October 13, 2018
Authoritarianism has always bothered me because it uses and abuses people. It destroys human freedom to think, act, and live. It manipulates people and often destroys the “undesirables.”
The historical Jesus stressed that human greatness is based on compassion and service. His authority was used to motivate and guide people, to heal, support, and call to conversion. Some “Christian leaders” still don’t get the message.
In contemporary political and religious life, we are confronted with a creeping authoritarianism that seeks to dominate and control – and often displace and destroy. A very unhealthy kind of leadership.
It is not just in the United States, but around the world. We see it in Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and other countries. And I see it and study it in fanatic and fundamentalist manifestations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
Cultural change and human migration make some observers anxious and fearful. They feel threatened. They neither hear nor understand the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Instead they prefer to circle their wagons, or build their walls, to protect “us against them.” In ignorance, fear, and anxiety they surrender to the exaggerated rhetoric and growing influence of authoritarian leaders.
This is becoming our contemporary leadership problem. “Leaders” who should be be trusted for wisdom, intelligence, and humanitarian service are becoming hard-nosed autocrats, surrendering to the psychological and mental disorder of authoritarianism.
Honesty and integrity are replaced by self-promoting deceit and dishonesty. Self-centered authoritarians are self-stroking and need to feel good. Life for them boils down to what one can get and what one can get away with. Life is jungle warfare in a world of lazy and evil “losers.”
My immediate concern right now, however, is creeping authoritarianism in the U.S.A. It is becoming a destructive and sinister social virus that shows itself in increased racial violence, increased anti-Semitism, extreme political and social polarization, and the rise of militant Neo-Nazi groups.
Some symptoms of this contemporary social virus:
1. Ongoing efforts to intimidate and discredit the media, except for Fox News. The distinction between information and misinformation disappears.
2. Truth becomes fake news….and the actual fake news becomes the to-be-accepted real news. As George Orwell (1903-1950) predicted years ago: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
3. Police surveillance and violence against ideological “enemies” is accepted as a contemporary and necessary public safety necessity.
4. “Foreigners” are arrested, families are torn apart, and children and adults are incarcerated fir indefinite amounts of time in military camps. They are not yet called concentration camps.
5. The Supreme Court is being questionably stacked, with questionable judges, to promote a narrow authoritarian political ideology.
6. White supremacism, sexism, homophobia, far-right extremism are not criticized but promoted.
7. Fear mongering is stimulated and prompted in the name of national safety and security.
8. And, of course, the opposition is demonized.
Authoritarian “leaders” can only succeed because because authoritarian followers applaud and support them. Much more so than the average person, authoritarian followers go through life with impaired thinking. Their reasoning is often sloppy and based on prejudiced beliefs and a fierce dogmatism, that rejects evidence and logic. These cognitive defects in authoritarian followers enable them to follow any would-be dictator. As Hitler reportedly said,“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”
So what does one do?
Well, we must first of all acknowledge that authoritarian followers are extremely resistant to change. The more one learns about authoritarianism, the more one realizes how difficult it will be to reach people who are so ferociously aggressive and fiercely defensive. Polarization is now extreme and deeply rooted.
We need to educate and promote (starting at home with little children) a balanced education which is: (1) handing on authentic information, (2) teaching people where to find correct information, and (3) giving people the skills to be well-informed critical thinkers.
Our Christian communities, more than ever, must become, in the Spirit of Christ, compassionate and supportive gatherings of multicultural, multi-ethnic, and all-gender, brothers and sisters.
We need to courageously speak out and we need to help other people courageously speak out. If something is wrong or something untrue, people need to strongly and clearly state that it is wrong or untrue. Those who courageously speak out need the strong support of friends gathered around them. Going alone is increasingly difficult if not impossible in our cyber-linked world.
We need to be on guard, as well, that we do not become promoters of polarization and vicious partisanship. We need to learn how to work together for the common good….As Jesus said in Matthew (chapter 12): “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”
Together we move forward.