Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cow News

Here's a nice, light change of pace as we close out May. My favorite part about this story of brave Boston bovids (see, I can be alliterative as well, CBS News) is not the inebriated cattle but the scared and screaming "young adults." C'mon, folks. They're cows. Do the right thing and offer them some pretzels:

[Six cows] crashed a backyard party Sunday night and started drinking the beer, police said, according to CBS Boston...According to a report, officers said about a dozen young adults - as in people - had been drinking beer at a picnic table when the cows showed up.

"I could hear them [the partygoers] screaming in the backyard and I hoped they weren't getting trampled," Lt. James Riter told WickedLocal Boxford..."I saw one cow drinking the beer on its way down as it spilled off the table...Some of the cows were also picking through the empties in the recycling bin...They just went in and helped themselves."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Anarchy in May: Jesus on Ethics

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.

We began this investigation of Christian anarchism with a brief definition of the idea that stressed, in part, the necessity of all human structures of power to perpetuate themselves through immoral means. This observation about the intrinsic violence in government has often been the cornerstone for anarchist thought, and so I would like to conclude the series--on this final Wednesday in May--by quoting by far the oldest and most important anarchist text: Matthew 5. Unlike Eller, I shy away from calling God the "Primal Anarchist," because Christian anarchism is only anarchic with regard to human powers. God, therefore, is not an anarchist but the Supreme Archae, the only true and legitimate source of authority. It is with this authority that Jesus ascends the mount and delivers the famous sermon which is the greatest and fullest expression of Christian ethics. Within this sermon, no teaching has come to symbolize Christianity more than teachings at the close of chapter five (with the possible exception of the golden rule in chapter seven), and yet no teaching has been so diluted and distorted in an effort to escape its uncomfortable implications. Christian anarchism makes an effort to embrace those implications and to carry them to their logical ethical conclusions. If I must love my enemies, I cannot wage war against them, and I cannot elect someone else to wage war against them on my behalf. If I must not resist the evildoer, I cannot detain or execute criminals, and I cannot elect someone else to detain or execute them for me. If I must pray for those who persecute me, I cannot legislate that persecution away, and I cannot elect someone to legislate it away for me. No amount of ethical or exegetical contortionism has ever been able to convince me that the following means anything other than what it appears on its face to mean:

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

And lest the interpretation and application of this passage be seen as the invention of a squeamish modern mindset, let me offer a few words of commentary from the second century Christian Athenagoras who, long before Anabaptists and Garrisonians and Tolstoyans, embodied the original spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and appealed to its honest and literal manifestation in the lives of ordinary Christians as the single greatest testimony to the truth of the Gospel. Above logic and apologetics and theology, the authentically lived Christian life confirms Christ:

If I go minutely into the particulars of our doctrine, let it not surprise you. It is that you may not be carried away by the popular and irrational opinion, but may have the truth clearly before you. For presenting the opinions themselves to which we adhere, as being not human but uttered and taught by God, we shall be able to persuade you not to think of us as atheists. What, then, are those teachings in which we are brought up? “I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven, who causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”39 Allow me here to lift up my voice boldly in loud and audible outcry, pleading as I do before philosophic princes. For who of those that reduce syllogisms, and clear up ambiguities, and explain etymologies, or of those who teach homonyms and synonyms, and predicaments and axioms, and what is the subject and what the predicate, and who promise their disciples by these and such like instructions to make them happy: who of them have so purged their souls as, instead of hating their enemies, to love them; and, instead of speaking ill of those who have reviled them (to abstain from which is of itself an evidence of no mean forbearance), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against their lives? On the contrary, they never cease with evil intent to search out skilfully the secrets of their art, and are ever bent on working some ill, making the art of words and not the exhibition of deeds their business and profession. But among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbours as themselves.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Anarchism and the Just Society

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
There is a great deal to commend Vernard Eller’s arguments about human attempts to construct a classless society, but an arguments merits are normally apparent on its face. To that extent, I intend to let Eller’s point speak for itself. No argument, however, is entirely invulnerable to criticism. Two such criticisms came to my mind while I was reviewing Eller’s case that bear engagement. Though I do not think either is ultimately justified, the fact that Eller does not address them specifically compels me to address them.

The first and most obvious criticism that might arise from those who advocate revolutionary attempts to establish equity is that Eller’s Christian alternative does not actually achieve the ends for society that they pursue. No matter how hard we try, simply ignoring social inequality does not resolve the reality of it. As long as the “oppressing classes” continue to have recourse to their means of oppression, the “oppressed classes” will continue to be oppressed.

This is undoubtedly true. It must be remembered, however, that Christian anarchism makes no pretense of trying to reform human society through human effort. In fact, it is predicated precisely on rejecting such a pretension. Eller makes the point quite clearly that all human means for establishing social equity necessarily involve the use of force (in some fashion) which is itself a form of social oppression, even if it is the “oppressed” who are oppressing the “oppressors.” Christian anarchism doesn’t provide an alternative human means for achieving human ends, but a rejection of human means and human ends in favor of divine ones.

The church, in this understanding, becomes the only truly classless, and therefore just, society because it adopts, insofar as it is possible, the divine perspective of unity in Christ. When Paul says that there is no Greek or Jew, male or female, he does not believe that humanity becomes uniform by entrance into the church. Instead, the church becomes the proleptic experience of the kingdom on earth in which the incidentals which assume the status of identity in human society are relegated to their proper sphere.

This provides a perfect segue into the second objection: if classification as a means of domination is eliminated in the Christian community, what is to be made of the various economic recognitions of features such as gender in the church. If anarchism and its attempts to construct an equitable society by divine means is in fact the true means for achieving justice, does it not necessarily follow that people in the church cease to recognize as significant distinctions in gender?

I suspect that for Eller this is not so much an objection as a recognition of his logical conclusion. He appears to be the egalitarian type of anarchist more in the tradition of Garrison than Lipscomb. Being myself nearer to the latter, however, it is important to stress that egalitarian gender economics are only one possible implication to be drawn from Eller’s argument.

Even Eller recognizes that matters of sex, race, or socio-economic status are significant insofar as they are necessary categories by which humanity interacts with the world. For Eller this is an unfortunate byproduct of human finitude. He does not seem to recognize that there are realities which correspond to the categories which are generally labeled “oppressive.” The essence of anarchism does not need to be the elimination of all distinction because distinction is not only relevant and representative of reality but it is arguably the preeminent reality, enshrined before time in the trinitarian God and established as the predicate reality for a creation which is genuinely ex nihilo. (Eller presses this issue to its breaking point, wanting to blur even the distinctions between species as he makes a point to refer to sparrows as “individuals” in the same way that people are “individuals.”)

