Writing for Catholic Exchange, Pat Gillespie tells athat visited his family some years ago and, in a broader sense, how irrationally opposed our western society has become toward the ideas of authority and submission. We all expect others to behave in accordance with societal norms or social standards, and yet we chafe at the idea of following those very norms when we disagree with them for our own selfish reasons.
I’m as guilty as anybody in this respect. As my parents can surely attest, I began to test the authorities in my life early. I tested my family, I tested my schools, and I tested my governments. I still do some of this today in the form of respectful dissent and (in rare instances) civil disobedience. In my younger days, however, my disobedience (while sometimes valid and justified) was too often just my annoying the authorities for no other reason than that they were authorities. This is fairly normal and expected for teenagers, but many adults in western society seem to have never grown out of this phase. Gillespie summed it up in his piece, talking about the three runaways:
I’m sure they took for granted that the world would continue to function according to laws and standards that make community and social life possible, but I don’t think they saw any personal responsibility in making that work by any submission to authority on their part.
We struggle with this in our religious lives too. Many have abandoned religion entirely because they don’t like ‘being told how to live their lives’ or that some of their behaviors are wrong. Even some who are ostensibly ‘religious’ gravitate toward those religious communities (we all know who they are) that expect nothing of their followers. God forbid that Christians live according to the precepts laid out by Christ; we all hate anybody (even the Almighty, let alone the Church he established) telling us what to do.
Some who knew me in my younger days—and even some who have known me more recently—have been surprised to learn that I have joined the ‘one holy Catholic and apostolic church‘ that most Christians have professed belief in at least since the Nicene Creed was established in 325AD. After all, the Church has a lot of rules, precepts, and rituals that have been established under the Church’s God-given authority. Many know me to oppose authority much more often than I accede to it. I, like so many of my peers, would prefer to ‘do my own thing’.
Gillespie asks the key question:
Humans have a very difficult time submitting their wills to anyone. And yet for most of us, a moment’s thought reveals that in order to have civil society we must submit to various laws, regulations, and community standards. In short, we must submit to lawful authority, including governments, but also parents, teachers, police officers and, ultimately the source of all authority, God. Somehow these words, authority, obedience, and submission, have come to be seen as obscene rather than as valued necessities for a healthy society. How has this happened? How have we become so blind to what should be so obvious?