It is part of human nature to follow the herd in most of our decisions. Wether buying a cell phone, or expressing social media opinions or theology — it’s simpler to follow those we have relationships with than research every point. Most of the time, that is a rational shortcut to decisions — so long as we choose who we follow on a particular issue wisely.
As Christians, the herd of the world (e.g., mainstream media) is dangerous. Thus, Christians tend to opt for Christian schools, Christian TV, Christian social media, Christian blogs, political activist groups — all expressions of the herd, which protect us from being led astray. But the leaders of those groups are also following herds — because it’s just too time-consuming and complicated to research everything yourself. And to shortcut they often follow Conservatives, Classical liberals, Libertarians, fringe Christian groups and populist politicians — people who share our beliefs on many things if not the whole Bible. In doing so, we risk being misled not by the mainstream world but by its smaller alternatives.
There is an Anti-herd fraternity that believes in opting out of the mainstream world: often including solar panels, homeschooling, grow your own vegetables, natural medicine, arms to defend yourself, private schooling, niche newsletters. Nothing wrong with this but it is a herd — and that herd has tended to react to COVID-19 rejecting all public health advice and opting for fringe medical advice: e.g., avoid vaccination, don’t wear masks, use unproven remedies, ignore social distancing guidelines, follow conspiracy theories. As a result, much of the Christian community has been sucked into that web.
And it’s generally the more zealous Christians most interested in protecting themselves from the world who are following it. These zealous Christians get to the point of getting furious with other Christians who are not following the anti-herd on COVID-19. It is rarely productive to get into arguments with individuals in the anti-herd. But if you are a leader with some credibility and a sphere of influence, try to do more than simply choose between the herd and the anti-herd — and lead people in a wise direction.
An often repeated meme of the anti-herd is
do your own research
However, people in this group tend to muddle research with reading nonsense from the anti-herd. Yet things are not that simple. To complicate matters, real research does involve a degree of following a herd. For example, no scientist or theologian has time to research every point, so he/she needs to rely on others they trust and the research they’ve done. Despite this, he/she makes use of an internal algorithm for credibility to know whom to listen to depending on the issue at hand. That is where, ironically, less inquisitive people are sometimes wiser in choosing whose advice to follow than more inquisitive operating outside their field.
The research that has been done in the past year on COVID-19 alone would be enough for thousands of PhD theses. Even the smartest scientist cannot do more than read the papers in his/her own narrow field, then abstracts a bit wider and references them going further. It boils down then to whom you trust — and your choice of herd. No human being can process all this data. The brightest scientist is not thinking out every issue for himself — he just has a more sophisticated system to discern whom to believe and follow — based on fast thinking algorithms.
The same with theology. You pick a pastor you can trust. You check some points against the Bible, to see his on track. Your pastor trusts his seminary professors, other key pastors and the commentary authors he consults. You align with certain statements of faith — which you probably couldn’t have composed yourself. This is just a sophisticated version of choosing which herd to follow.
Given how easily Christians have been deceived, I have to question now whether many of these people’s support, for example for the pro-life cause, is based on the Bible — or whether it’s just based on following the anti-herd? And then even when they do quote the Bible, whether their interpretations are based on actual understanding of the text or just how their Christian herd interprets it. It’s a depressing thought, but we have to face it.
Are you following the herd or the anti-herd? We can be misled by both. Sometimes we have to stop, think and evaluate where the herd has come from and where it is going.