How Do You View Authority?
1, 2. (a) How is the common view of authority illustrated? (b) Why is it important to us to examine our own view of authority?
ONE morning in October 1969, the city police in Montreal, Canada, instead of reporting for duty, went to an arena to discuss strike tactics. How would the people of the city react to this sudden absence of police authority? As anticipated, rioting and looting broke out at the hand of thugs, militant students and other opportunists. But what about the ordinary citizen, the person who might be one’s next-door neighbor? An eyewitness reported:
“I don’t mean hoodlums and habitual lawbreakers, I mean just plain people committed offenses they would not dream of trying if there was a policeman standing on the corner. I saw cars driven through red lights. Drivers shot up the wrong side of the street because they realized no one would catch them.”—The New York Times, Friday, October 10, 1969, page 2.
2 Is your view of authority the same as that of these “just plain people”? Is authority just something to tolerate, yet to flout if given the opportunity? ‘Of course not!’ you might respond. But careful self-scrutiny is in order, since one’s thinking and actions may have been influenced in ways one does not realize. To most of today’s generation, “authority” is a word with a distasteful ring; they feel that authority unduly restricts freedom of action that even the most conservative persons would like to have. So we find this generation undermining authority in every conceivable way. It may be in the form of extremely vocal and even violent dissent. Or, it may be the silent, but nonetheless destructive, defiance of authority in areas that may go unobserved, among “just plain people” who make up the majority of today’s society.
3. How do prominent persons speak of the current trends with regard to respect for authority?
3 Dr. Amitai Etzioni, chairman of Columbia University’s Department of Sociology, commented on the “blatant disrespect for authority, any kind of authority, that he sees in many college students,” saying:
“After World War II, something broke down in child-rearing . . . There was a widespread reaction against authoritarianism—an overreaction it seems. . . . Now we have all these children born in the 1940s, grown up, who cannot accept authority in any way—from a teacher, a cop, a judge, even from one another. . . . I also see a danger to the civil order, the very fabric of society.”—The National Observer, Monday, February 2, 1970, page 20.
United States Senator John L. McClellan, during an interview on reasons why crime keeps rising in the land, spoke in a similar vein:
“Another is the general climate in this nation—of civil disobedience, of nonconformity and of disrespect for authority—this so-called philosophy of each ‘doing his own thing’ irrespective of its relation to or impact upon others. A great deal of it is in the nature of rebellion against constituted authority.”— U.S. News & World Report, March 16, 1970, page 18.
4. (a) What is authority? (b) How have some expressed their view of authority?
4 Just what is authority, that it should provoke such increasingly hostile feelings toward it as are to be found on every side today? One dictionary says that it is “power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior.” Those in authority, then, influence or command a person’s actions in a course on which he may or may not wish to go. As a result, the exercise of authority has come to be considered by many as contrary to freedom. In the sense of removal of authority, freedom has been cast by some as the ultimate goal toward which men are striving. An American philosopher of the last century, Henry Thoreau, in his essay “Civil Disobedience,” put it this way:
“I heartily accept the motto,—‘That government is best which governs least;’ . . . Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—‘That government is best which governs not at all.”’—Man & The State: The Political Philosophers, page 301.
A modern teen-age film star expressed the same feeling in the vernacular of today: “It’s rotten to take orders from anyone. . . . there are dads who think they have the divine right to rule their offspring simply because they have engendered them.” (New York Sunday News, November 17, 1968) With this kind of thinking becoming the norm rather than the exception, is it any wonder that “the very fabric of society” is in danger?
THE SOURCE OF DISRESPECT FOR AUTHORITY
5. How is the source of disrespect for authority identified?
5 What is causing this powerful movement to throw off the bonds of all authority? A comment in the International Herald Tribune of June 7, 1968, inadvertently refers to the primary source of disrespect for authority: “There is something in the air of the modern world, a defiance of authority, a contageous irresponsibility, a kind of moral delinquency no longer restrained by religious or ethical faith.” This “something in the air” is simply a result of the current activities of what the Bible terms the “ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph. 2:2) Today’s generation is seeing the abundant fruitage of this one’s work in cultivating disrespect for authority. However, the roots of it go back to this ‘ruler’s’ encounter with the first human pair.
