Rebelling against the established hierarchy is as old as Lucifer, the fallen angel, wanting to usurp God's authority and announcing, "I will not serve." Still when in the course of human events, sometimes rebellion is required.
Whether watching "The Crown" or "The Post," audiences are fascinated by those at the pinnacle. Queen Elizabeth takes the crown with its difficult roles of monarch, sister, wife as well as head of state and head of church. Her sister is denied permission to marry someone she loves as he is married. Duties as sister and monarch collide. Despite being the daughter of duty or maybe because of it, Elizabeth is a sympathetic character. The Washington Post's Katharine Graham also held dual authority. She was both the doyen of Georgetown hostesses and the scrappy newshound ready to take down the establishment. Established traditional order is under assault from freewheeling dissidents who have other agendas in mind and easy access to express their views.
When bad things happen, we blame the CEO, the chief executive officer. Witness the recent accounts where a U.S. naval ship collided with another vessel in the Pacific Ocean. The captain takes the blame. He is relieved of his command.
In the cases of church abuse, the locals blamed Bernard Cardinal Law. He was CEO. In corporations when the stock goes south or a product fails, the CEO is sent packing. Hollywood's star-maker abusive moguls are outed and out! That is still the way things work: those at the top must bear responsibility. It is the nature of hierarchical organizations to find someone to blame: king, general, president, minister, head of school or police chief.
Hierarchies are as natural to us as families. Most of us grew up in families where the father was head of the family. We accepted his authority, but occasionally we rebelled. Many of today's families have weak authority. Sociologists claim the greatest cause of social problems today is lack of a visible father figure.
There is a natural hierarchy based on the strongest, the fittest and the wisest. Animal kingdoms have their hierarchy sometimes settled by perilous combat. The development of human settled communities seems to have required a head of colony and worship directed toward higher gods. Great civilizations collapsed when their leadership failed, or became corrupt worshiping idols. If we remember anything about political history, we remember Lord Acton: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Yet, again hierarchy emerges in the natural order of things. The military, our school systems, Supreme Court, religious orders, businesses and corporations all seem to need and to thrive with a hierarchical system.
Rebelling against the established hierarchy is as old as Lucifer, the fallen angel, wanting to usurp God's authority and announcing, "I will not serve." Still when in the course of human events, sometimes rebellion is required. The American revolution taking place at our Boston doorstep is a prime example. The hierarchy can turn sour, notable in the oppression by King George and his troops on the soil of Colonial Massachusetts. Even today we are witnessing rebellion against an established hierarchy in the cities and villages of Iran.
One could explain the dramatic exit from the Church in recent decades by Bostonians as a rebellious rejection of authority. "I'm tired of your rules and constraints." The fact that Boston was one of the key seats of rebellion against British rule may explain the widespread rejection of the Church's authority. Seeds planted early have recently flowered.
Throughout history spiritual and temporal goals intersected. The Roman Catholic Church after Constantine was an effective means not only of spreading the faith, but of spreading stable government. On the other hand, communities viewing themselves as reforms of a corrupt society also developed hierarchical structures. Thomas More's utopia, monastic communities, even hippie and cult communities develop hierarchies and levels of authority.
British historian Niall Ferguson joins a fresh chorus of critics who worry that those who favor a revolutionary world run by expanding networks of new and unengaged voices and opinion posts will end up not with the interconnected utopias of their dreams. Instead, they will find a state of nature in which malign actors exploit opportunities to spread evil like memes and mendacities. In the end, they will be governed by a powerful but unaccountable hierarchy. Most alarming is the new "cyber-caliphate," a dark and lawless realm where Russian trolls or ISIS Twitter users work to subvert institutional democracy. Even the new capitalist lords, the creators of Facebook, Google, and Twitter are ruling by controlling the information flow. They benefit from leading both a hierarchy and a knowledge network.
The papacy remains both an object of authority and veneration despite the latest tribulations of the Roman Catholic Church. Tribulations are nothing new, but the abuse scandals were especially devastating. We must keep the faith in the Church despite our squabbles -- just as we are not likely to give up our Google accounts. Revolutions repeatedly sweep the Middle East, Ferguson notes, yet the monarchies of the region, if sometimes repressive, have been the most stable regimes. In all, history has taught us that hierarchy is preferable to anarchy. Perhaps Catholics already learned this lesson.
Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, Mass.
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