Beware All Destructive
Group Dynamics
Terrorists, militias, cults
share common themes
by John Goldhammer
author of Under the Influence:
The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics
published by Prometheus Books

The Oregonian, Friday, May 31, 1996

What do Bosnia, the World Trade Center bombing, the Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh, terrorists, the Holocaust, David Koresh, the Montana Freemen, Philip Morris, street gangs and militia groups have in common? They all have clear ties to a particular group ideology.

We seem to be immersed in Yeat's world: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."

How do organizations -- political, religious, racial and business -- influence individuals to commit irresponsible acts and in some instances deadly acts they would never consider doing as individuals? What dark dynamic turns normally "good" people into conscienceless killing machines?

In simplistic terms it works like this: Find a group, surrender to the leader or ideology and replace your mind with group-think. We don't have to belong to a particular group to come under its influence; we need only submit to their ideology and make it into unassailable dogma.

Had authorities understood the lethal role of destructive group dynamics in the Branch Davidians' self immolations, there might have been a very different outcome. Absolutist groups require outside enemies, often rationalizing horrendous evil as justifiable for their cause. In many terrorist groups, dying for their mission becomes an ultimate spiritual experience -- entrance into heaven or paradise.

It appears that the Unabomber was caught in a hypnotic form of group-think -- ideological identification with the Luddite anti-technology mind set. It's not the Unabomber's mind, but the implanted group ideology in the Unabomber's mind that turns an admittedly eccentric Ted Kazcynski into a predictable assassin.

Similarly, Timothy McVeigh's ideological connection to radical militia groups entrapped him in that movement's conscience-numbing holy war against their designated enemy, the government.

Certainly we can understand some complaints of militia groups. Every April 15, I entertain some dark thoughts about the IRS. And who of us isn't frustrated with endless political maneuverings, shenanigans and government waste. But demonizing the entire government reveals a savage form of group-think: "The government" becomes a group label blindly condemning all those in it, whether the local sheriff of the FBI.

A group gone bad requires dedicated, willing members who surrender independent thinking and their lives for an idealistic-sounding mission. Conscience, integrity and a sense of self-responsibility are the first things we lose in destructive organizations. Because group-directed thinking and feeling are much less of a strain than individual critical thinking and effort, the overwhelming temptation to allow the group mind to displace individual thinking is ever-present.

What exactly does this group dark side look like? To begin with, a group turns destructive the instant it becomes more important than the individual. Destructive groups share many of these common characteristics:

In contrast to destructive groups, healthy groups use struggle and tensions as a basis for positive change, innovation and greater cooperation -- a both-and approach instead of an authoritarian either-or approach.

We urgently need to become more aware of destructive groups dynamics and their awesome capacity to compromise one's integrity and sense of right-and-wrong. Equally important, we need to understand how to create healthy groups that support individual integrity, innovation, freedom, greater tolerance and understanding.

It may well be that we are condemned to repeat the past -- until we come to grips with the crucial necessity to educate ourselves about the often fatal effects of destructive group dynamics.

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Josh McDowell's Charade
by Gordon Stein, Ph.D

Josh McDowell is one of the most popular writers that fundamentalist Christianity has. He is also one of the least trustworthy. Almost nothing he says in his books (e.g., Evidence That Demands a Verdict) has been researched at more than the most superficial of levels. Perhaps it is that very sloppiness that makes his books popular with lazy students who don't want to be confused with a lot of facts. They want simple answers, even when there aren't any.

McDowell has produced a leaflet called A Skeptic's Quest, which ought to alarm all real skeptics. In it, he tells how he became a Christian. His story may be typical of how a person becomes a fundamentalist Christian. Especially interesting is how little real scholarship or investigation is required. If his conversion is typical, then we can learn a lot from it.

It seems that McDowell was a self-proclaimed "skeptic" during his undergraduate days. He became impressed with a small group of students whose lives seemed to have purpose. Those students were, of course, fundamentalist Christians. Obviously, what the purpose of their lives was, that McDowell didn't have in his life, didn't seem to matter much to him. Any purpose seemingly would do. He interacted with the students and was given the challenge "to examine intellectually who Jesus Christ was." Of course, if he had tried honestly to do this, he would have come up dry, because outside of the New Testament itself, nothing is known of Jesus Christ.

