The Crisis of Authority and the Threat of Conformity

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By Will Deatherage, Executive Director

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD. 
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. 

Jer 23:1-3

Who do you trust? Doctors? Professors? Priests? A friend of mine and I recently debated about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, which I am admittedly critical of, but something he said struck me: “Will, don’t you trust this guy? He’s one of the most credentialed doctors in the world?” Ironically, this atheist friend of mine committed what so many atheists accuse Catholics of doing: blindly appealing to authority. My frustrations with such a bad habit are why I, as a theologian, prefer to present arguments rather than quote popes and councils. Regarding the empirical sciences, it is important to recall that some of the worst scientific blunders, such as the trial of Galileo, as well as human rights atrocities like slavery, Aryan race superiority, and conversion methods for homosexuals, were all supported by top scientists of their time. A topic that hits close to home for me are the fields of psychology and psychiatry, as I firmly believe that the atrocious mental health of my generation is the product of the self-esteem movement and overmedication. One can only imagine what scientific consensus held today will be mocked hundreds of years from now. The most optimal habit our culture should form is humbly listening to alternative viewpoints so we can avoid repeating mistakes of past scientific arrogance, but I fear that we are moving in the opposite direction.

Conformity is in style now. Recently, the Biden administration admitted to flagging posts on Facebook that contradicted their narrative regarding COVID-19. Similarly, Facebook recently reversed its policy on censoring posts about the origins of COVID in Chinese labs, which were previously labeled as conspiracy theories but now appear to have greater degree of credibility. Recently, I attended a conference in which dozens of doctors lamented at keeping silent on the adverse effects of transgender surgeries for fear of losing their jobs. Personally, several of my close friends frequently express frustration at the pressure they feel to stay silent about their opinions, a sentiment shared by a majority of Americans now. As more and more language is deemed “dangerous,” the United States, once the predominant marketplace of ideas, risks descending into an intellectual drought in which the government and a handful of corporations monopolize what is true and good. The scientific community is in great danger, as those who have different opinions, those future Galileos, refuse to express them out of fear. Science has become politicized, which begs the question: if we cannot trust our own experts, then who can we trust?

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6:34

Not even one century ago, Western Culture was confident in what Classical and Enlightenment thinkers consider a sensus communis, or common sense of reason as a guide of all human action. In our post-Christian Existential world, the replacement of God and universal reason with total self-determination means we reject shepherds that are grounded in objectivity. Thus, without a foundational philosophy or theology, we are lost in confusion, favoring politicians with colorful tongues over any common sense or reasoning. We return to the time before Socrates, in which Sophists, masters of emotional rhetoric, preach popular opinions for a pretty penny. Like the pre-Socratic world, once we reject the common language of reason, we are left following whoever has the loudest voice rather than whoever has the best argument.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
    he refreshes my soul.

Ps 23:1-2

Recently, I have been preparing for my Masters Thesis, which will examine Jesus Christ as the universal Logos, or Word of God that binds all of human reason together. The earliest Church Fathers beautifully integrated this often neglected aspect of Christ’s character that cements His place in the cosmos. A universal Christ tethered to reason means that every time we think critically or exercise our common sense of reason, we participate in a divine act. It means that the ultimate authority on faith and reason is Christ, not pundits whose opinions will expire before the next century.

What does this mean about our relationship to authorities? Must we question all of them? No, absolute skepticism is impractical; we must pick our intellectual battles, but it means we certainly must not censor or ignore different opinions and ideas, even if they seem farfetched. No one should be treated as infallible, not Dr. Fauci or even our Holy Father (bar extraordinary circumstance). If there is a common language of reason, it is often difficult to master, and we will never learn it if we refuse to engage with those who speak its stranger or more challenging dialects. While it is important to recognize the talents and merits of every expert, we must have faith in a universal governor of reason (Christ, for Catholics), rather than in the people who try to understand it/Him. I challenge everyone reading this to avoid basing their opinions on those of scientists or theologians because of their intellectual statuses, which can so easily crumble. Instead, learn their arguments and you shall learn the universal language of reason. When an idea does not sound or feel right, never shrug it off, and do not silence those who disagree with you. God gave our minds access to this universal language of reason; let us not neglect this portal to the divine realm by blindly conforming to authority or silencing others, lest you risk silencing the next Galileo.

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