Towards A Theology of Political Struggle (Reflection)

A Theology of StruggleThe quintessential text of spiritual warfare for most Christians is found in Ephesians 6:10-20. Far too much ink has been spilled on inane and downright superstitious interpretations of this text. And even though most traditional commentaries speak of the spiritual nature of the Christian’s struggle in this pericope, “The Armor of God” text seems to speak at least equally, if not more, about a socio-political struggle (see especially Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be).

As I re-read the Bible with wider lenses, I have come to see this portion of Scripture as a potential basis of a theology of revolutionary struggle for the Christian, both politically and spiritually. Why, because I believe God’s “armor” is to be used primarily in the struggle against earthly socio-political evil, not just spiritual evil. Again, the typical Western Christian has over-spiritualized this text as a sort of laundry list of individualistic and pietistic behaviors for defending oneself against oftentimes imaginary devils or self-created demonic activity.

Let’s take a closer look, especially at verse twelve, where, upon a deeper reading we find that the Christian call is to struggle primarily against oppressive earthly evil:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the principalities (or powers) of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Here St. Paul says Christians fight against four enemies, which I have underlined above. The word against is used four separate times to emphasize that these are not a series of conceptual evils, but against four distinct and real enemies.  We are, first, told that we do not struggle (that is resist or fight) against flesh and blood. Flesh and blood is not just an allusion to the spiritual nature of the battle, but also corresponds materially to our neighbors: the poor, the oppressed, the broken, the downtrodden. We are not to join in oppressing our fellow human beings; we do not struggle against our own.

So, just who are Christians supposed to resist or engage in struggle against? Clearly, Paul says it is the “rulers,” “authorities,” and “powers,” “of this dark world,” and “the spiritual forces of evil.” It is important to note that the fourth evil we struggle against is clearly spiritual, but the first three are manifestly earthly (of this dark world). These earthly entities that Christians will struggle against are kosmokratōr or world rulers (that is oppressive earthly rulers, like the Roman imperial dictator); exousia or authorities (which likely corresponds to oppressive and legalistic religious rule), and archē or principalities (domination systems or oppressive governments).

Now, like all Scripture, this text needs to be bridged into our current context. The Bible is not a static dogmatic document, but a wisdom lens or a guide to critique and inform our current situation. This being true then, clearly the U.S. Christian’s primarily battle or struggle is against the evil rulers in our government (in today’s case the Trump Regime or in the recent past the Bush, Clinton, or Obama Regimes). Secondly, the struggle is against the religious leaders, groups, and institutions that are coopted by the government to suppress the “flesh and blood”—our brothers and sisters, the common proletariat. And third, our struggle is against the domination systems that oppress, which is primarily the systems of capitalism and imperialism and all their negative effects. This is not a list to be followed seriatim, but one that is meant to call on all Christians to become revolutionaries against oppressive rulers (oligarchs and plutocrats), religious leaders (greedy televangelists & institutionally-minded religious functionaries), and the systems of evil (capitalism, imperialism, racism, and ethnic, gender, and sexual discrimination, etc.).

Undoubtedly, behind the counter-current of God (all spiritual good) is the devil (all spiritual evil). So, we do need spiritual power, the indwelling Holy Spirit, to struggle both against earthly and spiritual evil. Nevertheless, as Christians our fight is primarily against earthly evil, and God and all his holy angels are to fight the spiritual demons in heavenly realms on our behalf. As U.S. based Christians our eyes need to be opened to bring into balance the political and spiritual struggles in order that we may faithfully follow our Lord.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Christian Anarchist Disciplemaking (Luke 4:18-19)

cross anarchyIn every great movement of thought and practice, there is an intense desire in those movement’s follower’s to communicate that thought and practice as liberating for others.  Socialists want to teach capitalists to be socialists; recovering alcoholics in AA want to teach active alcoholics the methods of AA; Christians want to teach atheists and others to become followers of Jesus, and so on.  The anarchist is no different.  The anarchist is an educator by nature, a disciplemaker, especially since the political philosophy of anarchy is so woefully misunderstood by most people. We must educate others before we can expect them to agitate for their own liberation and the liberation of others.

