Deliberations and Resources on Radical Christianity

Between Protesters and Police, Principalities and Powers…

For the last few days, I have been in attendance at the so-called Camp for Climate Action, or “Climate Camp” for short, a now annual mass activist rally which serves to protest major governmental sources of environmental negligence, as well as a spontaneously-formed decentralised community which gathers to celebrate sustainable living. This year, the location was within a village in the Kent area, just shy of the site for Kingsnorth, a new proposed coal fire power station which, if built, would emit up to eight million tonnes of CO2 per annum.

There is much that could be written about this event, but it summarises itself as part of a growing decentralised social movement which is acting to prevent climate change. Grassroots movements like these emphasise their lack of leadership in the conventional sense of the word, focusing instead on the importance of consensus-based decision making, in which every participant is granted the potential to have a say in all processes, and whereby each person’s voice is heard with equal validity.

Because Climate Camp is composed of many different individuals, each one having a different idea of what this movement means to them. Many come from the more “radical” end of the political spectrum, identifying as anarchists, for example, whereas others might come from a liberal perspective, believing the state can be reformed as opposed to feeling it must necessarily be abolished. All members of this diverse gathering, however, unite with a common vision not only of protesting major causes of climate change, but also holding the present authorities accountable for their part in it.

And for some reason, this time round, the state is thoroughly pissed off.

At last year’s Camp, which took place a little north of Heathrow Airport as a protest against its proposed third runway, police presence was fairly prominent and in some places quite aggressive. However, having now attended both last and this year’s events, I have to say that the police have been prominently more aggressive both in their presence and tactics with the current protest. At this point, it is wholly worth pointing out that as well as being a decentralised movement, Climate Camp collectively considers itself to use tactics of nonviolent direct action. That is, as an entity, it does not incorporate tactics of violent opposition against state authority into its overall ethos. As another fellow camper put it to me, “you probably won’t find a fluffier bunch of hippies anywhere else in Britain at this time.”

Why, then, was every single participant forced into a stop-and-search procedure before they could enter into the camp? Why was the entire community awoken at five o’ clock in the morning the day after opening by a mass convergence of police officers at both entrances? Why did these officers feel the need to get into full riot gear and attempt to force their way past campers at the gate who had done nothing to provoke such a reaction aside from standing their ground (Which was being done anyway)?

Every person with whom I personally spoke has viewed these tactics as unnecessarily excessive, and I have heard accounts that even some of the officers themselves weren’t aware of exactly why these measures were being taken. Some reports even suggested disgust from some of the officers themselves, not only at the extremity of the measures, but also at the fact that they were being exacted in the presence of women and children.

At this point, I want to stress that I am not using this blog post to turn the police establishment into an enemy, or to suggest that the individuals involved are somehow evil or sinister. However, I also firmly believe that there must be a necessary separation between the individual and the institution of which they are part. The tension that exists between the policeman’s orders and his own personal beliefs would seem to be a good demonstration of this.

Moreso, however, I am also interested in the reaction of the state authorities to a gathering like this. Doubtless Climate Camp is one of the most prominent grassroots social movements to have arisen in recent times, and I can’t help but be fascinated at how much the powers that be perceive it to be a threat. In their eyes, you can’t possibly have a good two thousand people spontaneously gathering as a community to demonstrate an alternative way of living unless someone is up to no good. “Intelligence suggests that someone in the camp is planning to commit criminal damage,” was the excuse I heard from some officers. And with that alone, it was just cause not only to violate people’s personal rights by forcing them to be stopped and searched, but also to exact violence and intimidation upon them. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the early church community, who weren’t persecuted by the Roman authorities for being violent revolutionaries, but for the exact opposite – namely, preaching peace and nonviolence in contrast to Caesar’s sword, living as an economic community which turned Rome’s upside down (Acts 4, for example), and by loving those within and without the community with shameless passion. There comes a point when these values of living become so radically subversive and seemingly contrary to human nature, that the authorities cannot accept that this is the end of the story. Something is awry. What are these people thinking and doing?

Indeed, it seems plain from stand-offs such as these that the State does not like being challenged, and will necessarily work to both defend its actions and preserve its own agendas, even in a supposedly “democratic” society such as Britain. But even more unsettling than this, is the apparent reality that a political superstructure such as a government reaches a point when it is no longer a mere collection of people working within a hierarchy, but rather becomes much more than the sum total of its parts, to the extent that its individual members no longer have control over it, much in a similar manner to how certain members of the police truly don’t want to be ambushing a protest, but have nonetheless found it a necessary part of their function to be co opted into doing so.

Some of you will know that, in October last year, I was arrested for taking part in a protest to blockade the entrance to the UK’s nuclear weapon base in Faslane, Scotland. I wrote about the experience here, but the ultimate point of my intentional arrest was to draw criticism toward the state, in that it was forcing its police service, an institution supposedly in place to serve and protect the general public, to instead protect and serve the state’s own interests and violent inclinations. My primary observation was that while these individuals of the police service doubtless had integrity and sincerity about them, perhaps having joined the force to help establish justice, these values were nonetheless being suppressed by the overriding authority of state service. Having encountered a similar spirit in the police authorities during this year’s climate camp, I am convinced now more than ever that not only will police function ultimately be forced into subservience to the state’s own interests, but that this function is characterised by an insidious violence. I would submit that within these professions, one’s individuality is lost and coerced into silent conformity by the Empire. For these reasons, I would not encourage any Christian, or even any person who is willing to fight for justice in this world, to join in such ranks, lest their personal values become either corrupted, or else left intact and met with inertia. The best thing someone of sincerity and integrity could do within the police service is, in my opinion, to leave it and begin asking questions about a better way to lead the way for justice in this world.

