Christian Anarchism

I am gathering ideas for this subject that has fascinated me for a long time. For the time being, I leave you with a quote from Nicholas Berdyaev (Slavery and Freedom) and some links.

The religious truth of anarchism consists in this, that power over man is bound up with sin and evil, that a state of perfection is a state where there is no power of man over man, that is to say, anarchy. The Kingdom of God is freedom and the absence of such power… the Kingdom of God is anarchy.

Stating the obvious, practical anarchism is just about impossible because of sinful human nature. It would surely be a question of considering authority as a bene esse and not the esse of society. We tolerate authority until a better alternative becomes available. That seems to be the difference.

Reflections? – that is if we can get away from parodies and caricatures to think about the real issues…

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7 Responses to Christian Anarchism

  1. Stephen K says:

    Let’s analyse this. Anarchy is the absence of power of man over man. We often think anarchy is “out-of-control-ness”. How curious! How does man exercise control over other men? Through an assertion of authority by the controller, and the submission to that authority by the controllee. So anarchy is feared….by the controllers, whoever they may be.

    Now what is freedom but the state of not-being-controlled? Is this true? Are we right to say that authority is intrinsically anti-freedom? Some caution is perhaps needed here. Authority means, literally, the quality of “being the ‘source’ or the ‘producer’ of x or y” (e.g. power or truth etc), because the idea comes from the Latin ‘augere’, to cause-to-increase. Is it necessarily wrong or anti-freedom to recognise a source? Well, let’s look at it from this angle: when someone claims to be the ‘source’, the yard-stick, they are essentially saying ‘you must not contradict or combat or disobey me’. It is an attempt to control, to restrict, to circumscribe.

    Can any of us, whether as individuals or institutions, properly and in all humility, claim this? Or claim to pass another source on? The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus said “I have given them the message which thou gavest to me and they, receiving it, recognised it for truth that I came from thee and found faith to believe that it was thou who didst send me.” Doesn’t this limit any of us to saying, ‘I have faith that the Father sent Jesus – please listen to my words’. As opposed to saying ‘What I say or believe is the final word – do what I say or you will be damned.’

    Perhaps this helps us see the question more clearly. We have to understand authority as something we ‘give to’ another; it is not something anyone ‘has’ unless someone so gives it. Thus, the anarchy that the Kingdom of God involves is the powerlessness of any one to suppress each other’s voice and hearing. For the mystery of God should quell us all into respectful silence.

    We fear or worry about the idea of anarchy, of not knowing what is going to happen. My own conclusions about Christian faith lead me to propose that it is in its very essence, revolutionary. That Jesus proposed a Copernican revolution. That nothing that is instinctive can be totally relied upon: the blind will see, the sighted will be blind; the lame will walk, the legged will go nowhere; the poor will be free and the rich will be powerless; God is where your heart is. And so on. This is why our usual human tendencies and organisations never seem to escape the taint of corruption and injustice. Our churches start out as powerful communitarian forces for good endeavour, and invariably end as constructions of failing towers of Babel.

    Anarchy is not a term or concept we mostly feel comfortable with. But it’s worth thinking about whether we really have missed the point throughout the centuries. I think of this issue as searching for Zen. I think, in a kind of way, Jesus was trying to get us to stop thinking and acting in the conventional ways: God is not as anything you will try to imagine or define – love is not what is nice or easy – we cannot be anything other than sinful which is why we need God – we are one, not many. And so on.

    I think this is one of your most thought-provoking and counter-intuitive posts, Father. I’d be interested in what others have to say about this idea.

  2. ed pacht says:

    Back in the early sixties, my wild and ‘revolutionary’ days, I was a convinced theoretical anarchist – but no longer. Authority is built into the structure of the universe. The fall of Lucifer and the fall of humankind have this in common: both were the rejection of rightful authority (i.e. that of God). Thus, even in the unfallen state, Adam and Eve required authority. Why? They were not infinite, did not have enough data to make the right choices, and would thus desire (as they indeed did) to do what God knew to be wrong and damaging. Very simply we need direction if we are to fulfill the destiny for which God made us. Without it we fail, and make things worse. We are like the little child that does not know that he cannot safely fly over the edge of the cliff. Authority is as necessary to us as food, simply because we are human.