Instead, what Jesus does and what the anarchist vision of the church does is to divorce classification from value. This is the core of the complementarian argument of ontological equality and economic difference. It is critical to realize that difference in race, socio-economic status, and gender are non-essential, which is to say that they are not of the essence of things not that they are not meaningful. With this understanding in view, Eller’s stress on the church as the congregation of individuals standing equally before God and equally in one another’s estimation can be fully embraced.

Whatever you are, you are first and foremost a child of God, a sibling in Christ, and an expectant participant in the Kingdom of Heaven. That is what identifies us as Christians. That we may function differently in the church on the basis of the incidentals of our existence does not undermine that truth or in any way diminish its supreme importance. (And that stands not just for the issue of gender economics but also for the way people of different socio-economic status function differently but equally in the mission of the church not to mention countless other less controversial economic distinctions).

Undoubtedly, the fact that I agree with so many of Eller’s premises means that I am omitting or overlooking other potential errors in his thinking (any of which I would be happy to have pointed out to me). Nevertheless, it seems hard to contradict Eller’s acute sense of the flaw in historical and ongoing attempts by humanity to imagine and pursue and truly equitable society. The just society will always be out of the reach of optimistic human hands because humanity lacks truly just mechanisms of actualizing its vision, even if that vision were truly just.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Anarchy in May: Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 3)

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
In the final analysis, Eller believes that all human attempts for a truly classless, and therefore truly equitable, society necessarily fail. As is so often the case when humans set their own goals to be acheived by their own ends, the very attempt to make the classless society exacerbates class tensions within society. The same is true when the question of a peaceful society is raise: every human attempt to construct a peaceful society is undertaken by resistance, coercion, or outright warfare. The end is undermined by the means. Marxism and feminism are by no means the only examples that Eller could have mustered. Another obvious example would have been the global attempts by racial minorities for liberation through racial solidarity. The list could of course go on.

For Eller, there is an alternative way in Jesus, a way that doesn't embrace contradictory means toward the final end:

We have seen that the liberationist methodology (here called “Marxism) is essentially a manipulation of those archai we know as “ideologically constituted classes,” aimed at insuring that the innocent classes of the oppressed prevail over the wicked classes of the oppressors. However, rather than through anything resembling “archae theory,” Christianity comes at the class problem through a radically anarchistic approach. It will simply deny that these “archai of class” (women against men, poor against rich, slaves against owners, Jews against Gentiles) have any actual power, significance, or reality. It will achieve its classless community—not by trying forcibly to overcome the class distinctions—but by ignoring them and living above them, by the grace of God simply proceeding to live classlessly. This Christianity manages to do by the expedient of insisting that human beings are always individuals and never ever constituent units of en bloc collectives called “classes.” It follows, of course, that these human beings are treated as individuals rather than being glommed into “solidarities” and manipulated in the interest of any class struggle.

…A person under involuntary servitude—but that does not make him, involuntarily, a member of the “slave class”—does not dictate that he must share the slave mentality, be in ideological solidarity with all other slaves, see his master as an oppressing enemy, or let himself be used as a pawn in any class struggle. Even if 99 percent of all salves display a particular character, that does not dictate that he must. His individuality always takes precedence over his so-called class status.

…The apostle Paul, on the other hand, tells about the one society that has succeeded in true classlessness…“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

And as he might continue: “Of course, I am not denying that in our classless society, if we chose to, we could find out whether you are of Jewish extraction or Greek; whether your legal status is that of slave or freeman; whether you are of the oppressed sex, or the oppressing. The point is that we don’t care. You are a member of the body of Christ; that’s all we want or need to know. Pretending that these other classifications have significance will only confuse the truth of who you really are. So please quit telling us that you’re a “woman.” We don’t care…You were bough with a price precisely that you might be given to the one ‘classification’ that makes any difference, ‘member of the classless body of Christ.’ Your one goal in life should be to remain there with God. Yet the surest way of losing that classification is to let the world sucker you into thinking its classifications are important. It, of course, insists on categorizing people, defining some categories as ‘privileged’ and others as ‘under privileged,’ then turning people loose to fight themselves into a higher class or else get an entire class privileged above the opposition.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Anarchy in May: Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 2)

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
Marxism is the easiest and most obvious choice for demonstrating the folly of human attempts to construct a classless society, but Eller is quick to recognize that the projects of social equity are not limited to efforts by workers to control the means of production or even by groups attempting to overthrow nation-states to acheive liberation. There are oppressed classes (real or imagined) constantly struggling to level the social playing field that have nothing to do, overtly, with political communism. According to Eller, these movements in favor of "classlessness" suffer from the same methodological flaws that Marxism does.

As an example, Eller offers an analysis of feminism:

The clear and laudable goal of the feminist movement is to create a society in which the social distinctions between male and female are reduced to adiaphora, matters of no consequence. Not only any hint of inequality but even the distinguishing marks of the two are to be minimized. A true classlessness is to transpire. Yet that classlessness cannot happen by the direct approach of playing down the distinctions; the power of the oppressing class must first be broken. No, the immediate steps must point directly away from the ultimate goal they would serve.

Thus: “Yes, the two genders should be treated without distinction.” So, from time immemorial we have had us an English language that enables us to speak by the house without dropping so much as a hint that two different genders of human beings are involved, that there even exists a distinction known as “gender.” Yet, that way hardly serves the raising of feminine class consciousness. Therefore, the rule now is to speak (with doubled pronouns and the like) so that the gender distinction is always prominent, to use gendered terminology in preference to the ungendered, to take care in specifying women at least as often as men. The feminist grammar is designed to serve gender awareness, not the classlessness of gender ignorance.

Thus: “Yes, the goal is that gender distinctions disappear.” However, on the way to that goal, feminine class distinction is necessary—to the point that one theology cannot be taken as serving human beings indiscriminately. There must now be a feminist theology in which women can have their special concept of God, their definition of salvation, their preferred reading of the gospel. Yes, just that far must the commonality of women and men be denied—for the sake of ultimate classlessness!

Thus: “Yes, we look for the day when the distinction between women and men will be seen as insignificant if not nonexistent.” Nevertheless, for the sake of the ideological solidarity necessary to get us there, we find it right to posit an absolute moral distinction between the sexes—namely, that it is men who cause wars and that, if given the chance, women would create peace.

