Question Authority

I saw it again the other day, a bumper sticker that said, “Question Authority.” That’s the prevailing mood of our day, perpetual skepticism towards human authority and the notion that we should question and challenge it at every opportunity. This is hardly surprising given the rebellious nature of humanity, but it’s puzzling to see many Christians join the chorus.

In our adamic depravity we all have a natural distaste for authority. Resistance can run the gamut from mild to intense, but this basic sentiment lurks in the shadows of every human heart, “Ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to do!” Rugged individualism can digress into sinful anti-authoritarianism almost imperceptibly.

Personal independence is lauded in movies, television, and popular songs. Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way.” Society makes heroes of those who defy authority, whether parental, ecclesiastical, political, or economic.

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Uncle Ben Was Almost Right

The story has almost attained myth status in our culture. Brainy, often-bullied, tragically-parentless adolescent has accidental encounter with dangerously powerful lab experiment. Bitten by an unnaturally fortified spider, he soon begins to develop spider-like qualities himself. He discovers that he has faster-than-human reflexes, can climb walls, and can do amazing things with webs. (Fortunately for him, compound eyes, extra limbs, and complicated new mouth parts are not part of the package.)

The youth struggles to come to terms with his new-found abilities and how his life must change. In most versions of the story, he has a conversation with his foster father, Uncle Ben, who delivers the famous aphorism: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The good uncle was almost right.

The voice of wisdom in the tale correctly recognized that power and responsibility go together. And certainly when individuals come upon power unexpectedly they ought to ponder what responsibilities they must also have. But by putting power first, Uncle Ben expressed a popular misunderstanding—a reversal of the actual order of things. And because we are so prone to be confused about power, the difference is important. Scripture reveals that responsibility comes first, and then power. And this is true for power in the sense of ability as well as power in the sense of authority.

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Can We Celebrate Independence without Celebrating Armed Rebellion?

First appeared at SI in July of 2011.

Something doesn’t add up. We refer to July 4 as Independence Day. We refer to the war that followed as the Revolutionary War. But if we viewed ourselves as independent of British rule on July 4, how could we have engaged in revolution after July 4? Revolution normally precedes independence. Either the day or the war is a misnomer.

For Christians the incongruity raises deeper questions. Given the response to government that Scripture requires, shouldn’t we oppose the whole idea of revolution, regardless of the circumstances? And if we’re opposed to revolution, can we rejoice in independence?

The Bible and revolution

Genesis 9 is understood by many to represent God’s re-founding of the institution of human government. The NT emphasizes submission to that institution as our Christian duty.

And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” 17 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him. (Mark 12:16–17)

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work… (Titus 3:1)

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:13–15)

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The New Age of Parental Authority

Parental theory has undergone a paradigmatic shift in the last half century or so. Older baby-boomers in particular bear witness to the wide pendulum swing in our society’s prevailing opinion concerning acceptable parental expectations for children.

Older Americans remember maxims of the bygone era to the effect that children were “to be seen and not heard,” and were “not to speak [to an adult] unless spoken to,” and then only with deference and respect. In stark contrast, the prevailing persuasion of our times is that children are to speak whenever they wish, and to say just about whatever they want, whenever they choose to say it.

Some will remember a day when calling one’s parents by their first names was to risk great bodily harm. I remember the braggadocio of the bravest rebels of my peer group who dared, in a moment of unbridled irreverence, to launch such a sortie against parental authority. But today, increasing numbers of parents invite such first-name familiarity as an expression of their freedom from the dictates of authoritarianism.

In the older era, parents tended to unabashedly make decisions for their children. They set firm rules and enforced them—often harshly by today’s standards. They regularly told their children “No,” and suffered little embarrassment from doing so.

With rare exception, parents are not wound nearly so tight these days. The prevailing culture encourages parents to regularly defer to their children’s opinion, to withhold as little as possible, to keep rules to a scant minimum, and to specialize in overlooking or downplaying infractions. Children may be taught good manners, but only by way of gentle suggestion. Parents have generally evolved past the primitive days of asserting and enforcing strict standards of behavior for their children.

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"Authorities and institutions don’t repress the passions of the heart, the way some young people now suppose. They give them focus and a means to turn passion into change."

“A few weeks ago, a 22-year-old man named Jefferson Bethke produced a video called ‘Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus’ ”…
NYT: How to Fight the Man

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Law or Leaders?

Originally written in 2010 for a local newspaper in Savage, MN.

Eight-year-old David Morales of Coventry, Rhode Island, finished his second grade year at Tiogue Elementary School the spring of 2010. His year did not end so well. His teacher telephoned his mother, Christan Morales, to inform her that little David was in big trouble. David’s teacher explained to the boy’s incredulous mother that her son’s cap violated the school’s zero-tolerance policy against weapons.

It seems that in fulfillment of a class assignment, David had chosen a patriotic theme, took a camouflage cap which bore an American flag patch, and creatively affixed several of his plastic toy soldiers to the cap. He intended his artistry to honor our nation’s armed forces. But to the horror of his vigilant teacher, those tiny toy soldiers were actually armed! And that, David’s mom was informed, breached school policy against inappropriate behavior.

Tiogue’s principal weighed in, allowing David to wear his cap to the school program for which it was originally designed, if he promised to adorn it with only unarmed soldiers. David found one such soldier in his collection, but the prospect of decorating his cap with a single commando holding a pair of binoculars was off-putting to the lad. With dutiful resignation to his school’s unflinching policy against weapons, David wore the cap sans soldiers.

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