Faith and Obedience

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The other day, my husband and I were having a deep discussion in the car on our way to somewhere. Actually, we seem to have some of our best discussions in the car...
I don't remember what the trigger was, but I remember thinking that God gave me the gift of faith so that I could learn obedience, and that God gave John the gift of obedience so that he could acquire and develop faith.
I have always had MAJOR problems with obedience. I was born rebellious, and my parents were more likely to encourage rebellion than to encourage obedience. They wanted me to grow of to be a critical thinker, to be a free spirit and independant-minded women. Did I mention that they were both in the Los Angeles Feminist Theatre Group in the early 1970s?

My parents were frustrated that I chose not to do homework, but they also were not terribly effective at enforcing any rules. The only real consequences I faced for my many stupid decisions were the natural consequences. If I ditched Chemistry class to hang out with my boyfriend, I flunked Chemistry - but if I managed to pass despite not attending, oh well. The natural consequences of a bad decision may be too little and too late to be protective of future bad decisions.
A cultural example - promiscuous sex is a bad decision. The natural consequence of this bad decision may be an incurable sexually transmitted disease such as Herpes, HIV/AIDs, Genital warts, many forms of cervical cancer, etc. However, these consequences are likely not to happen until long after the pattern is set for the bad decision to be sexually promiscuous.
A good parent intervenes in the natural process and provides painful consequences for bad decisions, and also helps a child to understand and mature in how and why these decisions are harmful to the child.
A child has faith (if his or her parents have fulfilled their other duties to love and care) that the parent is acting out of concern for the child's well-being. It is also possible for a child to learn, through obedience, to have faith in the parent's decisions.
We Catholics refer to the Church both as the body of Christ AND as our mother (Holy Mother Church). The pope is our spiritual father on Earth, just as God is our Father on earth and in heaven. If God gives the gift of faith in Him and in His Church, we have parents. If we are obedient to these parents, we will be protected from both certain bad decisions and from the natural consequences of these decisions. For example, the Church's unvarying teachings on the proper order of human sexuality.
This is why I think that dissent and rebellion is the biggest problem facing the church these days.

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Alicia has a great reflection on faith and obedience, and how following the rules helps save us from the natural consequences of dumb decisions. Our culture, of course, hates rules and parenthood and faith and obedience. So now it is... Read More


I've got a big problem with obedience and blind faith in authority figures too. From a very young age, I remember seeing people who were in positions of authority whom I was supposed to respect, doing things that didn't really earn my respect. Nothing major, just things that I knew were wrong or that they would never let me get away with. As it is, I start all authority figures off with a blank slate and give them my respect out of courtesy, but it's up to them whether that respect remains, grows, or disappears.

One thing I've always wanted to learn is karate, but in the one lesson I took a few years back, I was expected to literally bow to this snivelly little guy just out of high school who hadn't shaved in three days and smelled like he hadn't showered in even longer, and address him as "Sinsei" at all times. I am just not cut out for subservience unless I am convinced it is a person or cause worth being subservient to.

Thankfully, almost all of the Catholic authority figures I have dealt with directly in the Church and parochial school (priests, nuns, bishops, etc.) have generally been decent people who got at least some degree of my respect because they earned it.

I cannot say the same for all the lay persons in the Church with whom I've had in contact. I can smell a phony or a control-freak a mile away, and love nothing more than sticking a pin (figuratively, not literally) in people like that. There are some former parochial school teachers and C.C.D. instructors whose blood pressure rises to this day at the sight of my face or mention of my name. I have no regrets though.

This quality of mine has often resulted in my becoming the reluctant leader of major or minor rebellions against authority in groups or departments of which I have been a part. If the cause is right, I relish the role.

You have much company in that conclusion.

"I can smell a phony or a control-freak a mile away, and love nothing more than sticking a pin (figuratively, not literally) in people like that. There are some former parochial school teachers and C.C.D. instructors whose blood pressure rises to this day at the sight of my face or mention of my name."

Oh, I don't think so, really. Young people like to imagine that their fearless rebelliousness has a huge effect on their teachers, but it hardly ever does. Experienced teachers mostly sigh and say "Twit," and forget all about troublesome students.

Elinor, I have taught children in public schools for almost 13 years! I still stand by my statement strongly. Blind faith and automatic deference to anyone other than God can be dangerous. As a matter of fact, being a teacher myself has made me more resolute in that belief than ever. There are a few students here and there I've had over the years for whom I admit I feel I have not done all I could, and I feel I let them down. I recognize that fault in myself, and do not lay blame on the former students or label them as "twits" because things didn't work out as they should.

There are "experienced" teachers out there who are still lousy. Having been in a given field for a long time does not automatically make one better or wiser, just older. Some people (and not just teachers) simply stink at their jobs, and do it for a long, long time. I've known many longtime teachers who are excellent (thankfully they are the majority), and a few longtime teachers who are the most incompetant and horrible educators I have ever known. Tenure, one of the real scourges of our public education system, has protected them and arguably harmed their students all these years.

At the same time, I've seen teachers fresh out of college who are really gifted and effective, even though they have never held down a full time teaching job before, and others fresh from college who just were never meant to be in the classroom. It's not TIME, it's TALENT that makes the biggest difference.

As a teacher, I learned from the mistakes of the failures I've known in my past. While those "failure teachers" I have known (both as a kid and now) are very much the exception and not the rule, their incompetance made as much of an impression on me of what NOT to do as those talented ones did in what I SHOULD do. I try to be the kind who exercises authority in such a way that I am firm, fair and consistent, and hopefully deserving of my students' respect. I work to earn and retain that respect and do not regard it as something bestowed upon me as my "sacred right" as a person in a position of authority.

Over the course of my teaching career, I've done more than my share of standing up to corrupt and abusive authority, whether it has been in other teachers who have bullied and intimidated children, or administrators who have bullied and intimidated their staffs.

Regardless of one's position in the social order, right is right and wrong is wrong. Sitting back and letting it just happen without at least trying to say or do something is not only implied consent, it is enabling the wrongdoing. In my life, I've tried not to emulate the priest or levite from the famous parable of Christ, but the Samaritan.

It's kind of harsh way to drive home my point, but do you think it was proper for abusive priests to use their authority as a means of coercing young victims into sinful acts? Was it right for the German people to follow a madman into the Second World War? Was it right for segregationist authorities in the south to use clubs, water cannons and attack dogs against black protesters fighting for equality during the civil rights movement? Holding unquestioning blind faith in any authority other than God's can cause one great harm. Polite courtesy should be given those in places of authority (to a point), but true respect is earned, not bestowed by a piece of paper or a title in front of a name on a door.

Teachers who have an immature and conceited (go back to your first post and count the smug statements which begin with "I" and go on to praise your courageous resistance to authority) romantic idealization of rebelliousness are a primary reason so many serious Catholics are unwilling to put their children in the public schools. (The academics usually stink as well, and that's another reason.) If you haven't figured out in thirteen years that most of youthful rebellion is pure adolescent bumptiousness and not thoughtful, piercing analysis of social problems, you have less sense even than I supposed.

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This page contains a single entry by alicia published on October 19, 2003 12:05 AM.

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