"Group think" is one of the main causes of misinformation regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This is one conclusion drawn from the year-long investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report states that there was allegedly a collective presumption that Iraq had an active and growing program to develop weapons of mass destruction. As a result of this presumption, the committee asserts, contradictory information was ignored.
It's not always easy, when one has a strong opinion about something, to accept or even to be aware of contradictory information. This is why opinions, especially strong ones, need to be frequently examined and reevaluated. There is great strength in a group that's united in their thinking and course of action. But it's essential that this unity is based on something more than an assumption.
The perils of group think motivated me to take a fresh look at what is behind united prayer. I believe that there's an advantage at times to engage in group prayer, and I've asked myself how it differs from group think. This statement by Jesus provided some insight: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20).
I also remembered reading about times when Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, asked her followers to pray specifically about matters of national and international concern. And in our day, there are occasional calls for a nation or the world to unite in prayer.
Acknowledging and observing such requests, I've found my own prayers especially inspired with a power I don't always experience alone. I'm not diminishing the value of a single prayer but recognizing that many single prayers devoted to a specific issue are very effective. Though more than one is praying, each one receives insights directly from God. This inspiration can lead to questioning one's own and others' opinions and presumptions.
The main difference between group think and group prayer is that prayer involves laying down human opinions instead of seeking their confirmation. Gathering in the "name" of Jesus implies that our praying together partakes somewhat of the nature of Jesus' prayers and their healing power.
While people all over the world unite in prayer, each is answered individually. It's not one person's prayer influencing or correcting another's. Even though voicing the same words, as when praying The Lord's Prayer together, each prayer is individual.
The power of these united individual prayers cannot be overestimated. Group think, on the other hand, in which conclusions are skewed to fit presumptions, can be dangerous.
In commentaries on the Senate committee's report, many people have recognized that taking a contrary view of certain information from the generally accepted one is not always easy. But it is essential that all evidence is examined critically and objectively.
We need to drop strong opinions. This does not, as one might fear, make us weak and ineffectual. On the contrary, such freedom from mere opinions allows us to look at all things impartially and wisely. People who are entrusted with gathering information and evaluating it for the benefit of security need our support. We can best do this by earnestly seeking to think and act out of the guidance that comes to us through humble prayer.
There is power when members of a group, large or small, come to unanimous decisions. Actually, the members of the bipartisan Senate committee were unanimous in their criticisms of much of the performance of the CIA and especially of their alleged group think conclusions. There is no sign that this bipartisan committee, made up of nine Republicans and eight Democrats, ignored or twisted evidence to support a particular point of view. But there is a continuing need for alertness, since there is some controversy over the release date of the second half of this report. Their questioning and evaluating of all information saves the report from group think and is an example for all of us.
The next time we are asked to unite in prayer for the common good, we can trust that such prayers are uninfluenced by group think. They have the power to change the world.