Anarchy is a word that evokes a wide variety of reactions from different people. For some, it's interchangeable with words like chaos and lawlessness, bringing to mind images of roving gangs traveling the world in a post-apocalyptic setting, like some sort of scene from Escape From LA. Others hear the word and imagine peace and happiness, human beings coexisting for once without any sort of violent conflict. Similarly, the word authority brings out a broad spectrum of reactions as well. To some, authority equals order and tranquility, while to others, authority means a lack of freedom and basic human rights. Who is right? Should one human being be able to tell another how to act or think? Who should one answer to? God(s)? Another human being? Or should people act in accordance with their own morals? And what happens when these morals differ in such a fashion that conflict does arise? There is no easy answer, no black and white indicating right and wrong, merely lots and lots of shades of gray.
From the beginning of time, there has always been some sort of organization, a distribution of authority to all those in a community. In pre-historic times, you had the alpha male of the group. As humanity developed, so did the distribution of authority. Tribes had their chiefs, but just as often they had someone to act as shaman, medicine man, or witch doctor. Often close to the main tribal leader, this person would have a large influence over the tribal leader and the rest of the tribe. Authority was further divided amongst the different households. Often the father was the head of the household, a model that existed for centuries to come, and still exists in vast quantities today, although this social convention has been increasingly challenged over the past several decades. Soon after this, governments and empires appeared, with the first hints of democracy occurring in the Mediterranean. In democracy, the people supposedly had the power, although true democracies have been few and far between. Of course, when the people have the power, a whole new set of issues emerge. With the people as the authority (which actually, will probably always be the case) you run into social norms and the status quo. Many people are afraid to go against both, even if they are morally wrong or just silly (racism is something that most can agree on being morally wrong, while men not being allowed to wear women's clothes, when you think about it, is really just silly). Sometimes these social norms work their way into the government and become laws, or abolish laws. Of course, this works the other way as well, and laws can become social norms. Take a look at the prohibition of alcohol and marijuana. The consumption of alcohol has been a regular part of most cultures for centuries. When alcohol was prohibited in the early 20th century, the backlash was significant. Gang-related crime became a massive problem, and the government eventually had to give in and end the prohibition. Marijuana, on the other hand, was prohibited before it had a chance to become a large part of the social norm, and those who did partake were seen as miscreants and evildoers. This perception has been changing, thanks largely to some who decided to defy the social norms. However, drinking and marijuana use have both become so ingrained in our culture that in some social circles, those who don't partake are the outcasts, the ones going against social norms. So we see here that giving the people the power isn't necessarily the best thing to do for the people, oddly enough. So what about giving all the power to one single person? Totalitarian dictatorships, empires, and kingdoms have all existed for centuries. Some kings are praised for being great leaders, but it seems there are at least just as many, if not more, who are remembered for the horrible atrocities either they committed, were committed under their orders, or were committed while they turned the other cheek. The phrase, "absolute power corrupts absolutely" has stuck around for a reason. In addition, when one person has all the power, they also have all the responsibility. As seen in the article, The Perils of Obedience, when responsibility is shifted to another person, people seem to be much more flexible with their morals. While someone might never consider hurting another person, if the blame is assured to fall on someone else, they don't even stop to think twice about it, because after all, even though they are causing the pain, it's "not their fault."
Some people feel that authority is something no one should have, and that everyone should be free to do as they please, and live life according to their own personal morals. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same morals, and while some see why it would be immoral to do things such as lie, steal, or kill, the threat of the law is all that prevents some others from doing any of the aforementioned things. So then how do we allow people the freedoms they believe they rightfully deserve, while still maintaining order? One solution is to simply allocate all authority to a higher being. Religion has existed for centuries, and for centuries served as a moral compass to anyone willing to buy in. In some cases, religion has served as a positive and constructive thing, allowing people to feel as though their lives have purpose, and providing them with a set of rules to abide by. It would seem that some people are more willing to obey the rules set forth by a higher power as opposed to rules set forth by another person. Of course, certain enterprising individuals took note of this, and twisted religion to their advantage, getting others to follow them and their beliefs. For some people, the kool-aid just looks to good to pass up. Others like to question the kool-aid's origins. And of course, when disagreements over kool-aid flavor emerge, someone sees the benefits. While grape and cherry duke it out, lemonade calls them both crazy and gains more followers. Unfortunately, there will always be those on the fringe who vehemently insist their flavor is superior. This metaphor extends to those with a lack of religion as well. Those who agree that no authority is the best authority often can't seem to agree on much else.