6, 7. (a) How did man’s Creator test the way Adam and Eve viewed his authority? (b) How did Satan break down their respect for authority, and why is knowing this important to us?
6 Since at all costs one should want to avoid being viewed by God as a ‘son of disobedience,’ it is wise to examine the kind of thinking that the “ruler of the authority of the air” has engendered among mankind. This was first illustrated with Adam and Eve, when they were tested as to their view of the Creator’s authority as ruler. God asserted his right to make and enforce laws to govern his creation. He clearly defined the bounds of their freedom. Their obedience would constitute acceptance of his supreme authority or sovereignty over them. He said: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”—Gen. 2:16, 17.
7 The one who was later termed the “ruler of the authority of the air” took it upon himself to question Jehovah’s authority. In doing so he became Satan, which means “opposer.” Speaking through a serpent, he questioned Jehovah’s rightful assertion of authority by misrepresenting God’s command. Satan asked Eve: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3:1) Eve knew that God had not unduly restricted their freedom by forbidding them to eat from every tree. He had set only a reasonable limitation, just one tree. When Eve indicated that she knew this, Satan went on to charge God with lying to keep the humans under His authority, claiming that their life did not depend on obedience, and, in fact, there would be new vistas of freedom open to them if they defied Jehovah’s rulership. This is the same false premise that Satan continues to use today in leading men from all forms of authority. The course of self-determination and independence is made to appear as enticingly preferable to being governed by the wishes of another. If Satan can make one chafe under authority just a little, then the way is set for more serious rebellion in the future.—Gal. 5:9.
OTHER FACTORS AFFECTING ONE’S VIEW
8. How does example affect one’s view of authority?
8 There are a number of additional factors that may affect one’s view of authority. It is good to be aware of them so they will not turn our thinking in the direction that the rest of this system is going. For instance, there is the poor example set by adults who are in authority or supposed to be upholding it. Civil servants such as the police, teachers and mailmen, parents and even the clergy ostensibly advocate law and order but often they do not want to end their own illegal actions. This has led many persons to conclude that the law is to be obeyed only if it does not result in personal inconvenience or interfere with selfish interests. So we find them evading taxes or customs duties in devious ways, breaking traffic laws when they think they can get away with it, stealing from their employers by “padding” expense accounts or by walking away with company property. They participate in illegal strikes accompanied by name-calling and emotional demonstrating and often involving violence. Adults also often use disparaging terms for law officers and elected officials and even these officials publicly denounce their political opponents in an uncomplimentary fashion, thus setting a poor example for youth. If adults behave this way, is it not to be expected that youthful observers would have little regard for their demands to show respect?—Prov. 26:22.
9. In what ways have men abused their authority?
9 Another factor that influences some in their view of authority is the fact that those in authority often abuse the power they have. The father, the divinely authorized head of the household, can become a tyrant. Public scandal makes us aware of the common practice of bribe taking by police and politicians. (Prov. 29:4) Political leaders frequently mislead the public with statements that are later shown to be untrue, and a “credibility gap” results. Getting a favorable judgment in a court of law is too often only for those who can afford a “good” lawyer, and through the efforts of these unscrupulous lawyers they may even “buy” exemption from punishment for crimes they do commit. Minorities suffer. In other instances, there are clearly wicked men who misuse authority through force, such as Hitler and other despots who have arisen in recent years.
10. How has apathy on the part of authorities encouraged disrespect?
10 Seeing apathy or failure to act on the part of authorities contributes to a feeling of scorn for their double standards of meting out justice. It is a matter of general knowledge that in many countries the underworld of crime is almost immune from criminal prosecution, even being called “untouchable” by the public in the United States. This apathy encourages other persons to a lawless course. Senator McClellan pointed this out in his further comments on why crime keeps rising in the United States: “Crime that goes unpunished breeds crime. . . . the chance of being apprehended, convicted and punished for a serious crime is less than 1 out of 20.” (U.S. News & World Report, March 16, 1970, pages 18, 19) This bears out what the wise King Solomon said: “Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad.”—Eccl. 8:11.
