In Actalan Mexico this year, a rumor began to spread in a rural town similar to Baltimore. “Child abductors!” “Kidnappers!” “Be warned!” It began on social media — WhatsApp and Facebook and forwarded emails. Then it began to spread by word of mouth.
An uncle and his nephew left their farm to go into town for supplies. Someone didn’t recognize them – they weren’t from the town. They were outsiders. This person whispered, “Do you think those two strangers are the kidnappers everyone is talking about?”
“Did you hear in the neighboring town they didn’t find their abducted kids until their organs had been cut out?”
“We can’t let that happen here!”
Angry, people went to the police and demanded they do something about the kidnappers in their midst. The police asked who the horrible murdering abductors were – and several citizens pointed to the uncle and nephew.
So the police arrested them for disturbing the peace and began to look into it. The uncle has a wife and several daughters out on his farm. His nephew is a young man engaged to be married. They have no idea what the rumors are about.
Meanwhile, outside the Police station, a crowd has grown. They began to bang on the doors, “Give us the pedophiles!” “Give us the murderers!” The shops around the police station start closing their doors and closing down. A larger crowd comes as they hear from facebook to email to phone call to text message to gossip at the gas station — the police are protecting child abductors who eat the organs of children. There is no justice! We must have justice for the children!
A man climbed up on the church in the town square and began to ring the bell. This summoned more people. He yelled, “The police are ready to let these evil men go without charging them of a thing!” The crowd broke down the police station doors and yanked the two men out.
Phones came out and people began to record this. In the USA, the mother of the nephew was alerted to get online and look at a live feed. Isn’t that her son? She tried posting ‘do not harm my son, he is not a child abductor’ and she tried to get help – but in a very short time a man stood on the step and chanted, “Petro! Petro!” He promised money to whomever got gasoline.
The mother watched her brother and son beat by a crowd screaming that her loved ones consumed the organs of boys they abducted and assaulted. Then the crowd poured gasoline on them and burned them alive. The thick black oily smoke was recorded from hundreds of cheering phones.
All because of a rumor.
The widows. The police. The children with no father. The citizens all testify: the crowds were provoked by lies into mob action, into murder. No one will look the widows in the eyes. Shame settles in the city.
No children were ever abducted.
Let alone assaulted with their organs cut out and consumed by two local farmers who had come to town for supplies.
… But this is not the first time this has happened. It happened in another Mexican city on the same day based on the same rumor. It’s so common in India that there are calls for companies to not permit forwards on their platforms. Sri Lanka, Mynamar… and us, the United States. We’ve all fell victim. Do you remember “Pizza-gate” here?
Two years ago a man heard across social media, and television, and word of mouth that Hillary Clinton was hiding abducted children as part of a sex slave trade in a mom and pop pizza joint. He heard it repeated enough times and there were enough calls for justice that he took two guns into the shop determined to rescue the children himself. Praise God he killed no one! And of course, there were no children there.
We provoke one another. When we hear one person saying something we think little of it. But when several are saying it – or it seems everyone is saying it – we believe it. Even if what is being say is a pure lie we’d never believe on our own.
In a crowd, in an echo chamber, humans lose their minds. This “mob mentality” is a well studied phenomenon. It’s why concerts are so exciting – why pep rallies work – and how some modern churches run themselves. Inside a mob, or crowd, or online, we lose our individual identities and become part of something larger and more powerful than ourselves. We gain energy from everyone around us and what was unthinkable now is possible.
Such as burning two men to death based on a rumor.
Or such as throwing a convoy birthday party for a mentally challenged young man.
In Wisconsin, a young man sits by a highway in his backyard. He hasn’t many friends, and is mentally challenged. But he LOVES semis and watches them every day. Drivers began to notice, and across their CBs and social media began to talk about him. This led to the idea that the truckers would throw a birthday party for the boy. On the boy’s 16th birthday, trucks began to pull into a local park. The organizer and the boy’s parents thought maybe one or two semis would show up and let their son finally touch and see up close the trucks he loves… but instead dozens pulled in… then a hundred! The story had spread and spread and a huge convoy overwhelmed the little place all for this boy to have a most marvelous birthday. His parents were in tears and he laughed and smiled and was not alone.
