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As Columbia University and other elite campuses erupt into protests against the United States’ diplomatic and military support of Israel’s war against Hamas, US Sen. John Fetterman denounced the antisemitic speech of some of these protesters, remarking on the social platform X, “Add some tiki torches and it’s Charlottesville for these Jewish students.”

Whatever one thinks of Fetterman’s analogy or of the Israel-Hamas war, we would do well to listen to the common ring of the Charlottesville chant, “You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” with the one recorded this week on the Columbia campus: “We have Zionists who have entered the camp!”

An observer might have asked in Charlottesville, “What Jews are trying to replace you?” The white nationalists there would no doubt have told such a person that a shadowy cabal was seeking to import immigrants, to commit “white genocide.” Just so, another observer might ask at Columbia, “What Zionists have entered your camp?” Israeli military forces? No. The “Zionists” in question are Jewish students—one wearing a Star of David—attempting to walk on campus.

At one level, the video of the students chanting seems almost farcical, like a parody out of an old episode of Portlandia. The leader yells out a sentence; the followers repeat it back—even to the point of repeating back, in unison, “Repeat after me.” Does that part really have to be repeated? Well, kind of; that’s part of what happens in a chant. The message is not reasoned discourse. The rote nature of the repetition is the point. It’s also the danger. In a mob, the individual is submerged into a collective—a collective usually reverberating with anger.

Campus protests are an essential part of a society that prizes free speech. Students have every right to make known their opinions that they disapprove of Israeli political or military policies in Gaza. Citizens of good will can, and should, simultaneously hold moral condemnation of Hamas’s terrorism, systemic rapes, and hostage-taking alongside moral concern that the lives of innocents in Gaza are protected from Israeli bombs, starvation, and Hamas itself.

Even speech that I would find morally repugnant—the “whataboutism” that waves away the atrocities of Hamas and Iran and their terrorist collaborators—is, in a liberal democracy, free to be expressed. And, when others are threatened or harmed, a university has a responsibility to protect them.

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Christians, though, ought to be especially attentive to what’s happening to a society that increasingly seems, on the horseshoe extremes of the populist right and the activist left, to be driven toward the pull of the channeled rage of the mob.

That’s why we must listen to the chants. By this, I don’t just mean that we should listen to the content of the chants, as important as that is. White nationalist mobs and Orbánist intellectuals—on social media or in real life—parroting back talking points straight from Mein Kampf ought to alarm us.

So should masked leftist students shouting the same slogans—“From the river to the sea!”—used to justify not just opposition to Israeli policies but to the very existence of the Jewish state itself. The chants of an angry mob almost always seek a scapegoat—and those scapegoats are almost always religious minorities.

Consider, for instance, the vitriolic rage with which some professing Christians—at city councils and town zoning boards all over the country—treat Muslim Americans.

The talking points are usually taken right from the Know-Nothing rhetoric of a century before: Muslims can’t “assimilate” into American culture; Islam is not a religion but a ruse to dominate and impose sharia law. Many such mobs—online and in real life—wove and disseminated bizarre conspiracy theories that the then-president of the United States, the first Black commander in chief in our history, was not a “real” American but was a Muslim, as though the two would be contradictory even if true.

Who was hurt in all of this? A lot of Muslim men and women and children—including people so patriotic that they fought proudly for this country, and families so patriotic that they received American flags from the graves of their sons and daughters who died fighting to protect their country from terrorism.

As unspeakable as the damage to our Muslim neighbors was, they were not the only ones harmed. Everyone was—perhaps none more than those shouting the rage themselves.

My fellow Mississippi Baptist, the late comedian Jerry Clower, would often say that what convinced him of the moral bankruptcy of the Jim Crow segregationist regime he had always known was not the arguments of Martin Luther King Jr. or Fannie Lou Hamer or other civil rights leaders. Instead, what convinced him was watching a crowd of other white Mississippians in the streets of Jackson screaming about the presence of Black children in their schools.

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Watching the red-faced rage of a man screaming racist epithets, Clower saw the kind of self-consuming wrath about which his Bible had warned him. The spell was broken. Just for a moment, he saw the crowds not as a mass of white Mississippians but as individual persons, as human beings, and he did not want to become what he saw.

Chants are powerful; that’s why they’re used by human beings seeking to merge together as one. Like everything else, the power is precisely because they were created for good. Listen to a recording of Gregorian chants, for instance, to hear the beauty of a gathering of people whose voices blend together, no longer distinguishable as individuals but as something merged together as a whole.

When I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, I would sneak away to a Cistercian monastery an hour’s drive away to listen to the monks chant the Psalms together. I would calm down, reminded of what it was, as a child, to recite in unison, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” I must have been the only visitor to Thomas Merton’s monastery there to relive Southern Baptist Vacation Bible School.

Chants—of whatever kind—resonate deeply with human nature because they are meant to join us together, to create a kind of hive mind in which we lose, for a moment, our sense of individuality, to become part of something together. The resonance of that kind of chanting is meant to take us to those emotions that are best expressed in that sort of “hive”: awe, wonder, worship. They are meant to break us from the preoccupation of the self.

If history has shown us anything, though, it is how dangerous it can be when a collective meant to channel awe becomes instead a channel of a much more uncontrollable emotion—that of anger. In those chants, the individual is lost not in a mass but a mob. The energy that lights up such a gathering is not shared smallness in the face of something or Someone greater but what the Bible calls the “works of the flesh,” the drive to idolize the tribe by delighting in the darkest, most violent aspects of our fallen human nature.

The biblical picture of a human being stands in contrast with both individualism and collectivism. We are created to be persons in communion. The apostle Paul used the metaphor of a collective body, with individual members who are distinguishable and unique but who belong to each other (1 Cor. 12:12–27). And the apostle Peter used the metaphor of a building made up of individual, living stones (1 Pet. 2:4–5).

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The mob is so dangerous because it taps into an artificial feeling of communion. But unlike the body of Christ, where the energizing principle is the mind of Christ, the mob is fueled by the frenzy of the limbic system. A mob is a place to hide from one’s own moral accountability: I was just swept away. I was just following orders. The Christian moral vision, though, tells us that the consciences we try to quiet are right: We can sin together—sometimes in a number that no man can number—but we stand at the judgment seat not tribe by tribe or mob by mob but one by one (Rom. 2:9–16).

The fallenness of mobs ought to remind us of what these mobs have fallen from. We are, indeed, created to join our voices in a chant: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). That song is to the Jew who, thanks be to God, re-placed us. And the narrow path to where that song is sung is a different one from this era’s broad road of isolated persons and energized crowds.

To sing, we must say no to the slogans. To find love, we must say no to hate. To find community, we must say no to the mob.

Russell Moore is the editor in chief at Christianity Today and leads its Public Theology Project.