This post is dedicated to Colonel Jim Harper of Men’s Fraternity, who first spoke those two words to me.
I am disturbed by how we are becoming a Nation of Lemmings. You know, the little creatures who unthinkingly follow the crowd wherever it is going, even if the destination is off a cliff, and to destruction.
Two recent stories on CBS’ Sixty Minutes underscore my concern. The first was an interview with Aly Raisman, the U.S. Olympic gymnast, now 23, who was sexually abused for years by the official Olympic Team doctor. Along with most of the other female athletes. For years the doctor abused them in hotel rooms when they traveled. CBS interviewed Raisman, other athletes, and her parents. No one ever seems to have asked about what was going on, because the doctor was so well credentialed and respected. The parents said that they assumed that there was a female nurse in the room when their daughter was examined, but they never asked. For years. And all that time, no other official ever had any suspicion?
The second story was about a terrible friendly fire tragedy that killed five American soldiers in Afghanistan in 2014. At night a U.S. B-1 bomber dropped two five hundred pound bombs from 12,000 feet on what the air crew thought were Taliban fighters pinning down our troops. The precision was remarkable. The spotters on the ground released the crew to drop the bombs after they confirmed with the B-1 that the special video sensor on the B-1 was not picking up any discrete infrared strobe signals emitted from the helmets of the U.S. soldiers near the position in question. No infrared strobe signals visible to the sensor meant that the shooters were the enemy.
Except that in the ensuing inquiry, it turned out that although everyone on the ground and in the air had been operating on this assumption for a long time, the truth was that the B-1’s sensor was never designed to see those infrared signals. And still, today, cannot see them. So when the soldiers turned on their infrared signals and then asked the air crew “Do you see any infrared from that hill?” and the reply was negative, they thought it was safe to drop the bombs. No one ever explained how the system actually worked, and no one apparently asked the next question, “Do you see infrared signals from nearby friendlies?” And the air crews never questioned the infrared question, which presumably they were often asked. How can this be?
Add to this tragic military story the collisions of the two U.S. guided missile destroyers this year, in which seventeen sailors died, about which I asked questions in September, and for which there has now been a damning report that no one on the bridge of these ships knew the Rules of the Road or ship handling basics—and one has to ask, was there no adult in the chain of command who had the courage or common sense to raise a hand and say “We’ve got to stop and do something different.”?
Remember, these are actual events in the U.S. military, supposedly and hopefully the best in the world. All of the people involved are heroes, and many gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect us. I have nothing but the greatest respect for each individual. But if our command and control systems allow us to bomb our own soldiers and to kill our own sailors because no one asks the right questions, how will we defend our nation in the case of a real threat?
I have one much more mundane example from our own experience. On several occasions as we’ve taken long distance trips on our interstates, we’ve experienced long lines of stopped or slow moving traffic, sometimes stretching for miles, caused by a wreck or some other issue up ahead. By glancing at Google Maps, one can see an exit just ahead, an open side road paralleling the interstate past the problem, and an easy access back to the interstate. We have exited, driven past all of the stopped cars, and re-entered the normal flow a few miles ahead.
This maneuver did not require superior intelligence or great courage. It was simple and easy for anyone to do. And yet the vast majority stayed in the bumper to bumper stopped traffic. I simply do not understand. Why did not more motorists, most of whom had the same information, venture out to make the time-saving detour? I truly don’t know.
Other than to propose that we are a Nation of Lemmings, following the crowd, assuming the best, and afraid to ask questions, or to take a different path.
I urge all of us to be more questioning. To take personal responsibility for checking on situations and outcomes in general, for ourselves and our families. To rely on experts, institutes, the media, regulators, panels and governments for information, but not for the safety and well being of our families or our nation.
Question. Test. Ask. Engage. Reject passivity.
Especially with governments of all types and sizes which, after all, are just groups of imperfect people, on the margin looking out for themselves and their agenda. Today governments have such power over so many aspects of our lives that we don’t realize how we have ceded authority to them, even where the original motivation may have been benign. Almost 200 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America foresaw the kinder, gentler servitude that does not completely destroy but instead “…extinguishes and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrial animals, of which government is the shepherd.”
Are there situations with your children, extended family, at work, or with friends, where you have made an assumption that makes life simpler or easier, but which may in fact not be true? And therefore the situation may be dangerous? Is there a voice nudging you to ask someone about something, but you’ve ignored it? Reject passivity. You’re not accusing or prying. You’re just asking.
As any regular reader of this space knows, I am a follower of Jesus. Some would say that spiritual faith is what makes Lemmings. Maybe, in some cases. But not in my case. Just the opposite.
I have come to my faith through the personal experience of clear, otherwise inexplicable transformation, plus reading, listening to others, contemplation, debate, and testing. The Bible, a truly amazing book by anyone’s standard, says to renew our minds (Romans 12:2) and to test everything (1 Thes 5:21). I practice both. Just being a believer in a mostly secular and skeptical world will test those beliefs every day—I am told that I’m a simpleton, that I’m a Neanderthal for doubting Darwin or for wondering about the origin of life, that I’m a bigot for questioning the killing of over 30 million unborn babies by their mothers. Secularists, the media, academia, and the “common wisdom” thankfully make it pretty difficult to be a believing Lemming!
In fact, I think some of the most dedicated Lemmings in our society are the go-along secular/agnostics who believe the talking heads that Jesus never lived, and certainly could not have been resurrected, that we are all just random molecules mashed together by chance, that Life-from-Matter and Darwinian Evolution are proven science, and that there is no real Evil from which we need to be saved.
I understand that it’s a lot easier to just go along with those statements, but as best I can tell, they are all false. Really. Just read any book by Tim Keller, starting with The Reason for God. Or Lee Strobel’s book and movie, The Case For Christ. Or any of the essays at Reasons to Believe or The Discovery Institute. Or Ken Boa’s I’m Glad You Asked. Or my own little book Ten Lies and Ten Truths, along with the non-fiction references at the end of each chapter. None of those will take long, and the process might lead you to take personal responsibility for your own eternity, not to mention your family’s.
If you think Christian faith is a myth and is opposed to science and reason, then I challenge you to at least slow your race to the edge of the cliff and to read one or two of the above references during the next month. Christmas is a great time to take this challenge.
Question. Ask. Test. Engage. Don’t silently accept the experts’ supposed truth, which may not be true. Dig in for yourself and your children.
For your family’s sake, reject passivity in all areas. Especially eternity.