The corruption of authority is inevitable.
I do not use the term corruption in the colloquial sense, to indicate ethical and moral degeneracy. On the contrary, I have chosen the term corruption to indicate the devaluation of power, as it occurs when a subject is confronted with the impotence of a once honored authority.
It is inevitable for every human subject to, at some point, find fault, fragility, and fragmentation in a venerated external authority. However, the reaction to this unsettling encounter plays a critical role in the development of psyche. A subject’s response to the death of an idol (every confrontation with fragmented power structure is tantamount to the death of an idol) depends on the subject’s interpretation of its relationship to such idol.
For example, when I became a born-again Christian, I revered the authority of my church community. Initially, when faced with doubts, I chose to disavow my own organic insight because I firmly believed myself inferior to the authority structure, in spite of my analytical prowess and evaluative insight. When I began to see the fissures in the doctrines of my faith, rather than explore the open spaces, I repressed my doubt, compulsively praying, “God, help me to believe” because not believing was absolutely unforgivable.
I interpreted my relationship to God, His Word, and His church as subservient and inadequate. Thus, when confronted with unresolved questions regarding God, His Word, and His church, I could only react through aggressive repression and belligerent justification. Severely obsessive-compulsive behaviors ensued, as I labored to manipulate my intuition into conformity. My idol was dying; I couldn’t live with that.
Thus, it is all too common for devout believers to resist confrontation with the fragility of their idols—their Gods—their beliefs. In his book, Emancipation After Hegel, Todd McGowan says of a fundamentalist act that it occurs when:
“one acts in order to provide proof that the authority is an authorized authority. The fundamentalist act is an effort to substantialize the authority, but the act inevitably undermines itself. If the authority really were substantial, such acts would not be necessary.”Todd McGowan
The fundamentalist act occurs because deep within the fundamentalist is a repressed awareness of the authority’s impotence. Where seeds of doubt spring forth, the fundamentalist stamps them away in fury, as a result of the fight or flight impulse triggered in the face of genuine fear. If the idol I worship is not absolute, and I am too feeble to fend for myself, then what is to become of me?
Therefore, vehement fundamentalists battle for self-preservation. As a former fundamentalist, I can say, I needed that God, that Bible, that community because without it, I was but a squishy amoeba, subject to the turbulent whims of fate and evolution. Finding myself unfit to survive without that power structure, I clutched to it, despite the cost to my psyche, my health, and my relationships.
As a former fundamentalist, I can also say that those people, clinging desperately to pasted scraps and shreds of belief, do so for their own survival. They do so because they fear the actualization of doubt. When I accept my idol’s impotence, I must accept my own vulnerability, and for many, this burden is far too cumbersome to bear.
If I know, then, that those who attack my freedom do so out of fear, I have responsibility. I must not attempt to rob them of faith. They are not ready. While I recognize such fierce devotion is not without social consequences, to engage in the fight is a futile waste of time and effort. It’s like trying to convince a child to get a shot without a struggle. When my children are faced with nurse and needle, no force of reason will mitigate the fight or flight impulse, as it devolves. Such is also true of a fundamentalist faced with the contradictions of faith. The hatred, the tweets, the social media diatribes are all symptoms of the fight or flight impulse. Such defendants are struggling to survive, and it is not my job to set them straight. On the contrary, with this awareness, I am responsible to respond in empathy.
With children who struggle with intense emotions and regulation challenges, I have learned, when the fight or flight impulse is engaged, the best course of action is to soothe and calm. My aim must be to disarm my opponent, rather than to engage in the fray.
#Exvangelical friends, let’s disarm and not engage. This is the only way forward.