    In both Testaments of the Scriptures God is depicted both as insisting upon His own authority and as delegating authority to those under Him, both in “church” and in state. The assumption of Scripture is that humanity needs the kind of direction given through structure. We humans, you see, have been given the strange and counterintuitive thing called free will. Unlike animals controlled by instinct, unlike the non-living universe bound by physical laws, we have a large ability to make our own choices, and, lacking sufficient knowledge and wisdom, will inevitably make disastrous choices. Since we do not have perfect understanding of the will of God, it is structure such as He has given that holds our wrong-headedness in check.

    The truly spiritual man will desire to be under authority, but will he desire to have authority? Will he rejoice in the power it gives him over others? Will there be any aspects of servanthood below the dignity of his office? Take note of Our Lord Jesus, preaching about his own authority and that of those he was then appointing as authorities, from the standpoint of one washing feet. Think of the strangeness in Ephesians 5 of Paul’s command that the wife obey her husband, but that the husband love her as Christ loved those (including even Judas) whose feet he washed, as He loved the world (including the nailers themselves) from the Cross. Remember the command to prefer one another, to submit ourselves one to another. The model of authority is not one of self-exaltation, but of self-surrender.

    There’s the problem. Do our structures as they now exist lead us to surrender ourselves to God and each other? Or do they encourage the growth of pride and domination? There will be authority. There has to be authority. But those in authority need constantly to be reminded of their own fallenness and their own need to lay their own will down at the feet of Christ, and of their brethren. Fallen humans don’t easily do that, and I submit that the size and complexity of an organization, or the smallness and simplicity of another has little to do with these matters. It is a reformation of the heart and mind that God is calling for.

    This is where I’d best stop, before I start tying myself in knots.

    • Stephen K says:

      You make some good points, ed pacht. Of course we humans will always organise ourselves for the efficient accomplishment of goals and at some point and in some way we have to erect “authorities” and comply with them, otherwise we would get nowhere. What you say too about the salutary aspect of submission in the religious person is also valid, I think, in that spiritual humility – that is, recognising one’s own limitations – almost naturally leads to a willingness to listen to and trust sources, (i.e. authorities).

      But I think I was trying to reflect the idea that authority and liberty do not sit easily together, and that the earliest insight of Christianity appears to have been counter-intuitive, counter-cultural in looking askance at our tendencies to introduce and maintain class-systems of various kinds that invariably lead to diverse oppressions, or oppressiveness. There are various modern religious crises, so to speak, mirroring the struggles going on in the non-religious world, and one of them is the crisis of the loss of credibility of leaders, those who assert long-established modes of authority. In fact, many of our leaders and institutions no longer have authority in the sense I referred to, that is, what people are prepared to give them. Through failures to heed the cries of the suffering – at least as perceived by many suffering – dishonesty or prevarication, their stocks have plummeted.

      We can certainly persevere in re-organising but I think that that is not sufficient: you have hit the nail on the head when you say that the model of authority is not self-exaltation but self-surrender. The challenge is how to organise without removing people’s dignity through removing their moral and intellectual autonomy; how to exercise authority without the exerciser quarantining themselves from the same self-surrender imperative. So, I do not think of myself so much as indulging in theoretical anarchy but rather trying to explore how we might see things like authority, organisation, and anarchy and other apparent opposites differently to better effect.

      • ed pacht says:

        “… trying to explore how we might see things like authority, organisation, and anarchy and other apparent opposites differently to better effect.”

        Yes! Precisely what I’m getting at. Opposites are rarely completely opposite and logic can only carry us so far. My conviction is that carrying any proposition to its logical extreme will always result in a radical falsity. Theologically one does not ask whether God is one OR three, but acknowledges that He is one AND three; Jesus is not God OR man, but God AND man; Neither faith nor works can stand alone, but, however we think of it, they must be seen together; free will and predestination are not mutually exclusive, but are both radically true, and so on through all of theology. In a similar fashion, authority and liberty are not mutually exclusive, but must always work together. The model of Jesus kneeling to wash the feet of those over whom He is absolute authority, speaks far more than words can speak. Authority and submission are both radically and, yes, absolutely true, but it is in their interaction with one another beyond the bonds of logic that truth manifests.

  3. Stephen M says:

    I recall reading a letter of J R R Tolkien wherein he declared himself a Christian anarchist with a monarchical bent, for more or less the reasons you state.

  4. Pingback: What Justifies our Existence? | As the Sun in its Orb & New Goliards

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