Are you an obedient person ? do you want to be more less obedient? When you think of obedience what do you think of? By sharing stories from the bible and experiments, our religious and psychological experts explain the types of obedience, the good and bad and how religious and spiritual traditions cultivate healthy obedience.
What is Obedience?
Obedience in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “the act or practice of obeying; dutiful or submissive compliance to the commands or guidance of another or an authority.” You can have obedience to god, obedience to a human authority figure. Obedience can be passive or active, healthy for society and yourself or destructive.
Types of Obedience in Religion
Obedience to God’s Commands:
Following God’s commands revealed in the Bible, through personal revelation or with instruction from a religious leader reflects one’s love and devotion to him.
Obedience to god is two fold:
Jesus passively obeyed god when he suffered for our sins.
Jesus actively obeyed god when he lived out gods law day to day.
Sinful types of Obedience in Religion
True obedience comes from faith and the heart. When we recognize the power of god is good, we will express heartfelt obedience and obey him. It is not a need to be needed that comes from seeking validation or fawning that comes from fear.
In Christian life, the following types of obedience are not true obedience and not what god calls us to do:
When someone offers obedience begrudgingly it is frowned upon and is not considered healthy obedience.
Self Centred Obedience
When we are being self centred it will lead to prideful obedience. Rather than obey god because we are humbled in front of his power, we have a holier than thou attitude. “Look at me I am humbler than you!”. Or we will show obedience in order to control and manipulate others.
Stories of Obedience in the Bible.
Abraham: Abraham became known as the father of many nations, when, despite the uncertainty he obeyed god and left his homeland and traveled to an unknown land.
Noah: God told Noah to build an ark and fill it with animals in preparation for a great flood. Noah obeyed and did what god wanted, and his family and the animals were saved.
Moses: Despite his reluctance and fear, when god asked him, Moses obeyed and led the Israelites to freedom.
Adam and Eve: The story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden is often interpreted as a warning against disobedience to God’s commands. God instructed them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, they disobeyed and ate the forbidden fruit from the tree, thus separating them from him.
Joseph: When Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and falsely accused and imprisoned, he remained obedient to God . Eventually rising to a position of great power and influence.
Types of Obedience in Other Religions and Traditions
Where Christianity says obedience other religious scripture and mystical traditions will speak of surrender.
Surrender To God’s Will
As with Christianity, some believe in surrender to gods will. This means that all that happens is what god wants to happen and to find peace and union with god you must surrender to his will. This is a form of passive obedience.
Traditions like Vedanta go further and say that all is gods will because all is god, there is not separation between god and what is happening. God is what is happening. Therefore surrendering to gods will is surrendering to god.
Then they go deeper still, and say you do not surrender to gods will it is “YOU” that is surrendered. This is the meaning of the saying die before you die.
The various traditions use practices of active obedience to take you to surrender.
Giving up wordy goods.
What they ask you to practice will depend on the religion and spiritual tradition.
Buddha and Surrender
The story of the Buddha is one of surrender and obedience to what is. After years of arduous practices and mediation, he surrendered and let go of control.
Under the bodhi tree, before his enlightenment, Buddha was assaulted with temptations of a normal life. “Look what you will be giving up, look what you can have.”
In Buddhism the temptations are seen has part of his own psyche tempting him.
He refused them and touched the ground symbolically to say “I surrender to what is here and now, this is real.”
Types of Obedience in Psychology
Psychology distinguishes between obedience and conformity.
Obedience: When you do as you are told by an authority.
Conformity: When we follow the norms of the majority through social pressure.
Two famous obedience experiments were conducted in psychology:
Conducted by Stanley Milgram the experiments goal was to find out how far individuals would go in obeying an authority figure when it went against their own conscience.
In the experiment, participants were told to administer electric shocks to another person (who was an actor and not actually receiving shocks) when they answered a question incorrectly. The participant could hear the other person “screaming in pain” and begging for the experiment to stop. However because it was an authority figure in a lab coat asking them to continue, two thirds of the participants continued the shocks.
Stamford Prison Experiment:
Conducted by Philip Zimbardo the experiment looked how authority and power affected peoples behaviour.
He split the volunteers into two groups, guards and prisoners. he instructed them to act out their roles.
The guards quickly became abusive and authoritarian, while the prisoners became submissive and obedient.
We can broadly summarise obedience into the following types:
Blind obedience: Blind obedience is when we follow authority without question and with disregard to the harm it does to others. Eg the Milgram Experiments.
Rational obedience: With rational obedience we weigh the positives and negatives of following authority before making a conscious decision. This can happen in religious settings eg obeying a religious leader or in other areas eg obeying a boss or politician.
Conformist obedience: Conformist obedience involves complying with authority to fit in with a group. This type of obedience is often seen in social situations. Eg the Stamford Experiment.
Autonomous obedience: Autonomous obedience is driven by by personal values rather than external pressure. You voluntarily follow authority because it aligns with your personal values and beliefs. This is what healthy religious obedience looks like.
Faith Obedience: This is where we believe in the goodness of a higher power and submit our lives to it.