the Empathy List #83: Mob Mentality
On Christ's Martyrdom during this Passion Week
IN THIS EMAIL…
The Mob Mentality of that Infamous Crowd that Executed Jesus
Curious Reads & Just for Fun
On Voting for the Empathy List for a people’s voice Webby Award…
Hello friend, Liz here.
Easter is fast-approaching: it’s this Sunday. If you thought Lent was bad, welcome to passion week.
The point of Lent is to ease our bodies and minds into the horror (and then ecstasy) of this week.
Lent helps us prepare for Easter morning—that strange dawn when an actual human whose heart had stopped and blood had drained and skin had begun the melt toward decomposition STOOD UP and WALKED AWAY with only a few scars and the ability to walk through walls, a reanimated and remade human once again.
…If that’s not a “mind blow”—as my kids used to say—I don’t know what is.
If you enjoy my email, would you forward it to a friend?
On these days leading up to the miracle of the resurrection, the temptation is to skip ahead. As if the conclusion was obvious all along.
We wag our pointer finger at the ones who put Christ in the tomb in the first place, or at those who disbelieved all along, like those dummy disciples. We think: Really, Peter, a sword? Really, Mark, running naked through the olive grove? Really, Thomas, prodding the wound?
But my church has a practice of reading the chapters that document the lead-up to Christ’s death aloud, as a theatrical performance on Palm Sunday, which gives new perspective to the familiar story. Imagine a group of four readers huddled around a microphone and the congregation on the edge of our seats, waiting for our line. All of us are tripping over each other out loud, participating in the recital of the narrative.
This year, I felt stunned by the scene where the crowd of Jews demand that the Roman governor, Pilate, execute an innocent man, their own guilt be damned. Pilate protests, saying nothing has been proven, and what has he done? They can’t provide any evidence of guilt, but they insist he must die anyway. So Pilate washes his hands in front of the crowd, as if to say, fine, I bet you’d execute me next if I refused, so do whatever you like, but I’m not getting any blood on my hands, no thank you…
While most of the text is read by the readers on stage, there are lines for us audience members, a call and response, and the lines are damning, for we are prompted to mimic the crowd that dragged the innocent man Jesus before the reluctant ruler, Pilate. We say, aloud, in one voice, “Let his blood be on us and our children.” And then we say, “Crucify him, crucify him.” And again, “Crucify him.”
Joining in the chorus of cruelty has the effect of inviting us to see our complicity in Christ’s death. In fact, we are complicit.
Think of it: a crowd of devout Jews, Jews who cared enough about God to travel to their capital for a feast day, at great expense and along inhospitable roads, are directed in this chanting to execute Jesus by the pastors who led their services every Saturday, the most revered of them all.
It’s worth asking, would you and I have joined in the chant?
Would we have celebrated the public lynching of the innocent?
Many of my white relatives must have done just that in the deep South, where thousands of black men were hung in the eaves of trees and beaten until they resembled the pulp of a juiced orange.
We today, in our contemporary and enlightened context, share the same minds and motivations as the crowd that splayed the body of Christ. It is chronological arrogance and delusion to suppose we’d do differently.
So then, how do we reckon with ourselves and our neighbors, both the oppressed and the oppressors?
This is where I’ve found the psychology of crowds—the so-called “mob mentality”—to act as a helpful matrix in answering this question.
We used to believe crowds became a singular mind, like an amoeba absorbing cells. We believed that individuals lost themselves in the flow of bodies. We believed we were both not responsible for our actions in a crowd and entirely responsible as a collective group.
Yet in recent years, social scientists have amended this idea. The idea of a “mob mentality”—that impulsively incites violence or loses control within the throb of a group—is outdated.
Yes, crowds could act like that. But in every case, individuals still have the ability to assert their own goals and aims. Individuals can push against the crush and do what is right.
As one social scientist has put it, “Crowds do not act with one irrational mind. There are many groups, doing different things, for different reasons. That is crucial to understanding how they ultimately behave.”
While we have seen that a crowd can turn to a mob in an instant, we also understand that a well-organized crowd, one with a goal, can allow room for individual action and unique aims. (For more on the “mob mentality” read this excellent NYT piece.)
This gives me great hope.
While we in the West undermine collectivist thinking at every turn, the upside of our individualism is a clear sense that we may end up as the lone truth-telling voice.
We alone can split the tide.
(Individualism, of course, arrives with its own problems which are far too numerous to elaborate here.)
