St. Augustine is one of the most influential figures in all of Christian history. His writings have impacted Catholicism and the various scattered denominations of Protestantism alike. Even in my charismatic and evangelical faith, Augustine was a name to be respected.
Augustine believed in the theology of “original sin” – that the choice of Adam and Eve to disobey God in the Garden of Eden created an inherent corruption in all of humanity. That we are born with that original sin still within us and, if left to our own devices, will gravitate toward evil. Augustine therefore placed an immense amount of importance on hierarchical authority and on obedience thereto. Tokar, Nicholas. Augustine on Obedience and Authority. 2012. Such a theology also gave Augustine himself the ability to assert authority on and demand obedience from those lower in the hierarchy. Augustine’s sermon “On Obedience” was written in-part to shame a congregation who had been expecting an apology for his arrogant behavior. Brown, Peter. Through the Eye of a Needle. 2012. If God created all earthly authorities, than disobeying anyone in authority was the same as disobeying God.
Within such a theology, obedience itself becomes the paramount virtue. It takes precedence over courage, compassion, and justice. It is better to obey than to right a wrong.
I use this example from Christianity in this matter because that’s my house; this religion is where I make my bed. It was the first and loudest place that I encountered this lesson as a child. But the virtue of obedience was not spoken of just within church boundaries. Many of our fairy tales are designed to teach obedience. Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother get eaten because she disobeys. The children in Pinocchio are turned into donkeys for not being “good.” Beauty and the Beast was used at one point in its long history to encourage the obedience of young girls with regard to arranged marriages. How many boogeymen in our cultures exist specifically for the purpose of scaring children into obeying their parents?
The virtue of obedience teaches that rules exist, and rules must be obeyed, because they exist.
The virtue of obedience is still loudly proclaimed today under the cry for “law and order”.
The “virtue” of obedience is where The High Republic Adventures #3 opens.
Padawan Sav Malagán reveals to her Jedi Master Kaktorf that she has uncovered a plot to destroy the Jedi Temple on Takodana, and his biggest concern is that Sav had snuck out after curfew.
Sav: “I had to go undercover, Master! I helped uncover a plot that could endanger our temple on Takodana! [Maz] is after the same guys, so I figured, what better way to… you know! Ya know?”
Kaktorf: “No. And I still don’t understand what you were doing out past curfew in the first place, my Padawan!”
Sav, who has until now displayed a level of confidence bordering on “unearned”, crumbles in front of Kaktorf, barely able to string a complete sentence together. Sav, who has until now gleefully disobeyed several commands, has to be saved from an order to return home.
Even after being nearly killed in two different battles, the greatest threat Sav has faced is from the one person who can force her to obey.
Our preview for issue #5 reveals that Kaktorf has always placed this pressure on Sav, since she was a small child. If she’s not doing it his way, she’s not doing it the correct way, the Jedi way. This is the root of Sav feeling like she can never be a real Jedi. According to Kaktorf, the Jedi Order is about rules, and obedience to his rules is more important than Sav trying to save her people.
This is a theme that we see in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, an adaptation that wrestles with the original text’s emphasis on obedience. Set in fascist Italy, the movie’s Geppetto doesn’t want to send his son Pinocchio off to war. He lost his first son in a bombing and knows well the horrors of it all. And yet, even knowing those horrors, Geppetto insists that he has to send Pinocchio off to boot camp, because it’s the law, and the law must be obeyed.
Thus it becomes Pinocchio’s repeated defiance of the rules laid out by his father, by the circus owner, by the fascist military officer, by death itself, that makes him a hero. In developing this film, del Toro had challenged himself, “can I make a Pinocchio that celebrates disobedience, as opposed to celebrating obedience? Can I make a Pinocchio in which he doesn’t have to turn into a real boy because he was obedient at the end?” This has made Pinocchio one of several “disobedient fairy tales” that del Toro has told within his body of work.
The High Republic Adventures (Phase II) is full of disobedience. It’s expected, of course, with a cast full of pirates. It opens on the very act of disobedience that Kaktorf berates Sav for, and then compounds with one decision after another. And, like in del Toro’s work, this disobedience is rewarded.
In breaking curfew, Sav gets to Maz’s castle. In breaking the “no fighting” rules of Maz’s castle, Sav inadvertently sends Raf – and by extension, Dex – out to discover the Dank Graks. In breaking Dex’s orders to stay out of trouble, Sav earns his respect and the chance to be a part of Maz’s crew.
Disobedience is not just expected among the pirates; it’s rewarded, and even celebrated.
Not long after she and Coromont had rescued Sav from Kaktorf’s order to return home, Maz Kanata tells the Padawan a “disobedient fairy tale” of her own:
Alak’s parents were one of the five ruling Scarlet Skull families.
The night before Alak was set to have his initiation ritual, a baby was born at the Scarlet Skull’s compound. Looking at her, all Alak could think about was the brutal life that awaited, the trainings and beating, everything he barely survived.
His young heart, already so hardened, grew suddenly soft.
He whispered a tiny promise to her.
That whatever it took, he’d figure out a way to save her from his own family before they turned her into another killer.
Then he stole off into the night.
It took him eight years before he knew he was ready, but he finally made it back, on the very night the young girl was set to be initiated.
…There’s a reason you haven’t heard anything about [the Scarlet Skulls] since you were a kid, and that night is the reason.
Alak’s heroism starts with disobedience and ends with a scourge being wiped from the galaxy. Maz sharing his history with Sav directly after Kaktorf’s call places the virtues of obedience and disobedience in sharp contrast. One ignores the greater wrong for the sake of rules. The other defies the rules for the sake of doing right.
Furthermore, the age of Alak in this story is significant. He had likely been around eight years old when he first chose to disobey, which puts his final victory against the Scarlet Skulls at sixteen, only one year older than Sav herself is now. Alak’s story is not just another pirate fable that Sav is listening to with wide-eyed wonder; it’s actionable. It’s applicable to her life in this very moment. And Sav herself is close to the age of The High Republic Adventures‘ target audience; who knows what lessons these children are absorbing from her?
When I was growing up in the church, I had been taught that many things were to be followed “because the Bible said so” (or rather because this was how a very particular set of people interpreted the Bible). This included things as silly as closing my eyes during the wizard fight in Lord of the Rings to avoid “witchcraft” and topics as critical as queer rights. Augustine’s theology – though I would not know it as such until later – was foundational in my worldview.
Because the virtue of obedience was taught to me with such rigidity from an early age, this cultivated deep roots of doubt in my own judgement and powers of observation. Roots that were hard to shake well into adulthood. It took me far longer than I am proud of to discover the power of my own disobedience.
I think I would have benefited from some disobedient fairy tales as a child.
I really believe that in the larger sense, not only today but at all times, you only find yourself when you disobey. Disobedience is the beginning of responsibility, I think.Guillermo del Toro