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Summary: A message preached at a legislative prayer breakfast to challenge listeners to stay true to their convictions.

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“The Challenge of Conformity”

Dan 3:1-30

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Daniel 3:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.

INTRODUCTION: What is conformity? Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms.[1] Norms are implicit, unsaid rules shared by a group of individuals, that guide their interactions with others and among society or social group. This tendency to conform occurs in small groups and/or society as a whole, and may result from subtle unconscious influences, or direct and overt social pressure. Conformity can occur in the presence of others, or when an individual is alone. For example, people tend to follow social norms when eating or watching television, even when alone.

People often conform from a desire for security within a group—typically a group of a similar age, culture, religion, or educational status. This is often referred to as groupthink: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics, which ignores realistic appraisal of other courses of action. Unwillingness to conform carries the risk of social rejection. Conformity is often associated with adolescence and youth culture, but strongly affects humans of all ages.[2]

Although peer pressure may manifest negatively, conformity can have good or bad effects depending on the situation. Driving on the correct side of the road could be seen as beneficial conformity.[3] Conformity influences formation and maintenance of social norms, and helps societies function smoothly and predictably via the self-elimination of behaviors seen as contrary to unwritten rules. In this sense it can be perceived as (though not proven to be) a positive force that prevents acts that are perceptually disruptive or dangerous.

As conformity is a group phenomenon, factors such as group size, unanimity, cohesion, status, prior commitment, and public opinion help determine the level of conformity an individual displays.

According to Forsynth, after submitting to group pressures, individuals may find themselves facing one of several responses to conformity. These types of responses to conformity vary in their degree of public agreement versus private agreement.

First, when an individual finds themselves in a position where they publicly agree with the groups’ decision yet privately disagree with the groups’ consensus they are experiencing compliance or acquiescence. In turn, conversion, otherwise known as private acceptance, involves both publicly and privately agreeing with the groups’ decision. Thus, this represents a true change of opinion to match the majority.

Another type of social response, which does not involve conformity with the majority of the group, is called convergence. In this type of social response the group member agreed with the groups’ decision from the outset and thus does not need to shift their opinion on the matter at hand.[4]

In addition, Forsynth shows that nonconformity can also fall into one of two response categories. First, an individual who does not conform to the majority can display independence. Independence, or dissent, can be defined as the unwillingness to bend to group pressures. Thus, this individual stays true to his or her personal standards instead of the swaying toward group standards. Also, a nonconformist could be displaying anticonformity or counterconformity which involves the taking of opinions that are opposite to what the group believes. This type of nonconformity can be motivated by a need to rebel against the status quo instead of the need to be accurate in one’s opinion.

To conclude, social responses to conformity can be seen to vary along a continuum from conversion to anticonformity. For example, a popular experiment in conformity research, known as the Asch situation or Asch conformity experiments, primarily includes compliance and independence. Also, other responses to conformity can be identified in groups such as juries, sports teams and work teams for instance.

ILL -

First: Specific predictors - Culture

Stanley Milgram found that individuals in Norway (from a collectivistic culture) exhibited a higher degree of conformity than individuals in France (from an individualistic culture).[20] Similarly, Berry studied two different populations: the Temne (collectivists) and the Inuit (individualists) and found that the Temne conformed more than the Inuit when exposed to a conformity task.[21]

Bond and Smith compared 134 studies in a meta-analysis and found that Japan (militarism) and Brazil (Catholicism) were two nations that conformed a lot whereas Europe and the United States of America did not as much.[22] Bond and Smith also reported that conformity has declined in the United States over time.

Now this is very interesting but what has it got to do with these three Hebrew men (we mistakenly call them children) and how does it relate to us.

I. The Challenges

a. They would not bow

Daniel 3:12 There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

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