Hierarchical religion and authoritarianism

Roy Herndon Smith

re: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis http://reclaimingjesus.org/

While I am very glad to read this confession as an attempt to counter the identification of “Christianity” with oppressive sectarian authoritarian absolutism–one might call it “Chistianicism”–it also articulates why I no longer consider myself to be a “Christian.” The confession begins and ends with what I, after decades of study of the gospels and religion and a lifetime dedicated to learning (and often failing to learn) how to love, consider to be the religious foundation of precisely what this statement rejects. The confession of faith in “Jesus as Lord,” “to whom be all authority, honor, and glory” locates all truth, power, and goodness in the hierarchical leader and explicitly makes all others dependent on this ultimate source. As the statement indicates, this hierarchical God authorizes and defines what is good in all others and in all other relationships, including the relationships among citizens that constitute democracy. Making democracy dependent on an ultimate hierarch inevitably undermines it. At any time, a leader or group of leaders can claim privileged access to the hierarchical source of goodness, truth, and power, and citizens will be predisposed to follow this authoritarian leader or group because they have learned, from their religion, that authority resides in a transcendent power. Thus the relation between hierarchical religion and political authoritarianism. A number of feminist, womanist, and other theological and religious thinkers, including, according to a number of gospel scholars, the historical Jesus (not Jesus as the Christ), have subverted hierarchical religion with images of goodness, truth, and power as inhering in the horizontal co-creativity of all beings. Such religious visions provide a far more reliable support for democracy, compassion, and love than do hierarchical ones.