The Christian anarchist is commissioned by Jesus to educate. “Go and educate all people groups about the anarchist way of peace and freedom, teaching them to follow everything I taught about freedom, and immersing them into the eternal consciousness of the beautiful, mysterious paradox of God; and, my Spirit will dwell in you to be your guide and strength forever” (Mt 28:19-20, author’s paraphrase).

Thus, the Christian anarchist must educate, but this education should never be coercive or proselytizing. We are not converting people to an institutional religion, but releasing them from political and religious bondage by the testimony of our own life. St. Peter said, “… always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience…” (1 Pe 15-16a, NET). The Christian anarchist educates for freedom, to help his or her fellow human to break off the chains of State and Religious oppression and to live freely and responsibly.

The foundational text the Christian anarchist educator uses to teach others is Luke’s recording of Jesus’ announcement of his liberating purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19, NET).

Jesus proclaimed (euaggelizō/kēryssō = words + action/deeds) the gospel (good news) to the poor (not the rich oppressors).  This good news to the poor includes four word/actions (1) release of captive hearts/minds/bodies, (2) healing of spiritual/political blindness, (3) freedom for the oppressed, and (4) Jubilee, the canceling of debts of all people.

How did Jesus the Anarchist do this? First, Jesus was teaching people to move into a reality on earth that already existed in the spiritual realm. He called this the Kingdom of God, what I call the Commonweal of Love.  Jesus representing the divine cosmic creator proclaims a sort of emancipation proclamation: “So if the son sets you free, you will be really free” (Jn 8:36, NET). This proclamation is for all oppressed people, as well as a direct challenge to oppressors. As George Clinton sang in the seventies, “Free your mind and your ass will follow/The kingdom of heaven is within….”

Second, Jesus is the cosmic eye opener.  He, through his preaching and activism, literally opens the eyes of the actual blind and also the spiritually blind so that they can see the oppression that they have been under for so long.  Jesus is the real divine Morpheus, who gives the red pill to all so that they can see how they have been imprisoned in the Matrix of the capitalistic, colonial, and imperial oppressors.

Third, Jesus proclaims through his way of life the way to truly break free from the oppressor.  He frees us to forgive our oppressors, to acknowledge our own part in our victimization, and then to set the oppressor free as well. On the cross, Jesus overcomes not through brute force, but by resurrection, by eternal life, by forgiving the blind oppressor: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34, NET).

Finally, Jesus exhorts us to be free from the chains of property. He announces the Year of Jubilee, the year of the canceling of all debts and the redistribution of wealth and land. John Howard Yoder says of the Lord’s Prayer, “The ‘Our Father’ is genuinely a jubilary prayer.  It means ‘the time has come for the faithful people to abolish all the debts which bind the poor ones…’” (1994: 62).

All Christians are called to proclaim and live out this same message of peace and freedom, to liberate others, to make disciples of Jesus the Anarchist.

Reference
Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Was Jesus An Anarchist? (Lk 22:42; Jn 10:18)

In-Search-of-Jesus-the-Anarchist_MOCK-UP_WebMy new book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist is now available in print, and I hope the controversial title will entice you to purchase the book. But you should know that what I mean by the term “anarchist” is probably different than what may first come to your mind.

An anarchist is a person who lives as freely as possible, unencumbered by domination, yet in mutualistic community with others. In other words, an anarchist advocates for other’s freedom as much as he or she exercises his or her own. For no one can be truly free, while others are not. That is why any form of domination or oppression is vehemently opposed by anarchists. Anarchism could be simply defined as a completely free society inhabited by fully free individuals. Jesus is the exemplar of an anarchistic lifestyle and proclaimed it as normative for those who are followers of God (Jn 8:31-36).

My new book is purposefully small—only about 130 pages—really only an introduction to Christian anarchism. Therefore, I will be supplementing the book’s often simplistic message with blogs that nuance what I introduce in the book.

Today, I want to highlight the paradoxical nature of Jesus’ anarchistic orientation according to the definition I offered above. Jesus, in his mutualistic relationship with the Father, the Spirit, and the whole Cosmos, declares in the Passion of the Cross both his full freedom and his complete mutuality and submissiveness.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane it seems as though Jesus is not making a free decision to go to Cross, because he is submissive to the Father’s will.  “Father, if it is possible take this cup from me. Yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Jesus, it might be reasoned is sublimating his own free will to the Father. But this verse must be placed in tension with another to understand the anarchistic orientation of Jesus. “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This is the charge I received from my Father” (Jn 10:18).

