Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gratitude, Authority, and Duty

I wrote about gratitude, emotions, and reason last Sunday; also imaginary turkeys:
Like I said then: "gratitude" can be something I feel, an emotion; or it can be a reasoned decision. There's nothing wrong with emotions, by themselves, and that's another topic. (December 18, 2011)

Another Angle on Gratitude, and Authority

By the time I finished writing last Sunday's 'being Catholic' post, I'd gone off on a tangent - nothing new there.

Oddly enough, the tangent had nothing to do with geometry or pianos, and that's yet another topic.

I deleted the 'extra' text after copying and saving it. Later I decided that there was enough there to make another post: after a bit of editing.

Authority: Legitimate and Otherwise

There's a connection between gratitude and authority. That doesn't mean that people who aren't the boss should behave like Uriah Heep's unctuous brother. And it certainly doesn't mean that anybody who sits behind a big desk or wears a suit is always right.

I used to think I didn't like authority. Then my wife pointed out that I was quite comfortable with authority: it was pompous nitwits who claimed authority that bothered me. She was right, of course. (March 30, 2011)

Sadly, authority can be misused. Sometimes folks with authority hurt those who they're supposed to help. Yes, I know about the pedophile priests.

But authority, and sensible respect for authority, is important. It starts in the family: or should.

Families: Society at the Cellular Level

The family is the "original cell of social life." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2207) It's where we're supposed to learn about taking care of each other. (Catechism, 2208)

I was blessed with good parents. They made mistakes, sometimes major mistakes, but I never doubted that they loved me. Sadly, not everyone has that experience.

Too many parents apparently demand respect from their children, without earning it. I think some attacks on 'traditional values' trace back to parents who abused their authority. I've been over this before:

Duties for Everyone

Parents are supposed to lead a family, which doesn't mean that kids 'have no rights:'
  • Families are important
    (Catechism, 2210)
  • Family members have duties
Children are supposed to respect their parents. That respect is supposed to come from a sense of gratitude. Bear in mind that this is the way families are supposed to work: not what happens when broken parents fail their children.
"Respect for parents (filial piety) derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace. 'With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?'19"
(Catechism, 2215)
Not all parents make it easy for their children "to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace:" but that's the way it's supposed to work.

Nations

It's a big jump, going from from families to nations: but there's still a need for authority, respect, and (usually) obedience.
"The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.
"Pope St. Clement of Rome provides the Church's most ancient prayer for political authorities:18 'Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favor with you.'19"
(Catechism, 1900)

"It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one's country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community."
(Catechism, 2239)
I've run into folks who apparently thought that 'good' citizens should submit to national authorities.

That's not what the last paragraph said:
"...Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community."
(Catechism, 2239) [emphasis mine]
Here's where it gets interesting.

Moral Legitimacy

Obedience and respect for authority are important. I can't disregard leadership that I don't like, and claim virtue.

But that doesn't mean everything a leader says is right:
"Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a 'moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility':21
"A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.22
"Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, 'authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.'23"
(Catechism, 1902, 1903)
"The eternal law" is natural law, the set of ethical laws woven into the universe. They're as real as the physical laws.

Consequences of ignoring physical laws can be as obvious as a brick dropped on one's foot. Consequences of ignoring ethical laws are real, too: but can take longer to become obvious. My opinion. I've discussed natural law before. (July 4, 2012)

'I was Only Following Orders'

Folks who had helped Germany's 1933-1945 leadership had some explaining to do when the 'Thousand Year Reich' failed to perform as advertised.

It wasn't the first time folks said they 'were only following orders,' it wasn't the last. Sometimes claiming that being ordered to do something nasty worked as a defense, sometimes it didn't. (Superior orders, Wikipedia)

My opinion is that Thomas More and John Fisher were right, and that my long-term plans are best served by doing what's right: not what's easy or expedient.

Will I follow through on that brave sentiment? Ask me after the Last Judgment, and that's still another topic.

"...Contrary to the Demands of the Moral Order..."

Unthinking obedience is not a good idea. Not if I take what the Catholic Church says seriously:
"The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'48 'We must obey God rather than men':49
"When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.50
"Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution."
(Catechism, 2242, 2243)
Note: the Church doesn't say that armed resistance to oppression by political authority is never legitimate. On the other hand, Catechism, 2243, says that using force to resist a rogue ruler is acceptable only if:
  1. Violation of fundamental rights is
    • Certain
    • Grave
    • Prolonged
  2. All other means of redress have been exhausted
  3. Such resistance will not provoke worse disorders
  4. There is well-founded hope of success
  5. It is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution

Faith, Government, and Conscience

America's national government still allows citizens to follow our faith: inside a church. For that, I'm grateful.

The other 167 hours a week, though, the government expects us to follow government orders: even if doing so violates basic ethical principles.

Looking at today's America and item #2 in that five-point list, I believe that we still have quite a few options.

We're stuck with the current chief executive for another four years, but there's a midterm election coming. It will be an opportunity to swap out some members of Congress.

Finally: As a Catholic, I wouldn't be allowed to force another person to believe what I do, even if I had that sort of power. We're told that:
  • Religious freedom is vital
    (Catechism, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
  • Some actions are always wrong
    (Catechism, 1789)
    • Even if the President says it's okay
      (Catechism, 2242)
  • Human life
    • Is sacred
      (Catechism, 2258)
    • Begins at conception
    • (Catechism, 2270, 2274)
  • Murder is wrong
    (Catechism, 2259-2262, 2268-2269)
By the way, another blogger posted an excellent list of reasons for celebrating. I agree with her, even though I agree that recent American election results were disappointing:
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