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The Greyhound

The Greyhound

Religious groupthink interrupts true worship


Many religious people draw strength and comfort from the sense of community that their faith provides them with. From Sunday sermons to Bible study groups to Campus Ministry retreats, a welcoming collective can both strengthen and even create a sense of religious fervor.

However, faith must remain one’s own individual walk with God rather than a desire to belong to a group. Immersing oneself too heavily in the group can, and often has had, consequences that can break one’s faith as quickly as the group can help make it, and resulted in groupthink – a phenomenon in which people strive for a consensus within a group, setting aside their own opinions to avoid lack of conformity.

A group is too easy to devalue. As the old saying goes, a group is only as strong as its weakest link. When that weak link cannot hold up to scrutiny and debate, the entire collective falters. When one’s faith and value systems are too heavily tied within a chosen group, circumstances such as these can shake one’s foundation and even cause to crumble.

Given the rising counts of sexual abuse scandals among Catholic priests, fear mongering campaigns that attempt to make “Muslim” synonymous with “terrorist,” and others who employ religious beliefs to justify persecution of their fellow men and women, heavy immersion and adherence to group think becomes more and more dangerous.

What if, for example, you identify as a Catholic but believe in the natural human rights of the LGBTQ community? Does that make you a false Catholic? No, it does not, but wanting too strongly to accept and to abide by every last pen stroke of Catholic doctrine can put you at odds with your faith and others who follow it.

A group can too easily devalue you. No two experiences are ever exactly the same, and experiences within a religious community are no exception. However, among those I have known who harbor negative feelings towards religious communities, there exist a few common themes.

The first, whether blatant or hidden beneath the surface: hypocrisy. Barring hatred and persecution aimed towards others, which I briefly discussed above, the main problem lies with members of the community failing to practice what they preach. Instead, they treat regular sermon attendance as a get-out-of-jail-free card to continuously wipe their slates clean.

The next point, which often goes hand-in-hand with the first, is the judgmental holier-than-thou mentality. According to John 8:7, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Yet many devout churchgoers seem to have missed that sermon, and as a result such a group can tear you down and undermine you for not living up to their inflated standards. An easy way to prevent this from affecting you in your own pursuits is to simply not care—you are not there for them, you are there for God.

You are not your group. Your group does not define you as an individual. The toxicities that exist within your group need not have any bearing on how you choose to profess your faith in God. Worshipping alongside a community is not inherently bad, nor is it a negative experience to take an interest in what’s going on outside of your own small parish, but your experiences with a collective should not shake your own foundation. Your walk with God is your own.

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Religious groupthink interrupts true worship