These verses are not contradictory. Only the dualistic mind believes they are in conflict, because paradox or mystery is so often rejected by the binary, either/or, thinking mind. But held in tension, these sayings of Jesus express the paradox of freedom and mutuality (equality) and reveal that to be obedient to God is to be absolutely free.  If you think this is essentially what orthodox Christian faith has always taught, then you just might be on your way to being a Christian anarchist too.

What do you think?

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Knowing God: Truth As Paradox (Reflection)

ParadoxJesus said that eternal life was “to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom God sent” (John 17:3). From this verse and many others like it, there seems to be a real comprehensibility of God—a salvific knowing where we join God in intimate relationship.

Yet the moment we believe we have come to “know” or “grasp” God, we suddenly realize that what we have believed cannot be God. For God to be truly God would mean that God is beyond knowing. The finite just cannot fully grasp the infinite. Our thoughts and words will never completely make God comprehensible. St. John would later try when he said quite clearly that God was pure or perfect love (1 John 4:8).  But even this is impossible for us to take hold of. God is simply greater than our capacity to comprehend.

We soldier on, nonetheless, in our pursuit of knowing God or we wither in despair. A.W. Tozer said, “The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of humankind.”[i] This yearning to know, though, is so elusive that we are often filled with angst, and rightfully so. Hopefully, we will recognize that within this unease is the necessary prompting to search all the more. We all want, yes, we all need, to “know” God. To truly be alive, we must be in relationship with Divine Mystery.

So, how can we really know God? In the Hebrew language, this knowing (yada) is akin to the passionate feelings and sexual intimacy shared by lovers. Adam knew Eve. We don’t simply know about God. We are to know God personally, even intimately. Of course, we need to tread carefully here. But I do want to emphasize that this “knowing” is not only factual or intellectual. It is yada! We must be able to “feel” God to know God. Our feelings are facts too!

Now, beyond the “feeling” of God, as important as that is (for our feelings, like our thoughts, are elusive as well), we are called to approximate the knowing of God as true Truth with our minds. We must know this Truth in a way which we might even communicate it to others with words and actions.

But how do we know anything? Other than those who believe that all knowing is illusory (which would still be a knowing), most of us know that we know. Still, can we know anything for certain?

Without getting overly academic, our ability to know, especially as expressed in modern terms, is usually placed somewhere along two poles (a continuum) of the purely subjective (absolute idealism) or the completely objective (naïve realism). The acclaimed missiologist Paul Hiebert gave a listing (or a taxonomy) of how we can know, and settled on the, still modernist, view of critical realism. Hiebert said, “In critical realism we speak of the Truth with reference to reality. We also speak of a truth—our partial understandings of the greater Truth. Our understandings are objective (to the extent they are tested against reality) and subjective (because they are ours as humans in our specific cultural and historical contexts).[ii]

This is a great start to understanding how we might know the Truth, but it still does not account for the perplexingly contradictory truths of Scripture. If we are to take Scripture seriously, then the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the reality of Jesus’s glorified resurrected body are neither objective or subjective truths—they are simply preposterous.  They are paradoxes. To grasp these truths one needs to pull the objective and subjective poles of the paradox tightly together. Ron Rolheiser said, “To let go of either pole of a paradox, to reduce the tension, is to fall from wisdom. Hence, as we struggle theologically and spiritually with certain key questions, we must be careful to always hold two, seemingly contradictory, truths together.”[iii]

Now, of course, this all may seem like metaphysical nonsense to some—bourgeois philosophizing. Who has time to care about such things? What does it really matter? Most humans simply want to know how to live a fulfilling and happy life. But that’s it, isn’t it? We all do want to know God!

As my new book In Search of Jesus the Anarchist is coming out in just a few weeks, I am preparing you to deal with the paradox of my outlandish title. How can Jesus be an anarchist? But Jesus was an anarchist because he was completely free and yet in complete submission to God, who is Jesus’s equal. What a paradox!

I deal a lot with paradoxes in my new book, especially the paradox of freedom and equality. Can we be both free and equal? In several recent conversations with Christians I know, even those who are open to explorative theology, the notion of equality seems to them an impossibility. Of course, if equality is an impossibility, then so is freedom.