…In undoubted sincerity, the feminists claim that their interest is not simply in liberating themselves but in liberating men as well. Yet what must be recognized is that this has been the standard revolutionary line of every class war ever mounted. However, the question is whether true classlessness ever can be achieved through one class’s gaining the power to dictate the terms of that classlessness. Even more, can it be called “liberation” for other people to take it upon themselves to liberate you according to their idea of what your liberation should be? It strikes me that “liberation” is one term the person will have to define for himself.

But if “class distinction” and “class struggle” be our chosen means, is it possible that the contradiction ever can be overcome?—that “classlessness” can ever mean anything other than “we are now all of one class, because ours is it”’ or “liberation” mean anything other than “you are no liberated, because we are in a position to tell you that you are”?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Anarchy in May: Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 1)

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
For the next three days, I will be sharing a lengthier portion of Eller's Christian Anarchy, much too long to be placed in a single post. His point, however, is critical enough that I think it warrants extended presentation. During this portion of his work, Eller is attempting to contrast the way humanity attempts to establish a truly just society and the way Jesus endeavored toward that same end. He presents his argument by an examination of the human struggle for "classlessness" on every level of society. Lest this term provide a stumbling block, Eller clarifies, "In our context, remember that “classlessness” is a synonym for 'justice.'" If the ultimately just society is the one where every person is treated equitably, than the perennial quest for a classless social system, made notorious through the contemporary efforts of Maxists, is certainly one of the most visible attempts to acheive that end.

Because Marxism represents the most infamous attempt to construct the classless, and therfore just, society, Eller begins his examination there:

(In the following, this is as much as I mean by “Marxism.” It is shorthand for “any philosophy that defines social progress in terms of a class struggle toward classlessness.” My use of the word intends no other overtones, is entirely descriptive and in no way pejorative.)

Yet all such “Marxisms”—even while being sincerely dedicated to classlessness—see no other possibility of getting there except by taking off 180 degrees in the other direction. Classlessness can be achieved only by first locating the class distinction that is at the root of the difficulty. The “oppressed class” and the “oppressing class” must be spotted and publicly identified. Once identified, the consciousness of the oppressed class must be raised—which, of course, inevitably leads to the raising of the class consciousness of the opposite number as well. A deliberate polarizing is taking place in order that the oppressed class might consolidate its power (“solidarity” is the very word, “ideological solidarity”)—this in preparation for the struggle, the warfare, which is intended to eventuate in classlessness.

Obviously, the action serves to exacerbate the very class distinction it is out to eliminate—but there is no other way. The “oppressed but righteous class” must gain power over the “wicked and oppressing class” in order then to replace it, destroy it, dominate it, absorb it, or convert it and so leave itself as the one, total, and thus “classless” class. The ideological solidifying and polarizing of the class distinction, which the accompanying intensification of the class struggle, is the only way to classlessness.

Granted, this Marxist theory presents some problems: Are we to “continue in sin that grace may abound”?—play up class antagonism in the interests of classlessness? But I don’t know who has come up with any better solution (actually, I do; but I am holding that for a bit). In common practice, of course, the business proceeds according to program through the spotting of the class distinction, the raising of consciousness, the building of ideological solidarity, and the hue and cry of the class struggle—only to hang up on the final step of creating classlessness. For some reason, at that point everything that can go wrong invariably does.

Thus, with the Soviet Union of proto-Marxism, the comrades of the oppressed working classes achieved their solidarity, won their revolution, and even established the bureaucracy which was to be the instrument for creating their classless society. Yet instead of the workers’ classless society becoming the total order of the day, lo and behold, the bureaucracy itself introduced a new class distinction—doing this by itself becoming totalitarian over everyone else. So it went; and so it goes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Romans 13: Love, Vengeance, and Anarchy

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
There are times when we all ought to lament the versification of Scripture. An innovation of the Middle Ages, biblical versification allows and even encourages readers to artificially divide what were originally single units of texts. At the level of single verses, Scripture often splits single sentences (and therefore single thoughts) right down the middle. More pernicious, perhaps, are the chapter divisions that allow us to consider fuller units of text as if they existed independently of those that came before. When you add to this the translators subheadings which appear in almost every English edition of the Bible, the reader is left with an almost overwhelming compulsion to read scripture in segments which may or may not reflect any genuine divisions on the part of the original author (and which may even ignore divisions that the authors did intend).

While there are numerous nuances which are glazed over by the versification of Scripture (and numerous pragmatic benefits to weigh against my admittedly one-sided criticisms), one text in which the chapter divisions have dramatically narrowed interpretations is Romans 13. This text has been marshaled for centuries, and especially since the rise of the Anabaptists, to legitimate civil authority and encourage lawful participation of Christians therein. Unfortunately, when it is offered as proof of the moral permissibility of civil participation, the message is normally begun at Romans 13:1, as if Paul has suddenly left off on his themes being a living sacrifice, existing in peace with everyone, and manifesting an ethos of love introduced beginning in 12:1--and indicated not by the new chapter but by the transitional term "therefore" and the shift to the hortatory tone--in order to talk about the unrelated theme of ruling authorities. In erasing the verse and chapter divisions, new themes and parallels begin to emerge which help to give a fuller picture of the meaning of Romans 13 and admit interpretations which are consonant with Christian anarchism (and alleviate what would otherwise be an irresolvable tension between Romans 12 and 13):

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written,

"Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

It should strike you as ironic, as it struck me only very recently, how closely the quintessential text used to legitimate civil authority and its bearing of the sword is to perhaps the greatest Pauline exhortation to pacifism that invalidates participation in government. The interplay extends beyond the text quoted above and there are numerous points of contact that could be examined. There are two essential features of the above text, however, which I contend are the cornerstone for a right interpretation of Romans 13, one that affirms Paul's command to submit to government without concluding simply (and uncritically) that Christians should therefore kill American Indians, Tories, Confederates, Nazis, communists, and Muslims in the name of God and Washington (if Christians still bother to make that distinction).

