“My son, if sinners entice you do not give in to them. If they say, ‘Come along with us’ … do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths.” (Proverbs 1:10, 11, 15)
Peer pressure is something everyone faces regardless of age. Here in the book of Proverbs Solomon warns young people in particular of its subtle influence and power over us. But it is not only young people who need to be warned about peer pressure. Older and wiser heads can succumb to it too.
Albert Speer was a German intellectual who became Hitler’s armaments minister in the Third Reich. Speer was not your typical Nazi. He seems to have been lured into the Nazi Party by Hitler’s impressive rhetoric and the sight of others being drawn to him. He felt that he was on the verge of some gigantic and alluring force which he wanted to be part of. He joined the party and, on his own admission, switched off all his critical faculties: “I denied my past … My inclination to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts, helped to sway the balance.”
But it was Speer’s desire for acceptance that proved to be his undoing. Invited into the inner circle of senior Nazi officialdom, Speer enjoyed the privileges of being part of the inner ring. He tells of how once Hitler gave him his own dinner jacket to wear with the gold badge of the Fuhrer’s sovereignty on it. “Here, wear this for a while!” he said. Evidently Speer enjoyed the experience and reveled in being part of such a powerful and privileged group. Sucked into the higher echelons of Nazism, he felt it was impossible to escape even though he witnessed all its contradictions and violence.
Why did Speer get sucked into Nazism? For the same reason that you and I allow ourselves to come under the influence of others: peer pressure, or as the Bible puts it, “the fear of man.” True, we can be avowed worshippers of the Lord; but it’s also possible to have an underlying fear of what others may know about us or may be able to do to us.
The ‘fear of man’ can express itself in many different ways. Some people are genuinely afraid of others and believe that they have power to injure them. Others hold someone in awe because of some special ability or influence that he or she may have. Frequently we allow people to control or master us. Others of us just have a special longing to be needed, which at its heart is ‘the fear of man’.
Jesus says that the only way to conquer the fear of man is to drive it out by a greater love and fear for God. This is how we beat peer pressure.