Why do you believe what you believe? Why do you behave the way you behave? Peer pressure has a dramatic impact on social conformity. Human beings are quite susceptible to “group behavior,” and have an almost overwhelming desire to imitate the group they are a part of without even questioning why. As I watched the above video this week, I was reminded through this demonstration of the great power of conformity. A young woman is in a waiting room full of strangers who all stand up when a beep sounds – she participates in the behavior after the third beep. She does not know the others in the room were instructed to perform this action beforehand. She has no idea why everyone around her stands at the beep and doesn’t even ask why. She just feels the need to conform. One by one the others are called out of the room, until she is the only one left, but when the beep sounds, even though alone, she still stands up. New people begin arriving, who know nothing of what has been happening. Soon they are all rising at the sound of the beep! No one knows why they should stand, but they conform to the group. They were all manipulated. The first person was intentionally manipulated to create a certain behavior – the rest conformed only because she gave unquestioning obedience to the beep.
Peer pressure conformity is not always a bad thing. Moral and ethical behavior is often taught and reinforced in this way. However, our minds should be involved in the process as well. When Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Matt. 22:37) He gave us the responsibility to make rational decisions in how we live our lives, which precludes a mindless unquestioning conformity.
I also came across an article titled, “Beware of Kafkatrapping” by Wendy McElroy. According to Wikipedia, “Wendy McElroy (born 1951) is a Canadian individualist anarchist and individualist feminist.” I’m certainly not putting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on everything she might believe and promote, but on this topic she has some very important things to say. Okay, for those who are baffled about what Kafkatrapping might be she writes:
Kafkatrapping twists reason and truth into self-parodies that serve victimhood ideologues who wish to avoid the evidence and reasoned arguments upon which truth rests.
It is a term coined by Eric S. Raymond about a book by Frank Kafka titled, The Trial, about manipulation and forced conformity under totalitarian rule. Raymond gives examples of how this forced conformity works out in real life. Kafkatrapping is a way of manipulating others through the use of false, vague and general accusations, and then demanding a confession of your personal guilt, using peer pressure to reinforce their demands.
The term “kafkatrapping” describes a logical fallacy that is popular within gender feminism, racial politics and other ideologies of victimhood. It occurs when you are accused of a thought crime such as sexism, racism or homophobia. You respond with an honest denial, which is then used as further confirmation of your guilt. You are now trapped in a circular and unfalsifiable argument; no one who is accused can be innocent because the structure of kafkatrapping precludes that possibility.
Once accused, there can be no denial, no reasoning with the judges, and no overturning the verdict. YOU ARE GUILTY. Just admit it – stand up at the beep – and you’ll be “set free” from your “sin.” You can then go forth and accuse others.
This sort of manipulation is not new, of course. Frank Kafka observed it and crafted a novel to expose the tactics to those who would read it. Eric Raymond gave it a name and explained the mechanics of how it works. But how does this impact you and me in our day to day lives? There is today a great push to conform – not only in culture but in the church – to accept, validate and embrace behaviors and ideas which are antithetical to sound biblical teaching. Willow Creek Community Church, one of the largest Evangelical churches in the nation, with great influence on a great number of other Evangelical churches, seems these days to be rather uncertain if homosexual behavior is a sin. Emergent leader Brian McLaren has decided homosexual behavior is definitely not a sin. In his opinion, if Christianity is to survive, we Christians must change our morality, adapt and conform to some nebulous undefined embracing of “whatever,” and call it “spiritual.”
Scripture is not opposed to conforming, per se, and in fact, urges Christians to be conformed to the image of Christ. Yet we are warned to use our minds to carefully discern what it is we should be conformed to:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
The Apostle Peter makes a similar statement:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct… (1 Pet. 1:13-15)
Notice his line of thinking: “preparing your minds for action” and “being sober-minded” precedes “do not be conformed.” We are to be living holy lives, not lives of conformity to society. We can count on the fact that we will be pressured to conform to society’s popular dictates, and there will likely be negative consequences as we resist “kafkatrapping:”
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil…(1 Pet. 3:14-16)
Our present situation is not new. The First Century believers had similar struggles, demands to conform and, yes, were subjected to “kafkatrapping.” There is a very good article in First Things titled “Trouble in Bakersfield” by Carl R. Trueman, giving real life examples of these tactics and how to respond. One of them has to do with his son:
A few years ago my oldest son was running track for an Ivy League school. One of the team came out as a lesbian and it was decided that all athletes should wear a rainbow armband in support. My son did not want to comply but also did not wish to cause unnecessary offense to his friends and so he called me and asked what argument he should make against the idea. I told him to say that, as one of America’s greatest virtues was its freedom, he should tell his teammates that he absolutely respected their right to wear the armband in solidarity with their friend. They were free to do so and he rejoiced to live in a nation where they could do so. But by the same token, they should respect his right not to wear the armband in accordance with his personal religious convictions. That’s a good argument, I said, and I told him he should make it modestly and politely and then simply not wear the band without drawing any great attention to his act. But I also advised him that it would not be greeted with approval because the issue was not really about the freedom to be tolerant and diverse, whatever the rhetoric. It was about the intolerant political demand that all should be the same. Sure enough, he was decried as a bigot and homophobe.
Notice there was a cultural pressure on his son to reject his beliefs and conform to affirming behavior which conflicted with his moral values. He affirmed their right as a group to unite but they refused to respect his right to abstain. He was “Kafkatrapped!” His non-conformance and refusal to be manipulated was itself used as evidence that he is “a bigot and homophobe.” Some, perhaps many, will cry, “It isn’t fair!” and they would be right, but that isn’t really the point. The Scriptures assume life won’t be fair. Peter assumes we will be “slandered” and reviled and points out that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” Indeed.
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Outstanding article! Yeah we watch Brain Games also, fairly amazing stuff. Kafka trapping Is much like The Kobayashi Maru in Star Trek… It also is The no-win scenario.
“Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”
I’m very convicted by this teaching from the Beatitudes (that I know by heart because I sing it every Sunday in my church’s liturgy). I most times struggle to remain patient and civil just when I encounter a minor misunderstanding from a family member or friend! Hearing about the real persecution some believers undergo on account of their faith is sobering and inspiring because of the miracles of grace God works on their behalf, without which they would have been utterly destroyed. May God grant us all grace to glorify Him, regardless of the cost, when our moment of temptation comes. You have pointed out one great point of temptation in Evangelical culture today. The Resurrection is our guarantee of victory through Christ in the midst of life’s Kafka traps and “Kobayashi Maru” scenarios (yeah, fellow “Trekkie” here!), but like with Christ’s victory, we only triumph by being willing to die first (though in this culture it may only be a social or professional death)–at least we will not have to go through that valley alone.