The first theme which unites the two passages is love, particularly a love which strives to live at peace with everyone. This is undoubtedly the focus of the beginning of Paul's discussion as he encourages Christians to live in a community of love. Initially this community seems to be primarily the Christian community, as Paul speaks of brotherly affection, but Paul quickly extends this exhortation to love to all men, whose common moral judgment Christians are to conform to and who Christians are to live at peace with. Paul extends the bounds of love even further to include even those who are outright evil, who persecute and curse Christians. Echoing the prescriptions of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Paul advises a radical love for one's enemies, a love that is not merely non-aggression but positive affection. It involves blessing those who hate us the most and providing for them even as they try to deprive Christians of their lives and property. The ultimate aim is clearly that of a self-sacrificial love, but Paul stresses peace in the community as an intermediate goal. Ultimately evil will be overcome by good--God's righteous judgement--but in the meantime Christians are to confront evil with their own divinely mandated goodness in an effort to be peacemakers in a world that refuses peace

One may question my inclusion of that final sentence in the above quote, because verse eight is typically shifted into the next paragraph (another modern feature of the text absent in the originals) away from the section on civil government, but it seems to fit very neatly in with the issue of what one owes and to whom it is owed: "Render to all what is due them...Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another." (The words are the same in Greek, "due" and "owe.") It also comes full circle back to the dominant theme of the outset of the quoted passage, a theme which Paul clearly never intended to leave. It is clear, when reading this text as a unit, that Paul never abandons his themes of love, goodness, and living at peace. Paul's first command is to be subject to the government, which he immediately repeats as a negative prohibition not to agitate against the government. Suddenly, this command becomes not a legitimation of civil authority as ultimately good but a repetition of the exhortation for Christians to live at peace so far as it is depends on them. Paul continues to explain that as long as Christians continue to live good lives, the government will leave them in peace. The picture Paul is painting then becomes clear: do not be the agent of agitation against governments, live such good lives that the government will not be agitators against you, and the peace which has been enjoined on you will prevail. Ultimately, this peaceful coexistence is an expression of the love which Paul reminds is the true and final duty of all Christians. You may owe the government taxes and the king honor, but your first and foremost owe everyone love, the kind of love that bless, feeds, and offer succor to our enemies--even inimical nation states.

It does seem clear, however, that in some sense Paul does recognize the right, even the divine duty, of civil government to bear the sword and punish evil as servants of God, which would seem to undermine the position of Christian anarchism. Here the second observation comes into play. I am not contesting that coercive force is the necessary function of civil government. In fact, the whole of Christian anarchism is predicated on the belief that all civil authorities exist only and inevitably by the use of such violence. Let's even say, for the sake of argument, that the use of such force is the result of divine approbation rather than exigency (which I don't believe it is, but that point is not necessary to my argument). When Paul's message is taken as a unit, it is clear that God's elect purpose for civil government and government's ordained means for achieving that purpose are incompatible with God's elect plan for the Christian community.

Consider the linguistic parallel. "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God...for [the government] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil." Within the span of a few short sentences--placed on opposite sides of a theological chasm by a big, bold number thirteen separating them--Paul says to Christians, do not take revenge but leave room for God's wrath, which, by the way, He is executing through the police power of the state. It is hard to be more clear that Paul sets up the moral duties of the church and the state in contradistinction to one another. The church is the place in which participants are governed by a law of love which forgives sins, blesses foes, promotes peace, and gives aid and comfort to the enemy (to borrow military language). Meanwhile, the state is the organ by which God chooses to punish sins, suppress foes, declare war, and destroy the enemy--though not always in ways which are just.

This, meanwhile, has always been the Christian anarchists understanding of civil government: that it is a sinful institution using a sinful means to punish sinful people in an effort to order a sinful world. When Paul declares that God uses civil government to punish evil through violent suppression, he is by no means legitimizing that behavior (the behavior that will be turned on him and his Christian community in a short time), much less commending it to Christians whom he has just instructed to never punish evil through violent suppression but to confront it with blessings, peace, and charity. Quite the contrary, he is building on a tradition of looking at civil authority entirely distinct from our own laudatory praise of the enlightened modern means of governance. For him, to say that Rome is the servant of God is not like Rick Santorum saying America was a Christian nation; he draws instead on the rich Old Testament tradition of God using evil authorities to work providential ends through violent means and then punishing them for their sinfulness. Consider Isaiah 10:

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,
I send it against a godless nation
And commission it against the people of My fury
To capture booty and to seize plunder,
And to trample them down like mud in the streets.
Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations.
For it says, “Are not my princes all kings?
“Is not Calno like Carchemish,
Or Hamath like Arpad,
Or Samaria like Damascus?
“As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
Whose graven images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her images
Just as I have done to Samaria and her idols?”

So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.”

Like Babylon countless nations before it and like countless nations after it--including Rome, of which Paul is speaking, and America, of which I am typically speaking--Assyria does in fact act in service of God and is therefore God's servant. This does not mean that Assyria acts consciously in an effort to conform to the will of God; it was not a Jewish nation or even a righteous nation. It is merely a nation who unwittingly and unrighteously was employed by God for His righteous ends. This does not exculpate Assyria nor would it have exculpated the Jews if they had allied themselves to Assyria in her dastardly but ordained purpose. It merely recognizes, as Paul does, that no one can even pretend authority unless God permits it to happen and that God uses (though by no means necessarily approves of) the sinful means by which sinful man has attempted to order a sinful world in order to accomplish His righteous purposes. (One need only look at the cross as the ultimate testimony to the divine modus operandi.)

The conclusion then is a reevaluation of the meaning of Romans 13 when the context is brought to bear on its meaning. No longer can Christian blithely cite this verse and declare that government is good, its use of the sword is good, and Christian participation in either or both is therefore equally good. Instead, we see the flow of Paul's argument that stresses the Christian commitment to love and peace not only in the community of believers and with enemies who may arise but with society as a whole. Christians can hope for the ultimate accomplishment of divine justice through wrath poured out on evil, and in the meantime take heart that God is working through the mechanism of the state to curb the influence of evil in ways which are not available to Christians who are called to be holier than the world of violence and exigency they inhabit.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Anarchy in May: Chelčický on Romans 13

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
Born at the close of the fourteenth century, Petr Chelčický is the earliest Christian anarchist to be quoted in this series (excepting quotes from Scripture, of course). A proto-Reformation leader in Bohemia, his thought would go on to influence countless subsequent anarchist movements, even meriting praise from Tolstoy. While his works are replete with quotations that might make a profound impression, the below--from his most famous work, The Net of Faith--was selected as a preface to Sunday's exposition of the infamous passage in Romans 13. Chelčický's analysis by no means conforms to our modern notions of exegesis, but his comments on the passage and how he understands them as an anarchist provide an inspirational introduction to a more scientific re-interpretation of the biblical "archnemesis" of anarchism:

These words of Saint Paul make it clear that he is not speaking of authorities of the Christian faith but of pagans in Rome. He admonishes them to be subject not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.

