Mob Mentality


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 116; 147:12-20, Hosea 4:1-10, Acts 21:27-36, Luke 6:1-11

Poor Paul. As if his actions weren’t polarizing enough, the Jews in the Jerusalem temple were ready to string him up for things he hadn’t done. They only had to say Paul had brought Greeks into the temple (he hadn’t), and the crowd dragged him outside, barred the doors, and beat him. Reaction was swift, forceful – and completely unwarranted.

Have you ever found yourself caught up in a mob mentality? A mob isn’t always a crowd of torch-wielding villagers. In our age of instant communication, the mob may be virtual, but it is no less infectious. We condemn or canonize people over a single image or sound bite. Technology has made it almost impossible to resist crossing the line from observer to participant. Take political campaigns: aren’t we more likely to repeat and re-post negative things about the opposition? Toss in the need of politicians to “spin” a situation to manage immediate public perception, and careers – even lives – are ruined by a media-driven mob. Even seemingly positive behaviors – for example, responses to natural disasters – are made less effective by mob mentality. Charitable organizations frequently waste donations that arrive in unmanageably large quantities at the beginning of a disaster recovery, then later run short, because people respond as a well-intentioned mob, rather than waiting to assess long-term needs.

The slow-burning mob, like the one that plotted against Jesus as his teachings began to threaten the status quo, is especially insidious. Today terms like “whisper campaign” describe indirect attacks meant to destroy a person’s reputation. Rather than appealing to a sense of outrage, this type of attack appeals to the ego; we all like to feel like we are “in the know” and a whisper campaign helps us believe we are privy to insider information. We can become part of a mob without ever knowing it. The seeds planted by the Pharisees at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry help prime the mob that eventually yells “Crucify him!”

As people of faith, we must temper our reactions with love and patience. As the hands of Christ, we do not swing blindly at shadows.

Comfort: God made us capable of thoughtful action and reaction.

Challenge: Fact check even the claims you are inclined to agree with.

Prayer: Glorious Creator, thank you for the gift of discernment. Amen.

Discussion: Have you been part of a physical or social mob and later regretted it?

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