On Some Dynamics of Hierarchy

draft #13
© Paschal Baute 1995

How can we begin to understand the blindness within all institutions, particularly within religious institutions, in their readiness to stereotype or dismiss their own members and others? I propose the paradigm of our time is change. Until we can understand the dynamics of how our institutions resist change, we can blindly participate in the resistance ourselves, with many ill effects in the developing of community: equality, solidarity, justice, peace, discipleship, etc.

I suggest paranoia as a key concept for understanding the primitive and tribal aspects of hierarchy. I want to suggest also that the electronic communication revolution now gathering momentum will greatly lessen the power of the hierarchy to control, resulting in a new paradigm of freedom and creativity, especially in ministry. Yves Congar, one of the pre-Vatican II theologians whose writing inspired the council, said long ago that if the hierarchy could ever trust the laity, we would witness a "second Spring of the Church" that could pale the first Pentecost.

Paranoia is the expectation that others are untrustworthy. It is a readiness to stereotype, label and blame, to interpret others' motives as less worthy than one's own. Paranoia is the unwillingness to listen to another and be moved by their opinions. It selects whatever justifies itself, insisting on one's own views as more important, true and urgent than others. Therefore it is also: closed mindedness--a strong need to be right, getting feelings hurt easily, and often a need to control others or have things one's way. It can also be a readiness to feel and judge that people are either for you or against you.

Paranoia exists in many small degrees, e.g. in criticalness and stubbornness. It is very subtle and very blind and it feeds on itself. The law of expectations is that whatever you look for you will find. The habitual misreading of reality to justify oneself when not challenged can slip too easily into the beginning of mental illness. In paranoia the strength of one's convictions can gradually gain the force of absolute belief. The distortion of reality to fit one's bias becomes compulsively and irrationally held, even in the face of contradictory information. One's own sincerity, however blind or misled, is sufficient justification. Paranoia always resists challenge to its own assumptions.

Hypothesis #1: paranoia is normal in all hierarchy (military, government, business, education and church). Hierarchy, per se, encourages the development of paranoia.

Those within hierarchy are quite ready to stereotype those outside the hierarchy, to think in terms of "we" and "they" dichotomies. Moreover within hierarchy the views of the insiders toward outsiders are immediately and blindly supported by other insiders. "So-and-so is not, cannot be a loyal [Catholic, Baptist, Jew, etc.--a true believer--like us--] when they talk (act) that way..!" Labeling and stereotyping is the facile way others are discounted.

Those within the hierarchy are ready to support whatever attitudes sustain hierarchy. The functionaries within the hierarchy are not likely to listen to voices that challenge their position or place within the hierarchy. Whenever the hierarchy is questioned there is a kind of primitive tribal response defending the status quo and attacking the challenges that arise. Yet those who confront the beliefs and practices of the hierarchy are often the ones most needed to correct its hidden distortions and bias. Whistle-blowers offer a corrective for what is not working systematically. Someone has said. "Every heresy is the revenge of a forgotten truth."

Hypothesis #2: The degree of the paranoia is a function of the amount of time spent in the institution as a member. The older members even at the bottom of the hierarchy are more protective and more resistant to any change than newer members. They have a longer period of time invested in it and find any change in attitudes about it difficult and too mind bending. Any change disturbs their equilibrium.

The longer one is a member of this hierarchy, then the more one thinks stereotypically in the attitudes, myths and axioms that support the hierarchy, and the less one is open to other views, even when one leaves the institution. Twenty year veterans have become "company men." One can leave the institution and still think with the mind-set of that company-culture for the rest of one's life.

Here is hypothesis #3: The higher one goes in hierarchy the more closed one is--not only more blind but more unaware of the blindness. They are not able to hear other voices and yearnings, however legitimate. "Let them eat cake!" "What is good for General Motors is good for the country."

The further up the hierarchy (any type of institution) one goes, the more is one ready to label and stereotype anyone who opposes the traditions and axioms that support the hierarchy. Therefore the less one can listen and hear what others outside the hierarchy have to say. The more ready one is ready to interpret unilaterally what those at the bottom of the hierarchy need or want. One is more ready to judge, to label and stereotype those who disagree with the privileged status quo when one has more rank within the hierarchy.