First, concerning wrath, if the subjects disobey their lord, they shall be punished by the might of the lords through imprisonments, executions, and expropriations. Pilate punished the Jews for their rebellion, and therefore Paul admonishes the faithful not to incite the anger of Emperor Nero or other pagans who shed the blood of the Christians.

Second, concerning conscience, if the governing authorities do good, to resist them would mean to scorn the law of God. For God asks us to live peaceably with all, as far as it depends on us. As Christians, we live – a small minority – among pagans, and the restraining power of authority is for their good.

What does Paul mean by obedience to authority? Having once fallen away from the pure faith through the Donation of Constantine, the Christians now consider their state of fallenness as normal and as expressing the apostolic faith. The priests have adopted state authority and with it a pagan mode of living. Therefore, the words of Saint Paul, addressed as they were to the congregation of believers living in Rome under a pagan power, urges them to be obedient to the existing authority. But this obedience to authority must not go beyond the limits of passivity; a Christian must take no active part in the government.

Christ said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you.”

Obey your lords and pay your taxes but arrange your conduct among yourselves according to the law of Christ.

It is the prerogative of sovereignty to collect taxes on bridges, highways, and at city gates. If a Christian minority lives in a pagan state, it must submit to this exercise of authority humbly. But it must not impose such pagan practices in its own ranks. Taxation cannot be imposed in a Christian society.

For, can you imagine Saint Paul preaching the gospel in the Roman Empire and converting two or three thousand of the subjects of Caesar, to appoint one of them an overlord with the [authority of the] sword who would lead in a war for the faith of Christ? How ridiculous! But the masters want to give their kings a firm Biblical foundation in the faith of Christ. They say that the words of Paul establish and sanction the authority of Christian princes.

It is not true that Paul tried to introduce the right of the kings into (the system of) the people of God. He knew that in the beginning the Jews had no royal sovereignty until they asked for it, and when they got their king he proved to be the punishment for their sins. And now our Christian lords think that they have the right to rule and to oppress!

But having obtained authority they seldom look to the Scriptures for the wisdom of how to rule. They are satisfied to know that authority is good, and they find their approbation and proof in their round belly, fattened at the expense and pain of the poor working class. They do not suspect for one moment that they might rule improperly over their Christians, without the sanction of faith.

…You do not impose a bridge-toll on your brother, for – as a Christian – you would willingly carry him across on your shoulder. True Christian faith has no need of sovereignty and authority.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Anarchy in May: Bender on the Anabaptist Vision

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
Up to this point in our exploration of Christian anarchism, all connections to Anabaptists have been only by allusion or association. This was deliberate, in an effort to show that anabaptism does not represent the bounds of Christian anarchism by any means, not any more than the "historic peace churches" represent the extent even of sectarian Christian pacifism. It would be an error, however, to exclude the Anabaptists entirely from explicit mention. They represent the most visible face of Christian Anarchism in Western thought, antedating and undoubtedly influencing the figures outside the movement whom we have already met: William Lloyd Garrison, David Lipscomb, and Leo Tolstoy. So, in an effort to give them a full hearing, the below is an extended section of Harold S. Bender's essay, "The Anabaptist Vision." It will quote from a number of historical Anabaptist figures on the ethic of nonresistance before Bender draws from this principle conclusions about what it means to be non-resistant in a society which subsists on coercive violence:

The third great element in the Anabaptist vision was the ethic of love and nonresistance as applied to all human relationships. The Brethren understood this to mean complete abandonment of all warfare, strife, and violence, and of the taking of human life. Conrad Grebel, the Swiss. said in 1524:

True Christians use neither worldly sword nor engage in war, since among them taking human life has ceased entirely, for we are no longer under the Old Covenant.... The Gospel and those who accept it are not to be protected with the sword, neither should they thus protect themselves.

Pilgram Marpeck, the South German leader, in 1544, speaking of Matthew 5, said:

All bodily, worldly, carnal, earthly fightings, conflicts, and wars are annulled and abolished among them through such law... which law of love Christ... Himself observed and thereby gave His followers a pattern to follow after.

Peter Riedemann, the Hutterian leader, wrote in 1545:

Christ, the Prince of Peace, has established His Kingdom, that is, His Church, and has purchased it by His blood. In this kingdom all worldly warfare has ended. Therefore a Christian has no part in war nor does he wield the sword to execute vengeance.

Menno Simons, of Holland, wrote in 1550:

[The regenerated do not go to war, nor engage in strife.]... They are the children of peace who have beaten their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and know of no war.... Spears and swords of iron we leave to those who, alas, consider human blood and swine's blood of well-nigh equal value.

In this principle of nonresistance, or biblical pacifism, which was thoroughly believed and resolutely practiced by all the original Anabaptist Brethren and their descendants throughout Europe from the beginning until the last century, the Anabaptists were again creative leaders, far ahead of their times, in this antedating the Quakers by over a century and a quarter. It should also be remembered that they held this principle in a day when both Catholic and Protestant churches not only endorsed war as an instrument of state policy, but employed it in religious conflicts. It is true, of course, that occasional earlier prophets, like Peter Chelcicky, had advocated similar views, but they left no continuing practice of the principle behind them.

As we review the vision of the Anabaptists, it becomes clear that there are two foci in this vision. The first focus relates to the essential nature of Christianity. Is Christianity primarily a matter of the reception of divine grace through a sacramental-sacerdotal institution (Roman Catholicism), is it chiefly enjoyment of the inner experience of the grace of God through faith in Christ (Lutheranism), or is it most of all the transformation of life through discipleship (Anabaptism)? The Anabaptists were neither institutionalists, mystics, nor pietists, for they laid the weight of their emphasis upon following Christ in life. To them it was unthinkable for one truly to be a Christian without creating a new life on divine principles both for himself and for all men who commit themselves to the Christian way.

The second focus relates to the church. For the Anabaptist, the church was neither an institution (Catholicism), nor the instrument of God for the proclamation of the divine Word (Lutheranism), nor a resource group for individual piety (Pietism). It was a brotherhood of love in which the fullness of the Christian life ideal is to be expressed.

