerous because, most times, it is nonreflective. It simply conducts and transmits energy rather than discerning and transforming it. Crowds react. They let energy flow through them indiscriminately without discerning whether that energy is good or bad. Crowds are fickle because crowds don’t think. They simply conduct whatever energy is gripping them.
When a group of people becomes an angry, fear-driven throng, the groupthink phenomenon of mob mentality quickly overtakes rational thought and individual responsibility. The mob becomes capable of evil unthinkable for most individuals. It can be as spontaneous as the Rwandan genocide or as systematic as Hitler’s mass slaughter of the Jews.
In the Gospels, a woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus by an overzealous crowd. This is a self-righteous crowd infected with a spirit of accusation and blame.
We see in this story a perfect example of the dangerous, nonreflective energy of a crowd. This mindless crowd, caught up in the grip of an angry spirit, brought the woman to Jesus and demanded he validate their intent to stone her to death. But Jesus, tells them: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The response: “Those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first” (John 8:7-9).
My father was right: Beware of the energy that emanates from a crowd. Beware the cheerleaders of both the liberals and conservatives. Beware of any crowd who wants to stone someone to death in God’s name. Even if the crowd calls itself Christian. Even if the crowd is right regarding the issue, it still is wrong if it is wrong in spirit.
Think back to the stonings you have been involved in and recall how, later, in the sobriety of some clarified air, you asked yourself: How could I have been so wrong, so stupid, so cruel? Read accounts of young people with decent, good hearts who, caught up in the energy of a crowd, bully someone to the point that he or she commits suicide. Think how, in each case, the persons responsible eventually walk away, one by one, a lot more sober and reflective than they were when they were caught up in the mindless energy of the moment. To follow Christ is to differ from the crowd.