Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fr. Georges Massouh: The Requirement for Obedience is Love and Humility

The Arabic original, which appeared in the newspaper al-Nahar, can be found here.

The Requirement for Obedience is Love and Humility

In their foundational texts, all religions teach the necessity of obedience to those in charge- rulers, imams, bishops, fathers, husbands... It appears at first glance that those to whom obedience is due are of the male gender, and that there is no place for women who are leaders and holders of authority in society. However, the religions themselves put limits on this obedience on the principle that one should not go against  God's will in obeying someone with authority.

Thus, the type of obedience that is desirable is not blind obedience that negates the intellect, an obedience that one follows in the same way that water follows the course of a river. Absolute obedience to those in authority is nothing other than pure compulsion, something that contradicts the practice of religions, when they speak of believers' freedom, free will, and personal responsibility, and consequently about their actions and the works of their hands.

Obedience that is imposed by religious or social or political force becomes oppressive to humans, repressing their freedom, murdering their intellect, and eliminating everything by which God distinguished humans from other creatures. Obedience must be out of total conviction or it cannot exist at all. Human beings are not deaf instruments in the hands of those in charge to be manipulated as they wish. Rather, they are humans with complete humanity, equal to them in createdness. Nor are those in charge gods whose commands are absolute and not subject to discussion or idols that cannot be contradicted in any matter.

God Himself does not compel humans to obey Him by force. He leaves them freedom of obedience or disobedience. God speaks to humans through reason and calls them to accept His words through His good counsel. He holds off judgment until the last day, leaving open the door of repentance so that one can enter through it at the time when he chooses to return to Him. He does not require humans to believe in Him, nor does He forcibly subject them to His teachings and commandments. He does not compel them to obey His commands and prohibitions. God wants humans to come to Him out of their freedom and their personal will.

However, none of the Arab societies see things from God's perspective. Instead they see things from the perspective of absolute totalitarian authority. Those in charge of the state compel people to obey them by force and religious authorities compel believers' obedience through intimidation and threats of reprisal. Men compel women's obedience through authoritarian patriarchy. Political leaders, religious leaders, in each of their spheres occupy God's throne and compel the absolute obedience of those below them.

However, in the religious texts there are numerous verses that place conditions on one servant of God's obedience to another. The apostle of the Muslims says, "There is no obedience to a creature in disobeying the Creator." He also says, "There is no obedience except in what is accepted to be good." Thus, one cannot evade one's responsibility for disobeying the Creator if one obeys someone who commands disobedience to God.

Saint Paul the Apostle appeals to "the mind of Christ Jesus" speak about obedience. He says that Christ "emptied Himself and took the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humans and appearing in the image of man. He humbled Himself and was obedient to the point of death, death on the cross." And so obedience requires self-abasement and humility on the part of those in charge. Christ who, according to the Christian faith, is God incarnate, was obedient, offering Himself as a sacrifice on the cross. He did not impose obedience to Him through His divine authority but rather through His love for humankind that surpasses all. Obedience must be in love or it cannot exist. The Christians only came to follow Christ when they saw Him hanging on the cross out of love for all humanity. Likewise, we can only obey our leaders if we find them to be submitting in love, and in no other circumstances.

Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic Studies at Balamand University.

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