The way in which McDowell came up with exactly the opposite conclusion, namely that belief in Jesus was intellectually correct, is interesting. It shows how faulty reasoning can easily lead one astray. McDowell decided that to disprove the intellectual validity of Jesus be had to (1) demonstrate that the New Testament was not historically reliable, and (2) since everything in Christianity was based upon Jesus' resurrection, all he had to do was prove that the resurrection never took place. Of course, the fact that it is logically impossible to prove that an event never took place didn't bother McDowell. He came to the incredible conclusion (on the basis of a faulty examination of the faulty evidence) that "the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best established events in history, according to the laws of legal evidence." The fact that none of the "evidence" could have been admitted into a current American court under any of the ordinary rules of evidence seems not to bother McDowell.

To establish the first point above (upon which the second point depends), McDowell says he relied upon three basic tests: (1) the bibliographic test (he says this evaluates how many manuscripts you have, but this is really only one part of that test), (2) the internal evidence test, and (3) the external evidence test. Let us take each of these in turn.

The bibliographic test for a manuscript in reality is (1) can we trace the manuscript back to the original in an unbroken chain?, (2) how many copies of the manuscript are there?, (3) how closely do the copies agree?, and (4) do we have any (or all) of the manuscript in the handwriting of the purported author? In reality, the New Testament flunks badly tests number 1 and 4. We have a 300+ year gap between the first entire Gospel manuscript and the time at which it was supposed to have been written. In addition, we have no manuscript in the handwriting of the purported author. In fact, we don't even know who the authors of the Gospels were. Remember, it's the Gospel according to Mark, Luke, Matthew, or John. This means that it's only an attribution, but not an established fact that anyone named that actually wrote a word of any Gospel.

McDowell seems incapable of reasoning. He claims that there are 14,000 or 26,000 manuscripts of the New Testament. So what? What we need is not thousands of manuscripts from the Middle Ages (which is when most of these were written), but two or three from the exact time that Jesus supposedly lived and died. We have none until at least 40 to 60 years later (that is none was written down until then, but things remained in an oral tradition form), and we have no copies of any Gospel until the Codex Sianaticus of C.E. 350, more than 300 years later.

Next, we must realize that because of both the unknown authors, the 40 to 60 year gap, and the 300 year gap to a complete Gospel text, we do not have reliable eyewitness testimony in the Gospels. Once you realize this, any attempt to document the life of Jesus or his purported resurrection (the Gospel accounts, in addition, conflict with each other), as reliable history becomes impossible. McDowell has committed an intellectual travesty by claiming the evidence is overwhelming (it is overwhelmingly negative for the resurrection of Jesus). Worse, McDowell has passed off this travesty upon unsuspecting college students, who don't know enough to see through his inadequacies as a scholar. When a group is as intellectually bankrupt as the fundamentalists seem to be (which of them has denounced McDowell for his inadequacies?), then we know that what they are pushing as their beliefs are unjustified.

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Pope John Paul II
declares evolution
"more than hypothesis"
by Mark O'Keefe of The Oregonian staff

The pontiff's shift, though slight, further widens
the gulf between Catholics and evangelicals

October 26, 1996

In an attempt to reconcile religion and science, Pope John Paul II has declared that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, vexing to many Christians, is "more than just a hypothesis."

The pope made the statement in a written message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which is meeting this week in Rome. In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed that evolution was a "serious hypothesis."

The declaration by John Paul II is a slight, but potentially significant shift for Roman Catholicism, the largest religious denomination in the world and in Oregon. It also widens the divide between Catholics and evangelical Christians, who generally regard evolution as incompatible with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

From the Scopes trial of 1925 to modern attempts to teach creationism in public schools, the question of how, when and why humans and animals began has captivated the American public. The question has separated the scientific community from those who point to the biblical account that God created the world in six days and that humankind started with Adam and Eve.

"On the one hand, it's not really anything new in the fact that it follows up on what was said by Pius XII," said the Rev. Michael Hosinski, chairman of the department of theology at the University of Portland and an expert on religion and science. "But it's encouraging to have him say it.

"What he is saying, in essence, is that Roman Catholics don't have to be creationists. I think that's timely in light of all the attention that topic has gotten in this country."

Most of the nation's scientists believe that life on Earth is the result of billions of years of evolution, an unsupervised, unpredictable process of natural development. But some scientists believe there are gaps in the scientific record that leave evolution more theory than fact, and those who believe in creationism say life on Earth is not the result of the evolution of the species over time but of the design of a transcendent personal Creator.

Most creationists also believe that the Earth is not billions of years old, but thousands, as inferred from the Bible.

