Sunday Morning Musings: I have been struggling for a while now about the paradox of authority. I like to be in control and therefore like to exercise my authority in a situation. On the other hand, I am respectful of those in authority over me. Therein lays my conundrum. How do I tell the difference between exercising my rights and responsibilities to be an authority figure and accepting what I am told?
I am a firm believer that we operate with at least three different levels of being with others. As a child I was very dependent upon others. I had the expectations that my parents, my schools, and my church would lead me in the right paths. What they told me was the truth. As a teenager I began to rebel against such dependency. I was actually encouraged to think for myself. Even though my parents were still authority figures to me, they encouraged me to ask questions and search for answers even if they didn’t always agree with me. The same was somewhat true as I advanced through school and church.
However, I was soon to learn when I became a teacher that asking questions or encouraging my students to ask questions could result in the unpredictable happening. It was much easier as a teacher just to have my students respond as they were expected. Teaching by rote is okay for a while, but it really doesn’t promote a sense of independence of thought. I do remember a grade 13 teacher (yes, I am that old) telling me that if I was to write a good essay I would need to present more than facts. I was told to tell what the facts meant. That seemed to work as long as my meaning and the teacher’s meaning were much the same. In other words, I could be an independent thinker as long as I thought in the “acceptable” manner.
The church seemed to treat me in much the same way, even as I advanced into theology. If I gave the expected answers I was accepted. I learned how to play the game and as a result I got the required grades and ultimately was ordained. (That is not to say that is the only reason I was ordained.)
In many minds the churches (and religions) have not changed much over the centuries. We still have a book that is the authoritative Word of God, and as long as it is interpreted “correctly” all is well. And for correct interpretation all I need to do is read what it says. Why this book even tells me to consider men as better than women, as white men better than non-whites. Who would believe that stuff, that nonsense?
Now the alternative could be just as bad. In the play Sola Fide! (a Friendly Dramatization of Martin Luther’s 500 Year Old Reformation) written by Reverend John McTavish who with tongue somewhat in his cheek put words into the mouth of Cardinal Eck, “Imagine if every priest or monk decided to interpret the faith for himself. There would be chaos, Luther. Churches on the corner of every street, all of them claiming to possess the truth in their own little Bibles, their own little paper Popes”. Who decides? Who is the final authority?
So we come to my third phase of life which is that of interdependence. We all have the possibility of being right and wrong. We have the authority to think for ourselves and should be encouraged to do so. But we do not have the authority to act on our own or in way that is disrespectful of others even if they disagree with me. We do have the authority to be compassionate and loving. I have thought this though and for me, this is the word of God. (Now the issue of power vs. authority is another topic!)