Unification News for August 1999

True Social Authority

Dr. Tyler Hendricks
August, 1999

"Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next, make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature. Attractive because it promises true good." Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).

Edward T. Oakes puts forth these words of the French mathematician, philosopher and Christian apologist Blaise Pascal to illustrate the point that Pascal was the first "modern" Christian. [First Things, Aug-Sept 1999, p. 47] I think the point is well taken. What is modern about Pascal’s words? What is modern is that they are spoken to a modern society, one in which religion is an option. In such a society, religion is not a necessity. It is not a legal requirement. One may choose religion or choose otherwise.

In 17th century France, one opines, there was not much choice. Everyone was Catholic—the Huguenots had lost the Wars of Religion. That is true, and Pascal was speaking to a small segment of society, the enlightened skeptics, most of whom were in the aristocracy. But by the end of the next century, this enlightened option had gained pre-eminence in the young nation of America.

Our founders disestablished religion. No one had to attend church or pay taxes in their support. Many American churchmen feared for the country. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale and leading divine in the last state to disestablish the church (Connecticut), predicted that separation of church and state would bring on a reign of paganism. If one were not compelled by law to attend church, he expected, then no one would attend. Satan would grab the country, lock, stock and barrel. He was proven to be wrong.

The freedom of religion released by the separation of church and state did not trigger the decline and fall of Christian America. What it triggered was the precise opposite: a tremendous explosion of religious fervor. Churches multiplied profusely. They spread throughout the settlements of the West and the energy of the westward development swung back to the big new cities of the East and took them over as well. Why?

Pascal answers this question perfectly. He recognized the corruption of men. He bluntly accepted the fact that most men despise religion and the judgment it represents. But the move he made was that it is not only man who must change, but that religion must change—or, to be more accurate, man’s presentation of religion must change.

As an axiom, Pascal accepted that coerced faith is not faith at all. And so he began: religion must become attractive. Why would he say that? Because men free of coercion will pursue only that which attracts them. Religion must become reasonable; it must convince us logically. Its representatives must be worthy of our respect. It must understand human nature. And how do we know it does? By its ability to speak to our human nature, our desires, troubles and dilemmas, and offer solutions.

This is exactly what happened in America. A free people took religion into their own hands and made it useful. America proved that human beings are naturally religious. We seek religious authority. So Pascal was half right: we despise religion but at the same time hunger for it. Whence this appetite? I would postulate that this appetite derives from our need for parental authority.

The Miracle of Parental Authority

The two teenage girls stopped dead in their tracks. Their mom had spoken the first few words of a scolding for coming home late. These two girls are bigger than their mom, but they stopped and listened. They had their excuses and justifications, but they bowed their heads involuntarily. They stood as still as statues, daring not move an inch, as their mom surveyed them up and down with stern eyes. They said not a word, and the punishment was declared. Mom was the district attorney, jury and judge. No internet for two weeks. Go to your room. Off they went.

That, I thought after I witnessed it, was a miracle. That was the miracle of parental authority. On the foundation of years of receiving sacrificial love, the children listen to their parents. Why do they listen to, obey, respect, that person? For one reason only: she’s my mom, he’s my dad. In other words, that isn’t just any old person—that’s my parent.

In a world of individualism, parental authority is destroyed. Advertisers speak directly to the kids. Musicians and magazines speak directly to the kids. Children can sue their parents. It means that biological relations carry no weight. A person is a person, regardless of history or biology. We can readily see that the world based upon individualism is false. We do not exist independent of history and biology. There is an invisible cord, a sacred canopy (Peter Berger’s term), enveloping the relations of parents and children.

I am speaking of an ideal here; I know we do not measure up to this. We can see that many families live at a far remove from this standard of kinship. It was called the generation gap in the 60s. "Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command," intoned Bob Dylan. Thirty-five years later we have Dylan Klebold. If the children are not listening to their parents’ command, to whose command are they listening?

The virtue of parental authority is that almost all the time, the parents are exercising that authority for the good of the child. The parents view the good of the child not in the short term but in the long term. In the short term it is painful to forego a movie or an overnight or a car, but the reward reaped in the long term makes it more than worthwhile. The parent is concerned about the long term happiness of the child. That happiness, whether it is in the conscious or unconscious of the parent, has to do with their eventual successful marriage and rearing of good children. The motive of the parents is based upon lineage.

Pure Love vs. Peer Love

What are the motives underlying other forms of authority? The authority of the state is civil tranquillity. This is a lesser good. The authority of a business is based upon acquisition of wealth. This is also a lesser good. The authority of a school is based upon the pursuit of knowledge, also a lesser good. The authority of the state, the school and the business are necessary supports for human happiness, but are not happiness itself.

Would that our sources of authority were limited to these! But they are not. There is the authority of rock music. It also stops teenagers in their tracks. They stop, they listen, they … obey. There is the authority of fashion magazines. It stops teenagers in their tracks. They stop, they listen, they obey. There is the authority of peers. Whence peer pressure? Where does it start? Parental authority begins in the womb, in the act of love. Where does peer pressure have its origin? I’ll hazard a conjecture and leave it at that: in the angelic world.

