Freedom and Authority


Religious Education



in Brian Gates (ed.) Freedom and Authority in Religions and Religious Education London, Cassells 1996, pp. 97-111 ISBN 0-304-32483-3 (hardback) 0-304-32419-1 (paperback)

In relationship to religious education (RE), we are creators; in relationship to religion, we are creatures. We make RE; in religions we learn that we are made. We thus have authority over RE but religion has authority over us. Religion is revealed; RE is only enacted.

This is the contrast which seems to establish the difference between theology and education as a whole, and between religion and RE in particular. Theology (we often think) is given; education is contrived.

The purpose of this chapter, however, is to challenge this distinction. Both parts of it are exaggerated: religion is more of an artefact than we sometimes think, and RE less. The contrast between the two sides of the antithesis can only be obtained by falsifying each. The argument will show not only that the distinction is false, but that the appeal of the distinction itself, its taken-for-granted quality in much religious thinking, springs from a kind of falseness. This falseness in turn affects the kinds of authority which are attributed to religion and RE.



I can be alienated from my friend but not from my enemy. Alienation implies a bond. In alienation that which we ourselves have produced is estranged from us. In extreme forms of alienation, we are actually made by those objectified realities which stand over against us, and the height of alienation is when this curious inversion of the truth is actually affirmed in conscious thought. In such situations, the alienated products of our own creativity claim authority over us.

Leaving political structures aside, the three principal modem forms of modem alienated authority are the commodity, the media and religion. The commodity occupied a central position in modem consumer societies. Commodities attract our desire and mould our desire at the same time. They both define and enshrine the pleasures which make life worth living. They appear before us as if created by nature to perfectly match our needs.(1) The media also possess authority to define the significant. A great deal of this authority is obtained through

the apparent objectivity - we should say the objectivisation - which gives them the quality of natural presentation. The rises and falls of temperature. governments and share prices are all announced in the same factual manner. This is what things are like.(2) The intentions and interests behind the production of commodities and commercials are disguised and forgotten.

Beside these characteristically contemporary forms of alienation is the third, the classic example of human inability to recognize human productivity: religion. There is, however, a significant difference. In the commodity and the media the externalised authority is not made explicit. Our attention is not drawn to it because its power lies in its unexamined naturalness. With religion, on the other hand, the objectivisation of authority is not only highly articulate but self-proclaimed and self-defined. Ideations, such as revelation and inspiration crystallise the apparently non-human structure, giving, it an a priori quality, a sort of numinous, analytic (3) quality.

The very fact that the commodity and the media conceal the source and nature of their authority while the religions affirm theirs, often in shrill tones, is in itself not without significance. In spite of the contrasts between them, these forms of modern, alienated authority are essentially complementary and interlocking. Together they create a complex which is so all-pervading that we may speak not only of examples of alienation but of alienated existence.


Consciousness depends on contrast. We know that we sleep because we awaken. Before the contrast there is the world of undifferentiated one-ness. At first the baby does not have a world; he or she is a world.(4) This and that appear. Self and not-self emerge. There is speech and speaker, thought and thinker. We shall call this quality of thought its dialectical aspect.

The dialectical quality of thinking has been emphasized by modern philosophy (Hegel) and psychology (Piaget). Piaget saw patterns of thought as passing through a series of equilibrations when a balance between inner and outer worlds had been achieved. In the work of Hegel, dialecticity had become a principle being worked out in the history of human culture and spirituality, but Piaget emphasized that dialectical qualities of thinking do not arise merely at the ideational level but are the result of interaction between the growing person and the world. For Piaget, dialecticity was genetic, developmental and environmental, being necessarily concrete before it could be abstract. Even in its abstract form it remains the linguistic refinement of concrete, experience.

In their emphasis upon work, the mutuality of the exchange between human beings, and environments, and the impact of this exchange upon patterns of thinking there is much in common between Jean Piaget and Karl Marx.(5) Hegel had already shown that social contrasts such as that between the lord and the serf could be tolerated by being denied or rationalized, and had interpreted this as a sort of denial of dialecticity. The consciousness of the serf, even if it became a happy consciousness through religion, was false because the true impact of the disparity of power between the serf and lord had been denied.(6) Nevertheless, it was the Marxist understanding of the relationship between ideas and work (praxis) and the application of this to the psychology and sociology of politics which has most in common with the

approach of Piaget, and no doubt both Marxist and Piagetian influences are significant in the changed relationship between subject and object which is such a feature of recent developments in method, whether in the natural or the social sciences.