The pope's remarks are less likely to have an impact on Catholic schools, which generally teach both the science of evolution and the belief that the human soul is the result of divine design, than on public schools, where the teaching of evolution, rather than a subject settled long ago, remains a subject of enormous public debate.

In the United States, some evangelicals led by literal-minded fundamentalists, have succeeded in getting a few school districts to reconsider teaching creationism. In Tennessee, a bill that would have banned teaching evolution as fact was narrowly defeated in the state legislature only this year, 71 years after Tennessee teacher John Scopes was tried for teaching the then-heretical notion of evolution in his class.

Scopes won, not only in court [sic], but in the court of public opinion. Many religious historians say the case caused evangelicals to retreat into a subculture that separated them from a world hostile to their beliefs. Only recently have biblical literalists re-emerged in society to say that their views are as valid as a scientific or secular approach.

The Rev. Dennis Swift, the pastor at Beaverton Church of the Nazarene has conducted annual conferences since 1986 for Creation Science Ministries of Oregon. During that time, he estimates that more than 50,000 have participated.

"The process of evolution would make God cruel," said Swift, who has a doctorate in theology. "He would somehow be the author of evil. Evolution is a wasteful and cruel theory of destroying many, many things to make a more perfect thing.

"Science and religion should dialogue. But why is it always that Scripture is subordinate to science?"

In his statement, written in French, the pontiff said, "Today, more than a half-century after this encyclical, new knowledge leads us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis. The convergence, neither sought nor induced, of results of work done independently of one from the other, constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory."

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Some offerings for
Southern Baptist leaders
by Steve Blow
The Dallas Morning News

June 26, 1998

Memo To: Southern Baptist Leadership.
From: A Proud Baptist.
Subject: A Modest Proposal.

First, let me offer my congratulations on another fine convention. Once again, the whole country is talking about the wisdom of Southern Baptists.

Directing women to be submissive was brilliant -- and long overdue.

To be honest, I didn't think you could ever match the masterful Disney boycott of two years back. But, by golly, you came close by proclaiming the inferior status of women.

As a follow-up on that issue, we ought to stress that women are responsible for all sin in the world (I Timothy 2:12). And they really need to keep quiet in church, saving questions for their husbands at home (I Corinthians 14:34).

Thanks to your leadership, we Baptists are on quite a roll. And that brings me to my reason for writing.

Before you know it, next year's convention will be here. We should be ready with another great Bible-based truth to proclaim.

We must not nap and allow the "modern interpretation" folks to put their dangerous spin on our scriptures.

So, here's my modest proposal for next year's convention: child sacrifice.

Remembering our children

I hope it's not too prideful on my part to imagine the big smile spreading across your faces right now. You're thinking: Of course!

Now that we have put homosexuals and women in their place, it is only natural that we turn our attention to children.

As everyone knows, children are out of control these days. But how different things would be if they understood their precious Biblical role as burnt offerings.

Of course, we all know the famous story in Genesis 22 of how Abraham stood ready to sacrifice Isaac, just as God had instructed. But I'm afraid we have dwelled too much on the happy ending -- the last-minute reprieve, the ram in the thicket and all that.

When we read this story to children, we need to focus on how Abraham stacked up a good pile of firewood, how he tied up his boy and placed him on top of the waiting bonfire, how he pulled out his knife and prepared to plunge it into his son ...

Oh, what a vivid picture for our children to contemplate!

Just imagine how obedient children will become when parents occasionally cock their ears toward heaven, listening for God's instruction to turn them into holy toast.

One little "What was that, God?" ought to get those bedrooms picked up and the trash taken out in a hurry!

Straight from the Bible

Let me suggest that we focus in Sunday school on another Bible story that doesn't get discussed much -- the story of Jephthah in the 11th chapter of Judges.

As this leader of Israel prepared to go into battle, he made a vow to God: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

Of course Jephthah whipped those Ammonites like nobody's business. And we read: "When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines!"

She was so happy to see her daddy!

But of course, Jephthah wasn't happy to see his only child. "When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, 'Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.' "

Well, children were better in those days, and the daughter said she understood completely. "But grant me this one request," she said to her father. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry."

And the Bible tells us, "After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed."

Sad, isn't it? But there it is, straight from the Holy Bible, so I see no room for anyone to disagree.

Well, once again, bless you in your efforts to reduce our Bible to a plain and simple rule book.

It's so much easier than having to read and pray and think.

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