We have many historical examples; political (the Nixon White House, Johnson's Vietnam policy urged by the military), military (the Tailhook incident and many military failures because of outmoded "battleship strategy"), business (Detroit's love affair with big cars and the IBM collapse).These are easily multiplied.

Here is hypothesis #4: Paranoia is harmful to many others.

The more paranoia one has the less one can listen. The greater paranoia, the more harmful because the more closed to any other view. And in turn, the more isolated from others, from honest interaction that one becomes, then the more paranoia one tends to develop. So that it feeds on itself. David Koresh and Jim Jones are only extremely dramatic examples of a common process engaged in by many.

Paranoia denies people the right to be heard. It destroys partnership, teamwork and community. The right to be heard is God-given because every person has value. Serial killers are lonely disconnected persons who have become filled with violence because of their paranoia. This dynamic also applies to those who become terrorists.

Respecting the rights of each person has led to the formation of the strongest government in the world, of the people, by the people, for the people: a nation that has become the envy of every nation on earth.

Before God, we are all equal. Each counts as much as any other, no one better than anyone else. This means that we are meant to learn from each other, be shaped by others, need others to become fully ourselves. But the more power a person has, whether this is position power, expert power or personal power, the more one tends to assume a superior attitude toward others, and the less open and willing to be instructed by others.

"Power corrupts," said Lord Acton over a hundred years ago, " and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

What is extraordinary is how blind are those within the power structure to their own blindness, how easily they cut themselves off from other input, and with what facility they are able to stereotype those who differ with them.

How can we understand an institution pledged to the gospel being so ready historically to persecute those who call it to a deeper understanding of the gospel? Until we can understand this we will be blind to its occurrence now, and ourselves the victims of it.

Those without a sense of history may not realize that the official church has always rejected its prophets and change agents, burnt them at the stake, silenced them in some way, so that others could not hear their voices. Any voice that threatened the powers that be or the status quo needed to be silenced "in God's name," for the sake of not disturbing the "faith of the people."

Government is accountable by the elective process. Business is accountable by the bottom line. Military is accountable by the results of the latest battle or war. But religious hierarchy is mostly not accountable because they conceive that their authority is God-given and those at the top believe they have a "pipeline" to God that the common folk do not have.

What else can account for the unseemly arrogance of religious leaders of all denominations down through the ages? Plus the astounding fact that no religious leader has ever admitted that leadership, even previous leadership, even previous leadership of hundreds of years ago, was wrong, sinful, blind, and harmed many folk?

Less than fifty years ago, 20 million German Catholics, 40 million German Lutherans, 20 thousand German priests and bishops and 15 thousand Lutheran clergy* participated in a national paranoia to conspire and cremate nine and one half million human beings, with rare objection. Over many centuries the official church has been willing to abuse, persecute, and murder thousands of innocent people: Jews, Catholics, Muslims and many others. When we do not understand how this can happen, then we are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Hierarchy today, both Protestant and Catholic, remains convinced that its own views pronounced from the top down must prevail frequently without any dialogue with those who are most intimately affected by those decisions. Within Protestant churches, accepting the doctrinal content of a literal translation of the bible becomes the passport to any listening. Stereotyping is dividing denominations into camps. Within the Catholic church, laity is simply not consulted nor deemed worthy of consulting.

Hypothesis #5: Hardness of heart and blind stubbornness was the sin that God condemned most in both Old and New Testaments. I propose this kind of institutional blindness and resistance to change still opposes the work of God, and is of evil. If the Spirit can speak through us all, as the gospels and Vatican II proclaim, then to be closed to the plurality and diversity of these voices and charisma is to resist the Spirit calling us to community by loving one another and learning from one another.

The institution most open today to change is business because its survival depends upon the bottom line. Business has decided that hierarchy must be turned upside down. Instead of being a pyramid it is now more like an ice cream cone. In progressive companies, hierarchy exists now for the sake of the employees who are now called associates or partners. The new buzz words are: empowering, team-building, self-directed teams, and market driven. It is well recognized that only those companies that implement this new kind of culture giving power to the people and trusting "front line workers" will survive in our rapidly changing world.