The Anabaptist vision may be further clarified by comparison of the social ethics of the four main Christian groups of the Reformation period, Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, and Anabaptist. Catholic and Calvinist alike were optimistic about the world, agreeing that the world can be redeemed; they held that the entire social order can be brought under the sovereignty of God and Christianized, although they used different means to attain this goal. Lutheran and Anabaptist were pessimistic about the world, denying the possibility of Christianizing the entire social order; but the consequent attitudes of these two groups toward the social order were diametrically opposed. Lutheranism said that since the Christian must live in a world order that remains sinful, he must make a compromise with it. As a citizen he cannot avoid participation in the evil of the world, for instance in making war, and for this his only recourse is to seek forgiveness by the grace of God; only within his personal private experience can the Christian truly Christianize his life. The Anabaptist rejected this view completely. Since for him no compromise dare be made with evil, the Christian may in no circumstance participate in any conduct in the existing social order which is contrary to the spirit and teaching of Christ and the apostolic practice. He must consequently withdraw from the worldly system and create a Christian social order within the fellowship of the church brotherhood. Extension of this Christian order by the conversion of individuals and their transfer out of the world into the church is the only way by which progress can be made in Christianizing the social order.

However, the Anabaptist was realistic. Down the long perspective of the future he saw little chance that the mass of humankind would enter such a brotherhood with its high ideals. Hence he anticipated a long and grievous conflict between the church and the world. Neither did he anticipate the time when the church would rule the world; the church would always be a suffering church. He agreed with the words of Jesus when He said that those who would be His disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Him, and that there would be few who would enter the strait gate and travel the narrow way of life. If this prospect should seem too discouraging, the Anabaptist would reply that the life within the Christian brotherhood is satisfyingly full of love and joy.

The Anabaptist vision was not a detailed blueprint for the reconstruction of human society, but the Brethren did believe that Jesus intended that the kingdom of God should be set up in the midst of earth, here and now, and this they proposed to do forthwith. We shall not believe, they said, that the Sermon on the Mount or any other vision that He had is only a heavenly vision meant but to keep His followers in tension until the last great day, but we shall practice what He taught, believing that where He walked we can by His grace follow in His steps.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Activism vs. Quietism: Where Anarchism Falls

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
As is so often the case, the question of whether Christians are to be quietists or activists presents a false dichotomy. It is one, nevertheless, which has powerful rhetorical force. There are few, if any, legitimate quietists left in the world, and those that do exist have a relatively muted voice in the public discourse (unsurprisingly). The specter of quietism, however, looms large because any time anyone expresses any pessimism about the ultimate efficacy of human effort—divinely empowered or otherwise—they are immediately labeled as quietist heretics and left to scramble for some other justification for Christian service to society.

There is some value in this, admittedly, because quietism is antithetical to the Gospel. For our purposes here, let quietism be defined as the belief that because humanity is incapable of achieving the aims of the Kingdom by its own activities, such activities are meaningless. How can this view stand up to Scripture? Jesus came to announce the imminence of the Kingdom and with this made a clear effort to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and set the captive free. In enjoining that his disciples do the same, Jesus made impossible any honest attempt at quietism.

But activism is no less futile and no less incompatible with the true message of the Gospel. Activism is just as destructive if we understand it to be the belief that we have been tasked with the Kingdom purpose of feeding the hungry and therefore must believe it is possible and pursue as an end the total elimination of hunger by human effort (with the same being true of healing the sick and setting the captive free). Such a hope and such an effort is not only the height of human pretension, but it has always invited Christianity to align itself with decidedly unchristian forces pursuing the same ends—because, of course, it is the temporal end of defeating biological hunger which is falsely kept in the forefront.

Anarchism, properly understood, provides an alternative social ethic. Unfortunately, the temptation toward quietism is great for anarchists, and accusations of quietism make the temptation toward activism even greater. Rightly employed, however, anarchist thought invites Christians to take the possibility of achieving total implementation of the Kingdom out of the picture. In fact, at the heart of anarchism is both a hearty pessimism about human ability to achieve anything, especially the aims of the Kingdom, and the eschatological mindset which makes attempts to achieve those aims nonsensical anyway. What Christian anarchists are left with is a clear command to engage in social ethics without any confusion about whether or not society can be redeemed through our efforts.

Instead, the anarchist social ethic—active without being activist—insists that the hungry are fed as a critique of contemporary human (and therefore futile, transitory) structures of power and as a witness to the church’s proleptic experience of the eschatological Kingdom. We feed the hungry as a condemnation of a world which has refused to feed them in spite of protestations that it is within their power and as an invitation to the hope that there is a God who can make good on His promises. With this in mind, quietism can be ultimately rejected as a false Christianity which, in neglecting its social duties, is in fact neglecting the very proclamation of the Gospel, the living homily which calls people out of the flawed, oppressive, and dying world and into a community oriented toward the perfect, liberating, and eternal Kingdom. At the same time, this social ethic can never follow activism down the path of unholy alliance with the coercive and incompetent methods of secular attempts to solve social problems out of a misguided, optimistic, and ultimately idolatrous humanism.

This is not to say that Christians cannot or should not praise or even participate in efforts toward social justice out of some vague judgment that Christians can only be involved in Christian charities. (Although, if Christians were doing social justice right, it would be everyone else who would be coming to us to get involved and not the other way around.) It merely means that the social ethics enjoined by Christ and incumbent upon all Christians are not an end unto themselves to be pursued by any means and with any company. Almost more importantly, the social aims of the Kingdom are certainly and necessarily beyond the scope of human power to achieve, and any confusion on that point is an invitation to idolatry: the belief that if we just work hard enough, there are human solutions through which every little African baby will be cured of AIDS and every American can have health insurance and all God’s children can eat their fill of organic, free-trade flaxseed burgers. We pursue social justice not because we can achieve it but as a testimony to our participation in a kingdom and commitment to a king Who, greater and more faithful than human governments, can do all we ask or imagine.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Anarchy in May: Tolstoy on Moral Culpability

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
The previous quote from William Lloyd Garrison was drawn from Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. Unsurprisingly, Tolstoy himself--regarded by many to be the seminal figure in modern Christian anarchism, probably more for his notoriety than any novelty or innovation on his part--had plenty to say on the subject of the Christian relation to the state. While volumes could be filled with such quotes (and they are), consider this brief statement on the nature of moral culpability as it relates to citizen participation in civil government:

There are some people, who, without any definite reasoning about it, conclude straightway that the responsibility of government measures rests entirely on those who resolve on them, or that the governments and sovereigns decide the question of what is good or bad for their subjects, and the duty of the subjects is merely to obey. I think that arguments of this kind only obscure men's conscience. I cannot take part in the councils of government, and therefore I am not responsible for its misdeeds... Indeed, but we are responsible for our own misdeeds. And the misdeeds of our rulers become our own, if we, knowing that they are misdeeds, assist in carrying, them out. Those who suppose that they are bound to obey the government, and that the responsibility for the misdeeds they commit is transferred from them to their rulers, deceive themselves.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Anarchy in May: Garrison on the Consequences of Non-Resistance

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
The previous entry was my own summation of some core principles of Christian anarchism, structured by Vernard Eller. Offered at length below is William Lloyd Garrison's own restatement of Christian anarchism. Garrison, noted primarily in history of his abolitionist activities, in 1838 laid a proposal before the Society for the Establishment of Peace Among Men that outlined his view of how peace ought to be pursued. For Garrison, unlike Eller, the Christian anarchism he ends up espousing is not an overarching program pursued for its own merits. Instead, like so many others, Garrison comes to Christian anarchism primarily because he sees it as the only logical conclusion when the principles of non-resistant pacifism (drawn from Matthew 5) are applied to civil ethics. Nevertheless, the conclusion is undoubtedly an expression of Christian anarchism as defined earlier. Consider this redacted Declaration of Sentiments that Garrison rallied other non-resistants behind:

We do not acknowledge allegiance to any human government. We recognize but one King and Lawgiver, one Judge and Ruler of mankind. Our country is the world, our countrymen are all mankind. We love the land of our nativity only as we love all other lands. The interests and rights of American citizens are not dearer to us than those of the whole human race. Hence we can allow no appeal to patriotism to revenge any national insult or injury…

We regard as unchristian and unlawful not only all wars, whether offensive or defensive, but all preparations for war; every naval ship, every arsenal, every fortification, we regard as unchristian and unlawful; the existence of any kind of standing army, all military chieftains, all monuments commemorative of victory over a fallen foe, all trophies won in battle, all celebrations in honor of military exploits, all appropriations for defense by arms; we regard as unchristian and unlawful every edict of government requiring of its subjects military service.

Hence we deem it unlawful to bear arms, and we cannot hold any office which imposes on its incumbent the obligation to compel men to do right on pain of imprisonment or death. We therefore voluntarily exclude ourselves from every legislative and judicial body, and repudiate all human politics, worldly honors, and stations of authority. If we cannot occupy a seat in the legislature or on the bench, neither can we elect others to act as our substitutes in any such capacity. It follows that we cannot sue any man at law to force him to return anything he may have wrongly taken from us; if he has seized our coat, we shall surrender him our cloak also rather than subject him to punishment.

We believe that the penal code of the old covenant—an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth—has been abrogated by Jesus Christ, and that under the new covenant the forgiveness instead of the punishment of enemies has been enjoined on all his disciples in all cases whatsoever. To extort money from enemies, cast them into prison, exile or execute them, is obviously not to forgive but to take retribution.

The history of mankind is crowded with evidences proving that physical coercion is not adapted to moral regeneration, and that the sinful dispositions of men can be subdued only by love; that evil can be exterminated only by good; that it is not safe to rely upon the strength of an arm to preserve us from harm; that there is great security in being gentle, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy; that it is only the meek who shall inherit the earth; for those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.

...We shall submit to every ordinance and every requirement of government, except such as are contrary to the commands of the Gospel, and in no case resist the operation of law, except by meekly submitting to the penalty of disobedience.

But while we shall adhere to the doctrine of non-resistance and passive submission to enemies, we purpose, in a moral and spiritual sense, to assail iniquity in high places and in low places, to apply our principles to all existing evil, political, legal, and ecclesiastical institutions, and to hasten the time when the kingdoms of this world will have become the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. It appears to us a self-evident truth that whatever the Gospel is designed to destroy at any period of the world, being contrary to it, ought now to be abandoned. If, then, the time is predicted when swords shall be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and men shall not learn the art of war any more, it follows that all who manufacture, sell, or wield these deadly weapons do thus array themselves against the peaceful dominion of the Son of God on earth.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Priest Single-Handedly Boosts Birth Rate

Here is an odd, touching, wonderful story about a prelate who, ironically, takes the imperative to "be fruitful and multiply" very personally. In addition to having perhaps the most adorable picture of a baptism as accompaniment, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports:

The patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church presided over the baptism of hundreds of babies in a Tbilisi cathedral on Sunday as part of an effort credited with helping raise the birth rate in this former Soviet nation.

Patriarch Ilia II has promised to become the godfather of all babies born into Orthodox Christian families who already have two or more children. Since he began the mass baptisms in 2008, he has gained nearly 11,000 godchildren.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has said the patriarch deserves much of the credit for the rising birth rate, which in 2010 was 25 percent higher than in 2005. The number of abortions also declined by nearly 50 percent over the same five-year period.

Parents of the 400 babies baptized by an array of priests Sunday said the patriarch was instrumental in their decision to have a third or fourth child.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

An Anarchist Manifesto

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
Below, I would like to offer a summary and adaptation of Vernard Eller's twelve "basic principles of Christian Anarchy," which he adapted and expanded from Jacques Ellul. Admittedly, I have some reservations about some of Eller's points, and what follows will often gloss over or actively change those aspects in an effort to give a depiction of anarchism which I think more nearly aligns with the Christian ethos. Additionally, it warrants mention that I by no means believe that these twelve represent the best or even most basic aspects of Christian anarchism. There are principles which I would include that Eller did not. There are omissions that I would have made, even omissions of points with which I wholeheartedly agree, simply because I do not think they are basic or essential to anarchism. With all those disclaimers having been made, however, what Eller offers in this list from Christian Anarchy is a collection of important statements and clarifications about the shape of anarchism particularly suited as an apology for those facing uninformed criticisms about what it is to be a Christian anarchist.

