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.”