Daily Devotions

The Challenge of Faithful Authority

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Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (Proverbs 27:17)

Another challenge in the book entitled, “The Art of Thinking Clearly,” is the challenge to not “Bow to Authority.” Rolf Dobelli shares, that in the last ten years, airlines have had to retrain their pilots to no longer bow to authority. “In the old days, the captain was king. His commands were not to be doubted. If a copilot suspected an oversight, he wouldn’t have dared to address it out of respect for -or fear of- his captain.” It didn’t take too many airline crashes with captain error to address this issue.

I am not fond of Dobelli’s heading, “Don’t Bow to Authority,” as if all authority should be removed. Without authority a society would be thrown into chaos. But with authority, there needs to be accountability and transparency. The issue in the Roman Catholic Church with priests who have committed sexual misconduct is a case in point. There was priestly authority, but no accountability when a priest broke the law, and little transparency to evaluate how the misconduct was addressed. Hence, the situation became worse, with even more coverups and further children being abused.

Authority should be given our respect and support, but only when the authority figures are subject to ongoing accountability and review. Further, the internal accountability and review should be transparent, so all can know and trust that issues are being faithfully addressed. Churches have issues with all forms of misconduct because Christian people want to trust others and provide support. This misguided understanding of Christianity has left the Christian Church vulnerable to sexual, financial, and other forms of misconduct.

In today’s society, it is important to affirm our leaders and their authority, but also make sure everyone in the institution is accountable and transparent. This is hard when church boards/sessions are made up of volunteers. A board or session is only as good as the committees they empower to represent them in their ministry. And volunteers have precious little time to give the institution. Today, pray for the authorities in our lives. For leaders in our political world, our Church leaders, and other authorities in our lives. Then, pray that they are subject to accountability and are willing to lead with transparency. If this is being done, authority figures will be able to fulfill their God-given call with integrity.

The Problem of the Herd

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For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Truth is hard to experience. Truth is hard to find. In this society of ours, it appears truth is almost impossible to recognize. I tried to find my way through the morass in reading Rolf Dobelli’s interesting book, “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Dobelli seems to argue that there are a number of mistakes we make that keep us from seeing the truth in our midst. Over the next few days, I would like to share some of these challenges and how recognizing them can help us see through the “mirror less dimly.”

Many people believe truth is found where people can agree on something. This is called “Social Proof.” It is sometimes understood as “herd instinct,” which believes that when people act like other people, they are acting correctly. “In other words,” according to Dobelli, “The more people who follow a certain idea, the better (truer) we deem the idea to be.” The illness in this line of thinking is found when the masses are false, or worse, acting immoral. Many individual Germans in the 1930’s and early 1940’s were Christian people who believed they were acting faithfully. Their morality became warped when the masses began to chant unholy slogans and many faithful Christians defied their faith in the “herd instinct” of Nazism.

Dobelli gives another example, one from the legendary psychologist, Dr. Solomon Asch, who created a research situation. The person is asked to determine “which of the three lines corresponds to the original one. If the person is alone in the room, he gives the correct answers because the task is really quite simple.” The next five people to enter the room and answer the questions were actors, and intentionally chose the same incorrect answer. The vast majority of those following the five actors went into the room, followed the easy directions, with the simple answer, and chose to answer incorrectly, the way the actors did. Dr. Asch determined that the “herd instinct” was so powerful the individuals stopped thinking and simply followed the herd.

Finding truth in this world requires us to defy the herd. It is important to challenge our belief system, not just absently follow. You might argue that encouraging people to challenge their beliefs is dangerous. I disagree. God can handle our questions. It is incumbent upon every one of us to question why we believe or why we don’t believe – to listen to people beyond our herd. Seeking questions and answers helps us find the truth, and not just follow mindlessly. Seek God, but not because I, or anyone else leads you there, but because you prayerfully struggle to find God’s truth. Your faith will be stronger if you do!

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