The results of this change in scientific method in recent decades are well known. Facts are already embedded within theories; observation and interpretation are intermingled. The impact of a dialectical relationship between the knower and the known has been so great that for years philosophers of science have been describing any other view as a kind of naive objectivisation.(7) It can now be seen that the positivistic science, especially of the nineteenth century, with the inexorable logic of its accumulation of facts, its ignorance of its own social and cultural function and its claims of normative knowledge, was in itself a striking example of alienation.(8) That which had been created by human beings stood over against the human mind as an unanswerable truth. Again we see how it is that when dialecticity is denied, that which stands over against human life as an unqualified authority becomes suffused with sacred power. Science became a religion, and evoked the commitment of total loyalty from its worshippers.(9)


Dialectical thinking is healthy because the mind is situated in a world. Not only does that keep thinking material, relative and incarnate but it retains the possibility that the relationship between mind and world will itself become an object of perception, thus making it possible to think about thinking. A mind enclosed within itself is given over to stereotypes, illusions of absoluteness, and egocentricity. As the literature on cognitive pathology shows, mental processes which lack the dialectic are incapable of realistic self-criticism or of methodological enquiry.(10) Instead, they revert into brooding, fantasizing (11) and repetition. It remains true, however, that non-dialectical thought possesses authority. It is authoritative just because it is non-negotiable, and it is non- negotiable because it exists in a world filled with nothing but mirror images of its own projections.

As examples of non-dialectical thought we may take racism, tribalism, all forms of national totalitarianism, and certain mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. It has often been pointed out that all of these conditions, whether collective or individual, have common characteristics. They tend to exaggerate space and to fracture time.(12) They tend to offer a strong sense of identity by marking a sharp boundary beyond which there lies the other - the alien other.(13) They concentrate goodness within whilst evil is expelled to the outside. They are all naturalistic, presenting themselves as rooted in biology, be this natural evolution, or the mystic realities of blood and soil, and they tend to arise as simplifying reactions to crises.(14) If the crisis should deepen, they become forms of ‘delirious perception’, (15) taking on qualities of absolute succour and ultimate demand, infused with a sort of generalized moral value which produces an inner sense of righteousness which justifies an ever more devout commitment to an ever more elevated authority. The delirious quality will become ecstatic in paroxysms of violence.



Reification is the cognitive result of projection. In projection, we attribute to others the emotions and intentions we ourselves have; in reification, ideas which are the products of our personal and social lives become independent of us. A reified idea has a false life of its own. There may, of course, be a real object which corresponds to the reification. In reification, however, perception becomes deductive, i.e. controlled by the inner world of the perceiver. Reification is the cognitive aspect of alienation which thus describes the situation of the one whose life has become more or less ruled by reifications. The objects of reification are absolute, one-dimensional, fascinating or even hypnotic, and the relationship of the thinker to them is non-dialectical. Although the concept of reification has some use in the interpretation of cognitive disorders such as schizophrenia, it is mainly used to describe concepts which have a social base. Reification is typically the product of a social group, a collectivity.

There is always an element of falseness about reification, possibly self-deception. This may take the form of inversion (as when that which we have made is thought of as having made us) or of taking the part for the whole. In the latter case, the reification has something in common with a fetish, although the latter is a concept drawn from religious studies and psychoanalysis, while the former is drawn from the sociology of knowledge and cognitive psychology.(16)


The pornographic image has a fetish-like quality. The part is taken for the whole, and there is an addictive aspect, in that arousal becomes increasingly difficult without pornographic aid. The pornographic image also has definite features of reification: it is a stereotype, it is depersonalised, and it represents a kind of abstract perfection with whom there can be no real relationship. Relationship is unnecessary to fulfilment, and the pornographic image offers its devotee a fulfilment which is both authoritative and egocentric.

