John Lilburne's journal about Challenging Authority, Chapter 6 of "Crimes of Obedience" by Kelman and Hamilton.


About John Lilburne







1748 Sat 8 Sep 2001

There is now a mid-semester break of three weeks at Catholic Theological College. I think my routine will be to spent the morning reading, the afternoon working around the house and the evening on the internet.

This morning I read Chapter 6 entitled "Challenging Authority" of "Crimes of Obedience" (Herbert Kelman & V. Lee Hamilton, Yale University Press, 1989). I continue to be very impressed with this book. Issues of authority and obedience were important to me in my 14 years with the "Australian Defence Force" and continue to be important as a Catholic. This book seems to express these issues in ways that make sense to me. Here are some extracts from Chapter 6:

The ability to redefine the authority situation and hence to challenge authoritative demands - at the macro- and microlevels - presupposes two psychological conditions that are not readily available. In the cognitive sphere, individuals must be aware of - or able to conceive of - alternative definitions of the situation and interpretations of its requirements. In the motivational sphere, they must be prepared to disrupt the established social order and the smoothness of social interaction and to suffer the consequences of such disruption. These two psychological conditions are closely linked to access to material resources, without which individuals are often unable to learn about available options or to afford the risk of disruption. (page 138).

In other words: to challenge authority one needs education (or at least time) and money (or at least support). Priests tend to have this, so they can challenge the liturgical laws (i.e. rubrics). I also have this (as a student) and so can challenge their failures to follow the liturgical books.

Such a challenge almost invariably requires recourse to an alternative authority that is at least equal in status to the one issuing the demand. Preferably, this can be described as a "higher authority," making countervailing demands. (page 139)

My challenge of the local authorities is based on what the Vatican says in its liturgical books and Canon Law. In particular I have been influenced by the 1998 "Statement of Conclusions" which writes about liturgy, saying things like: "Any authorized changes, while perhaps well-intentioned, are nevertheless seriously misguided." (n. 42).

Thus, if individual citizens are to claim the right to challenge an authority's demands and to have any hope of prevailing in such a claim, they must have a credible basis for an alternative interpretation of the demands of higher authority. (page 139)

I have had the money to buy the liturgical books and the time to study them. On the issue of the "Third Rite of Reconciliation" I have seen Pope John Paul II write to the Australian Bishops: "... general confession and general absolution are appropriate only in cases of grave necessity, clearly determined by liturgical and canonical norms." (14 December 1998). I have seen this result in a change of practice by priests and so have been encouraged to challenge their interpretation of other liturgical laws.

Authority systems - and the political state, in particular - function in a way that tends to inhibit members' recourse to alternative sources of authority within and outside the system. Citizens are not encouraged to questions, to negotiate, or to seek second opinions. Rarely are they made aware of the existence of higher authorities with potentially competing demands or of the possibility of alternative interpretations of what higher authority requires. (page 139).

Since I am no longer a seminarian I feel that it is easier for me to challenge liturgical practices, particularly regarding institued lectors.

In pages 140 - 143 it talks about how political authorities tend to be challenged by appeals to religious authority. "The special status accorded to religion as an acceptable higher authority under narrowly prescribed circumstances is probably due to the historical relationship between religion and state." (page 140). Perhaps this background is why priests are so frequently inclined to challenge the liturgical laws.

... those who challenge an order by turning upward in the hierarchy risk being identified as troublemakers and suffering the consequences. If they lose their appeal, they can anticipate retaliation from the authorities whom they challenged. And even if they win their appeal, they are by no means protected against retaliation. ...

A second and more difficult form of challenge within the system is by recourse to the higher authority of the law ... Such challenges are difficult because they imply a level of detailed knowledge about the law and the mechanisms for invoking it that is not available to average citizens. (page 144).

Even if the challenge ultimately succeeds, challengers place themselves in the position of lawbreakers, deviants and troublemakers, subject to all of the social opprobrium attendant upon such acts. Challenges of this sort, therefore, are unlikely to occur in the absence of a strong social network providing both material and emotional support. (page 145).

Priests have strong networks and economic security, and so have felt able to challenge the liturgical laws. But with the internet, it has become easier for the people challenging these interpretations to form social networks.

There is an inevitable tension between the requirement to maintain the legitimacy of the state, thus enabling the authorities to govern effectively and justly, and the citizens' right and obligation to make independent judgments and follow the dictates of conscience. ... As we shall explicate in the concluding chapter our image of the a good society is one that fosters among its members a capacity and willingness to challenge the authorities' interpretation of what is consistent with societal values and required for the common good, but we also assume that such challenges - particularly when they take the form of outright disobedience - cannot be undertaken without some cost to the individual. (page 146 - 147).

There is a discussion of Stanley Milgram's experiments in 1974, which show the tendency to follow authorites. People were being tested as to whether they would apply what they believed were electric shots to people, when told to by an authority figure in charge of the experiment. I learnt about these an "Introduction to Psychology" course in February - June 2000. I think they were important in my willingness to challenge authorites.

What accounts for the participants' reluctance simply to refuse to go on? ... Participants find it exceedingly difficult to take such a step, which implies a challenge to the legitimacy of the proceedings, distrust in the ongoing enterprise, doubts about the experimenter's credentials and judgment, and an assertion that he is exceeding his authority and making illegitimate demands. In taking this step, participants would be claiming the right and capacity to make judgments about matters that are outside their range of knowledge and competence. (page 153-154).

Binding forces are those features of a situation that reinforce its authority structure and hold the individual ever more tightly to a rigid definition of the situation, closing off possibilities for redefinition. ... Opposing forces are those features of the situation that heighten the individual's reluctance to engage in the actions demanded by the authority. (page 156).

So tomorrow if Archbishop Hart sits for the Gloria, the priests on either side of him will be subject to the "binding forces" that they must obey the Archbishop (even if he has not specifically ordered this). The "opposing forces" will be that I continue to stand, everyone stands in every other church, and that the "Ceremonial of Bishops" (Liturgical Press, 1989, page 53) no. 135 says: "During the Gloria all stand."

It is likely that divided authority reduces the strength of binding forces even in situations in which one of the authorities is clearly of higher status. ... The mere fact that there is disagreement among authorities, however, raises the possibility of redefining the situation and gives authoritative backing to that possibility. (page 159).

In discussing "opposing forces" they write:

As long as victims are out of sight, it is easier to forget that there are real human beings who are harmed by one's actions. ... Opposing forces to an action increase to the extent that we see ourselves as personally causing the harmful consequences of the action. (page 163).

Its a long journal entry, I have been writing for nearly two hours. I spent the afternoon gathering blackberries and logs and burning them.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 8 September 2001.


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