“It’s 2015, but it seems like 1984. Welcome to our Brave New World. Can you feel the temperature rising?
I remember them being assigned as homework in quick succession during my high school years. George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. All three writers offered their interpretation of what society might look like if powerful people with a single way of thinking controlled it. And then there was William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, perhaps the ultimate illustration of groupthink evolving into chaos. Each book carried a sense of warning, perhaps even a sense of inevitability.
I’m sure the authors, or serious students of literature, might take exception to my simplistic overview. Nonetheless, at their core these classics left me feeling forewarned. They showed how blind, numb, controlling and cruel humans become when discernment, compassion, objective truth and altruism are removed from societal discourse. In my most introspective moments I find myself thinking: It’s 2015, but it seems like 1984. Welcome to our Brave New World. Can you feel the temperature rising?
In personal discussions, and in discussions on broader national and international fronts, I have seen how quickly groupthink can be enshrined—and how often it is accompanied by a strong element of control. Recently, I was involved in a discussion that had strong social and emotional overtones. The other person’s identity was connected to the topic we were discussing and at one point our conversation evoked a strong, emotionally based response. In his mind, I fell into the category of them—the biased oppressors responsible for all his communities’ problems.
In such situations I try to be true to my conviction that I am not called to tolerate but to love my neighbour as myself, no matter what their moral, social, political or theological convictions might be. Tolerance is inadequate. As a follower of Jesus I am called to lovingly accept the person.
However, my choice to move beyond tolerance to love may not be enough for the person who disagrees with me on matters of spirituality, sexuality or ideology. The challenge comes when people insist that I not only lovingly validate them as a person, but that I also adopt their viewpoints as equally valid as those I hold. I do fully embrace their right to hold and express their views in a civil society. But as one who identifies with Jesus, I do not have the freedom to adopt, nor to advocate for, spiritual, sexual or ideological viewpoints that are opposed to His Word. Unfortunately, this is when groupthink tends to take over. Accusations of hate, phobia, insensitivity and exclusivity begin to fly, and any hope for loving communication and relationship dissolves.
So, as followers of Jesus, how are we to think, talk and act in such a time as this?
I take direction from Jesus’ simple teaching to His disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21b). Jesus came and lived among us “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b). He brought good news and expressed that news primarily through loving relationships. It was gracious truth that was not intended to condemn, but to bring salvation or wholeness (John 3:17). He “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38). He modelled what He taught. His good works glorified His Father and opened conversations with those who wanted to know about the hope and power He had. The result was that many came to call Him Lord.
Yet we know that the truth Jesus spoke with love also rankled the controlling group-thinkers of His day, both religious and political. They had other interpretations of “truth” and thought He should fit into their reality. It is important to note that, although He longed to bring these people into relationship with His Father, Jesus did not go down the path of groupthink. He did not adopt their way of thinking. He did not advocate for their lifestyle to be accepted as an equal or alternative way of living. In fact, He offered clear, exclusive moral and spiritual understandings and called people, especially His disciples, to live by them. Transformation was the goal, not accommodation.
In the end, Jesus’ authoritative teaching and lifestyle became a huge threat to the political and religious authorities of the day. He had to be eliminated.
Amazingly, His death led to life! And the power of His resurrection continues to infuse His gospel with eternal life (John 3:16). To this day many receive it and rejoice. Others deny it or are threatened by it. Too many are ignorant of it and are left without the experience His transforming life brings.
So let’s not be threatened, intimidated or strident in these days. We have been sent into this world as He was sent—to be in loving relationships, to share the truth with grace, and to be always ready to give an answer for the transformative hope we have.
Heavenly Father, teach us how to build relationships with grace and truth. Help us discern the difference between loving people and tolerating people. Keep us from adopting, or advocating for, the very things Jesus came to confront and transform in our lives. Empower us with your Spirit as we seek to be faithful in such a time as this. For Your glory. Amen.