Relations with the part-God have a similar intensity. In the fetish-like image of God the part is taken for the whole, there will be no development of the relationship, and there will be powerful impulses towards repetition. In their reified form, the images of God perform social functions which are concealed from the devotee; for example, in adoring God the devotee is adoring his or her race, nationality, tradition or identity. It is a noticeable feature of relationships with reified images that there is a powerful sense of otherness - the masturbator before the pornographic image ‘forgets’ that he or she is masturbating, so effective is the sense of erotic otherness, and the worshipper of the reified and fetish-like God-image has a similar sense of ecstatic otherness which produces nothing but a state of inner aesthetic spirituality, exhausting itself in egocentric bliss. In both cases the reified authority will have blissful qualities which will be (in the case of religion at any rate) defended in the name of individualism.

It should also be noted that the blissful egocentricity which is characteristic of the pornographic image and the reified divine image is also a characteristic of the relationship between the modern consumer and the beautiful and desirable artefact. This has been

discussed in the literature on the sociology and psychology of shopping. The falsity of pornography can be seen in contrast to the true nature of human sexuality, which is not called intercourse for nothing. It is one of our profound forms of mutuality and takes place in concrete relationship to the world, where each is the world to and in the other. Wherever woman is worshipped without actual relationship (or man as the case may be) the result may well be pornographic. A similar thing happens in the religious realm wherever God is worshipped apart from the kingdom of God and the mission of God.


Up to this point we have been examining false forms of authority springing from alienated existence. We have described these forms of authority as the reified expressions of social realities often fed by individual needs, sparked off by a combination of personal and social crisis. We have noticed that these alienated forms of authority are non-dialectical, and we have argued that loss of dialectical quality is a feature of reified authority.

It would be a mistake to believe that one can pass directly from ‘false’ authorities to a ‘true’ authority. While it is true in general that all false authority is non-dialectical, there is no sharp break between the dialectical and the non-dialectical. Authority, like dialecticity, takes many forms. Moreover, just because the non-dialectical does exercise a strange kind of authority over us, we cannot necessarily conclude that the dialectical is devoid of authority. Perhaps mutuality has its own authority. By thinking about authority in terms of non-dialecticity and alienation, however, an attempt has been made here to point to an essential feature of all authentic authority, namely, its mediated quality is not denied. Authority is false when it is experienced as confronting the self in an external, objectified manner. It is the process of reification which abolishes mediation and gives authority its mysterious numinosity.

Mediations may be social and political, or they may be autobiographical and religious. Education operates through the mediations, and is itself one of them. The approaches to authority within any religious tradition will be many and various, and it would be possible to study the way in which historical factors in the development of doctrine have mediated the doctrines of authority, or the authority of the entire doctrinal system, in certain ways. From the point of view of the educator, however, the mediations exhibited within the religious tradition itself remain at the level of content. In order to give us a theory of education and an actual teaching technique, we must turn from theological mediations per se to the social and individual context. In the first few pages of this chapter, various aspects of modem culture were taken as mediations of authority. We must now turn to human development itself as an important mediating influence.


The study of authority has attracted the attention of cognitive psychologists. This is because the way in which authority is construed is generally reckoned as involving cognitions regarding truth, kinds of evidence, credulity, autonomy and other attributes which are relevant

to styles of cognitive operations. One of the most influential workers in this field is the American William G. Perry, whose studies of the development of epistemological reasoning in American college and university students lies behind much of the work in justice reasoning done by Lawrence Kohlberg and in faith development by James W. Fowler and Sharon Parks. (17)

Perry was particularly interested in the impact which their studies made upon students in higher education and how students developed not only in academic but in ethical maturity. Perry distinguishes nine basic positions with respect to authority. The fourth position is subdivided into 4A and 4B, and between each position there is a transitional period. Each position and each transition is illustrated by a typical response, so altogether there are 20 typical statements (bearing in mind that there is a transitional statement between positions 4A and 4B). Each of the positions (including 4A and 4B) is given a label; thus there are ten labels. The whole process is grouped into three broad phases of development.

The first developmental phase is called dualism modified. Before this phase even begins, we have the first position, which could be called ‘dualism unmodified’ or ‘uncritical dualism’. The dualism which Perry has in mind is that of an absolute distinction between the knower and the known, such that knowledge is absolutely transcendent, it is objectified over against the knower as being authoritative, unchangeable and simply true. Authority, in other words, is absolutely external to the self; self and truth are at opposite poles. Perry labels position one ‘basic duality’ and illustrates it with the following statement: ‘authorities know, and if we work hard, read every word, and learn right answers, all will be well’. The transition from this is ‘but what about those others I hear about? and different opinions and uncertainties? Some of our own authorities disagree with each other, or don’t seem to know, and some give us problems instead of answers.’ We see that the breakdown of absolute authority begins with exposure to conflict and contradiction.

