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Morning over the bay

Obedience and Rebellion

Donal McKernan

  • Clare Massey

    I read this article with great interest and it definately raises some good points. people have become so lost in the consumer frenzy that teaches selfishness as its religion. TV programmes like the x factor have educated these young people. I was living in London at the time of these riots and whilst I agree with this article in general I think it was a little unfair to compare these kids to Nazis. I know the press reported about them very badly, all the government had to say was that there was no legitimacy in the protest, nothing political but sheer lawlessness. i also was there over the last 10 years watching police harassment and brutality, hearing of new deaths of young people in police custody. i watched as developers bought up traditional areas turning them into plastic yuppy flats that no normal family could afford to live in. I watched the local shops turn into Tescos and McDonald while everyone was obsessing about what was on TV and what they could buy and the kids were forgotten. Except now they have grown up and people are scared of them. I walked through Tottenham the day after the riots started. The press talk about the heart being ripped out of the community but what I saw was burnt betting shops, burnt banks, burnt supermarkets and chain stores and generally the local shops left alone. Of course it wasn't good but to dismiss these people as worse than Nazis? Im not going to judge the situation as right or wrong and I don't think Jesus would either. I think he would be there, he is there now with these people that everyone likes to look down there noses at just as he always was. Gross ignorance was shown on those days, of course it was. We live in a grossly ignorant society so these children would of course reflect it. As Christians we need to see through that with the compassion that Jesus shows and to be there for these young people like nobody else was. I know one of these kids. Put on Valium at age 10 for hyperactivity he is now a drug addict. He was made into that by doctors and pharmaceutical industry that told him that for any bad feeling he had there would be a drug to take to make him better. I dont see much hope for him to be honest. These kids are not coming into the world evil but are being destroyed by governments and corporations that want to start injecting them with drugs from the moment they are born. We are living in the babylon age and it often these people in the government that are claiming to stand up for traditional values that are in it the deepest. How can someone who claims to care about American unborn babies issue orders resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent lives? And to claim to wage such a war in Gods name is outrageous. But what are Christians doing? There are many many innocent children who are suffering as a result and we should not be judging them. What happened in London was the culmination of a long line of events and to look at it in isolation would be wrong. Of course the press have their axes to grind, but don't get dragged into it. My grandfather, who was not much one for religious dogma, said to me, when you don't know what to do, just think what would Jesus do? This has guided me throughout my life. I too shy away from too much dogma because you can think too much with your mind and then your Heart stops doing its job. Jesus taught us a different way to be which despite many people claiming to be Christians, is not really understood or followed today. How many of us really will turn the other cheek, love their neighbour as themselves, don't judge others, and so on? Unfortunately the basics get lost in everything. I think that Jesus would be there with these people who are suffering, the poor, the oppressed. Over a thousand people were jailed, working class homes across the country had their doors kicked in. A TV campaign was set up to encourage people to rat out their neighbours who may have recently acquired a new TV. All night court sessions were set up in tents and one woman was given six months in prison for stealing a can of lucozade. So who exactly are the Nazis? Its easy for Christians to get lured in by the right wing, of course the talk of standing up for traditional values, unborn babies, and so on is enticing. But these people just know what you want to hear and none of it is genuine. They are not the kind of people Jesus would have been with. Jesus was there for the simple and humble people, the poor and oppressed. All of this show of fancy suits and cars which comes with christianity today is nothing to do with him and is as much about materialism, individualism. Personally, I am going to live in the mountains with my husband and daughter. We want to grow our own food, live traditionally away from the Babylon. We don't want their electricity or tap water or medicine anymore than we want their ideas, their religion of individualism and consumerism. But I will often think of those I left behind. I think that in terms of this rebellion debate is that we need to be faithful to god. Not man. Obviously God created us as individuals for a reason and some sort of idea that we are here on this earth to follow our path comes into it. What it comes down to for me is are we following our true self, that part of us in connection with God, or our ego, our false self. Because sometimes our true self will say "This isn't right" and we need to follow that but in the right way. For me that means rather than shouting, getting angry (selfishness) to use intelligence, talk to the person using intelligence and wisdom that they can understand. Try to show this person the way, not because its important that you do it (ego) but that you are letting Gods will be done. For some people this has lead to rebellion, resistance and for some people this has been God's path. Having been involved in the anti-globalisation movement over the past few decades I can warn of the danger of becoming stuck in a situation where all you can do is protest (negative) and the need to move forward into creating an alternative to that which you are opposing. This is what's important, perhaps less spectacular are the little people working away quietly to create a better world. And thats how you can really follow Jesus, moving from complacency to positive actions, and rebellion is the stage you go through on that journey. You just want to make sure you don't get stuck there.

