Sunday, 11 September 2022

All Authority is Now Corrupted

There has been some debate about authority, spiritual and temporal, and whether a good Christian should submit to it at all times, acknowledging authority as justified simply by virtue of it being there in the first place. I have a few thoughts about this but they come from someone who is not a member of any official branch of religion and consequently does not acknowledge anything in this world as having full spiritual authority so you may wish to reject them on those grounds.

What I would say is that this is a fallen world. You cannot assume that just because someone or something holds power that is in line with God's will, certainly not now when God is either denied outright or effectively denied because his commandments are disregarded even though he may be given nominal allegiance. 

Obedience to external authority is not a virtue unless that authority is worthy and even then it is not a virtue as such though it may be right. Humility is a virtue and rebelliousness is a vice but obedience in itself is neither good nor bad. Besides, the whole point of obedience in a spiritual sense is so that we may reach a stage where we have learnt to think for ourselves. It's like the stabilisers on a bicycle before you can ride. This is not to say that disobedience is a virtue for it clearly is not except in particular circumstances when it may be right. But obedience is for children. Necessary if the children are to grow as they should and be guided into the proper ways of being and behaviour but stifling and infantilising if persisted in or insisted on for too long.

Jesus told us that the devil was the prince or ruler of this world. I don't imagine he was telling us to obey this prince while we were in the world. At the very least, he was surely saying that power in this world cannot be assumed to be given by God, and looking at history how can we doubt that?

Actually, I do believe in obedience but obedience to the voice of God within ourselves.  You may ask, how can you know it's the voice of God? I reply you can't be certain but if it is and you obey it you will be given greater discernment whereas if you mistake your own self-will for the voice of God your mind will darken. By their fruits you will know them.

I had teachers whom I regard as spiritual authorities. They never asked for or expected obedience. They expected me to pay attention to what they said and if I had not they would have ceased to talk to me but they never asked me to think or do anything that did not make complete sense to me. I listened to them and I tried to apply their teachings because I respected them not because they were the authorities. They were authorities but that authority was rooted in truth as proper authority must be. If it is not (and can anyone really tell me that any authority is today?) then it is not spiritually legitimate and not only need it not be obeyed. It should not be obeyed because there is a higher authority.

We all need to obey the laws of the land except in extreme circumstances. But the greatest obedience is to God. He is ultimately the only authority and the only person we should obey. Yes, God delegates authority but in this present time the situation is that we are all being called to form a personal relationship with our Maker. How can we do that effectively if we listen to other voices?


Bruce Charlton said...

@William - For a traditionalist Christian it now seems to be absolutely necessary to recognize these as the End Times - one aspect of which is precisely that previously trustworthy authorities will try to lead Men to damnation.

Fr Seraphim Rose wrote quite extensively about these being the End Times from his Eastern Orthodox position; and thus what this meant for even the most tradition-guided type of Christians.

In his spiritual counselling letters especially; Seraphim Rose made clear that the old system of surrendering one's discernment to a 'spiritual Father' was no longer possible - and that even the wisest of authorities should be regarded as no more than a teacher.

And he displayed exactly this kind of reflective discernment in his own attempts to navigate through the severe disagreements and controversies of Orthodoxy - emphasizing that warmth of heart and spirit (rather than cold intellect and strictly 'correct' procedure) was the best guide.

William Wildblood said...

That seems right to me. These times are obviously very different to any previous times as the spiritual has been completely chased away. Most religious people behave in their daily lives just like their secular counterparts.

Francis Berger said...

Good points but I fear our trad brothers and sisters don't see or are unwilling to see the inherent dangers of these times. They continue to double-down on authority/obedience even when their arguments become incoherent and cease making sense against the backdrop of lived experience. It has been really eye-opening to follow and observe.

William Wildblood said...

I can see that people may feel that obedience to authority offers protection against spiritual error/heresy/going off the rails/ egotism but I feel many may also be reacting out of fear which is understandable but I see the spiritual path as somewhat akin to mountain climbing and sometimes to get ahead you have to take risks. That is in addition to the fact that all institutions have to some degree or another been infiltrated, melodramatic as that may sound.

ben said...

Maybe the basic problem is that they aspire to a restoration of things, not understanding that this is the end.

They're trying to set up rules for a functional society and their understanding of deeper matters is bending to this. I think there's a moralistic commitment to the structure of tradition, writings of saints, doctrines, etc with the expectation that if one doesn't lock oneself in to this or that then everything will fall apart.

Maybe this is the key... Understand that the picture isn't going to improve and then turn to the matter of attaining an understanding of the situation that really, practically works. Instead of spinning wheels trying to hold the end times together!

William Wildblood said...

Yes, we cannot go back and nor should we. Perhaps they also forget that this world chiefly serves as a training ground for the soul which is the spiritual component of our being. The worldly self, even the good worldly self, must eventually be sloughed off though with its essence taken up into the soul.

Daniel F said...

"For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."

Those who obeyed Jesus did so because they recognized his true authority (i.e. the authentic voice of God), not because of any office or position he held.

Bruce Charlton said...

I would regard the example of Adam Piggot as a positive one for trads. He is basically a Roman Catholic traditionalist, and a recent convert; yet practices his (tough-seeming) faith with up-front and explicit discernment. So, it can be done!

Colin said...

Rebelliousness is a vice; obedience is childish. Truth walks the line.
Thankyou William. That hit the spot.

Unknown said...

I take it as granted the spiritual life involves one in opposition to all secular institutions and centers of power, not violently but a principled opposition.

The "logic" of spirituality is in direct opposition to the logic of power, and the Kingdom of Heaven is in direct opposition to this world.

That the Church allied itself to Power and became an institution was indeed a tragedy, as Jesus came precisely to overturn all these things, and ked eventually to Christianity losing credibility and young Westerners feeling they had to turn East to find a truly unspoiled spirituality.

Perhaps now that the institutions of power are no longer favorable to Christianity it can once again inspire people looking for the real thing.

As for spiritual "authority", that too was never meant to be strict and severe, and only a debasement made it so. Spiritual guidance, yes - strict authority, there was never warrant for that.

The Kingdom of Heaven has always been inside each of us. Further, we are earned not to take things on authority as there will be false prophets, and to judge things by their fruits.

In Buddhism, the Buddha said 2,500 years ago one should take nothing on authority but test everything for oneself.

So the "authority" model - as distinct from the spiritual advisor model, which still has value - was never correct, in my view.

What is happening now - and it is a wonderful thing - the ancient alliance and compromise between Christianity and power and authority - which never should have happened - is finally breaking down, and a pure form of spirituality is once again breaking through.

William Wildblood said...

Excellent comment, Unknown. No true spiritual authority would ever expect or even wish for obedience which is the mark of the slave or child. God wishes us to be free and to be spiritually mature. Obedience fails to satisfy either of these conditions. Those who advocate obedience are fearful of rebellion but these are two extremes. The middle way which is a judicious mix of respect for proper authority (authority based on real spiritual attainment) and personal responsibility is what is called for.