My little brother, Bob (God be good to him), was a great guy. If he had one major personality flaw, though, it would be willfulness.
As in “You’re not the boss of me!”
Very simply, if there were something he wanted to do, by God, he was going to do it. And the best way to get him to do it was to forbid him to do it at all, or to express doubts that he could get away with it. I don’t know how much trouble — physical, fiscal and social — he got into over the years because he placed independence even over common sense.
Of course such an attitude has consequences, as does any principle pushed to an absurd extreme. And toward the end of his life he began to realize it. If you beat your head against a brick wall long enough, you’ll eventually figure out it hurts you more than it hurts the wall. “I can do whatever I damn well please” is a stupid, potentially self-destructive rule to live by unless you’re only pleased by Virtue in all its aspects … including humility and obedience.
It’s always easy to rationalize away a rule you don’t like; but rules don’t exist just to take away your independence of action. It’s easy to ignore or sass back an Authority Figure who tells you something you don’t like; but Authority Figures don’t say “Thou shalt not” and “Thus it is” just to indulge their control freakiness — occasionally, Authority Figures know what they’re talking about, and actually care what happens to you.
Of course, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Bob. However, this particular facet of his personality came to mind when I read an old CatholicVote.org post about Occupy the Vatican (Yeesh. How about “Occupy a Real Life”?):
What’s the Occupy the Vatican movement? They have about 3,500 supporters on Facebook. They are allied with groups such as “STOP the Missionaries of Charity” (“Holding Mother Teresa’s charity accountable for their monumental medical negligence and financial fraud”), “Freedom From Religion Foundation”, “Religion Poisons Everything”, “Hell Does NOT Exist – It Is A Lie to Control Victims With Fear” and literally hundreds of other angry lefty causes.
“Hell … is a lie to control victims with fear.” Absent proof of its nonexistence — a logical and scientific impossibility — the next best thing is to demonize (sorry) those who teach that it does exist. And what better way to do that than to bring up the old, tired bogeyman, the Mind-Controlling Magisterium? For an institution so presumably skilled at brainwashing, we certainly have a hard time keeping the zombies from leaving the Church. Heck, we can’t even force the zombies who stay to read from the same script!
(Well, as I’ve said before, there is one sure way to find out if Hell exists or not: Just keep f***ing up until you die!)
Because we humans don’t come with immediate knowledge of all things needed to survive, we are imbued with a tendency to rely heavily on leaders and teachers, as well as to associate with like-minded people with values similar to our own. Occasionally, wicked men and women have been able to exploit these tendencies to create profound evil, as the last century so painfully demonstrated. Occasionally, though, less adept demagogues have found to their mortal peril that humans aren’t herd animals, that the mob reaction can’t be relied on in all cases.
But let’s say we were sheep. Wandering away from the flock on your own wouldn’t make you a wolf. A gazelle who did strike out on his own, on the premiss that it would prove he weren’t a herd animal, would soon be dinner for a hungry lion.
And in fact we do see “thundering herds of independent thinkers” gathering together at freethinkers’ blogs and We Are Church meetings to trade jeers about the mentally-crippled faith-heads/traditionalists, and pat each other on the back for their authority-questioning just before they head off to drink in a lecture or read a book by one of their heroes. Doubtlessly encouraging them to “think outside the box”. Or copycat Occupy Wall Street.
Yes, we have a golf bag full of ironies.
Of course, none of this proves that Hell exists, or that the Pope and his cronies aren’t all malevolent manipulators intent on creating a world full of zombies. It doesn’t even prove that the freethinkers and We Are Church types are hypocrites. It just goes to show that they aren’t as self-perceptive as they believe themselves to be.
I’m not saying that all exercises of authority and all rules are de facto legitimate. I’m saying that the claim that the doctrine of Hell is a form of social control is … well, actually it’s pretty ridiculous, not to mention self-serving. It sounds compelling in theory; in practice, it’s hogwash.
When you read something other than mass-produced agitprop for your history of Western civilization, you learn the doctrine hasn’t stopped many people from sinning in deed or word, and most likely hasn’t stopped anyone from sinning in thought. Freethinkers know it, and often use it against us. But we’re either hypocrites or zombies; you can’t have it both ways.
In short, the so-called freethinkers who ply this charge are cynical manipulators trying to push the masses’ “not the boss of me” buttons. Because the best way to get people to do something — like jump on the bandwagon, or join your herd — is to convince them that it will demonstrate their independence and individuality. Just ask your neighborhood Goth.
Another way to say “You’re not the boss of me” is Non serviam.