There is the authority of major media. Today’s organ of the gay establishment, The New York Times, ran an ad about gay and lesbian sports figures who are now "coming out." Such is not unusual, at least here in New York. National Review (July 26, 1999) ran a cover story entitled "The Gay Moment." Richard Brookhiser opines that "From time to time, an American minority group enjoys a ‘moment.’ Moments can last for decades, at least for a number of years. In its Moment the group takes center stage; its doings, habits, and preoccupations interest the nation. Every headset picks up the frequency. The simplest thing to do is just lie back and listen in quietly; it is impossible not to listen at all. The moment we are in now is the Gay Moment."

And so we are deluged with information about all the people, past, present and future, who are gay or lesbian. In all its billowing grandeur and omnipresence hype, it’s nothing more than the adolescent plea against the parents: "everyone else does it!" Peer pressure. "Johnny’s parents let him do it, so why don’t you let me do it?" "Everyone thinks I’m weird because I don’t do it."

That is the most pervasive authority on the planet. What is its origin? Where does it come from? When one investigates the claims, one finds that Johnny’s parents really don’t let him do that. Or, perhaps, they let him do it because Johnny told them that you let your son do it.

It’s the art of the speculator, the confidence man. The male star is invited to take a leading role in a movie on the basis that the number one female star is taking the lead female role. And vice-versa, simultaneously. It is telling each of two parties that the other is investing in a project, knowing that each will invest because they think the other is investing. It is teenage life projected onto the big screen of adult life.

[Just an aside about the term "adult," as in "adult bookstores," or "adult videos." Actually, they aren’t adult at all; they are infantile. I move that we make a law for truth in advertising to make those shops change their signs to "infantile bookstores," "infantile videos."]

Peer pressure is the arch enemy of parental authority. Peer pressure moves from kids conspiring to hold beer parties by each telling their parents they are staying at the other’s house, to six figure ads in the major media informing us of all the famous people who are gay and lesbian. Parental authority in society is destroyed, and so authority devolves to the state, the schools and the businesses, which, lacking the roots of parental virtue, combine to make a complete mess of things.

The Persistence of Parenting

There are those who see the Littleton killings as the spark of an awakening in America. In an impressive article in the First Things referenced above, J. Bottum catalogues the revival of Christian spirit surrounding the death, even martyrdom, of Cassie Bernall. "Either Harris or Klebold (none of the cowering students could see which it was) put a gun to her head and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’ She paused for a second, according to her classmates. And then she answered, ‘yes.’ ‘She was scared, but she sounded strong,’ said her Bible-study friend Joshua Lapp, a sophomore who was hiding nearby, ‘like she knew what she was going to answer.’ Staring at her, the gunman asked, ‘Why?’ Before she could reply, he pulled the trigger and shot her through the temple, killing her instantly."

Her act of testifying to her faith while facing death has become such a cause among Christians in America that Bottum concludes "that God may be loose in America again, that the pendulum may have finally begun its long arc back." I bring this up to point out what was behind Miss Bernall’s heroic conviction. According to Bottum’s account, Bernall went through a stage in junior high when she dabbled in witchcraft, alcohol and drugs. She was involved in rituals involving cat sacrifices and black magic. Now here’s the impressive point of the story:

"After discovering letters describing violent acts she and her friends imagined doing to their parents, Brad and Misty Bernall acted on [their youth minister Dave] McPherson’s advice. They enrolled their daughter in a Christian school, sent her on an intense weekend retreat, and prohibited her from leaving the house except to go to church. ‘It’s hard,’ her father explained, ‘because you know you’re taking a chance of driving your child further away from you.’"

In other words, the parents exerted their authority. Fortunately, Cassie complied with it. And God worked through it. "… one day Cassie came home, changed into a believer: ‘It’s like she was in a dark room and somebody turned the light on, and she saw the beauty that was surrounding her.’ Her youth-group leader, Jeremiah Quinonez, recalls her telling him, ‘I went to this church camp and a bunch of people prayed around me. I don’t know what happened, but I was just changed. I felt this huge burden lifted off my heart.’"

True Parental Society

I believe that even more important than Cassie’s spiritual experience is her experience of parental authority, loving, long term parental authority. Of course, there was peer pressure on the godly side as well, in the form of the weekend retreat. Peer pressure aligned with parental love is the formula for health and happiness.

True parental authority is the solution to Pascal’s dilemma. It is non-coercive but it guides the person in a direction of goodness even against their personal inclinations of the moment. It speaks to the heart and conscience. It is rooted in biological and historic love—the actual sacrifice and offering the parents made and continue to make for the sake of the child. "For the sake of the child" means for the purpose of enabling the child to become a true adult, a true spouse and parent.

If it is geared to keep the child a child forever, then it is not true parental authority but the misuse of parental authority. The practice of this leads to the charge of paternalism on the part of the church and state. Paternalism robs the child of their portion of responsibility. True parental authority grants, even forces upon the child, greater responsibility. Look, says the parent, I have higher expectations for you than that you will spend your life riding around on a motorcycle from nightclub to nightclub. And as I forbid you from doing that, I’m expecting you to realize why and to take responsibility to shape your life in a more healthy way.

That many children do not get the message does not invalidate the principle. If there is a God in heaven who is our Parent, then true parental authority will prevail someday. If there is no such, then may whatever god is left over help us all.

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