Explaining Christian Faith: Authority Matters

Image from quickmeme.com.

Image from quickmeme.com.

Outside of maintaining belief, authority is a critical component of faith. Christianity has many authorities which it appeals to: a deity, a holy book, clergy, the congregation, and family. Each has its own role within a hierarchy, and each thing has its own authority to govern one’s thoughts and actions. Authority is important because it helps suppress healthy boundaries and reinforces social norms to keep people believing.

Authorities are to be believed and relied upon. Without question.
I wrote recently about someone who went to a pastor for counseling. This wasn’t an accident; pastors have authority to give counseling within a specific church community. People are supposed to trust clergy with helping them make decisions regarding their immortal souls. Reality speaks otherwise as to whether this trust is adequately placed. We don’t even require the same licensure for clergy as we do for people in similar secular positions. Social authority to this day still is a substitute for showing one’s credentials.

More broadly, this also means that one has to show deference to this unearned authority. Relationships are not merely two people interacting with each other for mutual benefit; everything has its own rank and order in life. Your friends might be important to you, but they aren’t supposed to be as trusted as your pastor or more godly sources.

No belief means no authority.
Admittedly, this is the most aggravating prejudice I receive from Christians I interact with. There are dozens of ways some Christians will show this. Talk about TRUE CHRISTIANS(TM), presuppositions, bias, and other catch phrases, and we’re getting into the excuses why a person isn’t supposed to be trusted, not the merits of his or her position. In many ways, I’ve had conversations with people who treated me like I lied with every word coming out of my mouth.

Authority and its trappings are what makes conversations with Christians incredibly frustrating for deconverts like me. We know what it’s like to talk with someone who is politely shitting on us. Others might chalk that up to bad manners or impoliteness, but actually it’s people being dismissive for no good reason.

Authority is not respect.
If it was, there wouldn’t be much gossip in church groups. Rather, it’s the way things are because of a deity. That’s why no matter how hard one tries to establish one’s credentials on a subject, one can still get met with being denounced as a fraud. Also, it’s why holy texts are given inordinate weight over what people can observe with their own eyes.

Respect actually has nothing to do with Christian authority. One doesn’t have to like or dislike a person in authority; one is only required to obey. The relationship has meaning within church circles, and it reinforces obedience out of divine mandate rather than mutual assent. Assent doesn’t matter. Consent doesn’t matter. Just obey.

It explains why a lot of church-related relationships are unhealthy.
Married deconverts know this all too well. Within church settings, married Christian couples carry a good deal of authority. Lose belief, and all of a sudden one spouse is the subject of ridicule and pity. Worse, there’s a loss of authority within that church setting, so the still-believing spouse becomes a social leper. That spouse gets punished for the actions of another autonomous adult. Often, the only way that spouse gets to vent frustration is at the person who deconverts.

That said, it’s not just limited to marital relationships. Every relationship is actually abused as collateral when a person leaves the flock. At that point, one can see that these relationships were about the pretense of mutual support. In reality, they only go so far as the message one is supposed to repeat. Losing these relationships hurts because trust gets broken in permanent ways. Deconverts frequently are the ones left with trying to repair the damage that Christian friends and family cause.

12 thoughts on “Explaining Christian Faith: Authority Matters

  1. When it comes down to it, all the arguments and ‘evidence’ aside, it really is all an authority game. Believe or burn. As CS has so eloquently put it… “god said it, that settles it”, now believe Damn it! OR else

    Liked by 2 people

    • My problem with the whole “god said it” line is that it gets used by the same people who claim that their holy texts are infallible. Then, when you point out unicorns in the KJV (or other silly things in other versions), it suddenly becomes an error by the human translators.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t tell you how many friends I lost over my questioning the various spiritual authorities, while I was still a Christian even. It’s not that I was being a jerk with a bitter spirit (or whatever) I just don’t believe in blind obedience, especially when I saw it hurting others. This is coming from a person who hates conflict and creating waves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I used to get into arguments about following the crowd as well because it conflicted with what I thought the faith was supposed to be about. That friction should have been a warning sign that what I was involved with wasn’t healthy. All those arguments settle is who needs to be brought to heel.

      It’s another reason to be happy about not being a Christian anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice post SB. I agree with what you’ve said here. Interestingly I wrote a post using the same Cartman adage, but more questioning why we choose the authorities we do, especially with respect to scientific issues. I don’t think its totally unrelated here and perhaps adds a dimension to the discussion. Why we reject one authority in comparison to another I think is an important thing to understand. https://cloakunfurled.com/2014/04/07/respect-my-authoritah/

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.