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THE ARGUMENT FROM AUTHORITY: Blowing up cars and raising kids

By dswrites ~

True story: When I was 15 years old, I bought my first car. I bought it with my own money - every cent of it. I mowed laws, played rock band gigs, babysat—anything to earn money for my car. I had a car before I had a driver's license. It was a 1975 Mustang II. I spent $99 to have a car shop paint it red and spent $19 buying leather dye and changed the half-leather top to black. I loved that car. I still had it as I went to college.

During the winter break, my dad generously said he would pay to get the engine tuned up so I would have it in great working order for my second semester. My college was in a small town 13 hours north of our home, so it was not only a long drive, but without a running car I would have no life at school. So it was important.

Dad had a Spanish-speaking friend of his from church do the repairs, and I stood there as the mechanic explained to Dad (in Spanish) what he did and how what it cost, etc. Probably some other stuff, but my grasp of Spanish at that age was minimal, so I didn't really know what they said. Dad paid the guy, gave me the keys and we drove home. The next day I left for school and Dad tells me as we hug goodbye, "Don't drive over 55 or 60, okay?" I said okay, and left.

You see where this is going. I am eighteen years old, I have a Mustang, and I have a 13-hour stretch of straight highway from Texas to Missouri to traverse.

I exceeded 55 or 60 miles an hour for the majority of Kansas.

In my defense, I obeyed my Dad through all of Texas and Oklahoma. But c'mon. There were no cops, I was the only one on the road. There was no one I was endangering, and 70 miles an hour on a straight stretch on dry pavement was not dangerous. Whatever his concern was, it did not apply here, so I was not really violating the spirit of the reason behind the law, which was to keep me safe. So I did what I did knowing it would be fine.

By car blew up 15 minutes into Missouri.

In January. In deep snow. At 11:30 at night. In the middle of nowhere as far as buildings were concerned. In 1987. In an era will no cellphones. I am stranded. And, I might add, freezing.

I waited an hour for someone to pass and stop and help. They took me to a truck stop where I made the shameful call to my father to ask his advice of what to do. He was livid.

"I TOLD you not to drive over 55 or 60!" he said. (I use the word 'said' out of kindness)

"I thought you just didn't want me speeding and getting a ticket!" I said. "You didn't tell me the car was going to blow up!"

"We spent $400 on the pistons!" he replied. "You have to break them in gently! Brother Bernal told you that!"

"He did not! He told YOU that! And he told you in Spanish. You never said anything to me about the car. You just said not to drive fast. You never said WHY."

We were at an impasse of blame. I felt like I had been under-informed and that led to me not having the chance to make good decisions. He was angry I didn't take him at his word. In his view, it didn't matter what the reason for not driving over 60 was, I had been told not to do it, and therefore this was my fault, and the cost of my disobedience was that I would now have no car for the whole second semester, including Spring Break. That's exactly what happened. It was the most miserable semester of my whole life.

I had a lot of time to think about what happened that semester. I looked at it from all different angles. And do you know what I came up with?

I was totally right and he was totally wrong.

*pause while you laugh*

At an age where I should be learning about the world and how it works, I was given what is commonly called an Argument From Authority. It's the "Because I told you so" method of convincing. "I am the Pope, and I say this is true, therefore this is true."

This is a flawed way to instill a chance for a healthy life in another person.

Example: Your young child reaches up to a hot stove for the first time. You tell them:

1) Don't do that.
2) Don't do that. You will burn your hand.

I hear Arguments From Authority constantly in religion. The problem I have with it is that is leads to situations where a person can be harmed. If the child is not told the stove will burn him, the curiosity of "what will happen if I touch the stove anyway" has not gone away. There is every likelihood that at some point he will see an opportunity to discover the answer for himself, and will be injured.

It is our nature to want to discover answers for ourselves through personal experience.

Why should a teenager not have unprotected premarital sex? If the answer is only "because the Bible and/or my parents say so," that may not be a strong enough reason to prevent an emotional decision in the moment. Despite my parents' teachings, my younger sister became pregnant her senior year of high school in just such a circumstance.

If the answer is, "because I risk having a baby at 19 and all the harsh life-changes that go with that" or "I risk contracting a disease I may never get rid of and possibly even die from," then maybe that factors much more into healthy decision-making, even in the moment at hand and the emotions that are flooding.

When people ask questions of religion and religious commands for living, those questions should be answered for the sake of the health of the person asking. There should be no shame in answering. On the contrary, if the answer is at hand and totally valid, the person in authority should be thrilled to answer—knowing they have doubly addressed the issue. Moreover, when the real reason proves to be true, their status as a person who provides correct and useful information about surviving in the world had increased. Think of a jungle guide. He tells me not to eat a plant because it is poisonous and will make me throw up. Unfortunately, I had stupidly put one in my mouth a minute before. When I throw up as predicted, I have now elevated my opinion of my guide as a man who knows this world and is qualified to help me define it and survive in it in a real way. I can ask him any question and the likelihood that I will get a real answer is high. He is, by definition, a true guide.

To be told, "Don't ask questions" or "Just stay on the path I am defining for you" is not being a true guide and I am likely to come to harm, since my nature is to want to experience the world for myself.

This, I believe, is my innate problem with religion both as a solution for explaining the world and being a proper guide to follow. It is not an intolerance of a differing viewpoint, it is that it does not provide me with what I need to be healthy and enjoy the world I was born into.

I would love to have a great guidebook to life.

But it needs to be a good one.

Or it may lead me more astray than not having one at all.


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