systems and souls

systems and souls August 2, 2011

bored game

Ordinary people, even good ones, can be seduced, recruited, initiated into behaving in evil ways under the sway of powerful systemic and situational forces. (Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect)

As Philip Zimbardo wrote in his gripping book, The Lucifer Effect, individuals must be held responsible for their bad deeds, but that many times the systems the individuals operate within may receive the burden of responsibility.

Remember that it is not only individuals that stand on the last day, but nations.

Like many people, I have experienced some pretty disturbing things within the church at the hands of those within it. Sometimes the people themselves can be held completely accountable. At other times, the system itself fostered that kind of behavior. I can see how they were victims of the system just as much as I.

It’s a vicious circle. People form a group which requires leaders which turns into a system which takes over seduces the leaders and members into sometimes very dehumanizing behavior which perpetuates the power and authority of that system.

It is naive to think that we can leave an institution and form a new group without institutionalizing or systematizing. We’ve all heard stories of even some of the most radical house church experiments experiencing the same effects as traditional churches. For me it is just a matter of style. We’re tweaking the fashion. That’s all. What matters is who’s wearing the clothes. And that never changes.

It is crucial to admit this and work from there to create wise communities that understand the subtleties of power and diligently endeavor to maintain a community free of its dehumanizing effects.

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  • Fred

    If a system or institution bears the burden of responsibility for bad deeds, does that exonerate the individual within the system?

  • Where’s the +1 button? This is totally deserving of a +1!

  • Pat Pope

    I recently left a churc and someone asked me why I left and then said, “I tend to keep a blind eye on “political” things”. While I understand where she was coming from, part of me felt like saying, “that’s the problem–too many people have a blind to the politics”. On one hand, I feel things could be better if more people paid attention to the politics and did something about it, but on the other hand, I understand people’s aversion to it and desire to not get involved. Unfortunately, it allows too many people like myself to get hurt and the old system to just keep rolling along.

  • I wonder if that is why James (3:1) says that those who teach will receive a stricter judgment.

  • Can you be more specific? How exactly is the power which leaders in a toxic church wield “dehumanizing”?

  • thanks Jeff…. you can 1+ me on google + !! it’s there.

  • i could give lots of examples. but maybe others here can start?

  • Maybe I’m just dense today and am not “getting it”. If so, someone bear with me and explain this to me. I’m really having a difficult time wrapping my mind around this one.
    As systems or organizations are comprised of individuals, the blame should always rest with the members of the group. If organizations can truly be held accountable (morally or ethically)at what point do we say that the individuals in the group can be blamed no more and we must now shift culpability to the organization that the individuals belong to? If we take the argument as presented to its extreme, the “I was just following orders” defense becomes morally acceptable, does it not?

  • fishon

    endeavor to maintain a community free of its dehumanizing effects.
    —–Who gets to define what the “dehumanizing effects are?—-Then what is this “community” going to do with the people who perpetrate the dehumanizing?——Then who dishes out the reprimands and punishment on the architect of ‘dehumanizing?’
    ——And by the way, does the things that are intially decided as being “dehumanizing” static or do they change over time?

  • @fishon,
    All interesting questions!

  • That is one excellent cartoon you have there.

  • Robaigh

    David is describing an emotionally anxious system in which members of all ranks tend to react to stress at a base survival level. Base emotions are controlled by the “reptilian brain,” so called because it’s the part of the brain shared with humans, other social animals, and even reptiles. Fight/flight responses come from that part of the brain. Depending on the emotional maturity of the system (and of individuals therein), stress will cause people to revert to basic survivalist thinking and will perceive stress as threatening. Because this is base emotional thinking, reactions of this type are inherently “dehumanizing.” It takes a good deal of maturity to transcend (not escape, but recognize and work past) this kind of behavior.

    The good news is: one emotionally mature person within the system can affect a lot of positive, healthy change. But it takes a lot of courage and stamina, and it won’t be pretty.

  • Pat Pope

    For me dehumanizing is that which attacks one’s very essence. We are created in God’s image and when we attack people in such a way simply because they are different in some way or we feel threatened by them, I think that can be considered as dehumanizing. When we reduce people to things and talk to and about them as if they are not feeling human beings, that in mind is dehumanizing. I guess basically to sum it up, when we reduce people to less than a human, that’s dehumanizing.

    Who gets to define it? I would think it would be a universal truth based on scripture.

    How is the power dehumanizing? When we denigrate people in public or private. I was slandered in an e-mail that I was cc’d on. The person said they did this so that they wouldn’t be accused of talking behind my back, but really? As if that softened the blow any? Hardly. I have been disrespected simply for being a woman who dared serve as an elder. I’ve been disrespected as an African-American by people who clearly had limited exposure to minorities. As a good Christian, I took a lot–swallowed my pride, prayed, cried, overlooked, forgave until I decided it was time for me to move on.