The second position is labelled multiplicity pre-legitimate. We observe that characteristic of this first phase is the appearance of multiple authorities. The experience of pluralism is vital in educating people in authority-reasoning. The first few positions are arranged according to the way in which the student handles the experience of multiplicity. At first, the multiplicity is regarded as being deceptive: ‘True authorities must be right. The others are frauds. We remain right; others must be different and wrong. Good authorities give us problems so we can learn to find the right answer by our own independent thought.’ We notice that the student finds an educational explanation for the difficulties that he or she is meeting. The good teacher, it is now thought, does not want us to accept the right answers on authority, but to work them out for ourselves. The introduction of problems and multiple possibilities is a pedagogical device, a way of making us think. Behind this, however, there remains the one single true authority all the time. The transitional case is ‘but even good authorities admit they don't know all the answers yet’. The position begins to break down when the educational theory is contradicted by the self-confessed ignorance of the teachers. The student wonders whether this is, in turn, just an educational ploy or whether the teachers really mean it.

In position 3, multiplicity subordinate, a way has been found of organizing the conflict which goes beyond interpreting it as mere pedagogical tactics. What organizes the multiplicity is the concept of progressive knowledge, or an ongoing research programme. The position is called ‘subordinate’ because the multiplicity is still held to be subordinate to the residual

image (from the first position) of an absolute and unified authority which will triumph in the end. We might call this a kind of eschatological view of authority: ‘Then some authorities and differences of opinion are real and legitimate temporarily, even for authorities. They are working on them to get to the truth.’ This third position begins to break down when there is what we might call a sort of eschatological delay. The conviction gradually dawns on1he student that the eschatological explanation does not provide for a working approach to life’s problems. It is too remote. ‘But there are so many things they don’t know the answer to, and they won’t, for a long time.’

The fourth position straddles the end of phase 1 (dualism modified) and the start of the second phase (relativism discovered). The fourth is transitional, but it is divided into a first part and a second part with its own transitional period. During this important stage a new way of organizing conflict emerges. All hankering after an absolute and final truth is abandoned, at least in the form understood by the student at the first phase. A reaction sets in which takes the thinker to the opposite pole: acute individualism, or subjective relativism. Perry uses the expression ‘solipsism’, suggesting that a revival of egocentricity has occurred, in which the mind falls back upon itself, the external authority having failed, it turns inwards to its own isolated experience. The label for position 4A is multiplicity (solipsism) co-ordinate. Here the multiplicity is no longer made subordinate to a final, absolute truth, but various views are co-ordinated by a theory of individual subjectivity. ‘Where authorities don’t know the right answers, everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. No one is wrong.’ The transitional is ‘but some of my friends ask me to support my opinions with facts and reasons’ or it may take the more rebellious form: ‘then what right have they to grade us?

Just as the first phase dealt with the different ways in which diversity was handled, so the second main phase (from position 4A onwards) is concerned with how relativity is handled. The same techniques are used as had previously been used for the organization of diversity. Thus we find, first of all, relativism subordinate. Now relativity is no longer co-ordinated according to simple or naive individual's subjectivity, as in 4B, but in accordance with a new principle, that of evidence. ‘In certain courses, authorities are not asking for the right answer. They want us to think about things in a certain way, supporting opinion with data. That is what they grade us on.’ In other words, the authority is no longer the simple, naked authority of an absolute, converging truth, but is the authority of evidence. Thus there are different kinds of authority, just as there are different kinds of evidence. This leads into the next position when it is generalized: ‘but this way seems to work for most courses and even outside them’.

This tendency to generalize the contextual nature of authority is fully articulated in position 5: ‘then all thinking must be like this, even for them. Everything is relative but not equally valid. You have to understand how each context works. Theories are not truth but metaphors to interpret data with. You have to think about your thinking.’ With this fifth position, the second phase, relativism discovered, comes to its climax and begins to break down with the transitional ‘but if everything is relative, am I relative too? How can I know I am making the right choice?’

