Obeying authorities

i have been wondering to what degree are we bound to obey people like our bosses, teachers and such, specially on trivial matters.

just a quick example: would it be a sin for me to not make a homework that does not count or counts too little in the grade, (let’s say i already know how to make whatever it is, good enough) just because I dont feel like doing it? or for example to eat in a place where is forbidden to eat, but even the ones in charge of the place do it?

I most certainly skipped a lot of assignments in undergrad because I knew I would be fine without completing them. An exception to this would be for group projects, because it wouldn’t be fair to assume the others wouldn’t need the grade. If I had permission from someone in charge, I would make use of resources that were officially unavailable - but only if I had permission on the matter.

As Catholics we are bound to accept legitimate authority.

From paragraphs 1899-1900 of the Cathechism:

The authority required by the moral order derives from God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.
Pope St. Clement of Rome provides the Church’s most ancient prayer for political authorities: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favor with you.”

In addition to the requirement for us to respect all legitimate authority is that God calls everyone to be the best version of ourselves. If you decided not to hand in a project or to give it your best effort, how are you being the best version of yourself?

There may be a legitimate reason to give less than your best on that project, such as using that time to work so you can provide basic necessities for yourself or family, or to work on another project for a class you are struggling in.

But if you choose not to do an assignment or give only minimal attention to it so you can play video games instead, or to go bar-hopping with your buddies (which may/may not be sinful in itself) or hang out with your boyfriend/girlfriend (again, potentially sinful by itself) then you are certainly failing in your call to be the best version of yourself.

maybe a venial sin, but not even close to be a mortal one.
There is no “grave” matter in simply not doing your homework :slight_smile:
When that’s said, It’s always a good thing to stay clear of venial sins as well as they often lead to mortal sin somewhere along the road.

Yours in Jesus and Mary

  • MarianCatholic

Responsibilities ,

They come in many forms, if an employer is paying you to carry out a task ,then you do it.
If a teacher sets you a task, you carry it through…
If a police officer gives you direction , then you do it.
You do have a right to refuse, but to do so could have consequences ,some good, some not

How do you define ‘legitimate’ authority though? Is it someone that does not act contrary to Christian morality?

The Brick Testament does a rather scathing critique of this authority issue in scripture bricktestament.com/epistles/on_authority/01_rm13_01.html

And therein lies the rub. Thank you for asking this all-important question. I was reading the other responses and beginning to wonder if someone would ask. Loved the bricktestament, btw.

Oh, the answer, as I understand it, has to do with authority conforming to God’s law, making it legitimate.

Possibly not a sin, but definitely a bad habit to get into. When you get out of school and go to work, your employers will expect you to carry out your job responsibilities whether you think they matter or not.

Why not just do is as an exercise in humility? :slight_smile:

We are supposed to obey orders from legitimate authorities which are not sinful.

So, in high school and below, teachers are by way of authorities because our parents, who most definitely are our authorities, put us under them. One is obeying the will of the parents as expressed through the teacher.

In college, it’s a bit different, because the professors are more providing a service than being authorities over us. However, they are the authorities in their classrooms, so if we want to stay, we must behave. But wrt homework, he is just directing you as to how best to learn the subject, acting as a guide, and the only one you hurt is yourself by not doing it. But if you are under your parents’ authority (age or they are paying for your college), then it’s more like high school.

Any request on the part of authority to commit sin is wrong, and we are not to obey, and maybe even to resist.

And just because the authority is sinful in himself does not invalidate his authority. We can’t refuse a non-sinful order by a police officer because we happen to know he is cohabitating, for example.

I would say that if you are there because your parents send you, that this would be at least slightly sinful.

Also, sometimes things are given as a training exercise. You need to do it because it helps you learn, but the teacher does not grade you because it is not something you *have *learned.

Not under authority–you are paying someone to teach you–then it would not be sinful, but it could definitely be imprudent. You are the student because you don’t know some things. Just because *you *think you know this well enough doesn’t mean you do :wink:

or for example to eat in a place where is forbidden to eat, but even the ones in charge of the place do it?

