Humanities: Prisoners response to authority from a spiritual perspective
Jones, Joseph E.
Humanities: Prisoners Response to Authority From A Spiritual Perspective by: Joseph E. Jones
Humanities, as a branch of knowledge (whether ontology or epistemology) concerns itself with conceptualizing those elements which cause humankind to be human. The totality of humanity includes thoughts, decision-making, and capacity to act and react. What one thinks, one does. What one does, one becomes. And what one becomes has consequences. There stands positive consequences, known as rewards, for acts that benefit self and others. However, as one example, incarcerated inmates have come to understand there remains negative consequences for wrong thinking, bad decisions, and poor behavior.
Prisoners find themselves directly under supervision by wardens and correctional officers. Yet, "freed" human beings also live under oversight by some authority as well. Whether by teachers, parents, bosses, spouse, police, or other humankind faces various forms of authority figures. Response towards those in higher positions affects life. And, since inmates are humans too, they also experience impacts through their responses.
Three important definitions conveying the essence of authority finds expression in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2009). First, as control, in definition 2a, one finds that it stands as "the power to influence" (Authority, p. 83). Second, as a subject, definition 2b, it addresses expectation to yield; showing the right of respect or accepting another's word, command, or thought (ibid.). Lastly, as an object, definition 3b, it finds application as both an agency and as a agent (ibid.).
Continuing, authority exists at various levels. On one hand, governments control laws established to preserve and protect society's ideologies and cultural norms. However, history reveals there lived some rulers which reigned to continue their own agenda at the cost of citizens. Tyrants, madmen, and misled politicians threaten to askew healthy views of authority. A second level of authority resides in unions and corporations, which invest control over work and employment for profits. Third, authority exists at micro levels. Society witnesses these in churches, schools, neighborhood associations, families, and inside prisons. In prisons a warden oversees the business and security of prison operations. Also, associate wardens assist through control of programs and departments. Lastly, officers and sergeants supervise inmate populations directly.
Of note, authority appears as two ideologies - implied or actual. First, implied examples include co-equals. Here, leadership falls upon an assumed individual. For example, a person with seniority represents implied authority. However, actual authority, meaning relations between object and subject does not represent co-equals. God to humankind, parent to child, and prison staff to inmate express only a few examples of actual.
Spirituality stands as part of the holistics of humanity. Thus, one cannot separate response to authority from spirituality. Faith - whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, or other - complements rational ability to process (think), calculate (plan), and act under God's authority.
The intent of this composition rests in showing how the Muslim, Christian, and Jew inmate approaches yielding to authority. Although prison observed, the following also reveals how all humankind faces challenges to understand response from spirituality. Although, at times, leadership creates conflict with one's beliefs, response reflects how one thinks, decides, and behaves in either submission, self-preservation, or destructive manners. Perhaps the response reflects commitment towards understanding one's spirituality. For, what one thinks, one does. What one does, one becomes. And, what one becomes has consequences. The scope of this writing shows responses toward authority from a spiritual perspective by analyzing interactions toward God, relations within family, and submission to human leadership.
Beginning, challenges toward response of authority rests in acknowledging control outside of self. This may find accomplishment through belief in a Supreme Authority - God. How men and women respond reveals their concepts concerning who He is and the standard God requires. Yet, there remains many who adhere to belief He does not exist. Thus, without a spiritual overseer, questions concerning the consequences for motives and behaviors which may lead to selfishness. Also, one may exhibit little concern for authority outside self. Naturally, the atheist has little concern for spiritual wellness through submission to God. Take for example, within modern Judaism one finds atheist among some Jews (Falcon and Blather, 2013, p. 23). However this becomes not a question about whether or not God exists. The author Victor Hugo, in a 1987 translation of Les Miserables, refutes atheistic denials.
There are, we know, illustrious and powerful atheists. These men, in fact, led back again toward truth by their own power, are absolutely sure of being atheists; with them, the matter is nothing but a question of definitions, and at all events, even if they do not believe in God, they prove God because they are great minds (p. 518).
A second religious response, pantheism (a form of polytheism), hold to multiple gods. Here, God and nature exists as one-and-the-same. Pantheism rests upon appeasement of their gods, manipulating these "powers" to gain favor. However, this approach to a higher authority may lead one whose needs are not met to simply create another god. Thus, authority does not rest in God, but in the creation's hands.
However, there remains three "Abrahamic Faiths" (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) which hold to belief in one Lord, one God, Father of all, over all, through all, and in all (Eph. 4:5-6). Concepts of Him rests through the rational, for humanities conceive of Him through the mind. What one thinks, one does. Yet, be forewarned - God cannot be reduced to just human intellect.
The position of God as Supreme enters into human history through the birth of creation and the forming of humankind. First, a look at Islamic confessions concerning truth of Sovereign God. In the Qur'an, Sura 13:2 promotes,
"God is the One who raised the heavens without pillar that you can see and then seated Himself upon the Throne, ordaining the course of the sun and moon. He regulates all affairs and sets forth His sign that you may know you're meeting the Lord."
