By Greg Spearritt
Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.
God’s favour and joy – according to verse 4 of this execrable hymn – “are for them who will trust and obey”. The obedient have also been rewarded, as we now know, with devastating sexual (and other) abuse. And not just in the Christian churches.
This particular curse of submissive obedience afflicts many religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam among them. (‘Islam’ apparently means ‘submission’.)
The Boy Scout movement too has been hit with tens of thousands of sex-abuse claims.
A Scout, according to Scouting for Boys – a book apparently up there with the Bible in popularity back in the day – is “pure and clean-minded and manly” and resists “the secret vice which gets hold of so many fellows”.
The Cub Scout Law?: “A Cub Scout is loyal and obedient. Cub Scouts do not give into themselves.”
Turns out, for many, it wasn’t actually ‘themselves’ they had to worry about.
In light of the revelations of recent decades – although, in a familiar pattern, abuse was noted well before that within the Fold – the Australian scout promise and law has been updated and ‘obedience’ is no longer explicitly there. Though it’s still present in other guises, a disclaimer is necessary these days:
“Obedience is about doing what is right – assuming that being obedient is the right thing to do (and it may not always be, such as in the case of accepting or allowing abuse because someone was told to).”
In politics as well, as we’ve very recently seen, loyalty and obedience to the Party and the Minister is a recipe for abuse: “to be a good staffer you needed to keep quiet, ignore and bury bad behaviour and protect the Liberal Party at all costs”.
Some of these powerful people are every bit as pious and hypocritical with their ‘family values’ as the abusive priest, imam or scout master.
Obedience born of loyal devotion, whether to institutions or gurus, is demonstrably a bad idea. A clear-eyed and critical commitment to worthy people and causes – such as a state acting to defeat a pandemic! – looks like a good solution.
Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA blog posts are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position.
Authority-figures of every variety get trust and obedience.
If this is a fault, is it their fault, or ours?
I’m thinking it’s a cultural issue. Teachers, priests, doctors and politicians are no longer held in the high regard that Australians once held them.
I believe, on balance, that’s a good thing. It was an impossibly high and frequently unwarranted regard, and it gave them power to abuse.
The COVID response shows Australians for the most part still have the ability to respect authority when there’s good reason to do so.
Are the gods necessarily supernatural?
Or do they merely represent ‘Authority’?
According to psychoanalysis, God symbolizes the father-figure.
Sociology extended this figure to the political leader.
Anthropology extends it back to the tribal leader.
And the evolutionists are pointing to the Alpha Male and dominance hierarchies within the packs of our common ancestors.
Those branches of Christianity which demand submission and obedience – not all of Christianity by any means – have badly distorted the approach and teaching of Jesus, who was all about encouraging his disciples to think for themselves, and to enter into a deeper understanding of and relationship with God. He told them that he regarded them not as servants but as friends, and that they were to call no man Father. He challenged the Jewish laws where they inhibited human wellbeing and flourishing. He accepted everyone where they were at, without demanding submission to doctrines or laws. I agree that unquestioning submission and obedience are bad, but it doesn’t have to be that way in religion.