With position 6 we commence the final phase of the development of what I am calling authority-reasoning. This final phase is called commitments in relativism developed. Here a synthesis is attempted between the idea of an absolute authority unrelated to the self, and the opposite idea of individual relativism. The focus now turns towards the authority of

commitment, or the nature of commitment to authoritative truth. The problem now is how commitment is to be handled, and the positions deal with various ways in which commitment is transformed. Position 6 is labelled commitment foreseen and the example is ‘I see I am going to have to make my own decisions in an uncertain world with no one to tell me I am right’. The transitional is ‘when I decide on my career or marriage or values, everything will straighten out’. Once again, we have a kind of eschatological deferment, what Erik H. Erikson would have called ‘the moratorium’. The young adult at this stage is still naive about the nature of fully mature adult life. It is still seen as a period of stability on the far side of commitment.

Initial commitment is the label given to position 7 with the example ‘well, I have made my first commitment’ with its transitional ‘why didn’t that settle everything?’ The eschatological hypothesis has once again collapsed, and we have now reached the point where, as Robert Kegan puts it, the self emerges from the position where it is an administrating institution to the position where it has an administrating institution.(18)

This is why position 8 is labelled orientation in commitments: ‘I have made several commitments; I have got to balance them. How many? How deep? How certain? How tentative?’ Here, instead of authorities external to the self being co-ordinated by some means or other, beyond the control of the student, a variety of authorities are being administered by the student herself or himself. The transition from stage 8 is marked by ‘things are getting contradictory. I can't make logical sense out of life's dilemmas.’

We may compare the stage reached by position 8 with the crisis which Erikson suggests as being characteristic of adult middle life. He describes it as the struggle between generativity and stagnation, which leads to the strength or virtue of being able to nurture or care if it is successfully resolved.(19) Perry’s final stage is labelled evolving commitments: ‘This is how life will be. I must be whole hearted while tentative, fight for my values yet respect others, believe my deepest values right yet be ready to learn. I see that I shall be re-tracing this whole journey over and over again, but, I hope, more wisely.’(20)

It would be easy to criticize Perry's interesting scheme by pointing out how it enshrines the characteristic student values of America in the 1960s. Without denying the importance of some such critique, we must at the same time be careful not to evade the force of Perry’s conclusions by a too-facile relativisation. We would be left with the thought that if the scheme of Perry is relative to his own culture, then what develop- mental view of authority is mediated by our own culture? The central suggestion made in this present chapter is that we need to take the kind of scheme put forward by Perry and to use it as an instrument for the criticism of our own approaches to authority, as mediated through our own religious and social institutions, especially those typical of our kind of late twentieth-century industrial capitalism. Only then will we have the possibility of a worthwhile educational theory.

Moreover, we have the interesting possibilities of applying Perry’s scheme to religious traditions. Do all religious traditions encompass all nine positions? Is the authority of a religious tradition relatively content-free, i.e. mediated principally by cognitive and cultural structures rather than by specific doctrinal formulations? Do specific religions, or sub-religions within major traditions, tend to cluster around one position rather than another?



In the ten or fifteen years which followed the work of Perry, considerable progress was made in clarifying the way in which cognitive structures mediate understandings of authority. In the ‘faith development’ theory of James Fowler, the six major stages are dissected by seven aspects which run right across the stages. One of these is ‘locus of authority’ and the criteria for the allocation of various understandings of authority to a given stage of overall development are set out in the Manual for Faith Development Research.(21) In the first stage ‘authority is external’ and may be regarded as a form of attachment to the principal parent-figure. Authority is thus an aspect of dependence. In stage 2, the older child is able to negotiate with authorities to achieve a more favourable balance of power, which springs from the child’s stronger sense of self, insight into social roles, and grasp of language. Authority, however, is still external. In stage 3 authority is grounded in the tacit conventions of society. Social approval is a principal factor in determining whether authority will be accepted. The guidance of significant others is sought, and the criteria which are valued are of an interpersonal kind, such as honesty, charm or integrity. Authority is based on trust.

