by Keith Hebden
It is necessary to state exactly what is, and what is not, meant by anarchy. There are overlapping schools of thought within the history of anarchy which must be identified and evaluated before moving to a theologically, politically, appropriate model of Christian anarchism. If liberation theology begins with an evaluation of context, moving to reflection from a scriptural perspective by the poor, the appropriate tools for evaluating context are needed.
Anarchism is not…
Anarchy does not mean mindless destruction, or social chaos, as some media would have it. In fact, Anarchic theory can give greater importance to social organisation than state-promoting theories such as democratic liberalism, or Marxism because anarchism assumes human potential to self-organise. Anarchism is not a theory of how the world should work – there is no utopia, no ideology to fall into line with, no line to meekly tow.
Anarchism can be…
The literal meaning of the word anarchy is “without ruler”. Anarchist theory points to rulers as the source of all social impotence with an umbrella of factors that deify rulers and contend with the freedom of humankind.
The stumbling block for many critics is the inherent negativity of a theory that defines itself by what it is not. But then science works of much the same theory. From Francis Bacon to the present time Science has been the practice of disproving, not proving, theories on the world around. Every question is a negative if it seeks to challenge or explore the exactness of a given ‘truth’. Anarchism is a question - a ‘What if?’ – if it’s a science then it seeks to disprove the overarching modern theory that statehood is good. Do we really need someone in charge to tell us what to do?
A Seed Beneath the Snow
Colin Ward: “An anarchist society, a society which organises itself without authority, is always in existence; like a seed beneath the snow.” One of the ways unions protest, when the don't want to go for a total strike, is through “Work to rule”. Rather than refusing to work they refused to take initiative, be creative, take personal authority, or make the letter of the law work in practice. Think about jobs you've had: what percentage of what you do on a daily basis is down to freedom and initiative, rather than coercion? When do you work best – when you are forced and automated, or when you choose and challenge?
Colin Ward, an unusual thing in anarchism – a utopian – makes a statement that resonates with the Christian hope that the Kingdom of God, which is among us, will one day arrive. In fact, the former makes sense of the latter if Jesus' good news was freedom from the Law of Sin and death then we are indeed free, but we often act in obedience to it anyway, out of fear or complacency. Very often this is all Christian anarchism is: the illumination of theology with a new tool, a new way of thinking.
A workable form of anarchism must go beyond the selfishness of Individualism thus avoiding western pietistic soteriology (be holy, be saved from sin) and rejecting nihilism (destructive and
unaccountable). However, it must not fall into the impersonal restrictions of Collectivism that would oppress the individual and favour vocal conservatism. A useful model of anarchism follows that utilitarian ethics are inappropriate to this model. It must be as practical in its approach to property as Mutualist anarchism is and as committed to the rejection of the free-market as is Communism. It must also reject the violent anti-intellectualism of anarcho-syndicalism, while celebrating the non-literate societies as empowered regardless of formal education.
None of the atheistic forms of anarchism are entirely satisfactory because they leave a vacuum of power that is certain to be filled by a human, group, or interpretable contract (the judiciary). Anarchism appears far better at assessing what is unjust about society than devising a realistic theory of social justice. Therefore a sixth school of thought is required, one which includes both the supernatural and the natural Powers in an integrated worldview. If there is a future ideal for anarchists it is of a society that has gone from being structured and reified, to organic and free to constantly evolve. Theological anarchism is the consistent return to empiricism, especially of the oppressed, as the foundation for reading and retelling the text.
This model would envisage a society in which rules, the ‘Law’, are replaced by covenants of action and consequence. It is no less utopian and unrealistic than the gospel theme of the 'Kingdom of God’. Christian theology, in the western and liberationist traditions, is fully conversant with the impractical and improbable vision of society under God’s just reign. Christian anarchism addresses the contradiction inherent in anarchic praxis and illuminates Christian Liberationism. It is a form of anarchism that does not allow for the oppression of humans or their exaltation above one another:
“there is but one Lord” (1 Cor. 8:6). Such a proposition shifts away from the theological justifications of any form of nationalism, patriotism, or sense of belonging beyond that of those with whom the Christian has an actual relationship.
Dave Andrews, who set up anarchic Christian communities in Delhi and Australia, defines Christian Anarchy, or Christi-Anarchy, in a way that has striking parallels with both Anarchism and Liberation theology.
A lifestyle that is characterized by the radical, non-violent, sacrificial compassion of Jesus the Christ. A way of life distinguish by commitment to love and to justice; marginalized and disadvantaged; so as to enable them to realize their potential, as men and women made in
the image of God; through self-directed, other-oriented intentional groups and organizations.
Andrew puts emphasis the community – the intentional group, namely the group who are marginalized and seek justice; his is a liberationist (without the violence that has been heavily critiqued in many of the motifs of liberation theology).
Assumptions of Christian Anarchism
The list below is almost entirely taken from Vernard Ellers’ “Christian Anarchy”: Anarchy is a Process
1. For Christians, "anarchy" is never an end and goal in itself. The dying-off of Power (or our dying to Power) is of value only as a making of room for the Power of God.
The State Cannot Save us
2. Christian anarchists have no opinion as to whether secular society would be better off with anarchy than it is with all its present hierarchies. But they agree that the present system is not working: the state cannot save us and should not be looked to for salvation.
Secular anarchism is missing something
3. Anarchy is not a viable option for secular society. Ellul: "Political authority and organization are necessities of social life but nothing more than necessities. They are constantly tempted to take the place of God" (Anarchism, p.22).
The Powers need us more than we need them
4. It is not the Powers that we must fight but our dependence on them. Revolutionists fall into this trap in their intention of using good Powers to oppose and displace the bad ones.
All the Powers are not the same
5. Christian anarchists do not hold that the Powers, by nature, are "of the devil." Such absolutist, damning talk is rather the mark of revolutionists concerned to make an enemy Power look as bad as possible in the process of making their own Power look good. No, for Christian anarchists the problem with the Powers is, rather, that they are "of the human"--i.e., they are creaturely, weak, ineffectual.
All the Powers are the same.
6. A Power is a Power. None is as good as it thinks it is or gives itself out to be, and there is no guarantee that even a good one will stay good. The particular Brethren turf within Penn's arky is now a Philadelphia slum. Ellul once criticised Christian revolutionists for their inability to see any moral distinction between the Powers of the U.S. government and those of Hitler and Stalin. Christian Anarchy does allow room for the relative moral distinctions. Although the Ellul maybe wrong about the U.S.!
Christian Anarchism is not violent
7. Christian Anarchism is not about revolution. To undertake a fight against evil on its own terms (to pit power against power) is the first step in becoming like the evil one opposes. Violence can be ill defined, so here’s a suggestion: Violence is the use or threat of force to control the Other.
You can read the rest of the article by Keith Hebden here.
He is part of the United Kingdom Jesus Radicals, and their website can be found here