The institution most closed today is the official church, which regards its prerogatives of power and privilege as divinely endowed. In this context I am speaking of my own Roman Catholic church. Not only is its credibility seriously threatened but its vitality is being undercut by a hierarchy that prefers tradition to its pastoral mission. The official church would rather maintain a tradition of male celibate priests rather than provide sufficient persons to preach the word and preside over the Eucharist in as many as 20-40% of the parishes of the world. Catholic hierarchy refuses to regard the laity as having any charisma or wisdom even in the grace of the state of marriage given them alone to understand the spirituality of sexuality.

Roman Catholic hierarchy still sees itself as above the laity and closer to God. The metaphor of shepherd and sheep blinds officials to the words and example of Jesus' washing of feet at the Last Supper. What if, as in business, religious hierarchy began to see itself as existing primarily for the sake of empowering the laity? Attitudes and habits of control, power and privilege would need to be relinquished. But without radical conversion of heart, no one gives up power voluntarily.

Show me the hierarchy who says, "I was not elected bishop to be a business administrator. I wish to have no power in this church except that of the witness of my life following Jesus. I give up all position power to make myself as one of the poor like Jesus did. The laity have the charisma, intelligence and mandate through Baptism to conduct all ecclesiastical affairs. It is the leaders' job to trust, facilitate and empower them."

Find me that person, and I will say, "There is truly a man of God and a prophet, because this is the future of the church!"

Hypothesis #6. Hierarchy will always perceive the world and define its role so that its benefits and services are needed more rather than less. In other words, hierarchy seeks to expand its importance and functions. It cannot conceive that its perceptions and attitudes may be erroneous, outdated and in need of changing.

Because of its investment in continuing the status quo, hierarchy cannot realize that the over-reaching of its power is, in fact, contributing to the decline in its credibility and its power to influence and persuade. Religious hierarchy cannot grasp that it is causing the very decline in morals that it deplores by the way it uses authority.

By continuing to stress the biological rather than the transcendental nature of sexuality, by refusing to listen to married laity who alone possess the grace of state in living a theology of sexuality, and by defining that authority and power are only from the top down, hierarchy has undermined the very credibility of religious authority, therefore all its authority, and therefore all other authority in the world.

Therefore, hierarchy, Roman Catholic hierarchy as it is exercised today, contributes to the very moral decline in family and in society that it loves, without understanding, to pronounce against. To proclaim that family breakdown is the root of our problems is to stop at the symptom level. The tap root is the decline in respect for authority in which Roman Catholic hierarchy greatly contributes, by its refusal to listen to its prophets and its own laity today, and its refusal to implement Vatican II.

The current structure of today's church is far more the effect of Roman government, Hebrew laws of ritual purity, the need for stability in a dissolute society from the second century on, the influence of Greek philosophy, and the role of celibate monks--the desert fathers--who contributed most of its theology, than it is the effect of Jesus' life and message. It is difficult to imagine that Jesus would endorse much of any present church structure and functioning.

Hypothesis #7: The process of paranoia can explain why the people within the institution cannot see the need to change the way those at the margins or outside the institution can so easily see. Paranoia feeds on and supports itself, so that the leaders are the last to see the changes needed. We are currently witnessing a widespread turnover of CEO's in American business.

One of the challenges for leadership for Catholic bishops is not only a mind-set that is more guardian than pilgrim but that their bureaucracies separate and isolate them from common folk. If a litmus test for their selection as bishops was loyalty to papal teaching, as many now believe it was, then they are sure to be "company men," and unlikely to think divergently or to even experience (less express) an independent voice.

Unfortunately, the bible, both Old and New Testament, particularly some of Paul's pronouncements, too easily lends itself to pre-judgments and denunciations of others. The Pharisee in Paul still needed to dichotomize others into "good" and "bad" according to Christian observances. Those firm boundaries were probably necessary for his time. Many believe that firm boundaries are necessary today to separate the sheep from the goats, and ever ready to make the judgments necessary.

A closer reading of the New Testament will reveal that Christian practice for 2000 years has been more in Paul's image than in Jesus'. Christians have been and still are ready to discount, persecute, and even kill other Christians (and others) in God's name for most of Christian history.