11. What questions does the foregoing raise?
11 In review, we can see that a number of things may affect one’s view of authority. The influence of Satan, man’s own fleshly tendencies, poor human examples, abuse of power and failure to act, all serve to cause persons to develop a feeling of rebellion toward authority. Truly, “man has dominated man to his injury.” (Eccl. 8:9) With such an unpleasant picture of the exercise of authority through the years, many persons use such things to rationalize the course they take in opposition to authority when they break laws or engage in various forms of dissent. But should these things unbalance our view of authority and the purpose it serves? Should they cause us to rebel outspokenly against what we consider to be the wrongs perpetrated on those subject to authority? Should they make us resentful in less obvious ways and ready to disobey authority whenever we think we will not be seen or can “get away with it”?
12. How can we learn the proper view of authority?
12 One thing that should be evident from the observations made thus far is that “it does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jer. 10:23) The Christian must be guided, then, in his view of contemporary authorities, and authority generally, by his Creator. The right view is made clear in two ways: (1) by observing the physical principles demonstrating the value and necessity of authority as found in the laws of creation and (2) by learning right principles provided in the Creator’s written revelation of his view of authority, the Holy Bible. We can here briefly review some of these principles.
RIGHT VIEW OF AUTHORITY SUGGESTED BY CREATION
13. (a) How does your body exercise authority over you? (b) How do you react to your body’s commands?
13 We are governed by certain physical laws that restrict our actions or make us do things. In some cases this is quite forcible. For example, your body ‘influences’ or ‘commands’ you with undeniable authority to take in fuel, food. If you want to stay alive, you must eat. Your body must also rid itself of the wastes produced through its metabolism. It gives one an authoritative command, as it were, to eliminate. Consider your need for sleep, air and water. Your body commands you, and eventually will force you, to obtain these things even though you may desire otherwise. Do you feel that your freedom has been taken away from you because of these things? Are you going to rebel and become violent with your body simply because it exercises a form of authority over you? This would be absurd, would it not? Those who try to violate these physical laws only harm themselves. Yet the proper adherence to them is beneficial and can actually bring pleasure. Who does not enjoy a good night’s sleep? . . . a delicious meal? . . . a cold glass of water on a hot day?
14. Give an example of authority exercised by a law of creation.
14 The same is true of laws outside our bodies and which we must obey. The existence of stairways and elevators is a constant reminder of the power that gravity exerts over us. Would you deny the authority of gravity by stepping out of a tenth-floor window instead of using the stairs? Even though these laws are inflexible and continual in their effect, who can deny that they are really quite beneficial? Gravity holds to the earth its atmosphere, oceans and other things so necessary to life. If we recognize the laws of creation and work in harmony with them, we may find that they can be used for even greater benefit and pleasure. For example, men recognized the authority of the law of gravity, studied it along with other applicable laws, and they eventually developed the airplane. This is not a rebellion against the authority of gravity any more than the existence of birds or flying insects would be considered such. They are merely working in harmony with divinely instituted laws, with benefit to those who recognize them.
15. (a) How is authority demonstrated in the standards of the universe? (b) What are some standards that affect our lives today?
15 Another area in which authority provides real benefit to us is found in the uniformity of the universe. The human body illustrates this. Its organs, with rare exceptions, are always found in the same location, and all of the external body members are arranged symmetrically. Imagine the chaos in the practice of medicine, and especially surgery, if a person’s appendix could not be counted upon to be in the same place as that of others! What if one’s legs were customarily of differing lengths? However, this is not the case. A designer with the authority to do so has already standardized our bodies for us. The Bible psalmist David said in admiration: “And in your book all its parts were down in writing.” (Ps. 139:14-16) It was not left up to us to determine these things. Yet within the bounds of His standards, He has allowed for endless variety and freedom of choice, to our delight. Applying the principle of uniformity to life today, we find benefits and a clear need of some authority to determine standards. There are weights, measures and monetary exchange to be decided, as well as the side of the road on which to drive. It is obvious what would happen if each one were to do as he wished in these matters. The exercise of authority, then, eliminates confusion and provides a measure of safety by setting up certain standards.
16. What are some of the benefits that men gain from the exercise of authority?
16 From our brief review of some laws of creation, we can see that the exercise of authority through them works to keep us alive and makes for orderly existence. It does not inhibit freedom in the true sense when we recognize its direction and work in harmony with it. Authority evident in creation actually contributes to our joy in living.
