Literalism and Authority

The recent tragic death of Leelah Acorn, and her suicide note plea, published on tumblr to ‘fix society’, is something for us, as human beings to reflect upon.

I am not a parent, but I know that parenting is a tough challenge as someone is brought into this world for whom you have unconditional love, but that someone is their own person. Parents are people who are in a position of authority over their children. Children have an insatiable curiosity about the world and themselves and often, especially with younger children the role of the parent is often to curtail the childs freedom to explore, to prevent them getting into danger, for example keeping knives and matches away and telling children not to play with them.

As children grow decisions about what behaviour to restrict become more complicated as young people become capable of making their own decisions. One of the hardest lessons to teach children concerns authority.

The lesson being to respect authority, whilst developing a healthy disrespect for authority itself. This seeming contradiction is a challenge as parents are an authority figure themselves. It is important to distinguish that authorities do make the wrong decisions, but that such poor decisions are not a reason to completely reject the authority entirely. The territory of grey areas and compromise is a difficult arena for developing people to appreciate.

As adults we live in countries with systems of laws created by governments. Most people are aware that governments generally don’t make the best decisions. Government decisions should be the result of compromises and the production of laws that are at least an improvement on previous laws. As citizens we have to obey/ respect the law of the land even when we know some laws are unjust, that our economic systems are imperfect. As individuals we learn to accept the imperfection of laws. For example, when homosexuality was illegal and homosexuals had to respect this law by not expressing their sexuality publicly.

I have a disdain for those who take a fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible. This is overly simplistic and restricts the ability of the individual to interpret Gods love for themselves. For example the creation story of Genesis that the world was created in seven days whilst containing truth, is not literally true, it seems that some people, the ‘creationists’, have difficulty with this distinction. There is immortality for good souls in Heaven, but Heaven is not a realm where souls have corporeal existence, there is no sense in attempting to define literally what heaven is as a single concept. The concept of heaven is not a literal one but a spiritual one. As a scientist, I am aware of the distinction between the scientific method of testing of theories in a logical manner and the personal subjective view of existence. The teachings of Christianity are not about a dogmatic adherance to a set of rules, but provide the means for accessing the tools with which to help make decisions.

Generally there seems to be too much literalism in the world. For example the pop star,Charli XCX has recently released a track with the lyric: “I don’t wanna go to school I just want to break the rules”. Some of the YouTube comments of the video suggest that the singer is being irresponsible in encouraging young people not to go to school. Such comments demonstrate how pervasive literalism is, for the message of the song is not discouraging people from attending school, but rather an expression of the importance of questioning authority. This is very similar to Pink Floyds “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control”, the members of Pink Floyd, themselves University educated.

Parents wish their children’s lives to be perfect and for their children not to suffer from issues that they themselves struggled with as young people. It could be argued that people spend their teenage years and 20’s in getting over their parents, to continue to love and respect their parents for trying to be good parents whilst acknowledging their parents imperfections and mistakes. The struggles an individual person has growing up to realise themselves and find a workable compromise with various ‘authorities’ will be different to the individual experiences of their parents. Sometimes parents need to take the time to reflect that their children are different, that society has changed and whatever the rules are, they are in a continuing state of flux.

Basically, as humanity we need to be less literal, appreciate the fussiness that there are no absolute authorities for individual experience in the real world outside of scientific laws and learn to love and respect each individual person for who they are, especially as everyone continues to better define and be more at ease with themselves through reflection and interaction with other voices. For all authorities to be open and honest about their limitations.