The Warping of Minds
May 12, 2022 Blogs by: Tim Jennings, M.D.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV

God created us in His image, with our own unique individuality and the ability to think and to act, and it is His intention that each of us, by reasoning with Him (Isaiah 1:18), will advance, mature, and develop the ability to differentiate the right from the wrong (Hebrews 5:14), ultimately becoming mature Christians with sound, Christlike minds.

Satan, of course, wants just the opposite: to turn us into non-thinking brutes driven by passions and fears so that we are fit only for a leash (2 Peter 2:12). Fear is part of the infection of sin (Genesis 3:10); it interferes with love, undermines thinking, and increases selfishness.

It is at the front part of our brain, the part behind our forehead, called the prefrontal cortex, that we critically reason, think, strategize, contemplate, evaluate evidence, and draw conclusions. It is deeper brain structures, called the limbic system, where we feel strong emotions, including the classic fear-driven survival drives.

When our emotion circuits fire too strongly, they impair activity in the prefrontal cortex. It is hard to reason and think when we are highly emotional. This is why the military trains soldiers intensely before placing them into combat, so that when they find themselves under fire for the first time and the adrenaline triggers near-panic levels of fear, the soldiers’ training kicks in and they don’t freeze or run away, but instead act on their training until their fear reduces enough for them to start thinking and processing what is happening. This is also why firefighters and SWAT teams go through extensive training before they are allowed to participate in high-threat, real-world situations.

When untrained or inexperienced people are placed in situations that trigger fear, they are prone to experience reductions in their capacity to think, reason, and weigh out different perspectives. The greater the fear, the greater the urgency to act, to do something to get to safety, but it also makes thinking and reasoning less efficient. In such moments of crisis, people without experience, without training, and without an understanding of what is happening will have limited ability to reason clearly and will almost always look for someone in authority to tell them what to do; they will then follow what they are told without considering for themselves if the directions are reasonable. Soldiers will look to their squad and platoon leaders, those with prior combat experience, and eagerly follow their instructions, feeling relief and reassurance that someone else knows what to do.

When gunshots are heard in a mall, people will instinctually flee or take cover. However, if they see a police officer, they will follow the officer’s instructions—even if the officer’s instructions are wrong, confused, or, worse, purposely misleading. The terrified people will not stop and evaluate whether the officer’s badge is real or fake; they won’t notice whether the officer is wearing tennis shoes rather than standard-issue black shoes. Under such levels of fear, people are impaired in their ability to discern, think, and consider the possibility that the person in uniform may be part of a terrorist cell and is directing them toward where a bomb is planted.

And, if the majority of other fleeing patrons are following the instructions of the fake officer, such group agreement further impairs individual thinking. Most people will conform to what the crowd is doing and follow the directions of the officer, even if they themselves recognize indicators that what is happening is wrong. One of the reasons for this is that there is a sense of strength in numbers, while going out on one’s own makes one feel more vulnerable. Thus, there is an inherent psychological propensity to conform to group pressure in order to feel safe, even if the group is wrong.

The greater the sense of fear, the less capable of thinking, discerning, and evaluating evidence and the more quickly people will conform to both the voice of authority and the perceived consensus of the group.

Following “the Rules” in a Crisis

Vulnerability to group conformity is either increased or decreased by life experiences and personal practice prior to being presented with the fear-inducing crisis. Those who have a pattern of surrendering their thinking and choices to others in order to be accepted are at greater vulnerability to complying with group pressure in times of crisis than the person who has a track record of thinking for self and disagreeing with the group.

One’s susceptibility to following the opinions of others rather than thinking for oneself is further magnified when the person giving the directives has greater expertise, credentials, or authority of office than one’s own station; the pressure to conform is intensified even more when it seems that everyone else agrees with the expert opinion.

In today’s social media world, it isn’t necessary to get the majority to agree; it is only necessary to get the majority of media outlets to broadcast the same messaging in order to give the perception that the majority in a community agrees. This perception will then cause many people to conform their beliefs and choices to the authoritarian view without thinking it through or examining the evidence for themselves. They accept claims, proclamations, slogans, and opinions as evidence rather than examine the actual evidence for themselves. This is especially true for those who have little prior experience with evidenced-based thinking, who instead have practiced trusting people in positions of authority to tell them the answer. This can happen in communities with physical threats that incite fear or in churches when eternal threats are presented to increase fear. In both cases, fear will lead people to accept claims, slogans, and the opinions of those in “authority” and follow them without examining the evidence and coming to their own conclusion.

