My roommate can quote lines verbatim from a wide range of movies, though usually greatly acclaimed ones. Sometimes I wonder if he either watches re-runs all the time, has great retention ability, or just has a large range of favorite movies. Regardless of which, if not all, is the explanation for his semi-recitation prowess, I do know that The Shawshank Redemption is arguably his favorite movie.
I suspect his adoration for this theatrical masterpiece is due to the vivid themes of truth, justice, and in particular, friendship. The importance of the other’s presence or of belonging becomes even more lucid when the greatest punishment depicted is not physical pain but solitary confinement. We all have a desire, no, a need to belong to some grouping. As much as America values individualism and self-expression, no one lives in a vacuum. But on the flip side of the same coin, history has all to well taught us that too much weight on communal identity can kill. The second World War truly puts a dangerous connotation on the phrase, “mob mentality”.
Carl Trueman writes, “The Crowd is Untruth“, an interesting piece discussing the current shift of Christian identity towards the communal more than the individual (Based on Soren Kierkegaard’s article of the same name). He rightly claims that the “Fear of the leader, fear of the pack, fear of not belonging, can make people do strange things.” He comically includes among the list of “strange things”, the act of applauding at the end of a Justin Bieber concert. But in the irony-filled critical piece, Trueman reaches a penetrating and frightful question for the Christian and the Church:
How much do we truly believe for ourselves and how much do we believe because some great figure, some leader in our chosen community, believes? Or because we just happen to belong to a church where everybody believes the same?
Innocuous at first glance, the gravity of these question can be felt in the context of his comment, “We may talk about truth rather than authenticity – and rightly so – but when belief in that truth becomes merely a function of being part of the crowd, then we too have failed to be truthful individuals.” It is the resurfacing of the often asked question: How different is our private life versus our public life? And if different, why do I really “believe” what I say I believe?
These questions got me further pondering. In my growing interest of North Korean affairs especially in light of the Cheonan sinking, the North Korean live broadcast of the World Cup 0-7 defeat against Portugal, and the viewing of the documentary Inside North Korea, the question arose: why is it that North Koreans have faith in Kim Jong-Il the WAY they do? The events of the documentary seem far too bizarre for it to give way to a simplistic diagnosis of mob mentality. Is it the fear of death, punishment, not belonging? Or maybe all of the above? In my amateur observation, the North Koreans’ faith in their Dear Leader seem authentic, sometimes far more than the faith of the average American Christian in Jesus. The situation in North Korea, from the psychology and sociology, is fascinating. But queries of fascination only amount to the seriousness of safely contained science experiments. This question of North Korean psychology is more than that. It is a question of reality, one that the Church must seriously think upon to prepare themselves now for when the borders of the Hermit Kingdom become easier to traverse.