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An exercise in practical Christian anarchism

Christian AnarchismAlexandre Christoyannopoulos has published a highly-recommended book entitled Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel. The work itself is a revision of the author's doctoral thesis, which is available for free (no cost) download from the British Library Ethos system (registration required). I went through the trouble of registering and downloading the document, which was incredibly tedious for a "free" download, but beggars cannot be choosers. I have not read the work yet.

I noticed that the dissertation itself does not indicate a copyright license (or even an explicit statement of copyright ownership). Combining this with the fact that copyright law is coercive and therefore incompatible with Christian anarchism, I have decided to host the PDF of the dissertation on my website to make it easier for the public to find and access it. If at any time the author asks me to take it down, I will do so (I'll also take it down if I run into bandwidth trouble with my hosting provider, but I'll try to put it elsewhere).

Without further ado:

Anarchy and violence

Anarchy cannot be achieved by violence. To use coercive violence is to exercise domination. Anarchy can only be non-violent. I would think this would be pretty simple to understand, but apparently some folks in Italy are nonetheless attempting to use the tools of domination to overthrow domination.

Anarchism without revolution

After dropping the "a" word in my last post, I suppose I should explain a bit more what I mean by Christian anarchy. This should preempt any concern that I might become a lawless thug. There are some important distinctions between Christian anarchy and the poplur conception of secular anarchy, the latter of which is what most people think of when they hear the term.

I believe that Christian anarchy is the politics which flows naturally from non-violence and non-resistance. If you decide to fully implement Jesus' teaching in the sermon on the mount, I don't think there is any other political situation which would be consistent. Also, the fact that Satan appears to have power over secular authorities (as presented to Jesus during his temptation) ought to make Christians pause at the idea of participating in government. There are many, many other arguments in favor of Christian anarchy, which I will not list here. Instead I'll focus on the character of Christian anarchy.

Christian anarchy is anarchy without revolution. Why? Because as Christians we are called to submit to the governing authorities. So as much as one might think a society is unjust, I believe that as Christians we could not conscionably participate in a rebellion to overthrow the government. Civil disobedience is still permissible, but I think the teaching of Bible precludes revolutionary action.

Therefore Christian anarchy is by definition an impossible ideal. I can't conceive of a way that it could come into use as a real political system. So if Christian anarchy is not revolutionary nor rebellious nor even plausible, what is it? It is first and foremost a personal practice guided by anarchic principles. Christian anarchists must strive to live their lives in a way which upholds the dignity and respect of every person, without trying to exercise authority over anyone. For example, a Christian anarchist could not:

  • Vote
  • Run for political office
  • Be an officer of he law or a soldier
  • File lawsuits
  • Press criminal charges
  • Accept social services, including Social Security and unemployment
  • Call the police or fire department when experiencing an emergency

To sum it up, it would not be OK to "lord it over" anyone, for any reason. A Christian anarchist does his or her best to live outside of the power structure of the government, which also means living outside of its privileges.

Now, there are some problems I've noticed with Christian anarchy. First of all, anyone living in modern society as a Christian anarchist would nonetheless be complicit with the government. Taxes pay for so much of our society that it is pretty much impossible to step out your door without benefiting from a system which Christian anarchists would find unacceptable. I think anarchy would have been much easier to practice in agrarian societies. If you live in a city. suburb, or even rural area in modern America, it is impossible to live without taking advantage of someone, directly or indirectly. The solution would be withdrawal from the world, but I think that is contrary to Christian mission. Many Christian anarchists respond, "alas, we are in a hopelessly complicit state, but we are doing our best." I'm not sure how best to address this issue, and I'm not sure how long my conscience could bear such complicity.

Another major problem for Christian anarchy is that it has trouble meshing with the New Testament teachings on government. If government were an inherently bad institution, why are we admonished in scripture that it is OK to pay taxes, that we should pray for secular leaders, that government is God's divine servant, that we should not rebel against it, etc.? Furthermore there is a notable absence of any commands from Christ or the apostles for soldiers, tax collectors, or any other official to quit their immoral positions immediately. Rather it seems the instruction is to conduct those jobs righteously. I believe that some teachings of the New Testament do not mesh with Christian anarchy, and that is a necessary condition for Christian politics in my estimation. (However, I'm not sure any other political system would do much better passing the scripture test).

Thirdly, while Christian anarchy spurns all authority, I'm not so sure that all authoritarian relationships are bad from a Christian perspective. For example, I think that authority is properly exercised by parents over children. I think it is proper, based on the teaching of the New Testament, for some in the church to hold authority over others, especially in cases of church discipline. Since authority is sometimes OK and sometimes not, it puts the rather awkward burden on Christian anarchy of distinguishing those cases from one another. I'm not sure there is a consistent rubric which can parse this matter.

So Christian anarchy is the logical extension of non-resistance. It is not about revolution or rebellion, but about personal practice. It has some problems, notably the problem of complicity with the government in modern society, problems reconciling it with the teaching of scripture, and the problem of determining which sorts of authority are OK.

Potent Paragraph on Pacifism

I was directed to this article by Jason Barr, "Things I don't/do believe":

I don’t believe pacifism means being passive. I do believe that resistance to evil must be grounded in an imaginative narrative that is more robust and inspiring than the mythology that engenders evil. I believe that an important part of beginning to create a better world is imagining the ways in which another world is possible. I believe that the purpose of resistance is not necessarily first and foremost to bring down and replace evil powers and principalities, but to witness to the truth of God who is in us and works through us. God is the one who breaks the power of death and hell, but through our resistance to them we are granted the ability to participate in God’s work.

First of all, notice the place for imagination in the practice of pacifism. This is partly why science fiction is useful for theology. It allows us to imagine something completely different from our present society. Barr discusses the importance of the arts later in the article, which helps support this idea.

Second, notice that Christian anarchism is non-revolutionary anarchism. As Christians dedicated to overcoming evil with good, we cannot tear down the social orders with violence. However, we can live without coercing others in brotherly love.

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