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One of the most famous psychology experiments of all time was one in which volunteers were told that they were to administer electric shocks to students each time the students answered questions incorrectly. The volunteers could not see the students, and they did not know that there were no real electric shocks. The shocks were supposedly very low at first, but they were to be increased each time another wrong answer was given.

The "students" gave a lot of wrong answers. Eventually, the volunteers had to turn the volt-meter up to a range that was clearly marked 'DANGEROUS'. Many of the volunteers began to sweat and shake at this point, but they continued to obey their written instructions, which repeatedly reminded them that they must not stop the experiment under any circumstances. Eventually the students would scream out in pain, and finally there would be a thud, as though the student had fallen over dead. Subsequent attempts to ask questions would be met with total silence.

However, the instructions stated that if the student gave no answer, silence should be treated as an incorrect answer, and another (higher) shock should be administered. And so that is exactly what the vast majority of them did.

What made this experiment so famous was the fact that so few people ever refused to proceed with it. (And it was replicated in several different countries and cultures.) Every effort was made to impress on the volunteers that the experiment was being conducted by reputable "experts", and because of this, most volunteers were too frightened to question the experts.

When I first heard about this experiment, I promised myself that I would never be so gullible as to carry out orders that contradicted my conscience. I would have the courage to disobey. However, I was shocked to see that my fellow classmates were hardly affected at all by what they had learned from reading about the experiment. There was abundant evidence that they were prepared to do whatever it took to impress the university authorities, pass the exams, and get themselves recognised as "experts".

There was no doubt in my mind that, if the details of the experiment were altered a bit, these same students (who had actually studied the original experiment and been told of its historic and frightening significance) would be just as ready as earlier volunteers, to kill someone under orders from a higher authority, if they could be convinced that the authorities would exonerate them afterwards.

Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, has said that, if there is any lesson which he had learned from history, it was that the human race in general does not learn from history. We go on making the same mistakes, year after year, and generation after generation. This certainly seems to be the case with the millions of university students who have heard about the electric shock experiment. The powerful warning that the experiment implies has largely fallen on deaf ears.

The Hebrew prophet, Isaiah, said, "Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (Isaiah 53:1) He later said that he had spoken all day to people who were rebellious and full of their own thoughts. (Isaiah 65:2)

This unwillingness to hear the truth spoken by God's messengers, appears to be a principle that has been repeated throughout history. People do not truly listen, and they do not truly learn.

Simon and Garfunkel, in their song, "Sounds of Silence" wrote about the "words of the prophets" which "no one ever hears". Like Isaiah, they were saying that spiritual deafness is very much a fact of life in today's world.

Hitler's extermination of millions of Jews was accomplished with almost total co-operation from the masses of Germany. Stalin killed even more people than Hitler, with apparently less resistance, and certainly with less bad press in the years that followed. The world is prepared to carry out as many million killings as the authorities have the courage to ask them to do. The general population will almost unanimously suppress their conscience and discard their ethics when the need calls for it.

The My Lai massacre in Vietnam illustrated the fact that Western soldiers are just as lacking in morals as any others. American troops were ordered (in the 1960s) to slaughter women and children in the village of My Lai, and the soldiers did exactly that.

Despite all of our professed ideals, most of the world's population ultimately supports the establishment (whether it be Christian or otherwise, moral or immoral) more than it supports any other ideal. People would literally slaughter infants before they would dare to stand up to the establishment on really fundamental issues. Oh, they might rock the boat over some petty selfish issue, but when it comes to issues which do not affect them personally, they almost all ultimately conform... and in so doing, they die spiritually.

"What a depressing thought!" you may say. But it is not totally without hope. You will notice that we repeatedly say "almost all". Throughout history, there has always been a "tiny remnant" who have followed God and their conscience before anything else. They have not sold out to the system.

Jesus found twelve such people in his day, and he called them "the salt of the earth". The reason that the world has professed ideals at all is because of these sorts of people. At some time in the past, somewhere out there, someone really believed and practised these ideals.

Jesus said that the same world which stones today's prophets immortalises the prophets of the past. Our words may not be remembered until after we have been killed by our enemies, but they will, like salt, preserve the world from becoming the total hell that it could be without them.

The Bible says that in these last days there will be a famine for the words of God. Certainly in the midst of unlimited religious hype and propaganda, there is a dearth of genuine truth. Even isolated truths are quickly distorted into rationalisations for selfishness, injustice, hate, and more. The world is heading into the darkest days of human history, and our feeble attempts to get people to heed the teachings of the Son of God may well be the last real Truth they will ever hear.

What we say may fall on deaf ears, but that should not stop us from shouting it as loudly as we can. Do not go quietly into the darkness. With our dying breath, we must speak the truth. And how much more so with the strength and opportunity that we now have.

Even if our words all fall on deaf ears, the fact that we did not give up will mean that someone else's words were not wasted on us.

God said to the prophet Ezekiel, "I have made you a watchman unto the house of Israel. Therefore, hear the word at my mouth and give them warning from me. If you warn the wicked to turn from their wicked way, and they do turn, you will have delivered a soul from hell. But if you do not warn them, their blood will be required of you.

"Nevertheless, if you warn them and they do not turn, they will die in their sin, but at least you will have delivered your own soul." (Ezekiel 3:17-19)

(See also No More Masks.)

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