    As I write this though, it occurs to me that maybe dehumanization is in the eye of the beholder. There would be some who would say I should have continued to endure rather than leave. What I find dehumanizing, someone else would have taken and overcome. I guess each person has to define what dehumanization looks like for them. Some can bear more than others. I felt like I endured a lot over the course of 12 years. Someone else in my position would have left sooner, others would have stayed.

  • hey TGM… if you can, get a copy of The Lucifer Effect… the documentation of an experiment where there were students… some were assigned the role of prison guards and the others as prisoners… the story of how normal, healthy students degraded so quickly the experiment had to be shut down… it can be googled too.

  • Oh I had to laugh at that one…too funny I think because it’s too true!

  • @nakedpastor,
    Okay, NOW I see where you were going with this. Yes, I’m familiar with the study. Pardon me, I’m a little slow today.
    I still feel that individuals need to be held accountable for their actions, but I understand that people can do things they wouldn’t normally do if placed in the right or wrong environment.
    Acceptance by ones peers is one of the strongest drives that we have as social animals,of that there is no doubt.
    In regards to the nasty effect that religion can have on people, I’ll defer to Steven Weinberg who stated, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

  • yes TGM… i agree with you, and that quote. i wrote this post because sometimes people just blame the system as an excuse for their actions. that’s wrong. but often just individuals are blamed and the corrupt system grinds on unquestioned.

  • @nakedpastor,
    Yes, a valid point indeed. From time to time we all need to take a moral inventory of ourselves and question the environment in which we find ourselves operating.

  • indeed. that’s what i’m saying. thanks for saying it so well in one sentence. for instance: i’m surprised at how much my ideas are changing outside of the system that couldn’t occur while in it.

  • Sarah

    I don’t ever want to be part of an organized community ever again. No hierarchy. Just friends.

  • Steven Weinberg who stated, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion”.

    I feel dehumanized.

  • @Brigitte,
    “I feel dehumanized.”
    Only if your name is “religion”.

  • I am “religious”, so therefore I am involved in an “insult to humanity.” I feel dehumanized. It’s pretty simple.

  • Well, in this particular instance you’ve managed to conflate or confuse “dehumanized” with “offended”. While everyone has a right to not be dehumanized, nobody has a right to not be offended. NOBODY. Assuming the default setting of Christian privilege is not going to convince me of the rightness of your argument.

  • fishon

    Pat Pope
    when we reduce people to less than a human, that’s dehumanizing.
    —be more specific. that is a very broad brush.

    Who gets to define it? I would think it would be a universal truth based on scripture.
    ——-Oops! Whose scripture? Whose interpretation? Heck, Nakedpastor and I have a total difference of what ‘universal truth [is] based on scripture. That won’t work.

    I have been disrespected simply for being a woman who dared serve as an elder.
    ——So if I tell you that I do not believe women should be elders, would that be dehumanizing?

    As I write this though, it occurs to me that maybe dehumanization is in the eye of the beholder.
    —-For the most part, I would agree, though there surely are times when people groups and individuals are dehumanized as I would define dehumanizing. And I don’t have a definition. I just know it when I see it.

  • fishon

    The Godless Monster
    In regards to the nasty effect that religion can have on people, I’ll defer to Steven Weinberg who stated, “Religion is an insult to human dignity.
    ——-So you would say that your words, “nasty effect that religion can have on people…” is not a form of defining people of religion in a dehumanizing fashion.

    “Religion is an insult to human dignity.”
    —-That is a blatant dehumanizing attack on people of religion. Mao wiped out millions with an attitude like that.

  • @fishon,
    A horrible and flat-out wrong analogy. What you are asserting is equivalent to having me state that someone who has cancer is in and of themselves evil, and that by stating this as fact, I am dehumanizing the cancer victim.
    Set up straw men analogies and arguments much?
    My criticism is of religion and not the religious. However,(as I’m sure you know full well)you have no valid basis for an argument if you accept my statement at face value, so you chose instead to twist what I said to fit your preconceived notions of right and wrong.
    We can play word games here all night but I’ll make one last comment on this thread and leave it at that.
    To dehumanize someone is to negate and deny their worth as a human being. I did no such thing…and you know it.

  • TGM: I forgive you, whether it was dehumanizing or simply offensive–either way.

  • fishon

    As you will, The Godless Monster.
    YOU:My criticism is of religion and not the religious.
    ——That doesn’t wash. All religion is personal.

    And yes, my analogy was a good one. Religion does not live in a vacuum. Religion does not exist in a void in and of its self. You can not separate religion from man. Sorry, but you can not cast aspersions on all religion and have it not be personal to the individual who relies on religion.

