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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Dreadful 5 Steps of Social Revolution

Over the past week I've heard news of almost constant attacks against what I would call foundational beliefs in American society, ranging from religious teachings to political schools of thought, pushing always toward a more liberal, inclusive viewpoint. To be more specific, there is a constant push toward a perspective that does not make Christ the only way to Heaven, or the judge of sin, or the guide for our lifestyles. This is hardly shocking news.  What is shocking is how successful many of these campaigns have been, lately.

I find myself asking, over and over again, how a supposedly Christian nation can welcome in these changes and usher out the centrality of Christ.  Clearly some people call themselves by a name they don't believe in, but I think there are many others who do care about Christ, but they have become too wrapped up in the stress of their personal lives to watch what is going on around them.  One day, they will be rudely awakened to a landscape they didn't see coming, even though the signs were all there.

How does this happen?  What makes people miss the obvious, and what can bring about a massive directional shift in an entire nation's thinking? It certainly doesn't happen suddenly or by chance.

I've spent the last few months slowly re-reading the Old Testament, getting a feel for history and the rise and fall of ancient societies.  It seems the erosion of social values almost always happens through the same process: peer pressure, desensitization, compromise, division/marginalization, and intimidation.  These come in overlapping waves, intensifying until the conclusion of the matter.

Peer Pressure

Adult peer pressure (as opposed to the grade school variety), occurs when a respected or powerful person in society chooses to live a certain way and others copy this person in hopes of becoming prestigious as well.

August Landmesser, the Man in the Crowd
I call this the first step because not everyone wants to be like this celebrity or take his advice at the beginning of a social movement.  Some of the more resistant people will reject that lifestyle as odd, immoral, or nontraditional. That's okay for the one who started it; as long as more than one social leader adopts this new thinking, the movement will stand.
Example: "So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, 'You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.' 
But when they said, 'Give us a king to lead us,' this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: 'Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  They have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.'" (1 Samuel 8: 4-9 NIV)


In college I learned about desensitization techniques in psychology and science class.  You're probably familiar with booster vaccinations, for instance, but this has also been done to help animals overcome their fear of guns in a war zone or even to help people with peanut allergies overcome the serious reactions they are experiencing.  The principle is always the same, regardless of the application. Frequent, prolonged exposure to something lessens the response to that stimulus over time.
Pushing the Envelope. Image source here

News media, Hollywood, school curriculum, popular fiction, pedestrian traffic on a public street, and more can all work on the same principle to desensitize resistors to things that would normally upset them or move them to action.  It doesn't convert objectors as much as it silences their protests over time, draining their stamina until what was once a fringe idea has made quiet inroads into their thinking.
Example: "In the second year of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel, Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah began to reign.  He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan; she was from Jerusalem.  He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash.  The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there." (2 Kings 14: 1-4 NIV)


Eventually, a growing movement will get enough traction to become a "counter culture," drawing in a sizable amount of the population, although still not a majority of people.  In order to keep that growth happening, it will have to put pressure on the old guard to get recognition as a legitimate sector of the society.  That takes a lot of "us versus them" rhetoric, especially phrased in such a way that the old guard's lifestyle now appears unreasonable, stodgy, or even hateful toward the new group.
Example: "Jeroboam thought to himself, 'The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David.  If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.'
After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, 'It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.  And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other." (1 Kings 12: 26-29 NIV)


As the new social movement actively gains traction as a legitimate alternate society, it engages the "resistors," convincing them that they have to negotiate because they cannot defeat the new thinking in open confrontation.

This is always a dangerous time in a society, because it has finally come to a crossroads in terms of culture and even religion, where society must choose who to follow and what to believe.  Fearful of the strident rhetoric of then new counter-culture, frequently the old guard give way, first to things they didn't think were so important, and then gradually concerning the things closest to their hearts.  It is a waiting game, really, as long as the older culture continues to back away from its core beliefs, until the new culture can overtake it completely.  At the root of it, once compromise begins, the revolution has already begun in earnest.
Example: "Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.  They called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.' 
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing.  Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.' 
'Get out of our way,' they replied. 'This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.' They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. 
But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door." (Genesis 19: 4-10 NIV)


"Tank Man," Tianamen Square, 1989
 Once the counter-culture has gained the upper-hand in terms of numbers or voice in a society, it moves from negotiation to outright intimidation of the old culture, marginalizing what used to be mainstream. Oh, the dreadful awakening, for those who were silent until this point! There is not much left to do but resist or flee, and to resist is to lose.  Many retreat into themselves, holding onto their beliefs in their hearts but mostly not expressing them in public, for fear of repression.

Example:  The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.” 
But Micaiah said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.”
When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?”
“Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” 
Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’” 
The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?” ...
The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’” 
Micaiah declared, "If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!"(1 Kings 22: 13-18; 26-28 NIV)

In Conclusion

Sometimes the counter-culture brings something positive to a culture asleep in its old bad habits. For instance, the anti-slavery movement and the Protestant Reformation brought increased freedom the old culture had denied.  It isn't movements like this one that I'm really concerned about.  What they brought was an increased awareness of the justice and truth the Lord had originally taught.

I am seeing that we are at the last crossroads in Western culture on a number of issues, particularly this year, perhaps even this week.  Christianity as we know it has lost ground through peer pressure, desensitization, division, and compromise, and unless something changes radically, we are facing the last stage of this social revolution--and it won't be going anywhere good.  Can you see the signs?

Is there still time to come back from the brink? Of course, there always is, but there is only one way to heal what is wrong with society in a way that brings justice and mercy and sweeps away the destruction of sin.  It is the message of Jesus Christ spoken to a broken heart.  Unless that message is spoken, unless someone hears, and unless someone listens, things will continue as they have until the time of their completion.

This is a call to all Christians, whether they are part of the United States or praying in a house church under one of the most oppressive regimes on earth: Let us not sleep, but rather, let us stand with Jesus.  We should be praying, not worrying.  We should be teaching our children what is right when they are home with us.  We should recall the power of the God we serve, instead of trembling at the power of the crowd.  We should be speaking what we believe, openly but not maliciously, when called upon to speak.  And most importantly, we should be seeking God and knowing Him, so that He can help us to live according to His teaching and use us to minister to the world.