Hypothesis #8. The more religious doctrine is developed, the more static is the institution with increasing dependence upon knowledge and obedience as the essence of faith. This dehydration of faith enlists God in the service of our security needs. The network of religious ideas become prejudices that protect the present order of things and resists any change. Since the prophet provokes challenge and upheaval, she must be resisted at all costs, labeled as disloyal and could not be of God.

Therefore the more ideology is developed, the more institutional paranoia is activated to protect the status quo ante. Hierarchy is always reactionary. Little energy is provided for encouraging the development of personal prayer, accepting doubt, encouraging questions and soliciting a personally developed faith. Acceptance of the appropriate religious doctrine becomes the social passport. Yet every certitude is another way of avoiding the mystery we call God. "Concepts create idols, only wonder and awe understand anything." -- Gregory of Nyssa.

Hypothesis #9. The life and the work of both Jesus and, perhaps Paul too, intended to do away with all hierarchy: "There are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus." Gal 3:26. Ched Myers in a political reading of the gospel of Mark suggests that Jesus gave the Kingdom of God with all rights and privileges back to ordinary people:

Jesus' role as priest was to do away with priests, to radically democratize the body of Israel. The "blood of atonement" would no longer be a vicarious offering controlled by the temple stewards. The only acceptable sacrifice was that of one's own lifeblood, shed in service to the people and in resistance to oppressors." p. 445. Binding the Strong Man, Orbis, 1991.

Hypothesis #10. Renewal of the church is more likely to occur from outside the hierarchy, from the margins of the church than from within. The growth of small faith communities, house churches, prayer groups, bible studies, etc., where people can share their journey and be heard is where listening, conversion, renewal and the new Pentecost necessary for living in a non-Christian world is beginning. Small community is where the heart is found, and personal renewal begun and sustained.

Yet there is little training or importance given in churches to the skills of organizing community or to the efficacy of small group process: learning facilitator and community-building skills in church life today.

This is the religious phenomenon of the nineties. The Age of the Laity has already begun except few hierarchy realize it or are ready to facilitate its development. Yet as our clergy ages, without increasing lay leadership, there will be little Catholic identity to maintain.

Hypothesis #11. As the electronic communication revolution gathers momentum, it can bring a global transformation that will radically change the way we view religious and spiritual life. Cybertechnology encourages total horizontal community that can create international community, or solidarity with anyone, anywhere, anytime, that undermines. Internet gives us the instant power to fully acknowledge and express our equality, that there is that of God in everyone. We can not yet imagine the future of religion and spirituality. This future is likely to be increasingly post-clerical, non-denominational, inter-faith with many traditions enriching each other; leadership will be based on charisma, democratic, inter-faith, arising from local need and local empowerment.

Hypothesis #12. As the means for the free generation and exchange of ideas grows in our world, so does the power of vertical hierarchy to control full discussion. Position power (what you are in the organization) counts less. Expert power (what you know) is more important. Relationship power (who you know) that is the result of the old boys network is lessened, but relationship power depending upon networking with charismatic persons wherever is increased. Personal power (who one is) is increased, and Spiritual power (who one is in the presence of Mystery) is magnified. The old paradigm of hierarchy is Control, Order, and Predict. The new paradigm emerging for the next millennium is Affirm, Create, and Empower. Those who have the skills to develop community, understand and facilitate group process, and to build empowered teams and persons are the leaders of the new world. They are the change agents our world is waiting for.

Metanoia is the Greek word for the conversion and radical change Jesus asked then and of us now. Metanoia cannot be taught and is impervious to doctrine. Metanoia begins with a spontaneous interior birth discovering one's own truth that erupts in joy, love and freedom. The reason Jesus taught in parables is to invite this to happen. God is found in the deep laughter of free spirits who discover where Home is, forever.

The last word: paranoia is opposed to metanoia. "What good can come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:42) is the classic rejection of the challenge to change, now being repeated in many ways by present hierarchies of all kinds.

Because paranoia ends up in self righteousness, fear and readiness to dismiss or attack others, it separates us from ourselves, from others, and from God. Religious paranoia is a hidden idolatry of the status quo. It also keeps institutions living on past glories and past attitudes, far from the renewal necessary for vitality and new growth.

What we are being invited to is a new kind of partnership spirituality, sharing responsibilty for creating our own faith communities, in a universal priesthood that comes from our Baptism, serving that "of God" in and through one another.

*figures from Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity

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