Sunday night I posted the first part of this lengthy post (The Radical Reformation & Authority – Part #1). In summary of that post, the Radical Reformation had a more expansive view of the priesthood of all believers that for some led to an extreme distrust of institutional authority and often led to the institutional authority distancing itself still further from the laity, which became a vicious cycle reinforcing itself. This may have taken place 500 years ago but its influence continues to shape us.
So let’s consider what I believe to be a modern example the distrust of institutional authority that has its roots located within the the Reformation. We have plenty of people who have randomly proclaimed themselves to be experts. Health “experts” whose only experience with health is that they were born with genetics that make them attractive to the majority of the population. Financial “experts” who have gone through several bankruptcies and proclaiming that they can teach us how to get rid of our debt and gain wealth, while failing to mention that the way they are removing their debt and building their wealth is by us buying their books and attending their lectures. Medical “experts” whose education has come from the University of Google which can be anything from great things like Google Scholar to stupid things like stupid.com. We have any number of other fields in which people proclaim themselves “experts” because they can since we don’t trust institutions.
So often the reaction we see from the institutional authorities to people turning to these self-proclaimed “experts” is a closing in of the authorities to further separate themselves from the laity in their field. Often instead of listen to the real fears and questions of the people they serve the institutional authorities turn a blind eye to those they are supposed to be serving and rely on positional authority to buttress their positions, rather than listening to their clients who are being woo’d by the self-proclaimed “experts” and eve worse sometimes outright charlatans.
In my opinion, a fair number of multi-level marketing companies (I’m not saying all MLMs) are entirely based off of these two phenomenons of the mistrust of institutional authority and the institutions responding by reinforcing their positional authority and credentials. I’ll use medical science as an example. First, convince your prospective client that they can’t trust what medical science is telling them because their physicians, hospitals, pharmacists, and others are only in it for the money. Second, convince your client that you are actually an expert and more scientific than their physicians, hospitals, pharmacists, and others because you took some weekend course, and yet somehow you aren’t actually just in it for the money. Finally, watch as your prospective clients bring this information to their physicians, hospitals, pharmacists, and others who respond by dismissing the client’s concerns and chasing the client back to you.
You can probably think of a few examples that fit in here. I can think of some examples of people who I wouldn’t trust taking care of Pam’s cats (which wouldn’t take a lot of trust because their cats and therefore no great loss 😁) who have become “experts” and try to convince others turn to them for advice on very important matters. These very same “experts” often talk a good game on but don’t actually live out in their lives.
My saddest personal example comes for when I was working a side-job years ago at a store that Pam to refers to as a yuppy-hippy store. What Pam meant about this was that all the products the store sold where earthy and organic, while also being costly so they signaled that you were wealthy because you could afford them. I would fill in at this store a few hours every now and then. Mostly I read because the store was very rarely busy and didn’t have a lot of stocking or other work. Anyhow one day a lady who was obviously weak from ill health came into the store and straight forwardly said to me, “I need to know which essential oils cure cancer.” I was dumbstruck as she told me that she had reached a point where her physician had told her there weren’t many other options for treatment and didn’t respond to well to this poor lady when she started sharing alternatives with him that she had found on Google. She was so desperate she had entered a store she didn’t know and was willing to trust a clerk she had never met.
By the way, friends and acquaintances who sell essential oils (I don’t think there are many of y’all) I have nothing against y’all’s essential oils or you selling them. I think essential oils often smell great.
Some people intentionally and unintentionally take advantage of the type of desperation and mistrust that the woman in my story had. The old-fashion “snake oil salesmen” understood how to use our tendency in America not to trust institutional authority. Our modern versions understand this also. Usually it just cost us poor saps a little money and time. Sometimes it costs us much more.
Of course, questioning institutional authority can and very often is a VERY good thing. There is a great deal of institutional authority that needs to be questioned. The Reformation proved this. Today there are still tons of examples of credential authorities using institutional authority as a way to shut up or literally abuse the ones that they are supposed to be helping. Pam and I were talking tonight about some of the crimes that have been committed recently by people who had organizational power. Evil has been done by people being controlled by individuals using institutional authority as their cover. Larry Nassar and the abuse he inflicted on so many young ladies involved in USA Gymnastics is just the latest example of institutional authority being used as a means of evil. Questioning the positional authority of credentialed individuals in these institutions helps to keep us all honest and safe.
Another example that I want to consider comes about when those in authority react against “the laity” bringing in information to them. Using medical science again it is an important truth that a patient is the expert of his/her own body. Unfortunately some physicians (institutional experts) fear this. Patients may bring them information they found from good sources and bad sources. Often it doesn’t matter whether the sources are good or bad science. The very act of someone questioning their authority is beyond the pale, so they shut it down. Pam’s subglottic stenosis journey is an example of this (you can, and should, read about her journey here). “I’m the physician and I know best” is not a good answer when a patient is bring questions about their own treatment. When credentialed experts rely on positional authority rather than earned authority terrible things frequently happen. Ironically, shutting down the patient oft encourages the mistrust of the physician’s positional authority and encourages the patient to go to quacks who will actually listen to the patient. As I said this thing is often a self-reinforcing cycle.
There is so much about the Radical Reformation for which I am thankful. Especially their expansive view of the priesthood of all believers. I am very thankful for the questioning of institutions and the power they can claim in our society. We grew our fear of organizational power from the influence of the Radical Reformation’s extreme view of the priesthood of all believers. It may have started with the church but it has long since expanded into all the institutions in our lives. There is good to that but they is also danger. It creates a very fertile soil in which quacks and self-proclaimed experts grow. Sometimes this leads to serious harm. During the Radical Reformation it led to some of the best and worst of faith. My faith tradition wouldn’t exist without the Radical Reformation. There was also some very seriously messed up faith practices that came out of the Radical Reformation. The best and the worst often have the same source. The same is true today. We may be five centuries and an continent away from them but they still influence us.
SIDE NOTE – I am generally not a fan of long blog posts. I think part of this is because I have more difficult proofing them (already one of my weaknesses) in the longer format. I apologize for how long these two posts have been and, therefore, how many grammatical mistakes I am sure are found within the posts. Of course, this is just a hobby for me so you should stop complaining about my grammar. 🙂