  • Nicole

    I am absolutely bowled over by the proposition that young people can rebel this society we live in by going back to Biblical truths. I just finished a class in school where we read a well respected author's views on his opinion of what the key issue with the education system in America is today: the erosion of the local communities and families. While his answer to the problem was to transform the education system, rather than reform it (the difference between a completely new system versus fixing what we have), I think this article could have summed up in a nutshell what he tried to offer in an entire book. What's more, he had no concrete answers, other than we need major change! So taking the course I realized: Okay, so that's half the battle at least to realize we need to change and need it desperately. Our children are our future--the saying is so overused that I wonder if we really stop and understand the seriousness of this. I love this article. It showed me the answer to something I struggled with the last 16 weeks of class in a few minutes: that one can rebel as long as it is FOR Christ and God's Kingdom. Things are so messed up today in society that it would indeed be rebelling the masses to stand up and declare that one wants to be different from this society: different for God's kingdom. Thank you for helping me understand in my heart how I need to change, how I need to be nonconforming to society and stand up for what I believe in my heart.

  • Deborah

    Magnificent message and so relevant for our day. I believe we are our own judge, because we are naturally born with the light of Christ, that still small voice~ is always there but, the less we listen AND OBEY those promptings, the less we give attention to it, and that, to me, is open rebellion, as did Satan ! Great article !

There is a myth about a farmer who became so frustrated at a stubborn flock of sheep that he used a bulldozer to try to push them up the ramp into his shearing shed. For the sake of the sheep, I hope the story isn’t true. But having worked for a few months on an outback station, I know that feeling of absolute frustration at the stubborn stupidity of the species.

On several occasions the sheep seemed determined to kill themselves. Once, during a drought, we tried for three days to move a large mob of ewes and lambs to a reliable water source. The wind was against us and again and again, they would turn and walk with the wind, away from the water troughs. Even with well-trained dogs and several farmhands on dirt bikes, we couldn’t force our will upon such a large group of unwilling animals.

As I sat for long, sore hours on a motorbike, in the blowing red dust, it occurred to me why Jesus compared humankind to a flock of sheep. Of course, God will never, like that desperate farmer, force us with a bulldozer. We must be willing to follow him even when, like the sheep, we cannot understand.

Rebellion as an end in itself

Obedience and humility are very much out of fashion. Rebellion, on the other hand, is in. It seems every new movie and book features people who overcome the constraints of their society, disobey the advice of their friends or parents, are “true to themselves,” and succeed in following their dreams. It makes a great storyline and is undeniably a popular one.

Doubtless, rebellion can be noble. There are rebels that I admire, renegades who have done much to expose hypocrisy and overcome injustice through their stubborn – or courageous – nonconformity. Jesus himself was in many ways a rebel, who clashed with the mighty power structures of his day.

But is rebellion always good? Is rugged individualism an end in itself? Why are we more enamored with the spiked hair of the punk than the shaved head of the monk? Surely there is a place for obedience, too; a time for being true to God instead of “true to myself.”

The Wisdom of Fairy Tales

Unlike modern entertainment – in which arrogance is all but idolized – many of the legends and fairy tales of past centuries promote the virtues of humility and obedience. The Knights of the Round Table gained honor not by “being true to themselves ” but through loyal service to their king. Icarus flew too high, both physically and metaphorically, and fell to into the sea. Sir Roland subverted his desire for personal glory and stayed faithfully at his post, thus saving the castle. In nearly every case, pride leads to misfortune and humility is rewarded. Such tales contain deep truths that are being lost in our age of enlightened individuality.

