I assume all of our readers here are familiar with the Stanley Milgram experiment. (If not, I strongly recommend that you plug it into a google search and watch the numerous fascinating articles, summaries and (especially) youtube videos. I guarantee that it will not be a waste of your time.) Essentially every reference made to this experiment within the bloggernacle uses it as a sort of smoking gun for the dangerous possibilities to be had in “blind” obedience to our priesthood leaders. I want to push back, not so much against this specific application of the experiment (such dangers do exist), but against the worldview that motivates such an application.
For starters, the Milgram’s was a psychological experiment in that it was meant to speak to our shared human nature and our (unfortunate?) inclination toward trusting authority figures with moral decisions that are rightly ours. It is this psychological interpretation that justified its generalization to our obedience to and trust of authority figures that simply happen to lie within the church’s priesthood structure.
The problem is that the experiment did NOT involve religious authorities. Instead, it was an experiment regarding our obedience to and trust in scientific authorities of a fully secular stripe. A more sociological interpretation of the Milgram experiment would thus not be that human beings are (unfortunately?) naturally inclined to defer to authority figures, but rather than us Westerners have (unfortunately?) been taught to defer to scientific authorities and that this trust in lab coats is far more dangerous than we often assume.
Indeed, even if one were to generalize the experiment to religious authorities, one can only do so by equating scientific authorities in religious authorities in some important sense. I am fully on board with this, but it has interesting implications and contradictions for those who would appeal to the scientific authority of Milgram in order to critically examine appeals to religious authority. Since the Milgram experiment is more relevant to science than it is to religion, it is likely the case that such people are cutting off their own noses to spite their faces.