Christ-archy

[I am in the midst of a major rewrite of this article, please bear with me as I make changes. When it has reached a form with which I am satisfied, I will remove this notice. – Jason]

Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order. — Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation. — Mikhail Bakunin

I used to consider myself an “anarchist Christian”, or a “Christian anarchist”, or however you want to put it, but the term I prefer for myself now is “Christ-archist”. “Christ-archy” should not be confused with desiring a theocracy, but what it does mean is that I absolutely, unequivocally believe God to be the source of all authority, and the one to whom all authority is accountable. Any authority that does not submit itself to God and seek to operate according to the politics of Jesus is illegitimate. Since I’m not aware of many earthly authorities who do this, that means there are a lot of bastard governments (and corporations, other economic entities, and social organizations) running around out there!

“Anarchy” comes from the Greek anarchos, from an “no” and archos “ruler.” Archos, more fully, refers to the beginning, the order of things. En arche en ho logos are the first words of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the word.” It echoes the Greek translation of Genesis, when “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The archos, then, when pertaining to a ruler, was the one in whom is the beginning, the one who puts things in their order, the one to whom belongs allegiance. Christ is the archos, and no human or governmental system created by humans is.

Anarchism, at its most fundamental level, is a basic opposition to any concentration of power that imposes a will upon a human being, to any kind of rulership. There are many different types of anarchism and different expressions of that principle, but that is the short of it (see the series on Anarchism at Wikipedia).

That is not to say that The Land of Do-As-You-Please, to borrow a phrase from V for Vendetta, will be a utopia, nor that anarchism is utopianism. It seems to me like the classical anarchists, such as Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and so on, had a fairly pragmatic view of the selfishness of human nature and recognized that struggle is inherent to existence. Indeed, if we have learned anything from Nietzsche it is that human existance can be classified as a conflict between wills to power, and so any time we look for a form of utopian existance we not only miss the point but in fact make ourselves potentially subject to another form of enslavement. Indeed, as American abolitionist Wendell Phillips once said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty–power is ever stealing from the many to the few.” Anarchism, then, is resisting the human impulse to collect power in the attempt to create a society where power is shared, where voluntary submission characterizes our interactions with each other instead of domination, and where we seek alternative ways of being. Or, as Jacques Ellul (a Christian thinker) said in The Technological Bluff, freedom is not found in a natural state in which we can indwell; there is no such thing as a “state of freedom.” Any time we think we are living in freedom, we have in fact been enslaved in a way not yet identified. True freedom is found in identifying that which oppresses us and resisting it.

While I generally agree with this way of thinking I also must say that, unlike the classical anarchists I do not ground my consent to this way in human reason and secular humanistic philosophy. Instead, I have come to these beliefs through my studies of the life of Jesus of Nazareth and of the church, in the ways the church has exhibited both continuity and discontinuity with Jesus as he was proclaimed by the earliest church in the New Testament. On the Cross Jesus demonstrated the vacuity of the Roman claims to rule the lives of its subjects, of the falsehood of the Jewish Temple Establishment’s claim to define who could access God and how, and he took the powers and principalities that ruled his world, both visible and invisible, earthly and spiritual, and disarmed them through allowing them to do their worst to him. In that vein, then, 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!”

Perhaps the best way for me to express it is that just as I see in Nietzsche a profound expression of the Christian doctrine of the Fall from a secular thinker, I see in anarchist theories profound political expressions that demonstrate ways to live that resist the Fall, to resist our tendencies to follow in the ways of Adam and Eve and try to be like God, to usurp God and introduce relations of domination instead of co-existance and cooperation, of mutual submission.

I realize that the discussion is complex, the issues are many, and even that in some ways claiming to provide a comprehensive philosophy of Christian anarchy is both impossible and undesireable. I realize there are ways that I have uncritically ingested assumptions of the world that surrounds me, there are ways that my vision of God is limited and corrupted. I only hope that God will be merciful to constantly remake me in the image of Christ as I live in this world, proclaiming freedom to captives, sight to the blind, life to the dying. I want to take part in the prophetic, to cast a vision of an imagination alternative to that which the powers would have us accept a priori, without reflection and alternative experience. I want to proclaim that another world is possible, and not only that but that other world is, in fact, victorious over the empires that would oppress us.

