A Movement or a Mob

 In Culture, Fred's Blog, People, Politics, Theology

Nicky Gumbel, the Rector of Holy Trinity Brompton Anglican church in London said, “Movements grow from the intersection of a personal story and circumstances.” It’s true. Movements do not begin without an extraordinary individual, but they are not just a series of rallies around that charismatic individual. That person must come at just the right time and under the right set of particular circumstances to make change possible.

Because so much of what I believe about human behavior and group dynamics comes from stories in the Bible, I’ve looked at the number of times mobs came up against the movement of the early Church—a movement founded in hope in the resurrection, a true fellowship based on shared values, authentic while imperfect leaders, and the supernatural agape love that was turning the world upside down.

Enemies of the fledgling Church stirred up the mobs time and again. However, they did not inflame haphazardly. There was a method to the way they exploited fear, madness, ignorance and frustration. They stirred up but maintained control. They agitated but knew how to manipulate and direct what they created to get what they wanted.

It’s the same technique we see today in populist politics.

In his New York Times column this week, David Brooks wrote, “Every presidential candidate needs a narrative to explain how his or her character was formed. They need a story line that begins outside of politics with some experience or life-defining crucible moment that then defines the nature of their public service…Without a clear formation story, a candidate is just a hodgepodge of positions and logos.”

It’s interesting to watch what some are calling a movement growing around Donald Trump right now. Trump was recently quoted saying, “This is a movement. We’re going to make our country great again — believe me. We will make our country great again.”

But my question is, “Are we witnessing a movement or a mob?” What is the formation story? It appears the conditions and his personality are in perfect alignment. And as Erik Erikson writes, “Ideological leaders, so it seems, are subject to excessive fears which they can master only by reshaping the thoughts of their contemporaries; while those contemporaries are always glad to have their thoughts shaped by those who so desperately care to do so. Born leaders seem to fear only more consciously what in some form everybody fears in the depths of his inner life; and they convincingly have an answer.”

And nothing incites groups of already restless people like fear and paranoia. All it takes is someone who seems to be a strong leader to voice what they fear and give them permission to react. H.L. Mencken said, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

The herd instinct is often what takes over in a time of change and uncertainty. The ancient pagans sacrificed someone to the gods to appease them. The Old Testament Hebrews chose a scapegoat to turn away the wrath and reset things to normal. Uncertainty and fear always lead mobs to look for one of two things: A savior to conquer the enemy in triumph or a sacrifice to appease the gods and return things to normal.

But it’s not just the ancients, is it? We are still today — maybe more now than even a few years ago — susceptible to people stirring us up to look for a savior or someone to blame. A savior or a sacrifice.

Mobs create havoc. Movements create change.

Mobs are fueled by fear and anger. Movements are fueled by principles.

Mobs take prisoners. Movements take time.

A real movement does not merely attract people who have come to see the show but creates a sense of membership. A true movement is an alliance of people who share each other’s dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs and also share deeply held values.

Before we evangelicals lose our way and become “those useful innocents” as we are labeled by politicians, let’s make sure what we are joining — a movement or a mob.

 

 

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Showing 9 comments
  • Tony Morgan
    Reply

    Fred,
    I’m reminded of another popular old “saw”:
    simple solutions for complex problems.

    they are always appealing but seldom effective.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thanks, Tony. I always take offense when they say they want to make it relevant to the “average American.” I doubt they would refer to themselves as the “average Senator” or “average outsider”.

  • Chip Weiant
    Reply

    I’ll add: Mobs prey on division. Movements pray on vision. Timely and Biblical thinking from you Fred, per usual.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Chip. You could work that into a talk!

  • Jeff Pope
    Reply

    I saw Trump’s bluster cracking at last nights debate. He doesn’t do well under the scrutiny of other candidates correcting his exaggerated claims. The star of the night, I felt, was Carly Fiorina. And she’s got the kind of background story you’re talking about, Fred. “From the bottom to the top.”

  • Jack Modesett
    Reply

    Napoleon said, “In order to be lead, people must be shown a future. A leader is a dealer in hope.”

    But is the hope based on reality or illusion? Isaiah has the people saying “See no more visions. Prophesy illusions, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” Wow.

  • Fred Smith
    Fred Smith
    Reply

    Hope and fantasy are, hopefully, not the same thing. Hope has substance although unseen. Fantasy is an artist’s rendition of the impossible.

  • David Getsch
    Reply

    Wonderful thoughts Fred.

    Mr. Trump SCARES me – Simple answers to Complex situations.

    I am not sure what questions his answers for America are answering.

  • John Huffman
    Reply

    Well stated Fred! It is fascinating to observe the development of this from day to day. Gratefully we are over a year away from the election. My distress would be greater if the election was this November. I hope that the aesthetic distance of time will bring this all into a more rational focus and that the mob effect will have dissipated,

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