Social movements such as Climate Camp may be proving themselves quite powerful, but they are still in a process of growth and adaptation, and the hope for many involved is that these movements are the beginning of a new way to fill the void left by the crumbling state authorities. While the world still has a need for these powers and their military/police wings to exist, it may be that a new way of formulating peace and establishing justice in the world is emerging, and it will be through the cultivation of the human spirit through communities holding a common vision and practicing an alternative way of living in the here and now. As a Christian, I believe that this is something the church must necessarily be doing if it is to stay true to those Biblical values of peace (shalom), justice, mercy, equality, and everything else we could possibly think of which is the outworking of God-inspired love. I don’t know how sorry or encouraged I should be in saying that we could stand to learn a lot from these radical political groups, who often seem to have the Image of God shining forth from them far more than we holy people do.

3 responses

  1. Seth A. Bishop

    “you probably won’t find a fluffier bunch of hippies anywhere else in Britain at this time.”

    hahahahaha. that made me laugh harder than it probably should have.

    as far as the varied responses of police at different rallies, its a difficult question to answer without the answer being almost uselessly speculative. The question nonetheless warrants an answer, or at least a search for an answer. I think the idea that the cops’ response was due to information from state “intelligence” is funny, but funny in a ‘I have to laugh at this because if I don’t it’ll make me cry’ sort of way. Rather than state action being founded in truth for the purpose of promoting state legitimacy, (which would still act as a form of self-preservation of the abstract concept of state power,) the state’s construction of truth (or put simpler, the state’s lies) serves to legitimize the application of destructive force. This violence then reinforces state legitimacy through the subjugation of those who oppose it, and the state receives the same end result that truth would have achieved: legitimacy.

    While anarchists find democratic institutions less than ideal, we are still huge fans of democratic discourse. Communicating in a fair and equal manner helps us collectively approach truth – either what actually is or what we wish to socially construct toward reality. state intelligence saying that one of many is going to do something destructive can’t be proven until after the fact, and if it doesn’t happen they can then say their presence prevented it from happening. THe problem lies in the lack of transparency of the statement; the problem is that this ‘truth’ provided to us by state intelligence is not a product of democratic discourse, and may not be truth at all.

    Deception, according to Hannah Arendt, are “so very easy [to believe] up to a point, and so tempting. It never comes into a conflict with reason, because things could indeed have been as the liar maintains they were. Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear.” but I would stress that they are only easy to believe “up to a point,” for if one misleads too much, everything one says and does is suspected of attempting to mislead. Politics (in the US, at least,) has reached this point.

    I kind of went off on a tangent, but I think most of what I said relates to what you’re talking about.

    I like your writing, by the way. I stumbled across your blog today and, even when I don’t completely agree with you, I respect your presentation of opinion as being both clear and rational.

    August 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm

  2. Hey Seth,

    Thanks very much for your thoughtful and educated comment. I’m glad you appreciate my blog so far, and that you seem in general agreement with my post. I was especially interested in your comment about how the state legitimises its use of destructive force through the subjugation of those who oppose it, and I certainly agree that there is a lack of transparency on the part of the state about their conduct in general. You may have noticed that I come at a lot of these issues from a Christian perspective, or specifically a Christian anarchist perspective. Because I feel that Christ commands me to love my enemies, I don’t feel like I can either exact violence on others myself or else pledge allegiance to those institutions who use it to sustain themselves (ie, governments). I realise, however, that many people who don’t consider themselves religious in any respect may also come to similar moral conclusions for slightly different reasons, and I think the agreement comes from our critique of the how the nation state organises itself. One thing that did come to mind from your comment is the fact that governments rely upon the use of lies to further their agenda, so the violence doesn’t just come on a physical level but also on a psychological level as well. Police institutions necessarily act not only through means of violence but also through the use of oaths, undercover operations, covert surveillance, and intelligence formed, as you say, through non-democratic means. In simpler terms, the police service almost becomes like its own kind of cult, demanding a level of conformity whereby any individuality or personal ethics are intentionally shaped and indoctrinated to suit the needs of the institutional authority.

    I hope you come back at some point, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on some of the other stuff I talk about!

    Your “fluffy hippie” friend,
    Adam.

    August 8, 2008 at 4:59 pm

  3. Seth A. Bishop

    yes, I noticed the christian aspect of your blog. I used to be opposed to the idea of christian anarchism, but have since retracted that opposition and now adopt a more accepting stance. The whole god question has never been important to me, but it isn’t my place to judge someone if it happens to be important to them. I think some people get too caught up in old rhetoric, and through doing so fail to acknowledge that, if anarchism’s rejection of religion was due to the belief that it can be a tool of social control (or opiate of the masses, alternately), one’s faith only needs to take care not to fall into those traps. The few christian anarchists I have encountered seem to accomplish this fairly well.

    regarding violence, I oppose its initiation. I’ve had disagreements with some people in the past because I believe in self-defense. One can exert force (by which I mean energy) in many ways; there is such a thing as productive force, for example, by which I mean “force that creates” rather than “force that is good or helpful”. Violence – destructive force – isn’t capable of creating anything, and instead can only destroy and take away from what has been created, be it an idea, a constructed object, or a life. The only time I consider violence as acceptable (not ‘good’ or ‘right,’ but necessary) is when one is incapable of creating something new because a preexisting object or group consistently destroys what one is trying to create. I don’t like it, and I believe we should try to avoid it whenever possible, but I don’t like taking it off the table entirely. I do believe that the use of violence against another person is rarely, if ever, the only option, and one must pursue all conceivable avenues of productive force before the alternative is considered.

    I’ll keep reading and occasionally I might throw in my two cents. I find discussions like these more stimulating than homework, so you’ll see me whenever I feel like not doing the work I probably should be doing.

    -Seth

    August 9, 2008 at 8:23 am

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