Freedom and equality are two poles of a paradox called Jesus, who is the Truth! Anarchism rightly defined, for those who are still unaware, is simply freedom and equality lived out in paradoxical tension. Freedom and equality come together as we struggle to hold them together. And as we hold them in tension, we realize our Great Commission: to set the world free in Jesus so that all can live in justice and in peace (Jn 8:32; Lk 4:18-19).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961, 9. [Updated to gender neutral by the author].

[ii] Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994, 71

[iii] Ron Rolheiser, “Truth is Found in Paradox.” Downloaded from http://ronrolheiser.com/truth-is-found-in-paradox/#.WN-3i_nythE on December 3, 2016.

The Great Deformation (Prophetic Reflection)

Deformation-and-Abstraction-Work-by-Can-Pekdemir-Cgfrog-3Brian McLaren’s latest book The Great Spiritual Migration (2016, Crown) is a wonderful exploration of how followers of Jesus can move into new modes of being a Christian in the 21st Century. I highly recommend it. McLaren’s book somewhat reminds me of the late Phyllis Tickle’s brilliant book The Great Emergence from 2012 (Baker Books).

The main point that both Tickle and McLaren are making is that many Christians are discovering that the old constructs of their faith, theology, and church are simply not sufficient going forward.  Now, these contemporary authors, and many others like them, are not the first to call for a major reformation of the Christian faith and practice. We could go back to Martin Luther, of course, who was the author of what might be called the Great Reformation (even though there were many church reformers before Luther).

As hopeful as I am about a new great reformation, nevertheless, I am a little disturbed by a problematic thread which runs through Luther, Tickle, McLaren and many other reformers. In most of these writer-theologian’s expressions there seems to me to be a desire to remain respected by the groups/people they are critiquing and seemingly distancing themselves from. Now, you might be thinking that I am confusing their civility (or even sobriety) with an inauthentic desire for respectability. But this desire for respectability is seen, in Luther, for example, through his leaving in the Lutheran Church much of the damaging hierarchical practices and organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church.

Worse, though, is that, though Luther paid a significant personal cost for his reformation work, today’s modern reformers do so from the seat of bourgeois comfortability. This is the difference between civility and respectability—that there is no prophets “reward” for contemporary Western reformers (see Mt 5:10-12). Tickle, McLaren, and others (I could name a whole bunch) are great writer/communicators, but they are not calling a fig a fig and trough a trough. It’s all too neat and tidy. They don’t risk their reputations, and certainly not their lives, in following Jesus and leading others to Christ’s un-kingdom.

Additionally, the ecumenical movement, with its humble-hearted proponents and actors, is still wrapped up in this bourgeois mentality—a respectability that comes before and overshadows any real attempt or possibility to bring about real change.

It should be clear to most that the domination systems that we call organized Christian religion today are fundamentally flawed. And without sounding too much like a nihilist, what is needed to move the church forward is not a Great Reformation, or Emergence, or Spiritual Migration. What is needed is a Great Deformation of the institutional church. We need, as the Old Testament saints said, to “cut down the idols” (Deut 12:3), or as Jesus said, “tear down this temple” (Jn 2:19).  For the evolution of the church to be effected in this new era of enlightenment requires a revolution, not a reform, of hearts and minds—and institutions.

And a revolution is coming. The new, and necessary, revolution that is brewing against capitalism in West will only ferment, I believe, with a concomitant revolution against religio institutio or religionism.

Why is a religious revolution needed? Similar to the way capitalism is killing our earth and the human race, religionism is killing our souls. Reforms are not working; they will not work.  The domination systems are increasingly repressing and oppressing our societies, and this includes religious domination systems. Again, as I have said elsewhere, there is no religion without politics; there is no spirituality without social justice. There is no repentance (change) without struggle. Thus, we must struggle in our calling the capitalists to repentance, and the religionists as well.

Frederick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” People with great power, secular or spiritual, will not give up the power they have stolen from the people. The people must take it back. This is the nature of the revolution that Jesus instituted on the cross. He disarmed the powers! (Col 2:15).

Now, I am not calling for the death of the church or religion. Far be it. I have a great hope of a resurrected, born-again church, a church on mission with Jesus to transform the whole world to the glory of the Father! What this new glorious re-born church will actually look like is still unclear. One thing is sure, though, it won’t be a hierarchical institution distinct from society. But it will be the soul of the world!

