For 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:
- 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).
- Second, anarchists reject paternalism, patriarchalism, sexism, and racism, and all other human degradating isms.
- Third, anarchists reject the idea of land borders.
- Fourth, anarchists generally reject mandatory anything: public education, taxes, medical treatment (e.g., inoculations), and, of course, military service.
- Fifth, anarchists reject capitalism as an inherently oppressive power system.
- Sixth, anarchists support cooperation, voluntary association, and mutual aid/socialism as the only just economic system.
- Seventh, anarchists believe in the common ownership of the means of production.
- 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.)
- Ninth, Christian anarchists affirm non-violent direct action.
- 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.
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