Cows like to turn their backs to the wind. At least, all the cows I know do. Slowly, awkwardly, eventually, all that beef will run parallel to the breeze.
People aren't too different. We align ourselves safely into herds, comforted by the hot breath of others breaking on the backs of our necks and ears. Then we huff and we puff and we blow at the fools turned in the wrong direction.
Is there anything more compelling to us than the heavy synchronized breathing of a mob, especially when combined with cocked eyebrows of disdain and curled lips of disgust? This is the zeitgeist, inside the church and out, and it will judge you until you conform and commune. This is cool-shaming, and it will make you squirm and itch to turn your back to the wind, to stand with all the other cows.
The trendsetters and vision-casters in a herd start the movement, motivated by profit or power or personal gain, as well as genuine striving for holiness and righteousness. They target their breath, their words, their media, and their coolness accordingly.
But for the rest of us, the single greatest factor in our decision-making is simple compliance. We turn with the crowd because we want the awkwardness to stop. We want them all to stop looking at us like that. We want to feel the wind of opinion at our backs.
How did otherwise intelligent people go along with the Third Reich, the invasion of Poland, the extermination of Jews? We may assume they were evil, brainwashed, or a bit of both, and in part we're right. But when was the last time you hedged on an opinion because of the hot breathing of those around you? When did you last choose your words based more on the politics of a situation than on truth?
The power of the zeitgeist helped propel the agonies of race-based slavery, and the zeitgeist threw it away in a bloodbath. The zeitgeist gave us institutional racism, and when enough shame had been applied, the zeitgeist (at least officially) struck it down. The zeitgeist set the Medes and the Persians praying to Darius, and threw Daniel in the lions' den (Dan. 6). The zeitgeist can kick up the fervor of ungodly war, and it can hang its head in cowardice when a true challenge comes.
The zeitgeist is a fickle master, because the zeitgeist is us.
It's no wonder that one of the first tasks of any prophet was to make himself shameful. John the Baptist wore camel hair and ate insects. Isaiah had to walk around naked for years. Ezekiel had to cook his food over dung. Elijah ate only food carried by ravens—nasty carrion birds. The first thing God told Hosea to do was to marry a whore.
Prophets must be fearless, immune to the pressures of kings and crowds, aligned only with the breath of God.
We are in need of prophets now. Christians are scattered, but the world's wind is heavy and unified.
Truth and ultimate glory may be in the hands of our Maker, but the keys of earthly shame are in the hands of the mob. Prophets must be immune to floggings on Facebook and Twitter. They must be fearless before friends and tenure committees and stadiums filled with the priests of Baal. The cool-shaming can have no sting. The world is busy applying pressure on "social issues," and Christians are busy caving left and right, trying to accept fresh cultural dogma simply so that they might be accepted.
Many of us would rather be in compliance with the crowd of now than successfully image the loves and hates of our Father. But his breath rolls the North Sea and props up mountains. His words ripen fields of grain and infants still hidden in wombs' warmth. May we run parallel to his breeze alone.
All of our positions—especially in controversy—should flow from honest exegesis, not from the mood at the local coffee shop. And we could all benefit from some shame. When the hot pressure comes, we need to be immune. If God wants it, we should be ready to wear camel hair while cooking locusts and raven scraps over a dung fire in the lions' den after our marriage to a whore.
Shame is easy to find. All we have to do is stop hiding. We already have seriously uncool friends. Moses. Paul. Christ himself. Enjoy them. Like them. In public. Offend the zeitgeist. Become immune.
When we turn, we must turn for Truth, never for the mob—not when it's running to the revival tents, and not when it's running to the guillotines.
N. D. Wilson is a best-selling author, observer of ants, and easily distracted father of five. His latest book is Death by Living.
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