I read about a Psychology 101 behavior experiment today that raises some interesting questions.
You start with a cage containing four monkeys, and inside the cage you hang a banana on a string, and then you place a set of stairs under the banana.
Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.
You then spray ALL the monkeys with cold water.
After a while, another monkey makes an attempt. As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray ALL the monkeys with cold water.
Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.
Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, ALL of the other monkeys beat the crap out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.
Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment – with enthusiasm — because he is now part of the “team.”
Then, replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, followed by the fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.
Now, the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana.
Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been!
My thoughts on this.
Unfortunately this is true of many, if not most, of us human beings. We don’t seem to have made the leap from monkeys.
This is why I so admire the human aspect of Jesus. He responded to the challenge to outgrow his prejudices and even his convictions about the limits of his ministry. It was painful (we see him weep as he has to accept that the people he loved and thought he could save from their blindness reject him). Over and over we see him change and grow beyond both the limits and misunderstandings of his traditional religion, beyond his own followers, his era and even beyond his own previous assumptions. Often the challenges to His traditional religious attitudes and limits come from disreputable sources: women, gentiles, Samaritans, the military of the hated conqueror, sinners, and the sick.
That kind of openness is pure grace! And that’s what it takes to become fully human.
A cartoon on Facebook along with my recent immersion in the history of the Cathars while traveling in South Western France resonated powerfully for me along with the story of animal behavior.
The cartoon showed a Knight riding a horse and holding a flag with a cross emblazoned on it while leading long lines of armed soldiers. One of the soldiers says to the man next to him, ” I hear it’s because we’re right and they’re wrong.”
The Cathars were people who began to question some of the priorities and beliefs within the Christian Church of the 13th century. After failed attempts to convince them of the error or their ways, Pope Innocent III with the support of the armies of the King of France mounted a crusade aimed at completely eliminating the Cathars. It took many battles and involved burning down cathedrals while the Cathars seeking sanctuary were inside them and burning thousands of others at the stake. Some pious Catholics attempted to save their Cathar neighbors and friends and were ruthlessly wiped out along with them.
Who do you think were Christ like in this scenario?