Authority, by Eddie Huff

A New Visions Commentary paper published April 1999 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax 202/543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.

I got a chuckle from a T-shirt I saw at a mall that read "you’re not the boss of me." I’ve heard many children, including my own, use this line. What was funny to me, however, was that it was a 20-something woman wearing the shirt.

I feel the shirt’s message reflects where America is right now. Almost every issue becomes a shouting match where the person yelling loudest, with the smoothest and most scholarly-sounding delivery and/or media support wins. But does this really mean anything?

I remember the words of the Gospels, when the Pharisees asked Jesus, "by what authority do you do [say] these things and who gave you this authority?" In other words, who do you think you are? Or, you’re not the boss of me. It all begins with authority.

We need to examine authority to determine how we should judge statements, philosophies, ideas, laws and actions. If not, we will find ourselves adrift in a moral abyss without bearing and without a foundation to build anything of lasting value.

I realize that, in this post-Christian society, the idea of a god, some god or The God instantly turns some people off. Nevertheless, any discussion of authority must begin and/or end there. We need to find out how we got from "In the beginning God said" to "the will of the people" and public opinion polls.

Mankind traditionally held the notion of a higher power sitting in judgment of his deeds. Almost all cultures observed similar taboos and the idea of an ultimate consequence for one’s actions. These convictions formed the rule of law. From the Code of Hamurabi and the Law of Moses to the Magna Carta and the Constitution, laws had a deity in mind. It was not until recently that "enlightened" men began arguing that good laws came from the hearts of good men, and that good men are enlightened, learned and superstition-free. Now, we are free to think and govern using a new, humanistic agenda without a mean old deity to judge us. We are to lead through learning, improving lifestyles while moving society toward paradise.

I fear, however, that we are heading away from paradise. By casting away supreme authority, all authority below it is diminished. To use a scriptural reference, a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus agreed to see the servant, but the centurion replied, "Just say the word and he will be healed. I am under authority and if I say to someone below me do this or that they do it." (Matthew 8:5-9) The centurion recognized true authority is more powerful than speech or actions. It works in reverse, too. Without supreme authority behind or above, authority is suspect. How often will a child act up until the dreaded words "wait until your father comes home" are spoken?

In today’s society, however, we are setting ideas against each other by making rules without authority. For example, in the absence of one divine authority, why is it okay for an adult to sleep with a person of the same sex but not with an animal or child? Because people think so. Why is it okay to kill a baby only a few inches inside the womb but not outside it? Because people think so. Why is it okay for one man in power to have indiscriminant sex without suffering the legal consequences others do? Because people think so. But what if attitudes shift tomorrow, and all those sensibilities are turned on their head? Before you call this ridiculous, remember that, a century ago, some things that are legal today were considered outlandish.

Another thing to remember is that, in the absence of a divine authority, human authority becomes heavy-handed. "You’re not the boss of me" often receives the "oh, yes I am" response. Without backing from a higher authority, order must be protected with force, creating a vicious cycle of oppression.

As we move further away from a legal system based upon a divine authority, we move further away from any legal system of any kind. Law without consequences is nothing more than good advice. We must face the reality that there is either absolute authority or nothing at all, and that any attempt to set boundaries is a sham. People may argue for new laws by crying "think of the children," but how can we be thinking of the children when we set no foundation or moral compass for their future?

We must offer something better than that. I say God is not a bad place to start.

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