Church and state are feuding in California over euthanasia, an issue whose underlying principle—the evolvement of our personal authority—extends beyond the deathbed to the health of our democracy.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, an L.A. Democrat in the California legislature, is “bucking his church,” as he puts it, to press for legislation similar to Oregon’s to allow terminally ill people to speed up their deaths with lethal drugs. Bucking back is Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney, archbishop of Los Angeles, who says Nunez is following “the culture of death.”
The Catholic Church says no—we don’t have the inner authority to end our own life when terminal illness makes misery of our remaining time. Why should religion treat us like children when democracy treats us like adults? Democracy holds us to a high standard. Belief in democracy is a belief in the triumph of our best nature. If we fail to behave as responsible adults, democracy fails. If democracy expects the best of us, why do so many religious and state authorities believe we can’t be trusted on a matter such as euthanasia?
Citizens of a democracy need to have a level of inner authority in order to hold their leaders accountable and demand a high standard of service and governance. To fulfill our citizenship responsibilities, we have to believe that our vote counts and our voice matters. Through democracy, we have granted to ourselves a great honor—a belief in our value and our sovereignty.
These troubled times now appeal to us to deepen that belief in ourselves. Our evolvement is necessary and needs to be supported. Evolvement is required to end violence and war and to save the planet. In both the moral and civic arena, we can regularly practice or exercise our personal authority and find new ways to develop it further.
Aware citizens accept responsibility for the destiny of America. Doesn’t that mean we’re able also to accept responsibility for ourselves, in the form of life-or-death decisions concerning our own health, welfare, and freedom? We can’t simultaneously be heroes to the nation, or even adequate citizens, while being cowards to our own conscience.
How can we oppose power-hungry politicians if we don’t have inner power? Inner authority gives any person who possesses it the ability to effectively oppose authoritarian personalities such as those found in conservative America. For example, John Dean, once Richard Nixon’s legal counsel, writes that authoritarian personalities have in the past 20 years taken over the Republican Party. Dean’s 2006 best-seller, Conservatives Without Conscience, is almost exclusively about the authoritarian personality disorder and its prevalence among conservative politicians who rose to power through the support of the religious right.
Authoritarian personalities are common enough, and they will always be in our midst trying to worm their way into power. Their end-runs around the law steamroll over tradition, civility, and fairness. They have corrupted capitalism and political life, and they won’t necessarily stop to save the planet or care for a dying person in pain. Only we can stop them. It will be easier to do so when our deepening sense of self gives us access to more of our integrity, compassion, and personal power.
Even among secular citizens, our considerable passivity and self-doubt make it easy for us to be directed and controlled. We have a hard time assuming inner authority. Many of us are afraid of it. For starters, we all have an inner critic which poses as our conscience. The inner critic, also known as the superego, continuously undermines our authority and holds us accountable for all sorts of alleged misdeeds. This produces inner guilt, which leaves us feeling that we can’t trust ourselves to make important decisions and that we have to be told what to do.
If we recognize the inner critic as irrational and negative, we can neutralize its influence. In this way, we empower ourselves. Now we more easily know right from wrong, good from bad, wisdom from folly, and progress from self-defeat. Inner authority is a stickler for the truth.It is wrong, for instance, for Cardinal Mahoney to say that euthanasia represents “a culture of death.” How can the cardinal say that, while ignoring the war in Iraq and its culture of death? The cardinal is being authoritarian, and with that comes irrationality. Irrational authority is illegitimate. We mustn’t let such irrationality go unchallenged. Through our sincerity and good intentions, we must feel the legitimacy of our own authority.