Duty, authority and freedom

I was recently described as being lawful-good. If you’re unaware of alignment charts, it’s a way of summarising characters as the combination of two scales: lawful to chaotic, and good to evil. At first I felt offended by my new label, like I’d been called boring right to my face. I tried feebly to argue it, but quickly realised they were right (which just reaffirms my lawful-goodness).

And then, I discovered that I like it. I like authority and I like rules, and I find actual fun in establishing or amending both. I regularly come up with new rules and find new principles to live by. I like when things are well ordered and I dislike when they are disordered. I actually like seeing authority being exercised (when done well). I love the idea of duty, and of living by a strict code (like batman, or a samurai).

And yes, I’ll accept that I’m “good” as well. By which I mean, I largely believe that others’ good is generally my good. I believe that being good to others is the best path to happiness, and so I try to be good to others.

With this in mind, I have to ask myself, is duty and authority contrary to freedom? Am I less free than my chaotic friends? Does lawfulness and or goodness make me a slave?

No. In fact, the opposite is true: the fulfillment of duty and submission to authority is absolutely necessary to freedom – for the individual as well as for society.

Why? Because freedom is simply life according to truth. The truth of who and what I am, and the truth of my situation. And duty is the truth of who I am in relation to others, while authority is the truth of the relation of the whole to its parts.

While you can violently force people to live contrary to truth, deception is far and away the best way to enslave someone. You tell them you are their benefactor, or that their friends are their enemies, or that they are worthless, or that their suffering and work is actually for their own benefit etc. We are forced to live confined to an unreal world, denied the opportunity to be who we truly are, in the world as it truly is.

If we want liberation, for ourselves or for others, the first point must always be to expose the lie. Generally, it is some variation of that we are worthless, or powerless, or alone, and usually a combination of all three. When we realise that we are beloved children of God Himself, that all of Heaven is on our side, and all of creation is our brother and sister and mother, we are set free from these lies, and we enter into the freedom of the children of God.

To do our duty is to live the truth of not being alone. I serve you and you serve me, because we are united. We are something to each other; we mean something to each other. I am a son, a brother, a friend, an employee, a colleague, a citizen, a fellow human, a fellow creature, and much more. And to play these roles well, is no more than to be myself.

Similarly, to obey authority is to live the truth that we are part of something greater than ourselves, and that our own greatness lies in playing our part well. The part must submit itself to the whole in order to be realised. We humble ourselves for the unity and the good of the whole of which we are a part, like the individual instruments in an orchestra, each giving way to the others, such that the beauty of all together and of every one singly is magnified.

There will be times when those in authority must be opposed however, and on the same basis. When they oppose the unity and the good of the whole, they lose their real authority, and are left with an empty facade, ready to crumble. When they no longer serve harmony, those who seek harmony will no longer serve them.

God bless you!

Anarchy, Catholicism, and hierarchy

I recently read the book, ‘Anarchy’ by Errico Malatesta. Here is a link to the whole book online. I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants a better understanding of government and politics. I especially recommend reading chapter 3, as it brilliantly explains the natural union between the rich and the rulers.

You may know, I used to describe myself as a “Christian anarchist” (if you hover over “Christianity” at the top of the page, you’ll see a note on this, and if you go back in the archives or check the tags, I did some anarchist posts). I no longer call myself that, partly because I don’t much know anymore, partly because some anarchists think it’s misrepresenting anarchism, and partly because it’s a term that can cause confusion and conflict. But that said, I have retained a lot of anarchist ideas, and value them very highly.

If you’re not aware of anarchism already, here’s the wikipedia page, and here’s my quick anarchismsummary: A form of socialism in which the state (the entire ruling class, including the wealthy) is to be abolished. Hierarchies (but not organisations) are held to be inherently violent, and therefore should not exist. Usually, it is considered that private property (particularly of the means of production) must be abolished also (however, a distinction is usually made to allow “personal property”). All men and women should live peacefully and freely in a society of equals, with none above or below any others.

But now, I’m a Catholic, and therefore under the oldest hierarchy in the world today. Not to mention Jesus’ title of King of kings. This calls for some thinking…

Where I believe anarchism is wrong, is the belief that hierarchies are inherently violent and bad. They often are, but not always.

King of kings, and Lord of lords

Jesus of Nazareth is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is the messiah, the Son of God. But how does he rule? Amazingly, his rule is distinguished by service, self-giving, and, ultimately, sacrifice. Not just by small gestures either, but by the complete giving of himself throughout his entire life, and finally at the cross and resurrection. And not only this, but he gives us himself, his own body and blood, for our nourishment, that we may live in him, and he in us, and may live because of him, as he lives because of the Father. Our God and King, became our saviour and servant and sacrifice. He shared in and conquered all our suffering and even death.

Jesus did not abolish hierarchy, but he did something greater, and more radical: he created a paradoxical hierarchy, where the greatest is the least, and the first is as a servant. He revealed greatness as a matter of giving, rather than controlling. He showed the ultimate power of love.


God is not oppressive. Our power does not compete with His power, so that we must be powerless for Him to be all-powerful. ‘God is love’, and it is from God’s creative love that our freedom originates. There are two kinds of power in this world. The one is destructive and violent, and when properly seen, dull, and seeks to make all into ruins and graves. The other is creative and loving, and seeks to build a world of many wonders and joys, and share creation and freedom and life with all. The first is the rule of satan, and seeks to grasp and destroy. The second is the Kingdom of God, and seeks to give and embrace.

God’s hierarchy is a gift

Why does God use a hierarchy? In fact, why does the all-powerful God use anyone? Why would almighty God ever employ an army of angels and archangels and saints and popes and bishops and priests and Christians and humans and animals and plants and objects to do His important work? Because God’s work is to share His life and all good things with us, and that includes His work. He blesses us, despite all our weaknesses and failings, to participate in His salvation of the world. He blesses us with His life, and blesses us again by sharing what brings Him joy: His work of salvation. In all cooperation with God, a hierarchy is formed, with God, His servant, and the person being served.

Yet God’s hierarchy does not distance us from God, but rather brings God Himself to the person, by way of the servant. How could we participate in the work of salvation without bringing God to the person? This is particularly clear in the Holy Eucharist, where every member of the Church may receive their God as their food and drink, their very life.

Back to Anarchism

Anarchism presents a powerful vision of a more just, peaceful, and free world, and a powerful critique of the misuse of power in today’s world, and shouldn’t be ignored or undervalued. But the gospel is far greater and more radical. Still, I have my suspicions, that living the gospel would look very much like living anarchy.

God bless you

P.S. The Catholic Worker movement was and is anarchist (in a sense), and brilliant. The biography and autobiography of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day are incredible, and a large part of what led me to become Catholic myself. Here’s a link to the Catholic Worker.

P.P.S. There is also a set of political ideas that calls itself “anarcho-capitalism”, which basically seeks the abolition of government and absolute property rights. I have no sympathy for these ideas, and consider the term a contradiction. It is as coherent as “anarcho-monarchism”, except even monarchs didn’t claim absolute rights over their kingdoms.