RIGHT VIEW OF AUTHORITY COMES FROM THE CREATOR
17. What is it in man that makes authority necessary? Illustrate.
17 God’s arrangement of authority to guide intelligent creatures is necessary because he gave them something that only the omnipotent Creator could give, the ability to choose their own direction, a “free will.” He realized that this freedom brings them a choice among alternatives, some of which may not be in the best interests of the one choosing or of others. Therefore, a form of guidance would be necessary so that intelligent creatures might live peacefully and equitably. To illustrate, a man might wish to build his home in a certain beautiful spot, but would his choice infringe on the freedom of others? The spot may have already been selected by someone else, or perhaps it would be a fine location to set aside as a community park for the benefit of everyone in the locality. Clearly there must be a way of deciding what is best for all, since men must exist alongside other men. God’s way of doing this is through the principle of headship.
18. How has Jehovah arranged the exercise of authority? What does this show about Jehovah?
18 The headship principle is illustrated at 1 Corinthians 11:3: “I want you to know that the head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.” When expanded to include all intelligent creatures and their activities, this principle permeates Jehovah’s arrangement for governing the universe, including us here on earth. It demonstrates a warm concern for His creatures, not a disinterested aloofness. It is the concern of a loving father for his children. The apostle Paul wrote: “God is dealing with you as with sons. . . . for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.” (Heb. 12:6, 7) Jehovah’s exercise of authority may take the form of needed discipline or counsel, just as with a human father who administers these to his children. But it shows that he cares, he is interested and wants the best for the one who receives his direction. And it makes for peaceful relations with God and one’s fellowman, as the apostle goes on to say: “Afterward to those who have been trained by [discipline] it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—Heb. 12:11.
NEED FOR CIVIL AUTHORITY
19. (a) What purpose do civil authorities serve? (b) What things do we receive from civil authorities, and what do we give in return?
19 Even though the full benefit of Jehovah’s arrangement for governing has been temporarily interrupted with respect to earthly government, he acknowledges that some form of authority must exist until his rule is fully restored here. Therefore, we find that Christians are told to “be in subjection and be obedient to [existing civil] governments and authorities as rulers” rather than rebel against them because they have imperfections. (Titus 3:1) These “authorities” help to maintain a measure of order in society, without which chaos from anarchy would reign. In this the authorities reflect the remnants of man’s God-given conscience. (Rom. 2:14, 15) They have the necessary authority to sustain some degree of order in areas such as public services (sanitation, water supply, mail, highway construction, education); crime, fire and judicial protection; government relief measures and safety legislation (construction, fire prevention, sanitation, pollution, food, drug, traffic). In recognition of these benefits, the Christian gives the secular authorities relative subjection and taxes. (Rom. 13:6, 7; Mark 12:17) As a result, he can, for the most part, “go on leading a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion and seriousness” under men “who are in high station,” the governmental authorities.—1 Tim. 2:2.
20. How does the mature Christian view authority?
20 So what is the mature Christian’s view of authority? First, he appreciates that it is necessary to all aspects of his existence. He sees in the Creator’s exercise of it a loving interest in the welfare of His creatures. He recognizes secular authorities now as serving in the Creator’s overall purpose and that they “stand placed in their relative positions by God.” (Rom. 13:1, 2; John 19:11) He realizes that it is necessary to render relative subjection to the authority exerted by those in various phases of secular life—the teacher, the employer, the policeman, the judge and the tax collector. He continues to maintain this Godly viewpoint despite apparent abuses or shortcomings of present authorities, realizing “one that is higher than the high one is watching, and there are those who are high above them.” (Eccl. 5:8; Prov. 15:3) He remains confident that Jehovah’s will is to exert his loving authority through “an administration at the full limit of the appointed times.” (Eph. 1:10) He looks to the time when “all authority . . . in heaven and on the earth” will be administered by Jesus through faithful Christian servants like those who are working hard now among him and his Christian brothers.—Matt. 28:18.
[Box/Pictures on page 266]
In recognition of the benefits provided by secular authorities, the Christian gives them relative subjection and taxes
[Picture on page 264]
Your body ‘commands’ you to eat and sleep. Are you going to rebel because of its authority over you?