You could say it’s a particular outlook towards working out the idea that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1).

Let me say, then, that for me anarchy is a BEGINNING, not an end. Deconstruction is the necessary precursor to an experience of Truth. Only when our systems fail can we experience freedom without limit – The system of the spirit, which is a dynamic conduit into the infinite depths of God who is eternity-in-the-then-now-and-when, giving rise to a liberated imagination for the subversion of the world machine, pointing towards the day when it will, finally, be destroyed. Then we will know Immanuel.

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9 Responses

  1. “Only when we lose everything are we free to do anything.”

  2. I have a question as a fellow Christian Anarchist. I feel I am still working out a lot of my own convictions, and something that has been problematic for me is the concept of policing and law enforcement. I am quite comfortable believing the Christians should not participate in these systems themselves, but what about relying on them? If, say, I had a daughter and she were abducted, then surely I have no choice but to rely upon police power and therefore the power of the State?

    I have heard the argument that “whatever one does through another they are in effect doing themselves,” but I still feel there are circumstances in which this kind of retort cannot be made black and white.

    Any help you can offer would be great.

  3. This reminds me somewhat of the first scene in The Godfather. My biggest question was what how blank the moral check was that was being asked when the Godfather agreed to supply the missing justice.

    Our current state seems to allow quite a bit more opt-out. And even where it doesn’t, it doesn’t make the case so much on benefits received. (Where it does, it makes a very bad one.)

    Is there no possible private solution to your dilemma, though? I wonder if we aren’t just stunted in our imagination. How about a private investigator? A public appeal? Personal research? You would have other choices, and it would be good to be aware of what they are now, while the issue is not pressing.

    A friend made a similar case when I was discussing Terry Schiavo. Whatever my opinion, I decided that the best thing to do was to make arrangements within my power to ensure my wishes would be known and honored. I ordered a kit to do this (called Five Wishes). The state is even pretty decent at honoring private wishes in this area when they are known. But it is good to figure out what is within your power on some of these questions in advance.

  4. http://grebel.uwaterloo.ca/academic/cgreview/documents/CGRSpring07.pdf

    I’ve found the second article, “The Gospel or Glock?” very helpful as I’ve thought about the police and our behavior towards them.

  5. The answer I believe is found in the correlation between ends and means. In the moral equation put forth regarding the police an the daughter then call the police. But that does not mean that you support the police state…. As a vegan you oppose the use of animals for food and clothing but, what about subsistence cultures? Is the use of other sentient beings okay if you must use them to survive or should you starve to death to prove a point? It is a question of whether you are using the police as an end or as a means. If you are using the police as an end to enforce laws universally on all people in a draconian manner, and as we have seen so many times, limit protest of those laws; yes you are in the wrong and using them as an end. Using them as a means to the end which is saving an innocent life is not only rational but may be morally correct as well.

  6. Crazy. Misguided.

  7. How do Chrisitan anarchists usually react in a case of self-defense? Let’s say a man’s wife is being attacked by an intruder, does he passively sit by and allow his wife to be raped and murdered? We don’t really have an example of what Christ would do in such a situation but God is a God of justice & often dealt harshly with criminals.

    I know we’re free in Christ so whatever the man chooses to do in this situation, it’s something he must work out in his own soul with the Lord. He’s not really taking power he’s just not allowing their power over their bodies to be diminished. Let’s face it, there are evil people in the world that will endanger your family in a real way. Is your family to be protected from evil doers? It would violate our own sense of justice if a man were to passively sit by and allow his family to be victimized. I can’t help but think of Les Miserables when asking this question but I’m grappling with these issues.

    I would like to hear thoughts on this subject or suggested reading please. Interesting site.

  8. Mitzi —

    I strongly recommend John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus.” The writing is sometimes difficult to get through, but it’s worth it, as Yoder gives a vigorous, beautiful defense of biblical pacifism. I also recommend “What About Hitler? Wrestling with Jeus’ Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World” by Robert Brimlow. Brimlow essentially gives Yoder’s argument, only with less biblical exegesis, and it’s easier to read — although not as rewarding as “The Politics of Jesus.”

    I imagine Jason will provide a whole list of recommendations when he gets the time.

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