  1. In Christian anarchism, the separation from and eventual dissolution of human governments is not an end in itself.  It is only ever endorsed and pursued with the aim of making room for and anticipating the ultimate and absolute reign of God.
  2. Christian anarchists are not concerned with commending anarchism as a political system superior to contemporary power structures.  As a rejection of humanly devised political systems, it would be hypocritical to propose political anarchism as an alternative to traditional hierarchical systems.
  3. Christian anarchism does not even suffer from the delusion that anarchism is viable for secular society.  It admits that human structures are a necessary (or at least efficient) means for ordering a humanist world.
  4. As such, Christian anarchism sees no particular threat in the existence of human structures of power.  The danger is only in accepting the legitimacy of their claims to power and mistaking for real the illusory authority they purport to possess.
  5. The problem with human structures of power is not that they are "of the devil" necessarily, but that they are human.  Just as humans are invariable sinful so to are the governments they construct for themselves.  Just as humans are only redeemable in dying to themselves and being reborn to God, so anarchists look for an eschatological death of human powers and the fulfillment of the divine Kingdom.
  6. Just because all structures of power are equally human (and therefore necessarily sinful) does not meant that all structures of power are equally evil, at least not teleologically.  In recognizing that the the United States government is not righteous and inevitably corrupts whoever participates in it, anarchists are not prevented from appreciating moral distinctions between the USA and Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.  It is possible to be aware of and even grateful for human governments that are less overtly atrocious than others without endorsing, participating in, or falling at the feet of any human government.
  7. The purpose of Christian anarchism is not to actively attempt to unseat or overthrow human governments, even as their dissolution is earnestly anticipated.  As already mentioned, Christian anarchism is not intended to be an alternative political system and recognizes that pure, political anarchism is untenable as a large scale social system.  Since it would be impossible for humanity to implement anything but a human government, it would be hypocritical to attempt by human effort to replace world governments with anything else.  What's more, the very notion of actively overthrowing a human government implies an appropriation of the very coercive and sinful means that mark human governments as incompatible with the Christian religion.  "To undertake a fight against evil on its own terms (to pit power against power) is the first step in becoming the evil one opposes."
  8. This unwillingness to attempt forcibly to overthrow human governments does not translate into apathy toward their evils or silence about their injustices.  "[Christ] challenges every attempt to validate the political realm and rejects its authority because it does not conform to the will of God."  Christian anarchism is not retiring simply because it refuses to incite political revolution.
  9. Just as it is not silent about the evil of government, it is not apathetic about the injustices in society.  Anarchists are not so lost in the eschatological vision of a God who is going to "settle things in the end anyway" that it lacks the grounds for social engagement.  In truth, it is the eschatological vision of a legitimate power structure and the church's proleptic experience of that reality on which the social ethic is grounded.  Anarchists seek to be like Jeremiah's exiles in Babylon, to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf."  Such a social conscience cannot, however, be construed as an endorsement of the legitimacy of Babylon.
  10. Christian anarchists are not ignorant or afraid of politics, not if they are responsible Christians.  Anarchists are always willing to engage with human governments, but always as outsiders, always true to their critique of finite structures of power, and always aware of the ethical dangers involved in political contact.
  11. Christian anarchism is active but not activist, clearly and definitely engaged in the world without any false pretension about the scope of human ability or goodness.  It is eschatological rather than utopian, recognizing that the human mind is incapable of independently conceiving of what a perfect society might look like.  It is narrowly rather than broadly focused, thoroughly skeptical of any suggestion that changes at the top might invoke a systemic reformation of society.  Finally it is realistic rather than dramatic; because it is not interested in selling a partisan vision of the world in an effort to provoke action from one end of the spectrum or the other it has the benefit of being able to candidly assess what is and is not in the scope of human ability.
  12. Christian anarchism is committed to the Christian notion of freedom which is distinct from the political notion of autonomy.  Governments, and all human structures of power, cannot give you either, though it is common in the prevailing rhetoric to hear the latter promised under the name of the former.  Christian anarchism, on the other hand, rejects the stress on autonomy characteristic of secular, political anarchism of all stripes in favor of the Christian notion of freedom, the freedom to pursue God and to attempt to enact His will free from any artificial and exterior constraints.  It is, in essence, the freedom from the second master of humanistic politics and the recognition that in trying to serve both, Christians are wont to emphasize that which appears nearer rather than the God who seems distant.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Anarchy in May: David Lipscomb on Virtue in Politics

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
It seems only fitting to begin the month with a quote from perhaps my favorite Christian anarchist of all (though he would have never applied that term to himself), David Lipscomb:

The rule of justice, right and virtue in political affairs is a hallucination or dream that will never be realized.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents

I have lamented in the past that I have not been able (or at least not disposed) to offer a comprehensive statement of my beliefs about the relationship of Christian's to civil government. What follows, as before, is unfortunately still not such a statement--and I doubt that a venue such as this could ever really provide an appropriate means for an exhaustive study of the type I imagine, the type which has already been undertaken by countless greater minds than mine. Nevertheless, I have resolved in May to dedicate extensive space here to a discussion of Christian anarchism and to an exhibition of quotes from Christian anarchists who I respect (even if I do not always agree with their particular variety of anarchism). Because political strains of anarchism are again rising to the top of cultural consciousness as a new generation latches on to their anti-statist, anti-capitalist, or anti-globlization impulses it becomes critical to distinguish Christian anarchism from these human, revolutionary movements.

Christian anarchism is the belief that there is no legitimate source of authority other than God and that, in view of this, all attempts by humans at self-government are illegitimate. As all human structures of power are illegitimate, they can only sustain themselves through illegitimate means, namely the sinful use of coercive force. Insofar as recognition of human governments is the recognition of a false authority (i.e. idolatry) and participation in human governments requires, directly or indirectly, the sinful employment of violence, it is the duty of Christians to abstain from allegiance to them. The Christian anarchist holds citizenship in only one kingdom and swears fealty only to one king, obeying temporal authorities not by virtue of the legitimacy but only in so far as it is consonant with one's duty to the only true, legitimate authority. (In other words, when John F. Rowe snidely inquires whether or not a Christian should pay taxes, we may answer with David Lipscomb, "Aye, as a Christian, not as a citizen of human government; as a part of his religion, as a duty to God, he pays taxes to whatever government he is under.") In all this, the Christian anarchist looks to--without presuming to instigate by human means--the eschatological dissolution of human governments promised in Scripture.

That brief statement leaves a tremendous amount of room for elaboration, but I hope the treatment of Christian anarchism in the coming weeks will contribute substance, both historical and theoretical, to yield a fuller picture of what it means to be a Christian anarchist. The following is a list of entries in this series which will be linked as they appear:

David Lipscomb on Virtue in Politics

An Anarchist Manifesto
Garrison on the Consequences of Non-Resistance
Tolstoy on Moral Culpability
Activism vs. Quietism: Where Anarchism Falls
Bender on the Anabaptist Vision
Chelčický on Romans 13
Romans 13: Love, Vengeance, and Anarchy
Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 1)
Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 2)
Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 3)
Anarchism and the Just Society
Jesus on Ethics