Walls and Foundations

“The times they are a changin’,” sang Bob Dylan in the 1960s. But few of the Woodstock Generation could have foreseen how much times would change within their own lifespan. Since the social upheavals of the sixties, the spirit of revolution has been blowing in the wind. Around the world, walls have crumbled: segregation, apartheid, the Iron Curtain, and to a certain extent the glass ceiling.

But if our parents toppled man-made walls of ignorance and oppression, are we smashing the very foundations of our society – God-given moral foundations that have stood for millennia? In their place, we are trying to build our own moral framework, a monument to our own vanity – a new Tower of Babel, this time philosophical rather than bricks and mortar.

Permissiveness in the name of tolerance has seeped into every corner of society. Governments promote the myth of a “neutral” or “valueless” society, in which no ideology is promoted above any other. But who can claim that they are truly neutral? Who can stand objectively at a distance, freed of all beliefs, and coolly observe all ideologies from the outside?

Of course, it is easier to disregard eternal truths when we call God’s very existence into question. Although there have always been non-believers, census data in recent years indicates that a growing number of us claim to have no religion. The secular academic world is abuzz with excitement. “We no longer have to be brought into line by the threat of hell or the promise of paradise,” proclaims atheist philosopher Alain de Botton. “Humans… have a hardwired moral sense…not needing revelations from ancient texts,” writes Polly Toynbee in The Guardian.

The Conscience and the Crowd

True, we do each have a “hardwired moral sense” – a conscience. But this still, small voice can too often be drowned out by the shouting of the crowd. And crowds have been known, on occasion, to be wrong. Take, for example, the London riots in 2011, when “normal” people looted and burned the city, or the 1994 Rwanda genocide when family members killed each other with machetes, or the German public that supported the Nazis, or Pilate’s court in 33 AD. Søren Kierkegaard made this observation:

A crowd in its very concept is the untruth, by reason of the fact that it renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction.

Paradoxically, although technology has isolated us in some ways, it has also made us all into a massive crowd. We may each believe that we are thinking and acting independently, yet in reality we are – like sheep without a shepherd – obeying the consciousness of the mob. We have seen how rumors of every kind can circumnavigate the globe in an instant, creating panic and confusion. Will we build our sense of right and wrong on these shifting sands of public opinion; believing that “Might makes right.”?

What is left for the young to rebel against, I occasionally wonder, in a world where anything goes? Nevertheless, our generation still feels the need to somehow rebel. A new breed of sullen youths, clad in black, seem angry at the world in general. Many young women dress as if cloth itself is somehow oppressive. Racists deny the axiom that all people are created equal. There are many manifestations of such hollow rebellion, many provocative subcultures, but they are united in one thing – they all bow down at the altar of individualism.

A True Alternative

“A tree is recognized by its fruit,” said Jesus. The fruits of this era are anything but good: erosion of the family, ecological destruction, widespread violence and death. Our “hardwired moral sense” is clearly not enough to save us. Sheep need a shepherd, and we need God. How different our world would be if we truly loved our enemies, were faithful in marriage, forgave those who hurt us, and honored our parents? These “revelations from ancient texts” are needed more than ever before. As Ignazio Silone wrote:

You cannot conceive what it would mean to a country like ours if there were only a hundred youths ready to renounce all safety, defy all corruption, free themselves from obsession with private property, sex, and their careers, and unite on the basis of absolute sincerity and brotherliness: a hundred youths…who would speak the truth on every question, on every occasion…and live according to the truth.

This vision may seem idealistic and naïve, but it would truly be countercultural. Imagine for a moment an uprising of voluntary poverty, a revolution of modesty, an insurgency of self-sacrificing service to others. Wouldn’t these be more revolutionary than spiked hair, rainbow flags, swastikas, or any of the myriad ”alternatives” that are really just facets of today’s self-centered culture; as conformist as a soldier’s uniform or businessman’s tie?

If we have more freedom than our forebears, we must use it for God, not ourselves. If we are to revolt, it must be for God’s kingdom, not against it: a rebellion of obedience. As Paul the Apostle wrote, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

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