Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Obedience (01/31/05)
TITLE: "We were only obeying orders"
By Callum MacNab
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Unfortunately, very little seems to have changed since those dark days of the Second World War. Hardly a week goes by without news of atrocities being committed somewhere in the world, whether in Israel, Iraq, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia or any one of countless other countries. The same old excuse is trotted out throughout the world wherever war crimes are reported - "We were only obeying orders".
Authority, in whatever form it manifests itself, always insists on obedience from the people under its jurisdiction. When national governments are involved, this can lead to young men being drafted into the armed forces to fight for a cause that they don't even believe in. What kind of future can they look forward to? Either go to war to kill or be killed, or refuse to go and face imprisonment, even execution, from your own Government.
Neither is the Church blameless of abusing its authority. The early Church fathers insisted that only their interpretation of scripture was correct, and demanded unquestioning obedience from their followers. Books that contained a slightly different version of the Christian message were regarded as only fit for burning. People condemned as heretics were sentenced to humiliating and agonising deaths.
This may have ensured that all the church spoke with one voice, but actions like these spit in the face of the command 'Love your neighbour as yourself'. (NJB, Matthew 19:19). Any religion that ruthlessly attempts to wipe out any dissenting voices simply sends out a message that its faith is so insecure that it cannot withstand rational argument.
There is no doubt that obedience is an important quality for living a virtuous life. If nobody obeyed parents or teachers, families would soon fall apart and society could no longer function properly. Even atheists would surely agree that if more people obeyed the Ten Commandments society would be a much kinder place.
However, problems occur when we unquestioningly follow the orders of authority figures. Due to the frailties of human nature, people in positions of power who never have their decisions questioned can easily become tyrannical, and we run the risk of not noticing when these orders begin to take on a sinister nature.
If you are asked, or more likely, ordered, to carry out some task for your employer or another authority figure, pause for a moment and ask yourself if you can in all conscience carry out the instruction. If an inner voice says 'No', then take courage and refuse. Then you can truthfully say in your heart that you are listening to the voice of God. Therein lie the future hopes of humanity.
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