© Paul Dordal, 2016

De-Churching Society (Prophetic Reflection)

tear-down-this-churchChristian worship forms were developed primarily from Jewish synagogue practices of the 1st Century CE. Yet, the Jewish people, prior to the Mosaic Covenant, worshiped God through personal and familial spiritual practices, not those developed by hierarchical or institutional religion. There were no local temples, synagogues, or even communally prescribed ritual practices.

Even after the Mosaic Covenant, these local, family-based practices continued, with the addition of a yearly requirement, if you were financially able, to sacrifice at the Tent of the Meeting or later at the Temple in Jerusalem. After the introduction of the Mosaic Covenant, the most important religious practices were Sabbath rest and the yearly Passover meal (both family practices). On the Sabbath day, rituals and prayers were done in the home as a family, but there were no other prescribed liturgical or dogmatic rituals. The primary act of worship was to honor the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day of the week, trusting in God for provision and care unlike the surrounding “pagans” who worked seven days a week.

It is not until the Rabbinic period did synagogue-based worship come into existence (probably no earlier than 350 BCE). According to Chabad.org, an orthodox Jewish group, “From Moses’ times until the restoration of the Second Temple, we fulfilled the obligation to pray daily by composing our own prayers, and praying privately.”

The notion of a religious need to publicly worship God inside a dedicated structure derives from the institutionalization of religion, which is based on money and power, not spirituality. And with increased institutionalization comes the need for more stratified power relationships (clergy, ranked lay positions, professional support staff, etc.) and an expanded prescription of oftentimes oppressive rules and regulations.

Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous or other groups who are committed to non-institutionalization, Christian groups who insist on owning property or hiring staff are soon trapped in the vicious cycle of supporting a mission that is not primarily concerned with people’s spiritual development or worshipping God, but with gaining “nickels and noses.” The old maxim is proved true: Your mission is what you measure. Now, I have never seen a church with “nickels and noses” in its mission statement. Nevertheless, offerings and attendance are the two most cited measurements in the West of a church’s success or failure. There is a clear connection between mission drift and institutionalization. Neil Cole said, “[I]f we could figure out how to do church without needing buildings, we would be better off.”[i]

Christian anarchism is focused on de-institutionalization because of its inherent objectification and oppression of the same people these institutions say they are trying to assist.  Ivan Illich notes, “The only way to establish an institution is to finance it.  The corollary is also true. Only by channeling dollars away from the institution … can the further impoverishment resulting from their disabling side effects be stopped.”[ii]

De-institutionalization is the primary way that Christianity will regain its life and world-changing movement orientation and focus on worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth. Returning to the forms of truly ancient worship, those prior to the institutionalization of Judaism and Christianity is what will return the Church to its core mission: Loving God, loving people, loving the common weal.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

[i] Neil Cole, Organic Church, 37.
[ii] Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society. London: Marion Boyars, 1970, 4.

I Don’t Believe The Way You Do: And I’m Still A Catholic!

conformity-2It is clear that Jesus was not a member of any of the sects of Judaism in his time (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or Zealots). Jesus was critical of much of these sect’s beliefs and practices, but also praised them when they were in line with the goodness and love of God. Jesus was not beholden to one theological construct over another, and Jesus never identified with any of these sects as his own. He simply was a “believer” and called God his Father. Jesus was a universalist; he was for everyone, and that is why Jesus was a Catholic.

In his book, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, scholar and Catholic priest Raymond Brown found seven distinct traditions in the various churches that were started by the apostles. Brown said, “There is no reason why there could not have been in the one city house churches of different traditions….”[i] Yet, Brown shows that even though these churches had different traditions and theological emphases, they would have still have been in communion with one another.

So, Jesus was not a member of any sect, and the early Christians did not practice exclusivism even as members of unique traditions. Yet, today Christians, to become members of churches, are obliged to hold to the distinctives of the various denominations and sects of Christianity, which way too often do not have communion with one another. Even within a particular tradition there are those who would criticize and even condemn those who don’t hold perfectly to a certain “party-line” of dogmatic teachings. Rigid religious exclusivism abounds and is often encouraged!