When we’re in groups, we’re provoked to be so much more. The author of the letter to the Hebrew church urges us to provoke one another to love and good deeds. When everyone around us is living in loving kindness, we are peer pressured to do the same.
We are entering the holiday season which is full of loving kindness and random acts of charity. Our television shows, and plays, and books, and stories all peer pressure one another to join the mob of… gift giving. Of selflessness. Of generosity . Of forgiveness and love. From “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to “A Christmas Carol” to even Santa Claus – We enforce a message of loving kindness and a judgment against those who don’t have the “Christmas Spirit.” The… mob spirit… of good deeds and love.
In Minnesota, a grandmother was driving home and saw a young woman step over the fence over a bridge, ready to commit suicide by throwing herself down into the freeway traffic below. The grandmother prayed to God, called the cops, and ran to the young girl.
She pleaded, “Please, honey, you don’t want to do this. You have so much life to live.”
The suicidal young woman said, “No, my mom doesn’t love me.”
The grandmother swore, “I love you!” and reached through the fence and grabbed the young woman. The young woman struggled, but the old woman hung on proclaiming how much she loved her, and would give her all the support and help.
The grandmother yelled to another woman to get the traffic to stop. That woman kicked off her heels, hefted a construction cone, and rolled it out to stop the traffic.
Other people began to run to the grandmother, or pick up more cones, or call the cops for more details.
When a cop arrived he saw a “mass” of people holding onto a woman hanging from a fence over the stopped traffic. He got the tools to cut the fence and pull the woman through to safety.
At that time the grandmother yelled, “AMEN!” Ending the prayer she’d been living the entire time.
This crowd of strangers – of white police and black citizens in a city charged with violence between such – saved a Native American young woman – because of love.
((http://www.startribune.com/shoulder-to-shoulder-strangers-came-to-the-rescue-of-a-suicidal-woman-in-st-paul/389017491/ and https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/08/04/how-a-crowd-of-diverse-strangers-saved-a-suicidal-woman-from-jumping-off-a-bridge/?utm_term=.2fc6ffd16498 ))
“Jonathan Haidt has dubbed the feeling we get from seeing loving kindness as “elevation,” a condition he defines as “a warm, uplifting feeling that people experience when they see unexpected acts of human goodness, kindness, courage, or compassion. It makes a person want to help others and to become a better person himself or herself.”
In an essay on the subject, he once wrote: “Most people don’t want to rape, steal, and kill. What they really want is to live in a moral community where people treat each other well, and in which they can satisfy their needs for love, productive work, and a sense of belonging to groups of which they are proud.
“We get a visceral sense that we do not live in such a moral world when we see people behave in petty, cruel, or selﬁsh ways. But when we see a stranger perform a simple act of kindness for another stranger, it gives us a thrilling sense that maybe we do live in such a world.”
Humans are so interesting! People influencing people. People repeating what they see – evil or kindness. We can be moved to great evil or great good. Someone starts the movement, but soon it is a power greater than we are – and sweeps up others.
What force will you be in the world?
Jesus warned his disciples of the power of peer pressure and mobs. He said some will come saying “I am the messiah” or pointing to other mortals and saying “That is the Word made Flesh.” But the person being pointed to will not do good things, will be hypocritical, and inspire groups to evil.
So don’t fall for it. Don’t get wrapped up in the rumors. Think for yourself. Take a moment. Step aside. God gifted you a mind, so use it!
It is an unthinking mob that kills Jesus. A mob wrapped up in the rumors Jesus is claiming he is the King of the Jews… but he only calls himself a servant and slave and the son of man… It is an unthinking mob that will destroy the temple and rob it thinking this will give them immortality from Cesar.
But crowds can do great good, too.
What crowd will you be part of? Who will you follow? The rumors of war and famine and child abductors… or the rumors of faith, hope and love?