Mob Mentality

0207. Mob Mentality

The images and videos shown in the media are getting more and more frequent. Gangs of individuals running into stores and just stealing stuff off the shelves. Protests in the streets turning into riots, confronting the police there to protect the rest of the public. Even celebrations in city streets following a sports championship victory resulting in bonfires and cars being flipped over. And, of course, the violence at the United States Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. These are all examples of mob mentality, where rational human behavioral norms are seemingly tossed out the window when a group of people get together, and something triggers a violent frenzy. Also known as herd mentality, this behavior is not just limited to the real world. Post one wrong thing on social media, and you will have a mass crowd descending on your account attempting to cancel you, and banish you into anonymity. In fact, the presence of social media may explain the recent increase of these mob mentality incidents.

While there are entire studies and theories on the psychology to understand such behavior, the fact of the matter is that this mentality, when a gathering of individuals get together to take action for or against something, has existed throughout human history. One only has to look back at the Salem witch trials between February 1692 and May 1693. However, it goes even back further than that to Jesus’ own time, as the next two examples will illustrate.

In John 8:2-11 (CSB), Jesus is teaching at the temple when a crowd of scribes and Pharisees approach him with a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. The law at the time was to have the woman stoned to death. Here Jesus had been preaching about love, mercy, and forgiveness, and the mob was motivated to reveal him as a fraud by catching Jesus in a no-win situation. If he condemned the woman, he would be going against his own teachings. If he forgave the woman, he would be violating the law of Moses. However, Jesus refused to engage the mob, and proceeded to disarm them with one sentence: “When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, ‘The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.’” He forced them to look at the reality they were trying to perpetrate in their quest for justice. In condemning the woman of sin, Jesus reminded them they were also condemning themselves of their own sins. And since no one wanted to address their sins in front of each other and Jesus, they were unable to carry out the stoning and left. It was only when Jesus was alone with the woman that he forgave her, and sent her on her way. The mob mentality can be driven by beliefs and ideals such as justice, however they can also be driven by lies and deception, as we have noted in other articles. The question Jesus asks us as part of the mob is: “Would we want the same action taken against us as we are proposing to do to others?” If everybody asked that question of themselves, mob mentality incidents would drop dramatically.

In John 18 and 19, and Matthew 27, we have another mob scene, but this time it is Jesus on the receiving end. Realizing that Jesus will not deliver the Jews from the occupation of the Roman empire, many Jews no longer see him as the Messiah and want him gone. He is arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the Judean province, so he can be executed. Given the power he wielded, which history showed he did use brutally, Pilate could care less about the mob mentality against Jesus. He could have ordered his execution in a heartbeat, and it would just be an ordinary day. However, in Matthew 27:19 (CSB), his wife warns him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for today I’ve suffered terribly in a dream because of him.” So at first he tries to get the Jews to take care of there own mess. However, since he is the only one in the region with the power to condemn a man to death, the issue comes back to him. He interviews Jesus, and comes to the conclusion that he is no danger to Rome, so he flogs him hoping that this will satisfy the crowd. It does not. He then tries to get Jesus off the hook by putting him up against the zealot Barabbas, reasoning that there was no way the mob would choose a violent criminal over a seemingly misguided peaceful man. However, once again the mob chooses Barabbas to be freed and Jesus to be executed. Pilate has resisted all the pressure the mob has put on him so far, but now he has run out of options. If he sticks to his guns, he makes an enemy of the mob and he undermines his own authority, which could result in a revolt. This would in turn cause him to lose power with Rome. It is this fear that drives his final decision to relent to the mob mentality. In Matthew 27:24-26 (CSB): “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!’ All the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ Then he released Barabbas to them and, after having Jesus flogged, handed him over to be crucified.” (As an aside, the phrase “washing one’s hands of the situation” is directly derived from these verses.) Pilate would be removed from power soon after, and would eventually commit suicide.

How often are we pressured with a decision to adopt a cultural norm that goes against the Bible? Unfortunately, in a God-omitted culture, our beliefs will be sorely tested, because it is herd mentality thinking that rules today, and most of the time it will not align with God’s values. And it does not matter how it is described or justified. It could be framed in the context of conformity, influence, or the collective good. However, the simple fact is that the crowd either wants you to be part of the circle, or be banished from it. As our previous two examples demonstrate, we can either question and stand up to the mob, or succumb to its pressure. But no matter what we decide to do, we live with the consequences each time. Ponder that this week.

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