This is why I am advocating well-ordered anarchism as the solution to the exclusivism nightmare from which so many Christians cannot seem to awake. I want us all to be Catholics (universalists), if you will, no matter what group or non-group you identify with. All who even remotely have faith in Jesus are Catholics, no matter if some Grand Poohbah, clergy person, or even the person sitting next to you in a pew tries to say otherwise. You are free in Christ! You are beautiful before God!

Some of the issues of which I have been indoctrinated by an Evangelical or conservative Catholic upbringing are simply man-made constructs based on a narrow and often times erroneous interpretation of Scripture. For instance, Just-War Theory simply does not line up with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Rigid and absolutist teachings about divorce and remarriage, male-only clergy, hierarchical organization, homosexuality, abortion, capitalism, and how we see other religions are simply unhelpful and, worse, they are hurtful and oppressive.

It is time to do away with the denominations, do away with rigid dogmatism, do away with systems of theology which are exclusivist, do away with church institutionalism, and to embrace the diversity of belief which Jesus and the early church proclaimed and embraced.  It is time to see God for who God really is and always has been: Ultimate Love! When we do this, we can be like Jesus, the One and True Catholic.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Note
[i] Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1984, 23.

The Anarchist Critique – Ten Ideas (Jn 8:36)

Christian AnarchismFor many Christians, especially exclusivist ones (Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, etc.), there is often such a strong belief in their core message that all other ideas, if they are to be deemed true, must conform to their well-defended Christian belief system.  In other words, for many Christians, Christianity is such a complete and universal system that it can be the only legitimate critique of all other systems of thought or practice in the world.

Now, I do believe that Christian thought and practice certainly can and should often function as a prophetic critique of sinful activity in the world, such as proclaiming (in word and deed) justice for the oppressed.  Nevertheless, for many exclusivist Christians the idea of other groups or philosophical/religious constructs critiquing the Christian faith would be preposterous.

But Christianity, because it is essentially a man-made construct not unlike any other belief system, needs critiquing just as much as other constructs or even more, since Christianity makes such universal claims to the truth.  I believe critique from non-Christian and reformed minded Christian thinkers has very much enhanced the Christian faith, especially over the last two hundred years (look at Vatican II).  The liberal critique, the feminist critique, the liberationist critique, the open-theism critique, the civil rights critique, and others have enriched Christian faith even if those ideas or constructs were not wholly adopted into Christian denominational faith statements or catechisms.

If we allow our Christian belief systems to be critiqued and transformed by thoughtful critique, we can develop an evolved belief system which deepens the authenticity of followers of Christ.  Conversion is not a one-time event in the life of a Christian, and to continually critique one’s own faith is essential to true spiritual growth.  Submitting to ongoing external critique ensures that we will not get stuck in our own spiritual growth, and maybe more importantly, not be enslaved by archaic controlling meta-narratives imposed by the tyranny of delusional men (mostly) who believe they are protecting some narrow view of so-called orthodoxy.

Recently, I have discovered that the anarchist critique is the most important and far-reaching critique of Christianity. And unlike some of the other critiques mentioned above, the anarchist critique does not apply only to a particular or narrow group of people; it applies to all people and to every aspect of the faith. Unfortunately, the anarchist critique, though around for hundreds of years, has not been considered widely.  I have come to believe that the anarchist critique is what will truly set Christians free because they will meet the person of Jesus anew and be more fully transformed into his likeness through an anarchist reading of the gospel.

For example, Jesus said, “If the son sets you free, you will be really free” (Jn 8:36, NET).  This verse read through an anarchist lens will ultimately liberate humanity, because it means that the Christian is no longer under the authority of men, but is inspired to live life fully and authentically out of their own God-imaged self (no rules, no laws, no masters).  It means that the believer is called to live out the anarchist life and bring the message of Christian anarchy to the world.  This anarchist reading is in stark contrast to the exclusivist Christian reading which proposes that the freedom Jesus is talking about is primarily to help the Christian control sinful moral urges so that they can be “holy,” and that “salvation” is given exclusively to Christians who desire to have a place held for them in some sort of abstract, blissful afterlife.

Now, I am not suggesting that everyone has to agree with me and become a Christian anarchist.  That would be me being tyrannical and forcing my meta-narrative on you.  But I am suggesting that an anarchist reading of the gospel will only enhance a Christian’s spiritual growth.

Nevertheless, shifting gears, I am fairly sure that the anarchist ideal, which is the ideal of God, may not be possible for everyone to grasp, much less implement.  But I do believe that an anarchist reading of the faith will lead us to a truer repentance/conversion, which would further God’s ideal on earth.

