Submission to authority figures — the Milgram Experiment and Stanford Prison Experiment
Many people behave unethically when they are instructed to do so by what they perceive as a legitimate authority figure.
If you have suffered abuse, whether it be emotional, spiritual, psychological, physical or sexual abuse, you might be asking “How can someone be so cruel?”
The Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment have shown how quickly people can become abusive.
Both of those experiments were unethical. Some participants in these experiments have spoken up about the deleterious effects the experiments had on them.
Many unethical experiments have been done by scientists and psychologists.
Trigger warning: Some individuals might find certain parts of the video triggering.
This video summarises what happened in the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Experiment. The presenter is Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Milgram set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist.
The results showed the willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths of cruelty, on the command of an authority figure.
To explain the findings of the experiment, Milgram theorised that people have two states of behavior when they are in a social situation:
- The autonomous state —
- People direct their own actions and take responsibility for the results of those actions.
- The agentic state —
- People allow others to direct their actions and then pass off the responsibility for the consequences to the person giving the orders. People act as agents for another person’s will.
This helps us think about Sheep, Shepherds and Wolves in the church.
Sheep are told to follow the leader: the under-shepherd, pastor, priest, ordained minister, ordained elder in the institutional church.
- Some of the ordained leaders are good under-shepherds of Christ.
- Some of them are wolves.
- Some of them are blind and naive to the depths of undercover evil in institutional churches.
When sheep follow wolves or blind-naive leaders, the sheep will be tangled in thickets and the sheep may be chewed by wolves.
Sheep-like following of human leaders is risky. Obedience to human leaders is risky. Individual personal responsibility is never entirely erased.
But… Jesus has died for our sins so that all who come to faith in Jesus receive mercy and forgiveness.
The penalty for wrong doing has been laid on Jesus, so that all who come to faith in Him do not have to personally bear the penalty for their wrongdoing. Christ has borne it for them.