Thursday, March 18, 2010

Love in Fundamentalism VI: Can Love Equal Submission If Submission Is Owed to Authority?

[commenter] One of the critical pieces that has been missing in this discussion is the issue of authority. To whom does one submit? When is it appropriate to submit and when must one subvert? Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and yet what is he doing driving people out of the temple with whips ... serving them? Submitting to them? We explain this by saying he was the Son of God and so had the authority to do this. While there's truth in that, if we're to be serious about following his example then we need to seriously ask what he was doing.
We should "submit" to appropriate authority (I think we all agree on that). But what about when that authority is wrong? What about when we disagree? What about when what the authority teaches is harmful? When should we simply swallow our pride and carry out our "orders" even if we think doing so is going to be counter-productive and when do we refuse to follow? These are not simply abstract questions. Anyone who's ever held a job has had to deal with this at some level. The boss, whether or not he's a selfish jerk, has the authority to tell the employee what to do. The employee has three options: submit to the boss, try to change the boss (good luck), or quit.
In the church, however, authority is given in the context of community and the community is responsible for helping to ensure that authority is not abused. When an authority figure (whether a pastor, husband, parent, whatever) acts inappropriately the one without the authority has (or should have) access to the larger community to find protection and justice. If that community protection isn’t working, what do we do?

I think you are again making my point.  You are conflating "love=working for the highest good of the other" with "love=submission".  You are working from the definition of "submission=coming under the authority of, owing obedience to", which I think only makes perfect sense.  It is when we try to say that "love=obedience" (in the if a=b and b=c, then a=c logical progression), that the problems start. Working from the idea that love and obedience are not always, or even often, or maybe never, the same thing and the Temple story makes much more sense.

I do think Jesus in the Temple was a perfect example of service to the highest good of the other.  To my thinking, the event has nothing to do with Jesus=Deity=Authority to be harsh, aggressive, non-submissive.  Think about it, what was the point of clearing the temple? To declare in no uncertain terms to every single participant, observer and hearer of the story that exploiting a business deal is bad karma.  

The moneychangers were providing a useful service to the worshippers but in a condition that had nothing to do with "working for the highest good" of either the moneychangers (yeah, made them a lot of profit but good for their souls?) or the worshippers.  Would anyone have paid attention if Jesus had simply stood in the corner of the Temple yard and TALKED about the problem? No.  Most certainly the problem had been talked about before.  But the malignant practice was too entrenched in the establishment--it's even possible that Temple authorities were being paid off (such is the scholarly historical opinion).  Obviously nothing was being done to stop things.  

Who would be the Voice of Moral Reason?  Jesus, who really had nothing to lose: he was already a homeless nutjob preaching on street corners.  He was the perfect person to stand up and call the spade a spade in the only way to assure that everyone paid attention and that action would have to be taken.  By disrupting the exploitive practice, Jesus was "working for the highest good" of everyone involved: the worshippers, the moneychangers themselves, the Temple administrators who hadn't stopped the practices, and everyone who heard the story who could then say "if that nutter can stand up for justice and my fellow-man, so can I".  

Everyone connected to the event was empowered by the actions of Jesus to become better people.  How is that not service?  How is that not love? And it completely agrees with the point that I keep yammering about that love does not equal submission.

On the separate issue of authority, by conflating "love=submit" with "submit=coming under authority", the Church is setting up a relationship among believers that has nothing to do with "love=working for the highest good of the other". My thesis is that when we are called to "love one another", there is nothing inherent in that about authority of one person or class of people over another.  Therefore, let's quit adding that bit into the equation. 

The foundation of all Protestantism is that every person can directly interact with God, no priest necessary.  Our big break with the established church, just like Christianity itself was a break from Judaism, was that there is no longer a need for mediation between God and Man--no sacrifices, no Jewish Law, no Catholic priest--why have we added evangelical, fundamentalist hierarchy? Why do we now say that between a woman and the Still Small Voice must come her husband, her pastor, and however many other teachers crawl into that line-up?  Why do we insist that if a woman loves God, she must therefore ignore her own capacity to think, to hear God directly, to be responsible for her own actions, and be obedient to the whims of her father/husband/pastor.  

Yeah, yeah, there's supposed to be "mutual submission" which I have already suggested is a complete oxymoron.  But even if we suppose that in the best of all possible relationships, the husband/father/teacher will humbly only make pronouncements that are truly in the highest good of the woman, why set it up that way to begin with? Why is every husband supposed to have a more direct line to God's wisdom than any wife?  It just doesn't make any sense.  It's a setup that all too easily leads to the excesses obvious in the more extreme fundies--wherein a woman is reduced to a holy fertility agent and household drudge.  How can you really say that the excess is wrong but still agree with the premise that allows that absurdity?

According to you, the checks on the system are supposed to come from within the community itself but I propose that such a setup looks a lot like the moneychangers and Temple administrators.  If the power-mongers in the community collude, how do the disenfranchised have recourse?  I do agree that people should submit to proper authority.  I take exception to who is a proper authority.  As an American and a Protestant, I vehemently oppose that I as an individual am under any spiritual authority except God, whether I am a woman, child, or man. This is 21st Century America--women have no civil obligation to submit to the authority of husband or church!  Why would God want us to reinstitute a chain of spiritual authority so prone to abuse and exploitation that worldwide, people struggle long and hard to liberate themselves from it?

I propose that "love God and love your neighbor", wherein "Love=work for the highest good of the other", is the Be All and End All of Christian Doctrine and everything else is an add-on.  If we all took "love God and neighbor" seriously, all those other rules that cause hate and discontent in all directions would be moot because if something creates hate and discontent, it is a priori not in the highest good.  It is not always sin nature that keeps people from submitting to authority but it is always sin nature that keeps pushing people "in their place".  

When do we submit and when do we subvert? We submit to human policy when all the people are being respected: every individual is honored as an equal Child of God, every man, woman, child, black, gay, Muslim, or patriocentrist is respected as fully loved by God as everyone else (regardless of whether you agree with their beliefs, lifestyles, behaviors, are you respecting their full equality in God?).  You subvert when policy holds that some people (women, children, blacks, gays) are less equal in God than others: when some people are deemed in need of extra mediation or extra justification or just plain not at all worthy of belonging in the community of believers.

Protection from abuse and justice in community will only be possible if we step away from this hierarchical authority thinking and start preaching again about love without confusing the issue with submission and obedience.

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