Following up on my post about The Shack, I mentioned that the author presents God challenging hierarchy and coercion. That is a wonderful thing to do, given that religion is built upon hierarchy and coercion. Like God as presented in The Shack, I am no fan of religion.
I know most of y’all have probably read this book, and if you haven’t I strongly encourage you to do so, but given that the story puts a focus on the question of evil and justice, it might be easy to overlook some of what is said about hierarchy and coercion. I recommend re-reading the chapter titled “Breakfast of Champions.” In that chapter Mack is having a conversation with Papa, Jesus and Sarayu. Here’s an excerpt:
“I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know, being obedient. I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit fits in exactly. He…I mean she…uh….I’m talking about who’s in charge. Don’t you have a chain of command?”
“Chain of command? That sounds ghastly!” Jesus said.
“At least binding,” Papa added as they both started laughing, and then Papa turned to Mack and sang,”Though chains be of gold, they are chains all the same.” [quoting Bruce Cockburn, btw]
“Now don’t concern yourself with those two,” Sarayu interrupted, reaching out to comfort and calm him. “They’re just playing with you. This is actually a subject of interest among us.”
Mack nodded, relieved and a little chagrined that he had again allowed himself to lose his composure.
“Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you are seeing here is a relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem, not ours.”
“Really? How so?”
“Humans are so lost and damaged that to you it is almost incomprehensible that people could work together without someone being in charge.”
“But every human institution that I can think of, from political to business, even down to marriage, is governed by this kind of thinking; it is the web of our social fabric,” Mack asserted.
“Such a waste!” said Papa, picking up the empty dish and heading for the kitchen.
“It’s one reason why experiencing true relationship is so difficult for you,” Jesus added. “Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it. You rarely see or experience relationship apart from power. Hierarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationship that we intended for you….When you chose independence over relationship, you became a danger to each other. Others became objects to be manipulated or managed for your own happiness. Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong use to make others conform to what they want.”
“…Creation has been taken down a very different path than we desired. In your world the value of the individual is constantly weighed against the survival of the system, whether political, economic, social or religious–any system actually. First one person, and then a few, and finally many are easily sacrificed for the good and ongoing existence of that system. In one form or another this lies behind every struggle for power, every prejudice, every war, and every abuse of relationship. The ‘will to power and independence’ has become so ubiquitous tht it is now considered normal.”
“It is the human paradigm,” added Papa, having returned with more food. “It is like water to fish, so prevalent that it goes unseen and unquestioned. It is the matrix; a diabolical scheme in which you are hopelessly trapped even while completely unaware of its existence.”
Jesus picked up the conversation. “As the crowing glory of Creation, you were made in our image, unencumbered by structure and free to simply ‘be’ in relationship with me and one another. If you had truly learned to regard each other’s concerns as signficant as your own, there would be no need for hierarchy.”
Mack sat back in his chair, staggered by the implications of what he was hearing. “So you are telling me that whenever we humans protect ourselves with power…”
“You are yielding to the matrix, not to us,” finished Jesus.
“And now,” Sarayu interjected, “we have come full circle, back to one of my initial statements: You humans are so lost and damaged that to you it is almost incomprehensible that relationship could exist outside of heirarchy. So you think that God must exist inside a hierarchy like you do. But we do not.”
“Mack,” said Papa with an intensity that caused him to listen very carefully, “we want to share with you the love and joy and freedom and light that we already know within ourself. We created you, the human, to be in face-to-face relationship with us, to join our circle of love….I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love. And I do love you.”
And, as we all know…