Jacque Ellul said, “The true anarchist thinks that an anarchist society—with no state, no organization, no hierarchy, and no authorities—is possible, livable, and practicable.  But I do not. In other words, I believe that the anarchist fight, the struggle for an anarchist society is essential, but I also think that the realizing of such a society is impossible” (1991:19).

However, I hear God’s voice in the words of many secular anarchists who shout out, “Demand the impossible!”  And wasn’t it Jesus who said, “This is impossible for mere humans, but for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26, NET).  So, God is demanding the impossible anarchist ideal to be worked out here on earth as it is in heaven.

So, why is the anarchist critique so routinely dismissed by most exclusivist Christians?  Well, I hope that this does not come across as too arrogant, but, it seems to me, that most exclusivist Christians are so wrapped up in their fire-insurance brand of feel good Christianity that they can’t even see the truth in the anarchist critique or the underlying truth of an anarchistic gospel. Jesus said, “I tell you the total truth, unless a person is born again spiritually, he or she cannot even see the [un]-kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3, my paraphrase). So, to even see, much less embrace the anarchist gospel will require a new conversion for the exclusivist Christian.

But there is also the challenge in living out an anarchist Christian lifestyle for those who are sympathetic or who wholeheartedly support the reading of an anarchistic gospel.   Furthermore, many liberal, liberationist, and socialist Christians are on the cusp of seeing and understanding Jesus as the Archetypal anarchist and possibly following Jesus as anarchist Christians.  But many are afraid to admit the truth of the anarchist gospel because of in-group pressures and responsibilities, or they are put off by the baggage associated with the word anarchy.

Anarchist psychologist Dennis Fox notes, “There’s a problem, though. Although we want to live by anarchist values today, none of us grew up learning how to do that. In the face of so much that needs doing, sometimes we settle for just getting by, staying functional enough for the work of the moment rather than developing personal, interpersonal, and collective skills an anarchist society might someday provide more naturally” (2011: 5).

There is much work then that needs to be done to begin to transform how the ideas and message of Christian anarchy are presented and taught to exclusivist Christians, and even to those who might support an anarchist reading of the gospel but are afraid to do so.

Thus, for those who may be interested, below are ten anarchist ideas I have been working with to critique my Christian faith and the gospel.  This is not a comprehensive list, but it is one that can certainly help you begin to parse the Christian faith through anarchist lenses.  Some of the questions I have been asking about these ten ideas have been, “Is there support for these ideas in Scripture?  What advantage do people who want to maintain the status quo gain from rejecting these ideas?  What do I think Jesus would say or what did Jesus say about these issues?”

I present these in no particular order and would welcome critique of the list as well:

  1. First, anarchists reject State or religious authority and hierarchical rule. No governments, no denominations, no self-appointed or even elected leaders. (Live here for a while if you are interested in applying the anarchist critique to your faith).
  2. Second, anarchists reject paternalism, patriarchalism, sexism, and racism, and all other human degradating isms.
  3. Third, anarchists reject the idea of land borders.
  4. Fourth, anarchists generally reject mandatory anything: public education, taxes, medical treatment (e.g., inoculations), and, of course, military service.
  5. Fifth, anarchists reject the politics of Republicanism, Communism, State Sponsored Socialism, Capitalism, and any form of representative government as oppressive power systems.
  6. Sixth, anarchists support cooperation, voluntary association, and mutual aid as the only just economic system.
  7. Seventh, anarchists believe in the common ownership of the means of production.
  8. Eighth, anarchists are generally wary of the notion of the ownership of personal property. (However, many Christian anarchists understand that there may be some limited right to personal property inherent in human nature.)
  9. Ninth, anarchists are pacifists, and always affirm non-violent direct action.
  10. And tenth, anarchists affirm creation care and simple living.

Again, this is not a complete list of the anarchist critique, but it will keep you and me busy for quite some time.

References
Ellul, Jacques. Anarchy and Christianity. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1991. Print.

Fox, Dennis. Anarchism and Psychology. Paper presented at the Conference of North American Anarchist Studies Network. Toronto, ON, January 16, 2011. Web. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/dennis-fox-anarchism-and-psychology.pdf

© Paul Dordal, 2015