Principle or Popularity—Which Is Your Guide?
SIXTH-GRADER Norihito was taking part in a sports event. Suddenly, he was faced with a decision. All the students were required to participate in a patriotic ceremony. Should he join with his fellow students in this seemingly routine exercise?
Norihito had learned from the Bible that it is wrong to join in any act of worship to a god other than Jehovah. (Exodus 20:4, 5; Matthew 4:10) He also knew that Christians should remain neutral in all worldly political affairs. (Daniel 3:1-30; John 17:16) So even though his fellow students urged him to join in, he courageously but respectfully stood his ground. What would you have done in a similar situation?
The Desire to Belong
The Scriptures indicate that humans were created by God to be sociable, to get along with one another, and to enjoy doing things together. It is natural to want to be with one’s peers, to be accepted, to belong. Such feelings make life more pleasant and contribute to peace and harmony in our dealings with others.—Genesis 2:18; Psalm 133:1; 1 Peter 3:8.
The innate desire to belong is reflected in the strong emphasis on conformity seen in some cultures even today. Japanese children, for example, are trained from their earliest years to be aware of and to conform to the dictates of the majority. Their heritage teaches them that one of their greatest duties is to harmonize with the community. “The Japanese are much more likely than Westerners to operate in groups,” said Edwin Reischauer, former U.S. ambassador to Japan and a keen observer of Japanese manners. He added: “Where Westerners may at least put on a show of independence and individuality, most Japanese will be quite content to conform in dress, conduct, style of life, and even thought to the norms of their group.” The desire to conform, however, is by no means limited to the Japanese. It is universal.
Pressures to Conform
Even though it is desirable to do one’s best to get along with others, there is danger in blindly conforming to what is popular. Why? It is because what is popular with the crowd often runs contrary to what is acceptable to God. “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one,” the Bible tells us. (1 John 5:19) Satan cunningly uses every means at his disposal—materialism, low morals, racial prejudice, religious bigotry, nationalism, and so forth—to influence the masses and to turn them away from God. To conform to such practices would, in effect, put one in opposition to Jehovah God and his purposes. That is why Christians are counseled: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”—Romans 12:2.
Living in this system of things, Christians are under constant pressure to conform to what is popular. Youths are particularly vulnerable in this regard. The desire to look and act like their schoolmates is extremely strong. It takes real courage for them to explain to their peers why they do not participate in certain activities. Failure to speak up, however, could mean spiritual disaster for them.—Proverbs 24:1, 19, 20.
Adults also face such pressures at their place of work. They may be expected to take part in certain social activities after working hours or on certain holidays. Refusing to comply may make them appear aloof and uncooperative, creating a difficult atmosphere in the workplace. Some may feel compelled to put in long hours of overtime simply because others are doing so and it is expected of them. Yielding in such matters would be spiritually damaging to them as well as prevent them from fulfilling their other obligations.—1 Corinthians 15:33; 1 Timothy 6:6-8.
Pressures to conform are present even apart from school or the workplace. A Christian mother related that on one occasion she withheld discipline from her child, even though it was badly needed, simply because she felt that the other housewives present would not approve.—Proverbs 29:15, 17.
The Crowd Can Be Wrong
The Bible gives us much straightforward counsel when it comes to following the crowd. For example, the nation of Israel was told: “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends; and you must not testify over a controversy so as to turn aside with the crowd in order to pervert justice.” (Exodus 23:2; compare Romans 6:16.) This counsel was not always followed. Once, shortly after leaving Egypt, when Moses was absent, certain individuals influenced Aaron and the people to make a golden calf and to worship it in “a festival to Jehovah.” The people ate and drank and enjoyed themselves in song and dance while sacrificing to the golden calf. For this licentious, idolatrous act, about 3,000 ringleaders were executed. But many of the others were also plagued by Jehovah for their thoughtlessly following the crowd.—Exodus 32:1-35.
Another instance of following the crowd to evil ends took place in the first century in connection with the death of Jesus Christ. Persuaded by the jealous religious leaders, many of the people joined in calling for Jesus’ execution. (Mark 15:11) When Peter pointed out their grave error at Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, many were “stabbed to the heart” and realized what they had done in following the crowd.—Acts 2:36, 37.
Bible Principles Better
As these accounts clearly illustrate, blindly following what is popular can lead to serious consequences. How much better it is to follow the Bible and let its principles be a guide in our lives! “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,” says Jehovah. (Isaiah 55:9) In matters of morals and human relations—indeed, in all of life’s decisions—it has been demonstrated time and again that following Jehovah’s ways is far better than following what is popular. It is the key to a happier and healthier way of life.
Take, for example, the experience of Kazuya. Although he had studied the Bible for some time, he continued to follow the popular course—striving to get rich and get ahead. His efforts to please his superiors and to be well thought of by his fellow workers often led to his going out on drinking sprees till the early hours of the morning. He became demanding, intolerant, and irritable. His extreme life-style soon led to a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed. As he lay recovering in a hospital bed, he had time to reflect on what he had learned from the Bible and the way he was living his life. He decided that it was time to start applying what he had learned. He resigned from his managerial position and changed his associations. He also made earnest efforts to put on the Christian personality and adjust his view of material possessions. As a result, his values changed, and his health improved. Finally, he dedicated his life to Jehovah and was baptized.
To succeed in following an unpopular course, one must know the principles involved and be fully convinced that they are right. What Masaru went through shows this to be the case. When he was in the sixth grade, primary school, he was recommended by his classmates to be a candidate for president of the student council. With some embarrassment he recalls that because of not fully understanding the Bible principles involved, he was unable to explain to his classmates why he could not run for political office. His fear of man had kept him from revealing that he was a Christian. All he could do was hang his head and repeat in tears, “I can’t do it.”
This painful experience caused him to investigate why a Christian does not get involved in political activities. (Compare John 6:15.) Later, when he was in junior high school, a similar situation came up. This time, however, he was prepared to explain with conviction his stand to his teacher. The teacher accepted his explanation, as did several of his classmates who asked him about his Bible-based beliefs.
When All Will Do What Is Right
In the coming new world under Christ’s rule, the popular thing to do will be the right thing to do. Until then, we will have to be on guard against the urge to conform to what is popular. We can draw encouragement from Paul’s admonition: “Because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”—Hebrews 12:1.
When issues and challenges come your way, what will you do? Will you succumb to fear of men and give in to doing what is popular? Or will you turn to God’s Word, the Bible, and follow its principles? Taking the latter course will not only benefit you now but also give you the prospect of being among those who “through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—Hebrews 6:12.