Comparison shows parallel with Judeo-Christian beliefs. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1).
God became Father to all (Eph. 4:5-6), but became a spiritual Father only to believers (Rom. 8:14 & 2 Cor. 6:18). Although the Qur'an's Sura 112 offers, "Say, He is God, One./ God eternal./ He does not give birth, nor was he born./ And there is none like unto Him," the Muslim take no offense by Christianity's anthropomorphism - God as "Father" (Clark, 2003, p. 60). However, within Judaism careful approach concerning symbolic address of God governs presuppositions. "A long standing Jewish tradition states that each name of God... refers to an aspect or quality of the Divine. The name defines the ways humans experience God rather than limiting God's Unity" (Falcon & Blather, op. Cit., p. 25). Authority rests in God, for through Him all things exist and work for divine intentions. The Muslims support tawhid (a Oneness of God), while Christians advocate a Father and the Jews celebrate Eheyeh ("I am," - Yahweh).
In conclusion, the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish prisoner recognizes the authority of a spiritual Lord transcending the confines of bars, bricks, stones, and imprisonment. This means abandoning rule-breaking behavior that dishonors the Lord. Thus, spirituality requires connection between the world of senses and the world of spirit. No longer can the prisoner who submits to the Supreme continue criminal mentality - I want what I want, when I want it; and I want it now. Entering into companionship with God sets forth motives for right thinking, better judgement, and proper behavior. What one thinks, one does. What one does, one becomes. What one becomes has consequences.
A second response to authority from a spiritual perspective finds refinement through familial relations. Many prisoners, although incarcerated, continue a sense of their humanity through involvement with family members. Found within examples from the Qur'an, the Holy Bible, and the Torah inmates grasp how one having or being under authority of family should behave in progressive attitudes. Of course, challenges arise when selfish ambitions run counter to familial leaderships.
Islam, Christianity, and Judaism support patriarchal family as the divine norm. Here, everyone submits to God. The wife is subject to the husband, and children submit to the parents. Yet, there remains healthy families reflected through matriarch families as well, when patriarchal leadership is vacant for any number of reasons. This written survey does not refute other possible family structures, due to limits in space and time, while addressing the tenets of Abrahamic Faiths. While it may appear as "old fashion," these Faiths reveal the importance of divine norms. For example, a look at the structure of husband and wife reveals an egalitarian cooperation. First, a look at the Islam. The Qur'an advocates proper obedience of righteous women to their spouse, while the husband stands in obligation to support his wife (Sura 4:34). "Mutuality is encouraged between husband and wife, and the husband normally defers to his wife in matters pertaining to the home and bringing up young children" (Clark, op; cit., p. 191).
Next, a look at marriage from a Christian perspective reveals a continuance of Jewish traditional beliefs. The Apostle Paul writes, concerning response to familial authority from a spiritual perspective:
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of church, His body, of which He is the Savior... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... husbands ought to love their wives as their own body. He who loves his wife loves himself" (Eph. 5:22-28).
An important understanding of the concept of submitting, one that often challenges prisoners, resides in the misunderstanding that it means giving up and becoming powerless. However, husbands and wives yielding to one another reveals positive and powerful gains. "Paul emphasized the equality of all believers in Christ... He counseled all believers to submit by choice" (Life, 1991, p. 2139). Continuing, real spiritual leadership requires service. "How should a man love his wife? (1) be willing to sacrifice everything, (2) make her well-being priority, and (3) care for her as he cares for his own body" (ibid., p. 2140). These concepts of Christian marriage serves as a model for familial authority, with Genesis 2:18-24 explaining marriage as God's idea. In holy union man and woman symbolically become one flesh (v. 24). "The goal should be more than friendship; it should be oneness" (ibid., p. 8).
What one thinks, one does. What one does, one becomes. What one becomes has consequences. An important lesson about familial obedience comes from the Torah. In Genesis 16, although God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child Sarah remained barren; thus, prompting her to give her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham to sire a son (Gen. 16:2). Three lessons about responses toward authority comes forth. First, Abraham and Sarah showed impatience with God by not waiting for the promise. Second, Sarah presents her self-centered pursuits by offering Hagar, because the child born would be considered a part of Sarah's family. To farther trouble herself, Sarah's response to Abraham's authority receded into accusing him of the trouble that came from Hagar snubbing Sarah after becoming pregnant (Gen. 16:5). Yet, while rebelling and disrupting the balance of authority between object (Sarah) and subject (Hagar), The Lord's advice to Hagar became simply, "return and submit" (Gen. 16:9).
Parent-child relations also find inclusion in the Abrahamic Faiths. Children are considered a joy, blessing, and heritage from God. As with marriage, authority of parents over the child requires parental responsibilities, while the child has their own responsibilities toward the parent. Following the beliefs, traditions, and commandments stated in religious doctrine will complement spiritual aspects of one's humanity. First, a brief look at Islamic parent-child authority. Children are required to honor their parents. Sura 17:23 teaches a child, "Say not to them a contemptuous word nor repel them, but address them with respectful words." However, a parent must in turn respect the child. A hadith, or traditional saying of Muhammad, offers, "Fear God and treat your children with equal justice" (Clark, op; cit., p.191).
