“The function of an ideal is not to be realized but, like that of the North Star, to serve as a guiding point.” – Edward Abbey
If there is anything about me that makes people think I’m a complete wingnut, either of the eccentric but harmless variety, or more in the dangerous-to-our-way-of-life mode, it’s my insistence on speaking positively about Christian Anarchism. I mentioned C.A. in a comment on another blog last week & immediately got a few “What the what?” kind of reactions. Someone asked me if I was hoping for the kind of government they have in Somalia. Yep. That’s exactly what I’m going for.
One commenter (Hi, new friend!) came to this blog to ask me to define Christian Anarchism. This reminded me that I stink at defining it. But if I’m going to insist on using the term in any positive way, I guess I’ve got some splainin to do.
The only post I’ve ever written on the subject was this one. In it I shared the story of Striker telling one of her teachers that her mother was anarchist, leading to a request from the teacher that I explain myself. A very reasonable request, and I tried to oblige. But I didn’t share my entire response to the teacher here, and so I will now. It’s very light and not at all a fulsome explanation (as if I could give one!), partly because this was written, after all, for my child’s teacher. I didn’t want to be the cause of the teacher giving Striker the stink eye all year (guilt by parental association, you know), nor did I want to accidentally wind up on an FBI watch list.
So here’s what I wrote to the teacher:
Dear Mrs. _____________:
I understand that (Striker) said something about my political views and left you wondering about them. I wonder about them myself sometimes, so that’s understandable. 🙂
You can’t understand my posture toward anarchism without knowing my primary commitment to Jesus Christ. That’s not to change the subject – my entire political philosophy springs from being a follower of Jesus.
When I use the word “anarchism” we need to have some common definition. I’m not talking about advocating chaos, disruption or the violent overthrow of anything. I’m using anarchism as a posture of critique toward ALL power structures (not just governmental), and advocacy of (in so far as is possible) decentralized systems built around truly free decision making.
So let’s start here.
“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)
Jesus rejected authority used to “rule over” or oppress others. The passage above is one of my favorites, but he certainly expressed the same idea in other places.
Jesus also rejected violence as a means of control. He instructed his followers to turn the other cheek, overcome evil with good, and love their enemies. I’ve never heard a good explanation from a Christian who supports the military on how you can both love your enemy and kill him. But what government in human history has NOT used violence and coercion to acquire and maintain it’s power? I believe that when Christians endorse state-sponsored violence they show that their fundamental allegiance is not to Christ, but to the state (needless to say, that’s a controversial view and annoys a lot of other Christians, but we’re still family, as far as I’m concerned).
So here, already you can see that I share the perspective of many anarchists. Many, not all, are pacifists as I am. And all anarchists are committed to critiquing power structures. I’m with them there. But again, my ideas spring from my faith, not the other way around.
My position doesn’t require a complete rejection of democracy (far better than most forms of govt. through history!). I can and do live quite cooperatively with the government. But I do believe that if/when the government asks something of me which violates my conscience or my faith – my obligation is NOT to obey the government. I am voluntarily cooperating with the government. I do not recognize it as having any absolute authority over me.
This is too long, but it’s such a complicated subject….so I’ll tell you that I’ve been strongly influenced by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, and also by the writings of John Howard Yoder, Jacques Ellul and William Cavanaugh.
Finally, here’s a passage clipped from a post I wrote a few years ago. It might make some sense of what I’m trying to say. I was writing about a seminar I’d attended, led by William Cavanaugh.
“The point on which I really fixated, though, was the “migration of the holy from church to state”. Why is mistreatment of the flag called desecration? Because we’ve sacralized the flag. We have created a civic religion using liturgy and ritual. When does respect for your country cross over into idolatry? Perhaps when Barak Obama declares America the “last best hope for the world”. Or perhaps when President Bush called America the “city on a hill”, or declared that there’s “Power, wonder-working power in the kindness and goodness of the American people.”
So in the middle of session 2, I began to think about the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve been uneasy with it for awhile, ever since I genuinely paid attention to the fact that I’ve been making a loyalty oath to a political system. In my heart, my life, I want no king but Jesus, and I want to no association – political, geographic, ethnic – that transcends the Kingdom of God. The tension goes far beyond a pledge, of course. The question, as Shane Claiborne says, is not are we political, but HOW are we political. Still…baby steps. First of all, I want my words to actually mean something. I won’t say something I don’t mean and pass it off as a harmless ritual. And so, for my part, no more pledging the flag. That’s just one baby step, but for me – if only for me – it’s one baby step toward the kingdom.”
I hope this helps!
Here’s the deal: I sometimes call myself an “anarchist sympathizer” rather than a straight-up anarchist, because I’m such a compromiser. But I really and truly think Dorothy Day was on the right track, and so is Shane Claiborne, even though he gets mocked a lot these days. The idea is not to overthrow the society in which we find ourselves, but to build new societies within the shell of the old. These are societies in which every voice is honored, every enemy is seen through the lens of the gospel, rights and responsibilities are shared, the needs of the community are met by the community, and all authority belongs to Jesus. I’d like to think that sounds like church; I’m sure it sounds like the Kingdom of God.