The Bondage of “Groupthink”
“Groupthink” is very much a feature of our day. The term was first used in 1952 and, in broad terms, it describes pressure that comes upon an individual to conform to the group’s way of thinking. The psychologist Irving Janis details three causes of groupthink: cohesive groups, controlling leaders and contextual threats. If we want to know the effects, we need only look around us. Consider how mass media and social media are used to promote a social narrative, and to shame or dox dissenting voices – the threats. This in turn leads to a fear of being “cancelled”, and the culture of fear forces individuals to surrender personal ideas and values to the captivating power of groupthink.
An Easter Example
There is nothing new to this phenomenon. Returning to the Easter story, we see groupthink very much at work. Within a week, the crowds in Jerusalem had turned from singing the praises of Jesus as Messiah to calling for His crucifixion. Gospel writer Matthew tells us the reason: “the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus” (Matthew 27:20).
This persuasion was effective because these religious leaders already had a controlling influence over a cohesive group. They were then able to portray Jesus as a threat, both socially and politically.
First, they had made it clear that “if anyone confessed that He (Jesus) was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). This “cancelling” was an enormous threat to one’s social life. Then, they added an external political threat by raising the possibility that “If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our . . . nation” (John 11:48).
If this dual pressure was enough to persuade a crowd to chant, “Away with Him, Crucify Him!”, surely, for “a man of the Pharisees” and “a ruler of the Jews”, the pressure to conform to this opinion of Jesus must have been immense. It is no wonder that, when such a man began to question who Jesus Christ really was, he secretly “came to Jesus by night” (John 3:1,2). That man was Nicodemus.
The Bondage of Fear
At Nicodemus’ first meeting with Him, Jesus spoke with a unique authority: “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Nicodemus would have known the story from Numbers chapter 21 well: sin brought death, but there was salvation through looking at the serpent lifted up. But, “the Son of Man . . . lifted up”? It seems Nicodemus didn’t know what to make of this, but, despite all his religion, he knew he was a sinner who deserved death, and Jesus was offering him eternal life: “whoever believes in [the Son] should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The same is true of each one of us, and the same offer stands. How will you respond?
Nicodemus was clearly compelled by Christ’s message, for later he spoke up in the council chamber in defence of Jesus. Well, he only questioned procedure – “Does our law judge a man before it hears him?” (John 7:51) – but one wonders if he would have said more had their antagonism against Jesus not been so marked. Indeed, even for daring to ask this question, Nicodemus was ridiculed: “Are you also from Galilee?” (v.52).
Ridicule is often the first step in enforcing groupthink, that alone often being enough to instil a fear into the hearts of many. Sadly, little has changed in 2000 years. Many still mock and ridicule Jesus Christ and the Bible, but perhaps you are like Nicodemus, and are compelled by Jesus Christ, by the truth He speaks, and the eternal life He offers. But, you hesitate . . . bound by a fear of rejection or ridicule.
Christ Breaks our Bonds
If so, come with me to the cross on the day of Christ’s death, and let us see what it was that broke through the chains that had bound Nicodemus.
Jesus had already died when Nicodemus came “bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds” (John 19:39). With him was another Pharisee, Joseph of Arimathea, who was also bound by the same chains. We read that he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews” (v.38).
Joseph had just received permission from the Roman governor, Pilate, to bury the body of Jesus, and both were now taking their place at the cross, publicly demonstrating their allegiance. What a difference! Fear and secrecy had given way to public devotion as these two men sought to honour their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, giving him a burial fit for a king. But what had made the difference?
Perfect Love casts out Fear
I am sure that when Nicodemus heard of the crucifixion of Christ, he was reminded of that secret night meeting and the words of Jesus mentioned previously – now it made sense – Jesus Christ had been lifted up on the cross so that he might live. Jesus had gone into death so that “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14,15).
Released from the bondage of sin and death, perhaps the next words that came to his recollection were these: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
Considering the depth of God’s love demonstrated in the gift of His Son, and the incalculable cost that Christ was willing to pay on his behalf, Nicodemus’ heart was no doubt moved by love for Christ. The devoted gift of 100 pounds of spice is testament to this. And as love for his Saviour grew, so his fear of man would fall away, for “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
No longer would he be in bondage to the power of groupthink or the fear it brings. No longer would he be a slave to sin and death. He was truly alive and motivated by love, and the same can be true for you.