In stage 4, authorities are accepted or rejected on the basis of rational principles, and there is an awareness of ideology, world-view, and the need for coherence within one’s own valued system of commitment. Indeed, compatibility with one's own system of belief is a principal criterion for the selection of authority. Previously, acceptance of authority was tacit, now it becomes explicit. Authority may reside in ideas, systems, institutions and traditions, as well as in persons. Authority in this fourth stage is internalised, since the person can arbitrate between competing claims for authoritative status.

There is a tendency in stage 5 not only to hold multiple sources of authority, but to relate these in complex patterns through the increased capacity for inter-contextual perspective-taking. It is within this dialectic of multiplicity that the locus of authority evolves within the stage 5 self. The uncritical subjectivity of stage 3 is mediated through the rationality of stage 4 into a new kind of critical subjectivity. In stage 6 this is actualised in a critical relationship between self-chosen but universal principles and a transcendent ground.

In comparing the scheme of Perry with that of Fowler, one must remember that Perry is dealing only with college students, and we may take his work as having to do with the interchange between Fowler’s stage 3 ‘synthetic conventional faith’ and stage 4 ‘individuative reflective faith’. We find this more fully developed in the work of Sharon Parks, who has taken the middle phase of Perry’s scheme (positions 4A and 5, ‘relativism discovered’) as suggestive of an intermediate stage between Fowler’s 3 and 4. In general, Parks combines Perry and Fowler to produce four basic stages in the evolution of authority. In the first of Parks’ positions, we find authority-bound/      dualistic forms of cognition, in which 'The person’s knowing is inextricably bound up with the power of the trusted Authority’ .(22) The dualism lies in the tendency in this first stage to sharply divide truth from falsehood, us from them, and the little tolerance for ambiguity. Parks emphasizes that many adults do not receive permission from their religious groups to go beyond this form of knowing all their lives.

Parks agrees with Perry that the second phase in the composition of authority may be called unqualified relativism. This leads to the third stage, commitment in relativism, while she calls the fourth stage convictional commitment (paradoxical). Parks develops in some detail

the idea that these forms of authority-reasoning are paralleled by a series of forms of dependence. Corresponding to the authority-bound stage, we have dependent/counter-dependent. This exposes the link between uncritically accepted external authority and total trust or unexamined dependence upon another. This corresponds to Fowler’s stage 3 ‘synthetic conventional faith’, since authority is conceived mainly in interpersonal terms. The bounds of the authority will usually be quite clearly defined. The trusted person or the group represented by that trusted person will be the locus of trust and source of authority. The sense of what is authoritative rests on a felt dependence upon a trusted group.

When this kind of absolute dependence collapses during the critical years of late adolescence, especially during higher education, its place may be taken by ‘counter- dependence’. One pushes against the pattern of authority; one resists the role of the authoritative other in order to break free. The capacity to create a new kind of authority is still lacking, however, and so in this phase of counter-dependence the authority of the other is still paramount, although in negative tension.

Sharon Parks emphasizes that dependence is a health-giving mode of human relationship. She rejects as a typical aspect of Enlightenment rationality the idea that maturity involves a move from dependence towards autonomy.(23) Nevertheless, she insists that dependence, while a permanent axis of adult development, passes through several modes of composition. In each of these modes, it is related to a similarly evolving mode of authority.

So it is that we pass into the second phase, where inner dependence is associated with ‘unqualified relativism’. By inner dependence Parks means that during this period while the various sources of authority outside the self are not denied or excluded, as is vainly attempted during the period of counter-dependence, the inner voice of the self is accepted as one of the multiple sources of authority. There is a new capacity to care for and respect the self, which is conjoined with other sources of authority. This then passes into the third form of dependence, which is inter-dependence corresponding to ‘commitment in relativism’.

Sharon Parks’ treatment is interesting because of the way in which a developing sense of authority is shown to be mediated through aspects of trust, friendship, confidence and the need for some form or other of dependence. She uses this insight to criticize Fowler’s direct transition from external, uncritical authority to internally validated self-composed forms of authority.(24) The locus of authority does not shift in one, complex movement from outside to within, characterized by greater adjudication of more complex alternatives, but passes through an intermediate stage of relativism. During this stage of late adolescence or early adulthood, the authority of self-chosen commitments is knowingly weighed against other recognized authorities, so that authority is controlled by personal loyalty to the chosen and trusted group in the presence of a known and understood relativity. It is not quite the same as Fowler’s ‘synthetic conventional authority’ (Fowler’s stage 3), and nor is it quite the same as his stage 4, ‘individuative reflective’ authority. Parks emphasizes that this in-between stage is the time when the mentor, the guru, the counsellor/friend is especially important in the life of the student or young adult. Through this evocation of personal loyalty, the possibility of commitment within relativity is secured for the maturing self. Parks has thus deepened our understanding of the way in which patterns of authority are grounded in emotional development and need for security.



‘Today it would seem that among many Christians the process of growing into mature human beings is estranging them from the faith.’(25) Many adults get trapped in a sort of magical faith in which complete security was offered through mere repetition. Segundo remarks that if this security is challenged through education, the result would be a sense of deep anxiety.(26) Cognitive developmental psychology does illuminate the sequences through which authority is composed by the self. It is less illuminating on the problem of arrested development, although Fowler’s idea of institutional sponsorship up to but not beyond a certain stage is an interesting suggestion, which he has developed in his studies of congregational conflict.(27) We need the resources, however, of a psychoanalysis and critical social theory if we are to use the rest of the material to form an effective theory of RE today. The American Jesuit W. W. Meissner has drawn upon psycho-dynamic theories of personality development to shed light on the nature of adult acceptance of authority. 'The patterns of protection, well-being and authority inherent in family structure find their natural extension and elaboration in religion.'(28) The conflicts of the anal period of early childhood are particularly significant. The child comes to realize more sharply his or her dependence upon superior powers, and there may be a narcissistic compensation which may take the form of an all-powerful Heavenly Father. This ‘idealizing projection’ is extremely important in the history of adult religious authority. Heinz Kohut has studied in some detail the way in which early narcissistic wounding (i.e. some king of break in the relationship between the child and the mother which inflicts a sense of deprivation upon the child) may be met by either an attribution of grandeur to the self or the idealization of the parental image.(29) In the former case, the self is holy, just and righteous, while weakness and evil are expelled beyond the boundaries of the self. This becomes important in forms of tribalism and nationalism. Its religious form is when the tribe or nation with which the self identifies is glorified as the perfect source of authority. The situation when through projection the other is idealized, while the self is seen as poor, sinful and unworthy, is equally important for religion, and may be particularly observed in certain kinds of Christianity.(30) Kohut emphasizes that although there are pathological forms of narcissistic compensation, there are also normal, healthy and life-giving forms of narcissism.(31) The idolisation of the grandised self may indeed prevent me from having a genuine respect and affection for my actual self, while if my worship of God springs from my own need I may not be able to pass beyond the projection of my need into the One who is to be loved for intrinsic reasons. Nevertheless, without a general sense of living within a benevolent and supportive world which may well include a loving God, I may lack the optimism and confidence which can inspire real creativity, but fixation upon the totally adorable power of the all-beautiful other can lead me into self-accusation and excessive passivity. By opening the bounds of the self to relationships with structures beyond the self, the way is prepared for a rich accession of meaning, which goes far beyond the infantile authoritative dependence and becomes a resource for mature life. The psycho-analytic approach enables us to distinguish the types of religious authority which flow from the oral period, the anal period and the super-ego period, and is thus an essential complement to the cognitive theories of Perry, Fowler and Parks.

Max Horkheimer was one of the first to create the bridge between the authority of the family understood in psychoanalytic terms, and that of society. When the child eternalises

the authority of the parent, it is the entire authority structure of the parental culture which is being digested. Today, the authority of the school has largely taken the place of parental authority in the task of defining centres of power, truth and meaning:

The spiritual world in to which the child grows in consequence of such dependence as well as the fantasies with which he peoples the real world, his dreams and wishes, his ideas and judgements are all dominated by the thought of man's power over man, of above and below, of command and obedience.(32)

Thus it seems natural that the world of adult life should be experienced in this way. It is natural for some to command, while others obey. It is because of their central role in the formation and maintenance of this view of social power that ideas of God have such a fetish-like quality. One asserts them, affirms them, denies them, blasphemes them, and adores them, but it is difficult to think them.(33)

