EVENING rush-hour traffic streamed out of Rochester, New York. On the edge of the business district, cars and trucks, headlights gleaming in the early dusk, waited to swing on to Interstate 490. It was 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, November 16, 1971. To these motorists, taking a familiar route home, it seemed like any other day.
However, a tragedy was to occur which would emblazon this day in their minds forever. As the cars picked up speed and bore down on the Route 36 interchange, a little girl appeared out of the darkness along the shoulder of the road, nearly naked. It appeared that she was waving as if trying to hail down passing cars.
The horror of this scene is that no one stopped! Two days later, the girl's body was found in a ditch miles away, raped and strangled.
Mesmerized Motorists Police now theorize the drivers witnessed a momentary break for freedom — a last, desperate plea for help by 10-year-old Carmen Colon, who had been kidnapped from her Rochester home.
Perhaps, by understanding a phenomenon psychologists call "crowd apathy," we can learn a lesson that may save our lives in the face of similar circumstances. The fact that no one stopped to help young Carmen intrigued a social psychologist at the State University at Buffalo, Dr. Victor Harris. He asked, "Why didn't one of the hundreds of motorists who passed the girl stop to help her?"
His research turned up many reasons: "I couldn't believe what I saw," explained one motorist. Another said he thought about going back to investigate, but changed his mind. "I felt someone behind was in a better position to help," said a third driver.
Dr. Harris reported: "There is a very real question of whether, in fact, people even notice there is an emergency. They may see something going on, but not at a conscious level. Then they read about it in a paper later and say to themselves, 'Oh, that's what I saw happening the other day.'"
National Apathy There is also a question whether today's society properly assesses national and international events. How about you? Do you understand the times in which you live? Do you recognize where mankind stands in history by the events whirling about us?
What is the significance to our generation of daily headlines sizzling with news about rumors of another war in the Middle East, another possible oil embargo, inflation intermingled with recession, and statements of food shortages?
Two years ago, could anyone have forseen the condition of the world today? Who expected the resignation of Vice President Agnew, followed by that of President Nixon and a developing world crisis in leadership through the resignation or overthrow of numerous other heads of state? Who, then, expected the price of oil to increase 400 percent? Who would have expected the terrifyingly sudden collapse of Cambodia and South Vietnam?
Worldwide inflation! Food shortage! Terrorist attack! Experienced over a period of time, day by day, headline by headline, these world-shaking, momentous events lose impact. The world has become mentally and emotionally numb! It is impossible to respond indefinitely to the clarion call of crime, corruption and the threat of cataclysm.
If, however, the national and international trauma of the past twelve months could be fully experienced in a short period of time, the world would indeed be shocked to see how greatly the prospects of human survival have deteriorated!
Strangely enough, crowd apathy applies to our reaction to the rest of the daily news. No one indulges in too much excitement anymore about global events. It seems we are now able to accept the demise of the human race with casual nonchalance. The uniqueness of our age is reflected ill President Giscard d'Estaing's recent comment: "The world is unhappy... because it does not know where it is going and because it guesses that, if it knew, it would discover that it was headed for disaster."
We live in unique times — "the end of the age" in biblical terminology. Newsstands abound with secular warnings of impending disaster.
Insensitivity to the Times However, the Bible prophesies that mankind, in the face of world cataclysm, will be insensitive to the significance of daily events. "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (II Peter 3:3-4).
This is crowd apathy — an inability to recognize peril — at its most dangerous point!
John F. Kennedy said twelve years ago: "We happen to live in the most dangerous times in the history of the human race. We are destined to live out most, if not all, of our lives in uncertainty and challenge, and peril." Those prophetic words aptly describe the world after Kennedy's tragic death.
Can you avoid being numbed by repetitive shocking headlines and mind-boggling crises in the daily news? Yes — but you must grasp the full weight of the changing world scene in the light of Bible prophecy. Recognize where you stand in history! Life as we have known it is rapidly, permanently disintegrating.
Notice Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 24. His disciples asked Him: "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Verse 3.) He listed war, famine, disease and natural disasters as definite signs (verses 6, 7). Yet, many scoff that these "signs" do not prove a thing. The reasoning behind this rejection of Christ's prophecy is that these problems are common to all generations, all societies, all ages throughout history.
Is this inability to grasp the significance of events in our age another major incidence of crowd apathy? Are we blinded to the signs of the times like the Pharisees in Jesus' day? He said to them: "When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" (Matt. 16:2-3.).
New Problems Today? Some are looking for totally new, unique problems to precipitate the return of Jesus Christ, rather than a change in the intensity and scope of man's ancient dilemmas. But Jesus never prophesied some totally new, monumental threat to mankind. (Of course, modern technology has produced new facets or aspects of the same old problems.)
No, Jesus did not say that we should look for totally new terrors, simply that we would come into an age when man's old enemies would become overwhelming in their increased capacity for destruction.
Jesus said we would suddenly be catapulted into such a time. He describes this in verses 21 and 22 of Matthew 24: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved [alive]...."
Christ's statement puts the prophecy into perspective. In other words, one can know he is living just prior to Jesus' return when man's age-old problems contemptuously defy human solution and directly threaten all nations, races and regions on earth.
In 1969, former Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant warned: "I do not wish to seem over dramatic, but I can only conclude from information that is available to me that the members of the United Nations have, perhaps, ten years left...."
The horribly confusing world scene is not destined to improve. The world and all humanity has entered the end of the age. But there is hope! There is a way of escape. Notice Luke 21:36: "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things [disaster conditions mentioned in previous verses] that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man."
What, then, can you do to ensure your future and provide hope for your family? This question has been asked before. Following a moving sermon by the apostle Peter, spokesmen representing a crowd of thousands asked, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37.)
These people were serious — no longer reluctant to act! They wanted an answer which would guarantee their future. Notice Peter's response: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins [transgression of God's law]...."
The Means of Survival The key to your survival is a recognition of the times in which you live, a willingness to shake off the apathy of generations by beginning to change (repent in theological terms) and turning fully to God!
Let the concept of living in the end of the age sink deeply into your mind. Study your Bible; implicitly obey what it says; strive to get in step with your Maker.
If you feel the need of ministerial counsel, contact us requesting a private appointment. College-trained, fully ordained ministers have been sent out to pastor congregations around the world; many people have found that their personal ministerial counsel has been of tremendous help.
In these days of universal despair, acting on the knowledge you have is your only hope. As Peter continued: "Save yourselves from this untoward generation" (verse 40). Now is the time to act — or crowd apathy could cause your death!