Retrieved From http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/10/12/the-trouble-with-physics-another-branch-of-science-captured-by-groupthink/
Years ago, I remember attending an R.C. Sproul Jr camp here in New Zealand. Though I may not agree with his theology, he did have much to offer. He talked about the importance of knowing how you know something (Epistemology). "Knowing how you know something" is something that sometimes we as members of today's society can ignore due to fear or laziness. However, knowing how you know is an important exercise that challenges dangerous thinking. There is safety in hearing and wrestling with multiple interpretations. Not only is it important to wrestle with various interpretations, but it is also important to formulate narratives for which we live. This post will address the value of challenging Groupthink in Christianity, but also emphasising the importance of narratives or beliefs that we live by.
Dangers of Groupthink
So what on earth is important about needing to know how we know something? Many movements throughout history were characterised by "groupthink", which is the concept that people tend to fall into groups and believe something just because it is the norm. We may not feel like we accept group thought just because it is the norm, but because there is safety in the group. We think that because everyone else thinks so it must be true. That is why it takes so long for societies to change. Once we get into a pattern of thinking, it can be hard to be free from that linear thinking.
Christianity is no exception from this problem, and yes, I call it a problem. It is a problem because we can so tightly hold to one particular way of thinking and entertaining other ideas may threaten our perceived reality. Questioning our perceived reality is a scary exercise but an exercise that does not need to bring fear. Alternatively, it should be a scary thought to believe in somethings without questioning why we believe it. For example, look at the Crusades, Nazis, racism in America, or even stereotypes we should be aware of in New Zealand. All of these groupthink situations create dangerous movements that do not lead to truth but away from it.
What we believe can depend on the time that we are born in. Christianity is rich in diverse thought over the last two thousand years. Today, because people are less isolated due to globalisation, we are opened to various viewpoints. This causes growth in varying beliefs. Yet because there are so many various beliefs this can also cause some of us to essentially give up in looking at what others think - especially in our fast paced world that lives in the “now”. I think because of this fast paced world we live in, we have lost the deep value in knowing why we believe something. We can just pick a group and stick to it, often in fear of someone who may think differently. Yet there is safety in the diversity of thought - especially in Christianity.
Proverbs 11:14 talks about the safety in the abundance of counsellors and illustrates the importance of self-reflecting why we believe something. Why would an abundance of counsellors be recommended if there was only one way to view something? The value with seeking advice is that we can check our reasoning with other people. If there is value with a multitude of people in order to get varying viewpoints, this means not surrounding ourselves with people who only agree with our thinking. Now this can be hard and tiring! However, it is necessary for the purpose of finding what is true. Truth should not need to be militantly proclaimed (except for possibly combating a groupthink situation), but will speak for itself amongst truth seekers - especially in regards to seeking God. If we seek truth, and God is true, then we seek God. This also applies to various interpretations of what God looks like. Paul also talked about the “good Bereans” who would check their beliefs about the scripture when they heard something different.
However, this does not mean living in a permanent negative vacuum of scepticism. We must all live by narratives or beliefs about our lives and our connection to the world. For example, a Calvinist, an Arminianist and a Universalist would have very similar yet different outlooks on the world around. It is important what we believe, because what we believe influences how we live in the world. For example, since believing in the sovereignty of God I have found a new confidence in Him, and because of this, confidence in my interactions with the world. Earlier I did not have such a faith in God’s sovereignty, and felt weaker because I felt that my interactions with the world were totally up to my Freewill, and I could mess things up. I do not deny that my actions are still very important, but now I feel like I can trust God to work with my failings.
God seems to allow various interpretations of Himself in Scripture. Each person, depending on where they are in their lives, finds different concepts about God helpful. I highly doubt that any one person have always had the same view of God. Experiencing other points of view has enabled ourselves to check our beliefs and align with what is more true. Yet, the gradual journey of finding further revelation in God’s mysteries is a process that also holds its own value. We all start as infants, knowing nothing of the world, but as we grow and constructively critique each other, we can build narratives that more fully align with what is true.
Groupthink can be dangerous, because we end up following untested and unwise beliefs. However, we can avoid succumbing to groupthink by seeking alternative viewpoints. The Bible talks about seeking many counsellors and being “good Bereans” rather than ignoring or being afraid of alternative ideas. But being forever a sceptic is impossible - we need to construct narratives about our reality in order to function as people. So, when we hear something new and either agree or disagree with it, it would be helpful to find out what it is before prejudging it for what it appears to be.