- Published on Sunday, 14 November 2010 06:01
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2655
Humans like to follow the crowd. This is especially true for the young and easily influenced. Just ask any teenager about anything and you’ll find that they care mostly about what their peers are thinking. Peer influence is what governs their thinking. But even adults don’t want to stand out as being different – fashion is one example of this but it also shows in the momentum of public opinion on many things. So when young people or even adults see that “everyone” is religious and “everyone” believes in a god and the supernatural, then they will go along without even questioning. Fortunately, there are some who do think for themselves – or rather, they see religion to be one of those things that they should decide for themselves. But large numbers simply follow the crowd.
This is not a new thing – people have been following the crowd for millennia. They are like sheep (think “Good Shepherd”!) I am reminded of a time in Australia’s outback. I was driving along a country road with no fences but which had large flocks of sheep. Ahead on the right was a flock of sheep off the road. On the left of the road ahead were a couple of strays – leaders? As I approached they all panicked. The ones on the left went away from the road, further left – but the ones on the right followed them across the road right in front of the approaching danger! Stupid – but what do you expect of sheep – especially the followers. No sheep were hurt but not because they were being smart.
But you have to ask the question: if no-one thinks for themselves, how did any innovation occur? The answer is that enough did think for themselves and enough did not follow the crowd that new ideas were put forth and after considerable “selling”, others accepted the new idea. People with the new ideas are our leaders – they lead science, politics, arts, business – but they are a minority. In history, Luther was one person who thought for himself, another was Galileo. Both are remembered for changing the course of human development.
Countering the leaders, we have those who fight change – like most popes (one exception was John XXIII) and like most religious leaders. You have to expect that since they use as their reference point “holy books” from 1300 & 2000 years ago. There are also others who are against change - e.g. many “conservatives”. The only way to achieve progress is to have the conservatives follow the crowd (who follow the leaders). Don’t expect leadership from a conservative. (Side note: I am not talking Conservatives – the political party - although many members are also conservatives – I am talking about individuals who resist change for the sake of keeping things as they “always have been”).
“Following the crowd” has its advantages – there is less discord if everyone is “on the same page”. Astute leaders understand this and know that once they convince some in the crowd to follow them, the others will follow.
What does this mean in the battle to convince the world to abandon their irrational religious beliefs? First, recognise that many religious leaders are already exploiting the “follow the crowd” characteristic with their large churches, their rousing sermons to urge their followers on and their use of existing popular fads in music. But secondly, once a few rational leaders manage to get their message across (think Hitchens, Dawkins etc), then the crowd will start to switch “allegiance”. They will choose a different crowd to follow. I see signs of this with the very prevalent current attitude in the west (except the U.S) that religion does not matter. We just need more leaders to show that it does matter and that it’s a bad thing. Remember, you may have a great new idea that is 100% useful and correct – but if you don’t sell it, it’s lost. To be a leader you must not only have a good new idea, you must be able to sell it to the crowd.