Well, I’ve got a somewhat unpopular subject for this week’s question: authority. We live in a nation and a time in which libertine freedom (i.e. the ability to do what I will) is very highly valued, and this makes the question of authority at all somewhat tricky. However, we also live in a nation with laws, work under bosses who give commands, live with parents (and perhaps spouses) who like to give orders, and attend churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc that have rules. We are surrounded by authorities of various kinds: familial, legal, religious, moral, social, etc, etc, etc. Given this, it’s important that we seek to understand the nature and scope of authority in itself, and of how it might be applied to these various authorities.

However, even my language here raises a question: I speak of authority as if it were one thing. As if there is some actual thing that we call authority that is applied or enacted in various ways and to various degrees by different entities. Thus, a Christian might argue that all authority belongs to God, and that various powers serve as mediums for God’s authority in various avenues of life and to various degrees. For instance, we could argue that governments serve as a civil medium of God’s authority and thus it has been put by God into the hands of the government to enact and enforce civil administration and law. Similarly, this Christian might argue that the pastor is the medium of God’s authority in the church who guides and directs the congregation, but does he do so in the same way as a government? This same Christian could apply the same question to the family (of the authority of parents over their children or one spouse over another), etc. Ultimately, we can argue that all authority comes from God, but this raises the questions 1) how far the various mediums of God’s authority are allowed to enact and enforce that authority? And 2) whether that authority becomes theirs or remains God’s? For instance, let’s assume that the Government is a medium for God’s authority… does this mean that the laws of the Nazi’s were a reflection of God’s character? I think most of us would reject this. Similarly, we would reject the idea that a husband has the right to beat his wife because he is ‘an authority.’ But this then means that the ways a medium of God’s authority may legitimately enact or enforce that authority are limited. So, a government could not, perhaps, make an immoral law or a husband could guide and direct his wife, but not coerce or punish her.

On the other hand, we could argue that the different ways in which we use the word ‘authority’ refer to entirely different things. For instance, we could argue that in the case of government ‘authority’ refers to the government’s need to use coercion to enforce its will upon the populace. However, this of course leads to the question: can any government unjustly coerce its people? If authority is simply the fact of coercion used by a governing body, can it be immoral or unjust? We could also argue that the authority a spiritual leader holds over his/her congregation is merely a ‘yielded’ authority – that is to say that the congregation chooses collectively to follow the leadership of said spiritual leader, and thus submits to his/her authority. However, in this case, authority neither requires nor allows coercion on the part of the authoritative body. So, it seems to be an entirely different thing.

So, here is your question for today: what is the nature of authority?

As always, your job is to write me a 1000 word story that presents and defends your answer to that question.


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