If legitimate authorities tell you to avoid eating somewhere, like in the library, then you need to obey that rule even if they disobey it.

We are bound to follow a legitimate authority that makes commands it has a right to make.

I never really considered this as applying to a teacher assigning homework myself, but rather considered homework a matter of trading my time for a grade. This doesn’t mean it’s generally wise to blow off assignments, but occasionally we have more assignments than time (or decide that the trade isn’t worth it for other reasons), and have to pick the ones we want to do. Similar with a work assignment a boss gives you in an actual job (unless we’ve agreed to do them previously, but then it’s more our word than his command binding us), though of course if you blow off an assignment you may get fired. With that sort of thing, we must absolutely be ready to accept the consequences, but I do not think there is necessarily a moral element involved. (Now if my parents told me to do my homework pre-living on my own, on the other hand, that’d be different. A parent’s authority is rather more wide ranging than a teacher’s.)

But a teacher does have legitimate authority over us while we’re in his classroom in matters of behavior and the like, as does a boss while we’re in his building. That authority just does not, I think, extend in a morally binding way beyond that.

As for eating in classrooms and the like - I tend to think it depends. I had a physics professor (the department head, in fact) explicitly tell us we were allowed to eat and drink in a room that had a sign saying “no food or drink allowed” attached to the wall. So far as I understand, official university policy was no food or drink in classrooms, but in reality the people who were in charge of policy didn’t care and left it up to the professors (where everyone understood that places like chem labs were absolutely off limits).

Clearly the university, the department, and the individual professor all had the authority to prohibit food and drink if they so chose, but in the end rules like that are not necessarily what they are on paper. You have to be careful with that, of course, but the people who make the rules can also make exceptions, and there is no moral requirement that the exceptions have to be codified in the same way as the rules - we just have to be sure that they actually exist before acting like they do.

During College, I was shocked at how entitled professors think they can be to other people’s time. While I wish I had had another option other than liberal arts, I ended up focusing on the studies that would most help me to find a career, rather than being a diligent slave to projects like “how to use a library” (if you’ve gotten to college and don’t know how to use one…).

And it’s not wrong to make time for socializing at the expense of some of your study (I wish I had done this, because I’ve since learned that its not how smart or honest or hardworking you are that gets you a job, its who you know).

In college I view it as a morally neutral thing. You don’t have to be disrespectful but if you need to leave a class for illness, or being tired, or because you are stressed out, go ahead. Recognize it could show up in your grade and keep a balance. Also know that some entitled profs need to be put down assertively but politely. One professor thought she was entitled to knowing why I had to leave class for a few minutes every day to go to the bathroom. She made more of a classroom disruption by publicly calling me on it and trying to shame me than me just quietly leaving for a few moments. I asked her how detailed she wanted me to go about what I was doing in the bathroom, and that asking that question publicly was not appropriate- but if she insisted she could ask me after class.

Lets just say she learned a lot about female issues that she hadn’t known before, and she learned not to ask what someone is doing in the bathroom.

Professors are there at your service, and while you should respect them its not a morally ba thing automatically to decline homework. If you make a habit and become lazy, then its am issue. If you’re disrespectful, that’s an issue. Otherwise just practice prudence. Some things are worth your time and others aren’t.

In high school I think it’s completely different however. But in the adult world of college? Morally neutral, unless your intentions are to cause problems or be lazy (you’re going to be debt forever, so I wouldn’t recommend the lazy or disruptive route…)

Dang, why is all the good stuff sinful? Except video games. At least we’ve got video games. :stuck_out_tongue:

From the Catechism: Authority is only exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, ‘authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.’" (CCC 1903, St. John XXIII Pacem in terras)

The actual scripture regarding this seems broader though. It seems to say ‘obey those in authority’ without any qualifications on whether that authority is legitimate.

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