Religious Obedience Versus Discernment and Surrender
The recent and ongoing debate in South Africa, around Zapiro's cartoon of Muhammad lamenting his followers' lack of a sense of humor, has highlighted the issue of obedience in religious faith.
Religious obedience is a disturbing concept for many, especially in a world torn apart by dictatorial power in both politics and religion.
In these dictatorial quarters, obedience is extolled as a virtue and must be cultivated at all costs. However, as many of us know, nothing impedes human maturity more than constantly being told what to do. Blind adherence to God, to ancient scriptures and traditions, to any external source of authority, becomes highly problematic and the effects can be devastating.
Obedience often majors on our insecurities and it gives a false sense of security by erecting rigid and dogmatic boundaries. Additionally, if the obedience is adhered to, there is a promise of desired rewards such as peace, protection and heaven, for example.
Arising out of this, are potential vulnerabilities to all kinds of manipulation, exploitation and eventual disillusionment — often a sad fact in the worlds of politics and religious faith.
Secondly, obedience creates communities of mindless conformity with strong authoritative prescriptions and figures, which cannot be challenged in any way. Total acceptance is the order of the day and ostracism holds sway as a means of keeping people in their place.
The third point to be made here is that such obedience is anti-intellectual and discourages creative and reflective thought and action.
Strangely enough, many find this rather comfortable, which is perhaps why Fundamentalism (in whatever form) is so attractive. To think is hard work and to act differently takes responsibility, courage and sometimes exclusion. It’s easier to be told and shown what to do, though it comes with enormous cost and a tragic deadening of the human spirit and mind.
Surely, obedience, whether it be secular or religious, needs to give space, and ultimately, give way to mature discernment and surrender. When it doesn't, the human spirit becomes stunted and highly vulnerable.
In life, whatever comes is to be discerned, then freely chosen and surrendered to. Some may say that in this case, anything goes; not if it is done with integrity and with a profound awareness of the Divine's compassion, which rests at the very heart of all things.