P A S S I V I T Y – L E T H A L L U L L A B Y
“Once there was fine warren on the edge of a wood, overlooking the meadows of
“One day the farmer though, `I could increase these rabbits: make them part of
my farm- their meat, their skins. Why should I bother to keep rabbits in
hutches? They’ll do very well where they are.’… He put out food for the
rabbits, but not too near the warren. For his purpose they had to become
accustomed to going about in the fields and the wood. And then he snared
them-not too many; as many as he wanted and not as many as would frighten them
all away or destroy the warren.
“They grew big and strong and healthy, for he saw to it that they had all of
the best, particularly in winter, and nothing to fear-except the running knot
in the hedge gap and the wood path. So they lived as he wanted them to live
and all the time there were a few who disappeared. The rabbits became strange
in many ways, different from other rabbits. They knew well enough what was
happening. But even to themselves they pretended all was well, for the food
was good, they were protected, they had nothing to fear but the one fear…”
(excerpt from WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams)
A story of rabbits can easily be translated to men. Our warren, too, is plush
and secure, safe from danger, and insipidly deadly.
The typical would view of passivity is that is constitutes a positive force; a
person who is passive is often described as “restrained” or “reserved.” Both
terms, if not carried too far, are supposed signs of strength in character.
When passivity is seen in a negative light, it is often confused with
indifference or apathy, neither of which are synonymous, but are often
According to Webster’s [Sixth] New Collegiate Dictionary, passivity consists
“Not [of being] active, but acted upon; affected by outside force[s] or
agenc[ies and] receiving or enduring without resistance or emotional
A person “being acted upon… affected by outside forces” is one who allows
circumstance and environment to dictate his state of mind. The question is
what the individual really is doing when he allows himself to assume a passive
stance. For that, we must look at some of passivity’s fruit.
DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE
Psychologists agree that “the most prominent symptom of depression [is]
passivity.” (Psych. Today, June 1973, p. 45) Paradoxically, there is also a
reversal of roles. Depression can become a symptom of passivity: “I existed
in a state of complete nothingness. My world was one in which passivity
played the major role. Depression was the stat I most often was in, because I
felt unable to make and effort to overcome the barriers in my life.”
In extreme instances, even suicide can be traced to passivity. The most
graphic examples come from the insane world of the rock and roll star or film
personality. Freddie Prinze, of “Chico and the Man” fame, and Robert Lamm,
from the group Chicago, both shot themselves in a seemingly irrelevant and
unplanned manner. It was report, however, that Prinze used to hold the gun he
later shot himself with to his head and tell his startled friends that he was
going to kill himself. Then, laughing, he would put the gun aside. In his
life, fantasy became reality.
Janis Joplin, too, was a study in passivity. At one point, when a friend
confronted her about her heavy heroin usage, she offered this defense: “I
just did it to see.” “To see what?” “To see if I wanted to do it anymore.”
(Janis Joplin, Buried Alive, Myra Friedman, pg. 388)
Keith Moon, the drummer of the Who, is the most recent possible suicide
related to passivity. He died by taking two handfuls of sleeping pills by
“accident.” The Rolling Stone commented that, “It was in any event, and
uncharacteristically passive end for one of rock’s most flamboyant figures.”
PASSIVITY AND THE CULTS
A major area in which passivity is encouraged is religion, especially the new
religions of the East, as well as spin-offs from Christianity. Men such as
Sun Myung Moon, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Edgar Cayce all encourage a passive
mind in the search for God. In a recent issue of People magazine, a young
high school journalist penetrated the “Moonie cult,” and described various
techniques used to break down potential member’s minds until they reached a
state of uncritical passivity.
In Hare Krishna, on “is urged to act without seeking the fruits of his
action.” (Those Curious New Cults, William Petersen, p. 167)
Zen Buddhists have a poem that expressed the same idea:
“If you want the truth to stand clear before you
Never be for or against
The struggle between `for’ and `against’
Is the mind’s worst disease.”
Along more occultic lines, Edgar Cayce was perhaps one of the more famous
mediums. He was called “the sleeping prophet” because of his allowing his
mind to go blank and his apparent unconsciousnesses during “prophetic”
utterances supposedly uttered by the denizens of the spirit would. As cult
expert William Petersen says, “Anyone who puts his mind in neutral should
check to see who is behind the wheel. Whenever Cayce went into a self-induced
trance, he was at the mercy of outside forces.” (Those Curious New Cults,
William Petersen, p. 58)
And it is ironic that out of six types of seances practiced by spiritualists,
one of them is call “passivity.”
Finally, there are the thousand and one forms of meditation being peddled by
an assortment of gurus and psycho-analysts, from TM to Yoga. Almost all of
them rely on a mantra or some other form of chant to reach what TM calls
“total relaxation.” This chant is extremely repetitious, often only one word
and serves to slow down or even stop the mind’s thought processes. (see
Psychology Today, February 1978, p. 84)
PSYCHOLOGY, PHILOSOPHY, AND THE INDIVIDUAL
Many psychologists support meditation techniques such as TM, claiming that
they’re beneficial. Also the school of behaviorism (as taught by B. F.
Skinner) teaches that men are controlled by their environment, which precludes
any escape from one’s lot in life.
Most (almost all) of modern philosophy encourages passivity. Existentialism,
harsh determinism, and even end-of-the-road nihilism, all leave little option
as to passivity. Consider one scholar’s comments on Jean-Paul Sartre, the
father of existentialsim: “He says that we live in an absurd universe. The
total, he says, is ridiculous. Nevertheless, you try to authenticate yourself
by an act of will. It does not really matter in which direction you act as
long as you act.
“You see an old lady and if you help her safely across the road you have
‘authenticated yourself.’ But if you choose to beat her over the head, and
snatch her handbag, you would have equally have ‘authenticated yourself.’
…you just choose and act.” (The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer, p. 24)
The normal individual is reduced to bumbling along, making up his own ethics
as he goes. For many this task proves a bewildering one, and so ethics goes
in the garbadge along with absolutes. Of all the myriad paths open to the
individual, passivity is by the far easiest and safest one to travel.
Passivity’s greatest damage is done within the mind of the individual who is
ruled by it. Thus, what starts as a self protective mechanism to avoid injury
or perhaps just an easy out from responsibility turns into a bondage that
ultimately destroys the human personality, crippling the individual’s ability
to love or to care.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will
certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of
keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all
entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket of coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless–it will change. It will not be
broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” (C. S.
Lewis, The Four Loves, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, p. 169)
Can passivity be overcome? The emotions that may lead to passivity
(depression, insecurity, apathy) are themselves debated; are they integral
parts of each person’s makeup, or are they forces that can be separated from
the personality? Some say the latter. “Unlike a spectator during an
abduction, we do not seem to have the option of abandoning our pasive stance
and getting involved; for what would it be like for us either to help hinder
the depradations of our moods and our unconscious processes?” (Mind, July
1978, p. 393)
Is this really true, or are human emotions sxtraneous to human behavior? The
ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato believed the mind was of
ultimate importance and emotions not even secondary, but rather a hindrance.
Both of these views end in passivity. The first claims it as an inescapable
fact of life, while the second denies passivity’s existance. neither actually
deals with it.
We must put on that “renewed mind” and our thoughts must be transformed. This
goes beyond Norman Vincent Peals and his “Power of Positive Thinking,” and
into a realm involving cost.
The Bible points to commitment as the vital ingredient and to attain this
commitment we need God in our lives, and Jesus Christ, who was God on earth in
human form, is the lone gateway to Him. Passivity is only logical if we have
no reason for life or hope, but if Jesus is a changer of lives, we must face
that fact and accept or reject His offer.
THE PRIME MOTIVATER: SATAN
Just as there is a real, living God, the Bible also points to the existence of
Satan. Not symbolic, not imaginary, but a real spirit orchestrating evil
through the whole world, Satan is the one who perpetrates and encourages
passivity. It gives him an opening through which he can pour all the thoughts
he pleases, paralyzing our will and leading us by the nose into bondage of
sin. Passivity itself is sin, for it is the door that allows Satan entry.
Rather than allow Christians to attempt answering Jesus’ challenge of
discipleship, Satan uses passivity to encourage our gliding along on the
circumstances of the moment and evading the issue. He wants no struggle to
understand or grasp the truth, but rather a submissive acquiescence to “things
as they are.”
Rebellion and passivity go hand in hand. So often, we “turned off” our
parents, teachers, or evan our friends by retreating into its embrace. In
situations that put pressure on us to grow, or problems that challenge us in
their complexity, passivity becomes the best non-narcotic escape to “tune-
out.” If passivity is linked to rebellion, we must realize the seriousness of
this in God’s eyes. “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” (I Sam. 15:23)
Many who are under passivity’s bondage attempt to escape through prayer,
fasting, or reading the Word. This is missing the point. “There I was, at a
Christian college, and my spiritual life was at a complete standstill. I
wasn’t even conscious of any passive stance within…I suffered from a
spiritual malaise, a deadness that tormented and frustrated me. I read the
Word trying to break free of something I didn’t even understand. I would sin,
but rather than repent and simply obey God next time. I attempted through
‘being spiritual’ (reading and praying) to come around. Part of it was that I
didn’t know about passivity, and part of it was that I wouldn’t have chosen
simple obedience anyway.” (See I Sam. 15:22)
We need to gain a true hatred for passivity; not just an intellectual assent
to its destructive qualities, but a heartfelt revulsion for the role it plays
in subverting any fruitful relationship to Christ.
Martin Luther, when being actually visibly confronted with Satan, understood
this hatred perfectly. He hurled an inkwell across the room at the devil, and
although Satan obviously suffered no harm, the point was made. Martin Luther
loved God and hated the king of the fallen angels and fallen men. Just as
Luther made his point, we must make ours. This crucial, for without an
understanding and hatred of passivity, it will continue to reign in our lives,
perverting our personality and causing our soul to agonize in its emptiness.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see illustrated perhaps the most titanic
struggle a man has ever waged against the numbing paralysis of passivity.
“And being in agony (of mind) He prayed (the) more earnestly and intently; and
His sweat became like great clots of blood dropping down upon the ground.”
(Luke 22:44, Amp.)
Even when motives are right, a person can fall prey to passivity. “Many
people who truly desire to follow the Holy Spirit and who have given up self-
will and personal ambition are people who can get into a state of a passive
mind because of misunderstanding. They don’t want their own will, the don’t
want their own thoughts, and so they God to do their thinking for them. But
God doesn’t do your thinking for you.” (Jack Winter, Dimension Tapes, SIJW 7)
Ultimately, every man will meet with passivity. He can either deal with it
through a living relationship with Jesus Christ, or he won’t deal with it all.
He will become passive and he will be overcome in the end. Consider what C.
S. Lewis writes in his book “The Screwtape Letters:
“You will say that these are very small sins…It does not matter how small
the sins are provided that their cumulative effects is to edge the man away
from the Light and out into nothing…Indeed the safest road to hell is the
gradual one–the gentle slope, sof underfoot, without sudden turnings, without
milestones, without signposts…”
Whether it is to be this road or the hard but exhilarating mountain of reality
in Christ, we choose it. And sometimes not choosing is the worst choice.
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