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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Questioning Authority

Gov. Chris Christie grilled by New Jersey kindergarten students

One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”

So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Luke 20:1-8 NIV).

Authority hates “loose cannon” questions. An English professor gives an impassioned interpretation of “Sailing to Byzantium” citing many sources of scholarly criticism to back it up. Yet, a first-year mediocre student in the back row blows the entire effect with a question straight out of left-field based upon his experiences in a small backwater town. You don’t have to have advanced degrees to ask questions difficult to answer, or to ask for justification difficult to come by. In fact, even two-year-olds are pretty good at it.

Authority conceived as some sort of unassailable absolute power is greatly undermined by free speech—as all dictatorships are well aware. When people are empowered by free speech, profound implications automatically accrue. One being that authority in a democracy can chronically assume a defensive posture in response to finding itself under constant questioning. Authority, thus regularly subjected to widespread inquisition, is susceptible to appearing downright weak, vain, and even stupid. This is true not only in the political world, but affects all venues—including that of work, church, school, and even the family. If it weren’t for free speech, many more would yield to the drive to achieve authority status; but seeing the hazards of it, many prefer to be like sheep well hidden beneath the radar.

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