by Adam Lee
from AlterNet Website
For the vast majority of human history, the only form of government was the few ruling over the many.
As human societies became settled and stratified, tribal chiefs and conquering warlords rose to become kings, pharaohs and emperors, all ruling with absolute power and passing on their thrones to their children.
To justify this obvious inequality and
explain why they should reign over everyone else, most of these
ancient rulers claimed that the gods had chosen them, and
priesthoods and holy books obligingly came on the scene to promote
and defend the theory of divine right.
But in many cases, when a religious rebellion overcame a tyrant, it was only to install a different tyrant whose beliefs matched those of the revolutionaries. Christians were at first ruthlessly persecuted by the Roman Empire, but when they ascended to power, they in turn banned all the pagan religions that had previously persecuted them.
Protestant reformers like
John Calvin broke away from the
decrees of the Pope, but Calvinists created their own theocratic
city-states where their will would reign supreme.
And in just the same way, when the
Puritans fled England and migrated to the New World, it wasn't to
uphold religious tolerance; it was to
impose their beliefs, rather than the Church
The kings and emperors battled
ferociously to stamp this idea out, but it took root and spread in
spite of them. In historical terms, democracy is a young idea, and
human civilization is still reverberating from it - as we see in
autocratic Arab societies convulsed with revolution, or Chinese
citizens rising up against the state, or even in America, with
protesters marching in the streets against a resurgence of
Religion is very much a holdover from
the dark ages of the past, and the world's holy books still enshrine
the ancient demands for us to bow down and obey the (conveniently
unseen and absent) gods, and more importantly, the human beings who
claim the right to act as their representatives. It's no surprise,
then, that the most fervent advocates of religion in the modern
world are also the most deeply inculcated with this mindset of
command and obedience.
As polls and surveys make clear, the overwhelming majority of American Catholics use contraception and in all other ways live normal, modern lives. They mostly just ignore the archaic bluster of the bishops.
But the Pope and the Vatican hierarchy
conduct themselves publicly as if nothing had changed since the
Middle Ages; as if there were billions of Catholics who'd leap to
obey the slightest crook of their finger.
An even more breathtakingly arrogant expression of this idea comes from New Advent, the official Catholic theological encyclopedia.
Watch how it addresses that whole embarrassing Galileo episode:
To translate the church's legalisms into plain language, what this is saying is that it's OK to doubt something the church teaches, but only if you keep quiet about that doubt and outwardly obey everything the church authorities tell you, acting as if your doubt didn't exist.
And if the church teaches that something
is an infallible article of faith, even that ineffective option is
taken away: you're required to believe it without question or else
face eternal damnation.
To explain just how absolute he thought this obedience should be, he used a vivid analogy:
Nor is it just from the Catholic side of the aisle where we hear these pronouncements. Even though Protestants don't have one pope to rule them all, they still believe that following your betters is essential.
Here's a statement to that effect from the esteemed apologist C.S. Lewis, from his book The Problem of Pain:
According to Lewis, obedience is "intrinsically good."
In other words, it's always a good thing
to do as you're told, no matter what you're being told to do or
who's telling you to do it! It doesn't take much imagination to
picture the moral atrocities that could result from putting this
idea into practice.
Just to prove that none of these are flukes, here's one more quote, this time from Christian evangelical pastor Ray Stedman, excerpted from his sermon titled "Bringing Thoughts Into Captivity":
Nor is the demand for mindless obedience confined to Christianity.
Here's how one Jewish rabbi explained the rationale for the kosher dietary laws, recounted in Richard Dawkins' essay "Viruses of the Mind":
In other words, the kosher laws have no reason or justification, and that's a good thing, because they teach people the habit of unquestioning obedience, which should be encouraged.
This uncannily resembles a piece of parenting advice from Stephen Colbert, who satirically wrote that,
Religious authorities like this rabbi
are making the exact same argument in all seriousness! And then, of
course, there's Islam, whose very name is Arabic for "submission."
Surveys from all over the world find that self-identified conservatives put far more emphasis on the last three, two of which are fundamental to a worldview based on obedience and submission.
The implied similarity between
conservatism and fundamentalist religion is too obvious to ignore,
particularly in America, where the conservative political party is
dominated by an especially regressive and belligerent strain of
If moral commands could only be backed up by appeals to reason or human good, these unfounded and harmful laws would vanish overnight.
Instead, the people who make these rules
and want us to obey them claim that they're messengers of the
will of God, and thus no further justification is needed. It
bears emphasizing that this is the exact same argument made by
ancient monarchs and tyrants, all of whom used this idea to justify
This idea has always had disastrous
consequences in the past - why should we expect anything different
These are our commandments:
There have been countless wars and devastations because people were too eager to subordinate their will and conscience to the ruling authorities, but as Sam Harris says,
If anything, human beings have always been too eager to obey and to subordinate their will to others.
The more we throw off that ancient and
limiting mindset, the more freedom we have to think, act and speak
as we choose, the more humanity as a whole will prosper.