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Personal morality requires making a responsible choice between alternatives on a case-by-case basis. Although religious leaders can help with some of these interpretations, possibly through religious courts as mentioned in the next chapter (5.3.3), they are human and fallible. Scholars often disagree with each other. The final responsibility has to be personal because each person is in a unique situation, in terms of their relationships with family and community, and has to live with whatever choice is made.
For religious people, the true authority is the religion itself, not merely a human representative of it. Unquestioning obedience to a religious leader is an abandonment of personal moral agency and debases that leader’s followers to the amoral status of robots. A religious scholar may have acquired learning which would help with giving good advice, but scholarship alone does not guarantee good character or prevent a person from giving bad or antisocial advice. It is possible to ask different people for advice, and an autonomous individual is responsible for choosing which advice to follow.
Following the Golden Rule avoids upsetting other people, so it should always take precedence – which is a position that all religions have formally endorsed (188.8.131.52). Choosing a path which conflicts with socially-acceptable behaviour is not, therefore, sanctioned by anybody’s God and it is antisocial. It is a sad irony that so many people have used religion as an excuse for violence even though that same religion forbids it.
© PatternsofPower.org, 2014
 Michael Oakeshott analysed the basis of authority in his essay The Authority of the State, and wrote:
“An authority is not a person or institution whose experience we decide to accept and make use of where our own appears deficient, for such an 'authority' is secondary and compels not by its own but by a borrowed power; a real authority is the whole ground upon which our acceptance or rejection of anything is based.”
This quotation, in the context of the Moral Dimension, places moral authority in a ‘comprehensive moral conception’ rather than in its human representatives. The essay appeared in his book Religion, Politics and the Moral Life.
 Michael Oakeshott, in an essay entitled Religion and the Moral Life from the same book, argues that true religion is incompatible with blind unquestioning obedience to a religious leader.