    Thanks for giving me the last word!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sdn3O6aaMNc&feature=player_embedded If this link blues and carries, punch it in and tell me if it is dehumanizing or merely offensive–or inoffensive and humanizing. The word “dehuman” spoken by a Martian or other Alien might make good descriptive sense. Used by humans against humans, it is merely a from of species denial, species in-denial. Got to put the blame, reasons why, somewhere, on something, or in the case of a “system”= not a thing, can’t touch this. Scapegoating uber alles. (Just describing here, not condemning.) I do.

  • THE LUCIFER EFFECT (got to love it)
    Lucifer, we all know (lucid: my lucid dreams, my lucid schemes) is the name given for the brightest of fallen angels. James Joyce refers to our consciousness as Luciferous: it lights up my world, my conscious aims and purposes, all golden in intention. And it’s brightness eclipses if not occludes all the REST–makes me blind to the whole, as it were–holy if you prefer. ” ‘I see!ssaid the blind man (my old man used to say) “when he didn’t see at all” The Lucifer Effect.

  • It’s glorious, Sam.

  • The video.

  • fishon

    Sam, the video, to me, is neither dehumanizing or merely offensive–or inoffensive and humanizing. To me it is just “trash.”

  • Fishon, why is it “trash”? Because it says “fucked” so much?

    I see it mostly as a parody of our tendency to blame others.

  • The language (media) for makes it “trash”? Not the idea maybe (message) which could be broadcast lots of other ways that probably wouldn’t be considered trash. I like the line in the middle where she acknowledges that we tend to shift “the blame” to others (THEY)–system, theologies, ideologies, institutions, etc. But at the same time, acknowledging our own complicity, she calls for a kind of confession and commitment–to make the whirl a better pace. Neither Sermons nor Logic convince, says Walt Whitman, and I find that to be true. Songs and humor sometimes do it, where sermons and logic don’t.

  • fishon

    Brigitte
    August 3, 2011 | 11:13 am

    Fishon, why is it “trash”? Because it says “fucked” so much?
    —-Yea.

  • fishon

    Neither Sermons nor Logic convince, says Walt Whitman, and I find that to be true. Songs and humor sometimes do it, where sermons and logic don’t.
    ———For you maybe, but not for me.

  • Pat Pope

    @Fishon

    “when we reduce people to less than a human, that’s dehumanizing.
    —be more specific. that is a very broad brush.”
    Specifically, for me, when someone treats me like a child, talks to others in the room as if I don’t exist, says and does things to me or about me that they wouldn’t dare do to another person simply because of some difference that I have, those are things that I find dehumanizing. Or maybe that’s too strong a word; maybe disrespectful is more appropriate.

    “Who gets to define it? I would think it would be a universal truth based on scripture.
    ——-Oops! Whose scripture? Whose interpretation? Heck, Nakedpastor and I have a total difference of what ‘universal truth [is] based on scripture. That won’t work.”
    You’re right; two people can read the same scripture and differ greatly on it’s meaning. That’s why in some instances I just prefer to agree to disagree with those willing to do so. Sometimes I’m not that fortunate and people want to continue to beat their issue to death until they’ve won me to their side.

    “I have been disrespected simply for being a woman who dared serve as an elder.
    ——So if I tell you that I do not believe women should be elders, would that be dehumanizing?”
    Absolutely not. People are entitled to their opinions and in the recent debate that involved me, I chose not to engage in too many discussions about it. Everyone has a right to their opinion and again, this is one of those issues on which people may not agree, but they do have a right to their opinion. However, people do not have the right to disrespect me in the process. I had someone be very deceptive with me about the issue–not revealing their true feelings on the topic when they had the opportunity to do so–and then a year or so later work to stop the nomination of women elders (2.5 years into my serving). This individual’s wife also e-mailed me for a biblical justification for women elders at a time when my father was sick with cancer. I e-mailed her that the time was not good for me due to my father’s illness but I would respond shortly. In a a few days, once things had calmed down, I did respond with a well-thought out response. That was in late January. I still have not heard back from this person. Nada. Not even an acknowledgement of my response. I’m sure this wouldn’t have bothered anyone else, but I found it disrespectful and a clear sign that she was only concerned with her agenda item. I could go on and on about the disrespect that I feel I received at this church. Note, my use of “I” because I realize there are things that others could overlook, but after 12 years I was worn down and chose to move on. So, I reiterate my response from my earlier post, dehumanization is in the eye of the beholder.

  • fishon

    Pat,
    Thanks for answering my questions.
    YOU: So, I reiterate my response from my earlier post, dehumanization is in the eye of the beholder.
    ——-I agree with that as it appplies to individuals. I am making an assumption here, but I would think you would agree, there have been times in history where people groups have been dehumanized!!

  • Pat Pope

    @Fishon, absolutely! I think the Holocaust, slavery of African-Americans, human trafficking, are just some ways to name a few.