Reindeer Games

Ronald Rolheiser
February 26, 2024
Reproduced with Permission

I hate crowds, at least most of them. I'm okay at football games, where a crowd has bracketed its sanity for a couple of hours for a cathartic release. But I hate those crowds that are caught up in a fever that feeds off group think, be that a cultural fad, a political ideology, a religious fundamentalism, an unconscious racism, a misguided nationalism, or hype of any kind. I fear such a crowd because, irrespective of whether its voice is coming from the right or from the left, conservative or liberal, one hears in it echoes of intimidation, crucifixions, lynchings, holocausts, assassinations, wars, suppression of other voices, and (today) teenage suicides from cyber bullying. Crowds take various modalities, but their bent and their energy are invariably the same.

One of my favorite authors is Czeck novelist Milan Kundera who, like me, hates crowds. In them, he sees something he calls "the great march", namely, a blind, mindless march toward a totalitarianism of some kind or other. Crowds with an ideological intent always end up there.

But this raises a question: What about crowds (marches, demonstrations, strikes, sit-ins) that have led to helpful social, political, and even moral change? What about the crowds Gandhi inspired? What about the crowds that followed Martin Luther King? What about the crowds that helped end apartheid in South Africa? What about the crowds that gather around Black Lives Matter? What about the folks that gather round a just cause and go to prison for their actions? Aren't those good crowds?

Yes, they are, but they are good precisely to the extent to which they are mindful and not mindless; that is, they are good to the extent that they are not caught up in a fever of group-think and their focus is on healing a sick situation as opposed to hating and crucifying whatever opposes them. That is why in such a crowd, both in its leader and in its overall ethos, you don't see hatred and violence.

Admittedly, you do see hatred and violence even within these crowds because a crowd by the very fact that it is a crowd will invariably have its rogue elements. But the hatred, violence, and anarchy you see then is not representative of that overall crowd. The Gandhis, the Martin Luther Kings, the Nelson Mandelas, and the Dorothy Days are the real face and ethos of any crowd which is genuinely bent on moral change.

But not all crowds are mindful and so it's hardly a surprise that Jesus' crucifixion was incited by a crowd (ironically by the same one who just five days earlier was chanting that he should be their king). Crowd energy is fickle and mindless. That is why crowds are to be feared, irrespective of whether they are idolizing you or hollering for your crucifixion.

I'm not much of a poet, but sometimes something just lends itself to a different kind of language. So, stealing some lines from an old (mindless) Christmas song and adding my own little commentary, allow me to express my feelings about crowds in an attempt at a poem - which in good conscience you may disagree with.

Reindeer Games

Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer

Had a very shiny nose

And if you ever saw it

You would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer

Used to laugh and call him names.

They never let poor Rudolph

Join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas eve

Santa came to say:

Rudolph with your nose so bright

Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?

Then all the other reindeer loved him

As they shouted out with glee ...

Rudolph smiled ...

and then

said reflectively:

Forgive, dear friends, my reluctance

To see this affection

Separate from the cruelty

Mock difference - Crucify him!

Exult triumph - Make him king!

Hype is hype


Mindless and blind


A reindeer game

With the crowd forever amazed and chanting

Whether for a coronation

Or a crucifixion.