a summary of Christian anarchy

I posted this on an anarchist discussion group a short while ago, and thought it was worth sharing here.

I may be a bit of an oddball, because I actually came to my anarchist views through my religious studies.

I have written somewhat more about my views on my blog, https://propheticheretic.wordpress.com (though I’ve neglected it as of late – I need to do some writing), but here are some thoughts.

It is impossible to deny that the dominant function of religion in the history of human culture has been to maintain an oppressive status quo, whether that was through ancient Mesopotamian myths re-enacted in festivals that placed the king in the guise of the creator god, through the abuses of the Jewish Temples that led to the critiques of prophets like Amos and Isaiah and then later of Jesus, in the Roman imperial cult that solidified the Emperor’s status as god-king who maintained order through the use of his Legions, through Islamic conquests, through the conquests of people like Charlemagne, through the alliance of pope and kings in the Medieval period to entrench the feudal system, Luther and Calvin’s use of civic authority to crush their religious opponents, the Protestant work ethic in America that justified poverty as the fault of the poor, religion as criticized by Marx and many of the classical anarchists, and the Religious Right today.

But is this the necessary function of religion? While the common modern perception of Christianity is that it’s a “pie in the sky when you die” arrangement, that leaves this life to the oppressors and sterilizes resistance from the faithful ranks, this picture of Christianity is neither congruent with its origins in the context of the Roman empire nor with the practices of a number of people throughout history who have claimed Christian inspiration for their subversive practices – often meeting with wrath from the state and, as Christianity as a whole became more aligned with the powers, from within the ranks of the church.

While I could cite a number of radicals such as Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Oscar Romero, Dom Helder Camara, David Lipscomb, numerous Anabaptists, and others, instead perhaps it will be more illustrative to talk about the Bible itself, which if taken in context might be among the most politically subversive anthologies of literature ever collected.

Rene Girard argued that the Bible is unique in that, unlike the foundational texts from other ancient societies, the Biblical stories tend to tell the story from the position of those who are suffering and oppressed, rather than the oppressors and doers of violence (while the stories related to the conquest of Canaan provide prima facie difficulties for this reading, at most they seem to be exceptions, not the rule). God is a liberating figure who desires justice and requires the construction of a society much different than anything else that existed in the ancient near east, challenging the status quo more than upholding it. In particular throughout the Old Testament is a voice OT scholar Walter Brueggemann calls “the prophetic imagination” in a book of the same title.

The main point of the book is that the Biblical texts reflect the perspective of communities struggling from within the confines of an empire that sought to totalize the whole of life, to consume the reality of Israel (and later the church) within its dominant story of reality as it pertains to legitimating the power of the official kingly worldview. The texts reflect their efforts to capture among them a sense of a world fueled by an alternative imagination, that of Israel as the covenant people of God according to a worldview focused on the love and justice of that God embodied in their community practice. He also takes steps in some places to relate this analysis to our life today in Western society, discussing how the sense of this prophetic imagination can fuel our countercultural communal practice (which is, after all, what the church should be) in the face of this monolithic McWorld (Benjamin Barber’s term, not Brueggeman’s) empire of global technopolistic consumerist USAmerican culture.

Bruggemann states that the task of empire (what he terms the “royal consciousness”) is to eliminate a sense of past and future, encompassing all the reality that matters into an eternal now. No past is imaginable that did not contribute to the now, and no future can be envisioned that does not spring from it. The task of the prophetic community, then, is to present a radically different imagination, the imagination of God, rooted in symbols from the larger community’s past and animated by the hope of a future that is brought about not by the continuance of the oppressive machinations of the royal regime but rather by the decisive acts of God (such as the New Exodus themes found in Isaiah 40-66 where Isaiah uses Exodus imagery to describe the return from exile and coming of the Messiah) so that the people are freed from the imperial imagination into the vision of God – a vision of peace and justice based on liberation, not coercion (see also https://propheticheretic.wordpress.com/prophetic )

Jesus embodied a countercultural existence with pretty much his every act and word. This is getting kinda long, so I won’t go into great detail, but the early church clearly portrayed him as the antithesis of Caesar and as victorious over Caesar – not through violence, but by “making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). In fact, in the passage from which that statement is drawn, Paul makes a number of explicit parallels between Christ an Caesar’s propaganda, the purpose of which was to show that Caesar is at best a pretender to authority and that his violence has been defeated by the one over whom it appeared he had victory – Jesus the crucified one, executed as a rebel against the state. And just as Jesus is presented as the anticaesar, the church is in a very real way presented as the antirome. Instead of having relations based on exploitation and the collection of power through the heirarchy of society, the New Testament prescribes radical equality and sharing citing the words and deeds of Jesus as an example, and the Resurrection as proof that the way of peace ultimately defeats the violence of the authorities of the world.

Or, as I’ve written elsewhere (https://propheticheretic.wordpress.com/anarchy ) perhaps one could frame the Resurrection in the light of God committing an act of civil disobedience: the governing powers said to Jesus, “Die!” but God said, “Live!” And the church exists to live out in this world the implications of that disobedience.

It is my belief that modern anarchist theories are potent ways to express a concern for radical equality and liberty that is congruent with the implications of the life of Jesus and the practices of the early church as recorded in the New Testament, congruous with the general trajectory of ideal social practice throughout the whole Bible. It seems to me that the violence of Rome, opposed by the early church, and the violence of today’s empire of global capitalism (and the relationship between nation-states and corporations) have much in common.

Now, the whole Bible is very complex and contains many diverse viewpoints expressed by various forms of narrative and poetry, so there is plenty of room for disagreement and discussion, but if the contrasting relationship between the peaceful Genesis creation story, which establishes humans as co-equals and as in relation with God and creation, and the violent Babylonian Enuma Elish, which legitimates the conquests of the king and the lowly status of peasants (and particularly women) within the Babylonian social order, sets the tone for the whole canon that follows then it seems that ideas of equality and justice are central to the overall Biblical story (for more on Genesis and Enuma Elish, as well as other thoughts on Genesis, equality, and anarchy, see https://propheticheretic.wordpress.com/tag/genesis/ ).

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May 1 – International Workers’ Day

Happy May Day, or as it is widely known, International Workers’ Day.

On this day in 1896 the great general strike for an 8-hour workday (over 350,000 strikers across the United States) that culminated in the Haymarket affair began. Today is an international day of labor recognition in many countries – with the United States a notable exception. Here it is “Loyalty Day” or “Law Day”, designations Eisenhower blessed in order to counterbalance the labor celebration, which was regarded as communist.

Forget that pathetic three-day weekend excuse for a “labor holiday” in September, let’s get a little red in our blood.

The Catholic Church also recognizes today as the feast day for St. Joseph the Worker.

Blessed are the poor… those who mourn… the meek…
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the pure in heart…
the peacemakers… those those are persecuted because of righteousness…

God bless America?
See also this article by Saul Kanowitz.