Deliberations and Resources on Radical Christianity

While we are in the world…?

A conversation today with Mike, a friend of mine, at one point touched upon the subject of politics and government. While he expressed a common distaste for all political parties, understandably recognising that they each have their own agendas, I asserted that I do not vote as a matter of principle. As many people would, Mike argued the point that the world will always depend on some form of government, and then asked me which government I would personally support.

“The Kingdom of God,” I replied.

Since Mike is an atheist, I don’t believe he understands that, and nor would I expect him to. He and many others, however, do have a point in stating this fundamental fact. It does seem that humanity will always depend upon some form of governing system to instil order amongst society and to control its affairs. It’s all very well for a Christian Anarchist like myself to state that I will separate myself from Empire and renounce my involvement with it insomuch as it is practically possible to do so, but even to this there is only a limited extent of personal power. On the one hand, I may choose to not vote, enter into positions of governmental coercion, or swear any oaths of allegiance. On the other hand, I am still held accountable by the laws of the land, still rely on these corrupt systems to effect change where I am unable, still enjoy the protection and security afforded by a stable authority, and still “render to Caesar those things which are Caesar’s,” with the knowledge that much of those things will be used as a resource for his own selfish ends (ie, war, the arms trade, etc). I would say that as a Christian who anticipates the arrival of God’s Kingdom, I also await the inevitable fall of the state authorities. But until they fall, there is no doubt that my existence is inextricably connected to this current system and I am forced to interact with it as long as I am in the world. To this end, what can Christian Anarchism really hope to achieve?

Well, in this vain, I do not necessarily feel that the Anarchism of personal spirituality has to achieve anything of its own ends. I have stated in other posts here that I wholeheartedly believe in the power of God alone to transform this world and renew it from its slavery to injustice and coercive oppression. To me, living the Gospel involves renouncing as much of our direct involvement as we can in the election and support of inferior systems of power, which only serve to corrupt and, through corruption, incite idolatarous worship from those who require immediate gods over the One True God.

I also feel that individuality is a key here. In asserting that I do not support any system of government (not even whatever utopian ideals of self-governing might exist in the minds of secular anarchists), what I am really stressing is the awakened sense of identity God has granted us in Christ. With this identity, we do not require a system of authority to act as our overseer, when we have God as a Monarch, and our fellow brothers and sisters to whom we are accountable and who themselves are accountable to us in turn.

As I write this, I become aware that even this in itself sounds like an idealistic and impractical scenario, given how many “Christians” are unable to abide by even this form of Church. The problem is not so glaring, I think, when we acknowledge how many followers of Christ have been led astray by the morals of the world, which fools them into thinking that earthly authority and “just wars” are necessary for human beings to adequately function. Those who gain the kind of pure heart God wishes them to have, I hope, will understand more progressively that they can rely on His power and guidance to keep them separated from authoritative power and the vicious cycle of violence. This anarchy of which I speak then, is not one which focuses on some idealistic form of government (as if any other than God’s is desirable!), but rather to stress that the Christian peacemaker ought to have the kind of pure heart required for them to function alone. As the prominent Catholic Worker activist Ammon Hennacy put it, “A Christian anarchist is one who turns the other cheek, overturns the tables of the moneychangers, and doesn’t need a cop to tell him how to behave.”

It might be important to remember that our existence right now is pretty damned comfortable. If tomorrow, the system of government were to collapse into violent chaos and warfare, I would hope I can be confident enough in the faith of Christians who are in tune with the Gospel to have that sense of eternal comfort, security, and inner joy to grant them peace whatever the external conflicts in the world might be. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” in the words of our Lord Jesus (John 16:33).

I am not sure how related this might be, but I recently came across some very wise words by Karl Barth, who was obviously far more articulate and intelligent to be able to express such ideals in words with which I might struggle:

“The Christian proclomation… stands over every individualistic and every collectivistic humanism, old or new. It excludes neither individualism nor collectivism. It bears on the individual and also on society, but always on the concrete individual as distinct from other individuals, and always on the society founded on free reciprocal responsibility. It defends discipline in the face of Neitzsche and freedom in the face of Marx. In contemporary terms, it defends the truth of socialism in the face of the West and the truth of personalism in the face of the East. It is an inexorable protest against any conception of man either as master or as mass. It recognises and acknowledges human dignity, duty, and rights only in the context of the realisation that true human existence means existence together with one’s fellow man.”



2 responses

  1. Jack Kelly

    Hi: We read the same books except my favorite is The Sermon of the Mount by Emmet

    I teach a course on Non-Violence ala Fox, Tolstoy, King & Gandhi.

    A Question: Have you discovered a technique within the methods of nonviolence to
    quickly convince a Christian to follow the teachings of Christ? As Tolstoy alludes all are so hooked into “other than the Gospels” they don’t even know there is a disparity that exists. Never met anyone that knew of a good
    psychological answer. However, had to ask.

    my email is:

    Thank you & shalom.

    May 4, 2007 at 7:58 pm

  2. Hey Jack! Thanks a lot for your comments, I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts here.

    To date, I have only had one serious conversation with a conservatively-inclined Christian and managed to convince him to reconsider his position after we spoke (glory to God, of course). I don’t recall much about the discussion, but I recall I simply spoke to him of the profound instruction from Christ to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies. I pointed out that Jesus was alluding to a form of resistance which neither returned the violence of the oppressor nor stood down in passiveness, but rather actively sought to overcome evil with goodness.

    Common arguments which arise involve the idea that “God sanctioned war in the Old Testament, why would He change His mind?” I probably have abstract views on the Old Testament, but I can easily approach the problem from a conservative perspective. Even if one views the Bible as 100% infallible, it is difficult to deny that there are two distinct covenants between Man and God: One in the OT for when Israel was one nation surrounded by pagan countries, and one in the NT for when God revealed His plan for the whole world to encompass His people. It is not so much that God changed His mind, rather that He changed the ways in which He deals with humanity. Violence and warfare may have been acceptable at one point in history, but since the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ to Man, such methods of overcoming evil are no longer acceptable.

    In addition, one may argue that when Jesus says “you must be perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” it may be inferred that in the context of the passage, Jesus is admonishing His disciples to love indiscriminately because God loves indiscriminately. The Greek term agapé signifies a reconciliatory love which seeks the redemption and goodwill of the one toward whom this emotion is directed. If agapé seeks only to be reconciled with a person, then it is simply a contradiction in terms to think that such love could ever result in the death of a person. The argument that “some may have to be sacrificed for the greater good” simply has no basis in Matthew 5. God loves each and every individual, and commands us to do the same.

    I hope this is of some small help.


    May 4, 2007 at 8:39 pm

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