God is not only collectivist or an individualist, and God interacts with both crowds and individuals throughout the scriptural story.
So you and I can walk a unique path, beckoned by the voice of God, as did so many civil rights luminaries and prophets before us.
We can walk in justice, in truth, in beauty and empathy and care and curiosity. We can refuse to run and hide when the tide turns. We can sacrifice our own safety to stand for the righteous.
In the history of Christianity, we have countless martyrs who have modeled this way of the lowly. Each one of these executed servants were following their Lord, who himself faced the crowd that hated and condemned him and still asked God to forgive them even as they put him to death.
Christ’s goal was peace, the ultimate peace between humanity and God that could only come when Godself died to bridge the divide between the created and the Creator.
I do not presume to understand this fully, nor am I an ideal model for you.
But I am urging myself and you to seek peace at any cost. And I hate to be the one to bring it up, but the cost of peace may be your life.
Are you willing to offer yourself, as Christ did?
Thanks for reading. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
P.S. More deconstruction stories to come… just catching my breath during this holy week. ;-)
An announcement: I’m a Webby Award Nominee
I’m really humbled to tell you I’ve been nominated for a Webby Award this year.
I’ve been picked as one of the TOP FIVE in all the internet of indie email newsletters.
For a lady whose memoir was rejected ~100 times in two years, this is a shock and a boon.
To give you a sense of scale, Quest Love, Nike, and any other brand or celebrity you’ve heard of has also been nominated in various categories (that are admittedly MORE COMPETITIVE than mine is). Regardless, I’m feeling truly floored and honored.
So: If you like this email, would you vote for me? (Voting closes next Thursday, April 21.)
I’d also be really honored if you shared this news with any of your social media followers as well!
Thanks for your continued support, friends. It goes without saying that I wouldn’t be doing this if I had no readers (I’m too vain, I guess?), so I’m feeling tearful and grateful for you. THANK YOU.
Lauren Handy has received both ire and support from both sides of the aisle. She’s politically left on all social issues except for abortion, and on the cause of saving babies, she’s all in.
Most days, you can find her protesting and counseling women outside of abortion clinics. She’s raised money for individuals to keep their babies and she’s offered them a place to live in her own D.C. apartment, which has turned into a sort of impromptu halfway house.
Lately, she’s in hot water for stealing a box of medical waste from an abortion clinic in D.C.—which, when opened, she, her fellow protesters, and a priest found it was full of fetal corpses.
Read this interview about a wild catholic activist. It’s a bit graphic, and I don’t agree with her methods, but she reminds me of one of those voices in the desert whose vivid antics were inspired by a wild God. What do you think?
If Jesus were a professor today, these would be the negative teacher evaluations he’d receive. ;-)
“I wanted to like this class, but on the first day, he submerged us in a river instead of going over the syllabus, and that was kind of a lot.”
“Definitely plays favorites. Calls on the same twelve guys over and over. I even heard he took them out to dinner.”
“Not what I expected. They say his area of specialty is carpentry, but we never built anything.”
—McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
I’m crazy about the Apple TV+ show, Severance, whose first season just wrapped (it’s a great time to binge!)—and my designer husband was taken by its set design.
Half the show takes place in a bland, mid-century style cubicled warehouse office space, and the way the show has designed objects and furniture and interiors has a way of making the show feel ubiquitous, stylish, and unsettling at the same time. It’s just a delight (terror?), from start to finish. Read all about the design here…
How are Ukrainian children experiencing the war with Russia?
“To understand how some of these children are experiencing the war, The Washington Post asked young refugees at the train station in Przemysl, Poland — near the Ukraine border — to draw what stood out about the past weeks.”
This one was tough to read, as my kids are ages 7 and 9, the same ages as many of these refugees (ages 7-13).
An ode to an early spring treat from the vegetable garden: mint.
“You can smell it before you spot it, one of the first fragrant greetings of spring. Even if it looks like the stems have turned black and the leaves are brown and crispy during the dreary winter months, it’s one of the hardiest herbs in the country—its kelly green, aromatic leaves unfurl and sprout year after year. It’s known as the herb of hospitality, perfect for a friend with the blackest of thumbs. The roots are called “runners” for a reason—the stolons, their square and horizontal stems, are easy and eager to spread. Once you invite mint into your garden, it simply won’t leave.”
Just for fun…
Okay, this is neither funny nor fun. Instead, it’s a gorgeous contemplative film about learning kindness, based on Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem. It’s passion week, so, I think I have a pass?