The Christian Father-god laid down rules and inspired fearful obedience. He was a Big Boss topping a long line of bosses in the hierarchy of the church. This is evident in the words of the interrogator at St. Joan of Arc’s trial:
You are subordinate to . . . our Holy Father the Pope, the cardinals, the archbishops and the other prelates of the church.He might have gone on to remind her that she also had to obey priests, her father, and all men. She in turn was superior to animals and to all of nature. Relationships in this paradigm are vertical. We either dominate or are dominated in a silly sort of pecking order.
St. Augustine’s words make this clear:
You . . . make wives subject to their husbands . . . you set husbands over their wives; you join sons to their parents by a freely granted slavery and set parents above their sons in pious domination . . . You teach slaves to be loyal to their masters . . . [You] warn the peoples to be subservient to their kings.Quite a switch from the words in the Declaration of Independence:
that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.We might be tempted to think we’ve moved way past relating in the subservient way. But the following theology was written as late as 1982:
Just as it is not possible to be a father without having a son, so too God cannot be almighty unless he has creatures over which to exercise his power.In this paradigm, power devolves from above so that we are always looking up to some and down on others. And what effect does this have?
Meeting the demands of the exacting god prompted St. Teresa of Avila to "thinking of how I have offended God, and of the many things I owe Him." It led her to frequent confession and worrying that her confessors were "poorly educated" when they said that "pastimes and satisfactions" were acceptable. She was afraid their lax idea of sin—calling what she considered mortal sins only venial sins—put her in danger of going to hell. "Without a doubt," she wrote, "it seems to me that my salvation would have been in jeopardy if I should have then died."
Teresa was no more scrupulous than were many of us Catholics when I was growing up. It was a vertical universe that demanded strict obedience to higher-ups.
Today we’re shifting to a more horizontal picture. We are breaking the image of the Big Boss over and above us by visualizing the Holy erupting from below or appearing from within. We are learning to listen to an inner voice.
We are shifting from practicing POWER OVER to POWER WITH or POWER TO as in the power to act capably and courageously, even if it displeases some individuals in authority. This more horizontal way of relating invites us to look straight ahead and act with integrity, treating all alike instead of looking up to some and down on others.