Saturday, June 7, 2008

Submission and Authority

I found a draft from a while back, and I can't figure out why I didn't publish it. So from February:

Russ Adcox (one of the CofC preachers/thinkers who I find well worth the reading time) has an interesting post up on the issue of authority. The particular context is the idea of discipleship and submission to the authority of Jesus in Christianity. A member of the congregation apparently brought up the problem that the idea of Jesus as an authority figure could cause an individual who has been abused by authority figures in his or her life.

I think there's a difference between a spiritual authority to whom you submit to for teaching and guidance and who recognizes that your submission is only possible because you have a basic authority over yourself, and an authority that claims you have no real choice, you will submit, or else.

On Beale Street the other night (I had friends in town), a group of about three people were hanging out with a large sign, informing everyone there that if our names weren't found in the book of life, we'd been spending eternity swimming in a lake of fire. This would be the submit or else version of authority. This would be the type of authority that kicks my fight or flight instinct into high gear. Should I ignore them and go elsewhere on Beale? Or should I sit down in a half-lotus position and start chanting the lyrics of "My Sweet Lord"?

This second type of authority is destructive and oppressive. It's the type of authority that has to assert itself through violence -- whether the spiritual violence of being damned to hell for eternity, or the realized violence of destroying another's house of worship. The implication is that one does not really have a choice. Anything which challenges the hierarchical norm will be punished.

I can see the fundamentalist reply of tough cookie -- that's just how it is, submit now or burn. To which I really can't reply with anything other than -- no. Ain't buying it.

Free submission to an authority is a different matter, of course


Steve Hayes said...

We are told that Jesus taught with authority, and not as the scribes.

I like to think that his reaching was authoritative, but theirs was authoritarian.

BTW I foudn your blog through CritiqueCircle.

WordK said...

Hello, sorry for being tardy on the response and thanks for stopping by.

The limitations of language never cease to frustruate me. And then the ability of language to create nuance by changing an ending just amazes me.