By Tim Chermak
The end justifies the means. Or does it?
As people of faith, whether we identify ourselves with Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, even Atheism, this is a question we must continually wrestle with. It’s easy to say the end justifies the means; it’s easy to say the means justifies the end. It’s hard to dig deep and humbly admit that maybe we really don’t know. To believe is human; to doubt divine. (Peter Rollins)
It is with this mindset we must approach bureaucratic institutions of all shapes, sizes, colors, and forms. Again, it’s easy to fire off mindless criticisms that emotionally attack the dignity of corporations and organizations. Similarly, it’s easy to defend institutions by evaluating their teleological elements. Only the truly courageous willingly venture into the realm of social agnosticism, freely confessing that they see life in a diverse array of colors, while the rest of us ignorantly look on with black and white lenses.
Envision a political protest (pick your poison, whether it’s abortion, homosexuality, foreign policy-they’re all similar) with two warring sides in fierce opposition to each other. They form picket lines featuring offensive signage attacking the integrity of the other perspective. Angry shouts emerge from both camps criticizing the views of their political enemies. One begins to wonder whether they are against their opponents’ policies or the opponents themselves. As is normal protocol, a narrow space of neutral ground is honored that separates the warring factions. Perhaps it prevents physical violence from breaking out.
Perhaps it is God’s way of telling us that there is a third way. Maybe Jesus wasn’t talking about material wealth when he spoke of the “narrow road” in the Gospels. Jewish culture prized philosophers and thinkers who could speak one message with multiple layers of meaning. This is why Jesus communicated in parables.
Life is about connecting the dots.
Imagine the following (cruel) experiment: Ten infants are selected. Five are labeled group “A,” and the remaining five comprise group “B.” Group “A” is raised in house “A,” while group “B” experiences life in house “B.” Both communities are raised by the same parents, who equally divide their time between the two houses.
Here’s the fun part. Group “A” is positively encouraged to explore all of life’s possibilities-speaking, crawling, walking-all of the things that fuel the holistic growth of infants. Group “B” is also encouraged to fulfill their natural curiosity, but they are punished with electric shocks whenever they do anything beyond what is necessary for immediate survival. The infants in group “B” live in a paradoxical world-they are encouraged to question and explore, but punished when they accept the challenge to do so.
It’s common for the scenario imagined in this experiment to manifest itself in everyday life. The easiest way to control someone is by creating an unconscious dependency. Seligman’s experiments on dogs in the late 1960’s proves this theory with disturbing accuracy. When we become dependent on someone for our emotional, financial, or spiritual well-being, we gradually lose our freedom, moment by moment. Learned helplessness slowly creeps into our psyche until we are completely unaware of the liberty we have blindly forfeited.
Eventually, we just accept the way things are as the way things are. We accept how life is because that’s how life is. This realization becomes especially dangerous when the complete censorship and control of ideas is assumed by someone we trust. America’s defenders are sworn to protect her from “all enemies, foreign and domestic” for a reason.
Our gravest enemies are always those we willingly allow to lead us. When we give them total control, we forfeit the ability to control our own destiny. Who is the fool — he who runs in the wrong direction, or he who follows?
One of the first rights guaranteed to US citizens is the privilege to bear arms. It is then no surprise that Hitler’s first act as the elected leader of Germany was to ban all private weapons. The willingness to rise above oppression is a sacred human experience. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to rise above oppression when one isn’t even aware of its presence.
Vocational spiritual leaders have provided guidance, support, and moral instruction for thousands of years. Humanity has no doubt benefited from the idea of specific individuals specializing in matters of spiritual direction and leadership. It’s important not to polarize the issue with black and white generalizations.
It’s even more important to rise above our ignorance.
Society as a whole rejects those who are dissatisfied with their experiences. Social dissent is an activity commonly labeled as “childish and ungrateful.” After one is labeled as such, punishment is inevitable. Ask Socrates, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nathan Hale-the list goes on. Preserving the status quo is profitable business. Exploring alternatives is dangerous business.
It’s time to start questioning the leadership structures of religious institutions. Who decided that one man or woman should possess the final say on all matters? Who decided we should pay them a yearly salary to do so? Who decided spiritual leadership was a full time vocation?
If full-time ministry exists, that relegates the “rest of us” to part-time ministry. As far as Christianity is concerned, this idea is an oxymoron at best, theological heresy at worst.
Questions are at the root of all insurrections, rebellions, and revolutions. Those brave enough to venture into the “no man’s land” between the trenches rarely make it out alive. Structures rely on dependency-fueled obedience. Innovation depends on questioning.
It’s time to start questioning the ecclesiastical monopoly of pastoral ministry. It’s time to embrace heresy as a necessary component to orthodoxy. It’s time to explore the unknown. It’s time to overcome learned helplessness. It’s time to recover the “priesthood of all believers.”
Fires are essential to the long term vitality of a forest. Progression depends on destruction.
Well-behaved people have rarely ever changed history.
Grab the torches.
Tim is a writer hoping that somehow, someway, his work will influence the world in a positive way. He is currently an undergraduate student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan