Tell Me Your Authority, And I Will Tell You Your God

It is common in this age, and in many ages of human history, for people to rebel against existing authorities.  It does not matter whether these authorities are political, cultural, religious, or scientific in nature, as there is a certain degree of joy that one gets from being a rebel.  By way of digression, as human beings our long rebellion against our ultimate authority in God, there has always been a certain degree of thrill and joy in what is forbidden by either men or God, and that results in a great deal of natural tension between people and authority.  This is not to say that authorities have always behaved in a blameless fashion either–for they have not–only that there is a certain degree of tension and ambivalence, if not outright hostility, between authorities in rival domains and between authorities and those they claim authority over build into the system.  Likewise, the understanding that ultimate authorities are to have authority in all domains has made fights between authority over dominance rather inevitable as well.

On a tactical level, this has meant that human beings have largely adopted a two-tiered approach when it comes to dealing with claims of authority.  On the one hand, there is a great tendency to rebel against any authority that seeks to make a claim of dominance over oneself, but also a simultaneous desire to enforce one’s power over others that are claimed under one’s own authority [1].  This asymmetrical relationship creates all kinds of problems, because the tyrannical behavior of authorities invites rebellion, while the rebellion of authorities against those who would be over them also legitimizes the rebellion of those who are under intermediate authorities.  In such a situation, those who claim an ultimate leadership are often able to find allies against subordinates that they find to be troublesome and rebellious, because their own oppression against those under their authority provide grievances.  This explains, for example, the interest in Lope de Vega in Fuenteovejuna in the issue of peasants protecting their own dignity and well-being by allying with the king against overmighty and semi-independent military orders that had been of use against the Muslim realms but were now mainly a threat to internal order [2].  The resulting situation is a complicated nature of authority where those who might be rivals under other circumstances can find alliances in the face of common enemies, and there is a continual threat to cut out the middleman and flatten the hierarchical structure, or for every well-meaning resistance to unjust authority to provide an inspiration for other oppressed groups to rebel against other injustices, eventually.

In such a complicated world as our world is when it comes to authorities, arguments about authority and legitimacy and arguments about God are ultimately the same.  And questions about authority and legitimacy are inescapable.  If someone desires to make an authority claim, the obvious rejoinder of “says who” means that authorities and justifications are brought into the open.  Desires to rebel against authority are similarly met with questions as to the justification, and answering such questions honestly leaves no doubt as to what authority is claimed.  We can seek to align ourselves with God through appeals to revealed truth, where such questions then involve an understanding of hermeneutical principles and the appeal to other authorities that we are aligning ourselves with.  We can seek to make ourselves our own authorities, at the risk of making it impossible for us to make any just claims over the behavior of others by the grounds we use to declare our own autonomy.  Or we can justify our behavior through an alignment with a school of thought or a party of some kind, thus accepting their interpretations as binding, at least for the moment.

Typically, though, this is not done in an honest manner.  A group that finds itself weak may plead for tolerance until it has built up its support and demands to enforce its viewpoints on others without mercy when it is strong, to delegitimize other perspectives through a control of some sort of institutional power.  Others may wish to delegitimize authority but do not wish to be honest about the grounds by which they justify such rebellious behavior because those authorities are not supported by those whom the rebellious party wishes to gain the support of.  At other times, the real sources of a grievance are personal and petty, and it is necessary to feign a larger but dishonest grievance in order to build up a suitable base of support.  Such problems are as old as the original rebellion of Satan and his demons, some of whom were likely deceived as to the true nature of what was going on, against God and His angels.  And such equivocation and struggle has gone on ever since then as all people desire to be free from some sort of restraint that those in authority over them would push for and simultaneously all authorities behave in ways that invite dissent and pushback from those they claim over them, whether through their desire to address the moral flaws of those they rule over or because of their own moral flaws that oppress those they rule over.  Show me your authority and I will show you your God, but you may not like what you show accordingly, or what you see when you look at the authorities you support.

[1] A note is needed here.  Not all who find themselves in positions of authority behave in a tyrannical manner over those under their authority.  Many people do not like the burdens of responsibility that they face as parents or other authorities, for example, and have no interest in bullying or oppressing others.  That said, I am speaking here of people who desire institutional power, whether that institution is the family, church, business, department, university, or political realm.  People who desire power seek institutional authority to aid them in their quest for domination.  Those who do not desire to dominate others are not the sort of people who are likely to have authority issues to struggle with in the first place.

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings, Satan's House Divided and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Tell Me Your Authority, And I Will Tell You Your God

  1. Pingback: Dungeon Master God | Edge Induced Cohesion

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