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How Religion's Demand for Obedience Keeps Us in the Dark Ages

The most fervent advocates of religion in the modern world are also the most deeply inculcated with the mindset of command and obedience, which has dangerous consequences.

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The Scripture teaches us, and the tradition of the Fathers confirms the teaching, that the Church is the mystical body of Christ, ruled by the Pastors and Doctors -- a society of men containing within its own fold chiefs who have full and perfect powers for ruling, teaching and judging. It follows that the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.

An even more breathtakingly arrogant expression of this idea comes from New Advent, the official Catholic theological encyclopedia. Watch how it addresses that whole embarrassing Galileo episode: 

[I]n the Catholic system internal assent is sometimes demanded, under pain of grievous sin, to doctrinal decisions that do not profess to be infallible.... [but] the assent to be given in such cases is recognized as being not irrevocable and irreversible, like the assent required in the case of definitive and infallible teaching, but merely provisional...

To take a particular example, if Galileo who happened to be right while the ecclesiastical tribunal which condemned him was wrong, had really possessed convincing scientific evidence in favour of the heliocentric theory, he would have been justified in refusing his internal assent to the opposite theory, provided that in doing so he observed with thorough loyalty all the conditions involved in the duty of external obedience.

To translate the church's legalisms into plain language, what this is saying is that it's OK to doubt something the church teaches, but only if you keep quiet about that doubt and outwardly obey everything the church authorities tell you, acting as if your doubt didn't exist. And if the church teaches that something is an infallible article of faith, even that ineffective option is taken away: you're required to believe it without question or else face eternal damnation.

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, wrote that believers should "always be ready to obey [the church] with mind and heart, setting aside all judgment of one's own." To explain just how absolute he thought this obedience should be, he used a vivid analogy

That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. 

Nor is it just from the Catholic side of the aisle where we hear these pronouncements. Even though Protestants don't have one pope to rule them all, they still believe that following your betters is essential. Here's a statement to that effect from the esteemed apologist C.S. Lewis, from his book The Problem of Pain:

But in addition to the content, the mere obeying is also intrinsically good, for, in obeying, a rational creature consciously enacts its creaturely role, reverses the act by which we fell, treads Adam's dance backward, and returns.

According to Lewis, obedience is "intrinsically good." In other words, it's always a good thing to do as you're told, no matter what you're being told to do or who's telling you to do it! It doesn't take much imagination to picture the moral atrocities that could result from putting this idea into practice.

 
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