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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Twenty Ways to Answer A Fool (pt 14)

Does Christianity model an authoritarian organization?

I continue once again considering the list of 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity compiled by blues guitar playing, Christ-hating anarchist, Chaz Bufe.

Thankfully, he provides us another short point which will only require a short response:

14. Christianity models hierarchical, authoritarian organization. Christianity is perhaps the ultimate top-down enterprise. In its simplest form, it consists of God on top, its "servants," the clergy, next down, and the great unwashed masses at the bottom, with those above issuing, in turn, thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots backed by the threat of eternal damnation. But a great many Christian sects go far beyond this, having several layers of management and bureaucracy. Catholicism is perhaps the most extreme example of this with its laity, monks, nuns, priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes, all giving and taking orders in an almost military manner. This type of organization cannot but accustom those in its sway—especially those who have been indoctrinated and attending its ceremonies since birth—into accepting hierarchical, authoritarian organization as the natural, if not the only, form of organization. Those who find such organization natural will see nothing wrong with hierarchical, authoritarian organization in other forms, be they corporations, with their multiple layers of brown-nosing management, or governments, with their judges, legislators, presidents, and politburos. The indoctrination by example that Christianity provides in the area of organization is almost surely a powerful influence against social change toward freer, more egalitarian forms of organization.

If ever there was a more blatant example of the kettle-painting-pot cliche', I am not sure what it would be. Chaz is a self-professed anarchist, that much is clear so far, so I can understand why he would have problems with any authority, let alone Christianity. Yet once again Chaz's main illustration of Christian authority gone wild is Roman Catholicism and Catholicism does not represent the whole of biblical Christianity by any stretch of the imagination.

To a degree, Chaz raises a reasonable complaint about organized religion. It certainly is true that various sects of Christianity have had their problems with authoritarian abuse. In addition to the Catholics, many independent fundamental style denominations whether Baptist or Pentecostal, struggle with ridiculously strict authority figures like a pastor and deacons wielding a strong hand over a congregation of cowering members. They unlawfully lord over the people they are meant to shepherd.

However, in spite of these problems, biblical Christianity affirms the importance of authority structures within a church and
soundly condemns the abuse of authority by leaders over a congregation. Human error does not negate the truthfulness of Christianity. When scripture is followed as the Lord intends it to be followed, abusive authority figures will stay checked. Of course, that is not to say members may need to be firmly disciplined, but firm discipline submitted to biblically led leadership is ordained of the Lord (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5).

As an anarchist, Chaz doesn't care a bit for any boss, or president, or leader telling him what to do with his life. But, what sort of society does Chaz the anarchist have to offer in the place of bosses and leaders? I suggest Chaz's anarchism would be just as authoritarian and abusive as the Christianity he decries.

True anarchy desires a world where everyone is living in tribal style communities with no centralized government, working and sharing together in free thinking cooperation and friendship. Perhaps this is the kind of anarchist utopia Chaz has in mind. People gardening, weaving baskets, gathering fruit, sewing clothes, treating each other with self-respect, living eco-friendly lives, and of course, engaging in all the free sex a person can humanly imagine with reckless abandon and impunity. You know, the type of society that in a Star Trek universe is effortlessly assimilated by the Borg without a fight.

If only historical anarchist movements could be this benign.


The historic reality, contrary to Chaz's visions of what anarchy should be, has been horrific and blood filled. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does human government. For when one government is overthrown, another one most certainly will fill its place. In many cases, much worse than the first, and even if the rebel rousers express good intentions to refrain from being cruel authoritarians to each other. Orwell's Animal Farm comes to mind, here. A present day example of real anarchy is the country of Somalia where it was the only known world state without a centralized government between 1991 and 2006. The country was a disaster in which the poor and helpless were brutalized by those individuals who were able to gain power by means of force and violence.

Though Chaz has Pollyannish visions of living in a Hobbiton style community where everyone shares equally in the collective good with no one bossing anyone else around, hierarchical authority structures have a necessary function in society. For one, authority structures make sure everything operates correctly. Such things as ease of commerce, basic emergency care and defense. It also enforces the rules upon the members of society. Authority is designed to protect the citizenry. Does incompetence and abuse often arise within the authority structure? Certainly, but a society is much better off to find a corrective for the authority structure rather than live completely without it.

Next up: The Bible and slaves

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