{you’re not the boss of me: conscience and authority}


Hello! It’s still National Mental Health Month, and I’m back, with a shiny new thought!

(I’ll take this opportunity to give fair warning: still posting about religion in the broadest sense, and if that’s not your gig, here’s where you can find the MOST adorable video of baby piglets, ever. I’ll see you around.)

Actually, this is not a shiny new thought. These are all really OLD thoughts, but they seem new to me as I seem to be having the most delayed adolescence in the history of the world. That’s another drawback I’m seeing from being raised in faith – at least raised in faith the way I was raised — you’re okay with letting someone else do your thinking for you. I was, anyway, for a long time. It seemed… normal. Acceptable. Pro-tip: it’s not. It’s not normal, nor is it really acceptable in real faith communities that aren’t cults! What was the point of you being born with a brain, if you don’t use it? We are supposed to support the idea that we alone have a 1:1 relation with Divinity and are responsible for ourselves, and our own beliefs, but it’s amazing how the word “Christian” gets used to define a monolith groupthink concept that’s another way to say, “we all hate abortionists and gay people.” To which I say, “Wow, really? No, thank you, if that’s all you’ve got.”

Fortunately, there’s more than that. Or, at least, faith compels us to believe there is.

The other day I saw this statement online:

“Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority.” …And sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say, “If you won’t respect me, I won’t respect you,” and they mean, “If you won’t treat me like an authority, I won’t treat you like a person,” and they think they’re being fair, but they aren’t… and it’s not okay.”

In the rest of our lives, we have this idea of …fairness and of …reality (oh, this is a whole ‘nother blog post)? Wherein respect is earned and we don’t just accept what people say because they’ve said it. They have to prove themselves to be worth listening to… In religious life, however, that isn’t the case a lot of times. We’re told This Guy Is In Charge (it’s verrrrry rarely a woman, even in this new millennium) and it’s to this guy we have to listen. I remember learning the “captive audience doctrine” when I was in high school government and thinking, “…ah. That’s what I’ve been most of my life.” Between parental lectures, teachers, youth pastors, and sermons, it felt like I’d been being forced to listen forever.

Intrinsically, the problem boils down to authority. I’m… er, mostly authority averse, despite the fact that I’ve never had so much as a traffic ticket and a $.40 library fine can make me twitchy (maybe that’s why?). I’m in conflict, at least internally, with those who perceive themselves as having authority, a remarkable amount of the time. In part, it goes back to the ideas of guilt and shame – in a religious context, the Authoritative Other has historically been the one punching-down those below them, looming over on the lower orders saying, “You People are x, y, and z!” Well, obviously, no one does well as a “you people” person; no one wants to be grouped together by some alleged inevitable inability. Sometimes these Authoritative Others are responsible for the shame which religious individuals internalize, as they do their best to convince us that our own moral code/guidance is suspect, and that we need them. I think we need to be a lot more …selective about who we believe – who we believe in, and who we listen to, in faith communities and in communities of thought in general. We need to more carefully choose our guides. And yes: choose. Because the choice of whom to listen to is still ours.

All that being said: sometimes the worst Authoritative Others are ourselves. We make up rules for behavior that no one put on us but… us. In order to tell my True and live an authentic life, I not only have to listen to myself, I have to make rules for self-governance and take the responsibility to stay in a realistic balance between the person I want to be, and the person I can be.

Be perfect is a verbatim mandate in religious texts. The law is perfect, and its purpose is to perfect the soul, King David said. But psychologists are alarmed by the concept of taking that perfection literally. Logically, it would seem ridiculous to even try — but some people are raised with the idea that it’s within their grasp, if they just… try.

Aaaand, we’re back to pretending again. Real life – living a real life of authenticity in faith – is so much harder if we keep closing our eyes to reality. If we keep imagining our selves as somehow better than other people and more able to achieve this impossible standard just because we’re Special. And yet: this is how some people are raised, in faith. This is how I was raised. Is it any wonder that sometimes it’s hard to fit into mainstream life? Being “chosen” or “separate” can make you view the world through a fisheye lens, with all the wrong things exaggerated.

Aside from any leaders or spokespersons, whatever our faiths, I am just like you. You are just like me. When seen as we, we are all flawed. Fragile. Striving toward wholeness, for our own sake, not under the guise of any authority; for our soul’s sakes, for the purpose of fulfilling our potential. We may never get there. But we have been given our lives to try — to fall, to lie there and contemplate — and to try again. Which makes it worth getting up some days.

PS ~ Thank you to the lovely people who have written me notes about these thoughts off-blog. I appreciate all of the smart people in my life, especially those who speak French so nicely.

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