Islam's advocacy of parental authority and expectations of child responses shows continuity of Christian and Jewish beliefs. The Holy Bible preaches the same ideology. Take for example the passage from Ephesians 6:1-4, "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and your mother... Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Of note, there stands a difference between obeying and honoring. Obedience requires doing as told, to follow instructions. However, honoring means respect and love. "Children are to obey while under their parents' care, but the responsibility to honor the parents is for life" (Life, op. cit., p. 2140). For the Jew, the Torah presents this commandment in the Ten Words, "Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord God is giving you" (Exod. 20:12).
A third, and final, response to authority looks at responses toward human leaders. An Example from the Torah shows the life of Joseph, which, although shows response to the authority of God and family, also shows response to human leaders. At first, he spent seventeen years subject to his father and older brothers (Gen. 27:2-37:3). However, as he relished in the attention he thought of himself more highly and, thus, acted over-confidently. What one thinks, one does. What one does, one becomes. What one becomes has consequences. Then, Joseph's self-assurance became molded by personal knowledge of God, strengthened by the pain of betrayal and being sold into slavery by his brothers (Gen. 27:23-26). He wound up under the authority of Potiphar, leader of Egypt; and refused to violate the trust of Potiphar. Even when falsely accused and serving time in prison, Joseph never abandoned respect, obedience, and honor to the authority of God or human leadership. Even his family remained in favor to him, as part of his spirituality. Through it all he attributed it all to God (Gen. 45:5-8).
For the Muslim, the idea of submitting is not foreign. "Islam means submission," (Clark, op. cit., p. 10). God calls all people to submit to his will. Does this mean, then, Muslims find no requirement to yield to earthly rulers? The answer rest in a few important historical points of reference. First, one must understand Islam and the state are closely connected (ibid., p. 17). Many caliphs successors came into power over the Islamic State after Muhammad died in AD 632. While the caliphate ended in 1258 when the Mongols destroyed Baghdad, the leadership of Islam continued to guide, teach, and enforce religious standards. The Qur'an intermixes obligations toward God and fellow humans. "Islamic has had much more to say about the duties of citizens (what the state can demand from the citizen) than about the rights of citizens (what the citizen can expect from the state)" (ibid., p. 195). Thus, Islam advocates proper submission toward God's appointed overseers.
In the New Testament, for Christianity, the Apostle Paul addressed obligation toward governing authorities. "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Rom. 13:1). However, does there exist a time when one should not submit? An example rests in Acts 4, the disciples of Christ were ordered to not speak in or on the name of Jesus. "But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (vv. 19-20). Again, in Acts 5:29, after a second ordering by the Jewish Sanhedrin, Peter and John cried out "We must obey God rather than man!" Conflict with the world and one's spirituality becomes inevitable at times. And, although one cannot obey both God and man in every situation, one must always obey God first (Life, op. cit., p. 1954).
The Jews also find examples in the Torah of times when, submission is expected, the ancestors chose to behave differently. For example, Abraham lied to both Pharaoh and King Abimelech because had he yielded truth about Sarah being his wife his and her life would have been in danger (Gen. 12:10-15 & 20:20). A second example rests in Moses, who under leadership of God rebelled against Pharaoh and freed Israeli slaves (Exod. 7:14-12:31). A third example, had the Hebrew midwives obeyed Pharaoh and killed all the children born of the Jews, Moses would have had no place in history (Exod. 1:15). Of note, this composition does not advocate rebellion. King Solomon puts it best when approaching proper response to authority from a spiritual perspective - "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven" (Eccl. 3:1).
In conclusion, the scope of this paper reveals responses to authority from a spiritual perspective by analysis of authority of God, Family, and human leadership. Does one respond out of fear of judgment or punishment - obligation? Or does one submit out of appreciation of the authority over them? More important than responses to leadership rests in the motive for yielding. The Qur'an, Holy Bible, and Torah each contains many examples of how certain persons in a given situation responded through behaviors and attitudes reflecting their spiritual dimensions, values, and understanding of God. Some men also became prisoner, or captives, like Joseph, Daniel, Jeremiah, Peter, John, Paul, and Jesus. Each person grew spiritually with each challenge and response to authority, strengthening their humanity.
If you are working on an APWA-related project, please let us know how you plan to utilize the Archive. We hope to share information about your work with our readers and, whenever possible, with relevant APWA authors.
APWA is an open access archive. We encourage use of the writings for research, course planning, and projects engaged in examination of the criminal legal system. Reproduction of essays in their entirety infringes on author copyright without their explicit consent from the writers. Please contact us if you plan to reproduce entire essays; we will do our best to put you in contact with the authors for consent, and their compensation for any project that is profit making.