It is at this point that the far more complex and subtle theories of contemporary social critics such as Claude Lefort (34) and Cornelius Castoriadis (35) become helpful. The discourse or rhetoric which maintains the modern sources of authority has become more and more transparent. The rhetoric of freedom grows more strident as the sense of helplessness before the vast impersonal forces of money grows deeper. Even the destruction of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect are spoken of as if they were meteorological phenomena, not consequences of human intervention. Lefort remarks ‘The discourse on liberty always comes back to support the discourse on property, just as the discourse on justice comes back to support the discourse on order’.(36)

We see thus that in the study of modern education, authority and freedom are not to be poised against each other, as in the classical reason of the Enlightenment, but are to be seen as joined together in the contemporary rhetoric of industrial power. The tacit authorities continually reinforce our alleged freedom, while actually contributing to our increased helplessness. Unable to handle their own multiplicity, and the victims of their own social function in the maintenance of the bourgeois historical enterprise, Western religions exemplify more and more the characteristic features of false consciousness.


In the opening pages of this chapter, reference was made to the non-dialectical as being a pathological quality in the authority-reasoning of adults. If we look again at the stages of normal authority-reasoning described by the cognitive developmentalists, we see that it would be possible to describe the earlier stages as being non-dialectical. The egocentricity of children’s thinking is necessarily of this nature, but if adults thought like children, they would be insane. Children are not insane (37) to think like children, but the task of education is to enable healthy children to become healthy adults. This means that non-dialectical forms of thinking must give way to dialectical relationships, and at this point we have to realize that the normal development through the stages is today severely interrupted by the forms of alienation and false consciousness which have been described. We need to examine our methods of RE in the light of this predicament.

If children are brought before the objectified and extrinsic authority of a sacred text in a way which leaves no scope for humour, disagreement, fantasy and other forms of child-like anticipation of adult dialectical thinking, the result may be a fixation into reified,

fetish-like relationships. These will be thrown off by the adolescent during the period of counter-dependence and may only be resumed at the cost of adult integrity, as often happens in adult conversion experiences when they are of the infantile type.(38) Those whose introduction to sacred texts has been of this kind, but who are unable to pass successfully through counter-dependence, may well find themselves in adult life fixed and frozen in infantile forms of congregational life, where non-dialectical worship and resistance to open and critical education will create an atmosphere which makes learning and adaptation increasingly impossible. Such brittle and dogmatic faith will become increasingly tribalised in its relations with the outer world and increasingly compartmentalized in its interior institutions.

This is why it is important that RE syllabuses should continue to be multicultural. In 1988 RE in England and Wales passed through a period when an attempt was made to reduce its dialectical qualities in the interests of tribalised religion and national capitalism. We can interpret the horror of ‘mish-mash’, an expression frequently used to denigrate the multi-faith approach, as being the horror of the non-dialectical mind for the freedom and openness of the dialectical.(39) Luckily, through a providential conjunction of ignorance and incompetence on the one hand, assisted by some shrewd .religious educational drafting on the other hand, we seem likely to have escaped the worst consequences of this brief tribalistic revival even if it continues to linger.(40) We must, however, go on insisting that there is no such thing as Christian-based RE or pure and simple Christian collective worship in our maintained schools. The law requires that RE should both reflect Christian traditions and take account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions. In this reflection and this taking account of we may well be able to renew an emphasis upon learning religion which will encourage pupils to reflect upon and to take account of what they learn. The absurd vagueness and indirectness of the expression ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character, (41) offers a chink of hope, although not a very large one, for maintaining collective worship in a more or less educational context. Whether this possibility will be realized is doubtful. If the intentions of those who insisted upon Christian collective worship are realized, we will have a new kind of non-dialectical worship, in which religion will fulfil with almost embarrassing candour its role in the maintenance of the authority of the powers that be. If, as seems more likely, the whole thing collapses under the weight of its own administrative nuisance-value, we shall probably see a return to collective worship as the reification of school authority expressed in mainly moral terms. In either case, the task of a religious education which advances human freedom will be impaired.(42)

In the long run, and this is what lies behind these reflections about the role of reified authority in late industrial capitalism, the only true authority in today's world is the authority of human poverty and wretchedness. Our theology and our religious education are, after all, not to be so sharply contrasted as at first we thought. They have this In common: they are both functions of the people with whom we stand in solidarity.