Soldiers are quicker to accept the orders of a sergeant (even one they don’t know) than a civilian who has never been in the military. The soldiers do so not only because they have been conditioned to trust military personnel with rank above their own, but also because they have a greater awareness of the potential dangers than a civilian and, thus, they have greater fears, both immediate (fear of the enemy) and legal (fear of court-martial), and understand the need for quick action to reduce such risks. The greater the sense of fear, the greater the willingness to trust a superior (someone with greater experience, education, credentials, or authority of office), to follow their directives as a means to feel less anxiety (“someone knows what to do; it will be alright”) and experience increased personal control and value in the situation (“we can help by following orders”), and to feel greater power and less helplessness by either passing along the instructions to others or by ordering others to comply with the orders they have received.

Further, in high-stress combat environments, military leaders will often order soldiers to engage in activities that may or may not have any real benefit in defeating the enemy—such as digging a trench (whether needed or not), cleaning weapons (regardless of whether the weapon has been used since its last cleaning or not), and taking inventory of one’s pack (regardless of whether any item was used since the last inventory). Such tasks are intended to both remind the soldier of the impending enemy threat and to give the soldier something they can do to help them feel useful in preparing to address threats, regardless of whether their actions have any bearing on defeating the enemy or not. Such orders serve the primary purpose of reminding the soldier of the danger while simultaneously conditioning the soldier to obey orders through action, thus reinforcing trust in the chain of command. In so doing, their fear goes down and their sense of personal usefulness goes up. Repeated over time, such training conditions soldiers to follow orders even when those orders don’t make sense.

Units that train together, work together, slog through useless tasks together, face death together, and experience the loss of comrades together will develop a certain cohesion, group identity, and esprit de corps. They develop pride in being a soldier, pride in wearing the uniform, pride in marching in lockstep together, at saluting the commander, in waving the flag, and in doing things that they once thought were stupid and useless. They will recount some of their worst days of training with fondness and will gain a certain pleasure in putting other recruits through similar discomfort.

How Satan Used COVID to Degrade Minds

These same processes have occurred during COVID.

During COVID, physicians were among the first to accept CDC pandemic guidelines without actually examining the evidence for those guidelines but, instead, trusted that those in charge had more experience with infectious diseases and that their guidelines should be followed regardless of actual evidence or facts. Why? Because physicians have been conditioned to trust those with greater education, experience, or authority of medical office than themselves. But also, physicians have a greater sense of the potential danger from a new infectious disease and, thus, experience greater anxieties, which will cause them to be quicker to trust the voice of authority. Physicians also have a greater fear of legal consequences for not following governmental guidelines—loss of hospital privileges, suspension of license, increased liability, removal from insurance panels, and loss of income.

Further, physicians have been conditioned for years to follow the medical crowd, “consensus” guidelines, specialty recommendations, employer treatment algorithms, or other voices of authority rather than studying the science and evidence directly and deciding for themselves what is actually best medically.

Thus, when it came to COVID, physicians, considered some of the best and most intelligent in our society, as a group, became some of the least capable in society of being able to think through the evidence and voice disagreement with the established medical authorities—even when what was being presented by those voices was obviously and irrefutably false—like the new never-before-used in human populations mRNA “vaccines” being safe and effective. How could this be known when there was no long-term safety data or efficacy data to document the claim? Yet millions of physicians never questioned it; they just believed this assertion because it was presented by those in authority but also because believing it made their own fear go down, while simultaneously making them feel useful and empowered to do something to combat the viral enemy—give vaccines and encourage everyone to get them.

Defending the Mind

Fear and group pressure are two factors that impair thinking and increase vulnerability to follow voices of authority. God’s enemies use both to undermine individuality and enslave minds. As Christians, we are to present the truth in love while leaving others free to decide for themselves what is best in their situation.

Events like COVID place each of us in the position where we must decide how we will respond to such methods, to fear-induced group think. Will we surrender our thinking to voices of authority and peer pressure and carry out directives enforcing mandates upon others just so that we can feel safe? Or will we choose to present the truth as we understand it, in love, while respecting the individuality and autonomy of the other to make their own decision?

It is by choosing how we treat others that we decide what kind of people we become, what character we develop. And this is how every person will decide for or against Christ. Jesus said that when He returns and separates the sheep (saved) from the goats (lost), it is on the basis of one thing: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40 NIV84). Conversely, Satan uses fear to get people to lie, manipulate, coerce, and even harm others to protect self.

Don’t be caught up by the lies, misinformation, fear-messaging, and group pressures of this world. Fix your eyes on Christ, think for yourself, become a lover of truth, and develop by practice the ability to discern the right from the wrong (Hebrews 5:14).

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Tim Jennings, M.D. Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, master psychopharmacologist, Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association, and an international speaker. He served as president of the Southern and Tennessee Psychiatric Associations and is president and founder of Come and Reason Ministries. Dr. Jennings has authored many books, including The God-Shaped Brain, The God-Shaped Heart, and The Aging Brain. In 2022, Dr. Jennings became Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lynchburg, Virginia.