Christians, Anarchy and Stories That Inspire

Been reading a few different books lately on the idea of Christian Anarchy. What it means, what it means for the Christian, who follows these precepts and what it could possibly have to do with me. I’ve read Living on Hope While Living in Babylon: The Christian Anarchists of the 20th Century by Tripp York and That Holy Anarchist: Reflections on Christianity & Anarchism by Mark Van Steenwyk (who has a new book coming out that David Fitch has written the forward too and just posted recently here). On top of that I’ve recently read Debt by David Graeber and a number of things that he has written. All of this has me leaning really strongly to this kind of disposition to my life as a Christian within theStory, Storyboard and my life in Sarnia.

No mistake or crime is more horrible to God than those committed to power. Why? Because what is official is impersonal, and being impersonal is the greatest insult that can be paid in person.
– Soren Kierkegaard

What I love about reading so much about Christian Anarchy is that the amount of connections to the church and economics and how it’s many of the same concepts that keep popping up. Things like Christians and their involvement in private property, charging interest or responsibility to those that are affected by the things they buy. The themes along spending our lives with the poor afflicted and weak are strong and the stories are always about folks who stood up against oppressive structures and refused to use violence. The Christians whose traditions I long to live in are found in these stories and I think the church is lost without these people. Tripp York in his book writes about Dorothy Day, Berrigan Brothers and Clarence Jordan. All brilliant stories that inspire me.

So here is some quotes that stood out to me. I have hundreds over the few books, but from York and Van Steenwyk here is a mishmash of quotes and quotes they quoted as well.

Despite Jesus’ and the prophets’ continual demand to not only share resources but to give them away, as capitalists we simply have to co-opt out Christianity for a more realistic one. Jesus’ command to the rich man to give away all of his goods, or even half of them, must be interpreted through the lens of our economy which negates any hermeneutic that would have us to take Jesus seriously. Jesus’ declaration of Jubilee, the forbiddance of any of kind of monopolization of land or goods, is, thanks for the Constitution, not realistic. We now have to imagine, we are told, that in terms of his politics of money, Jesus must have meant something else.
– Tripp York

For Peter (Maurin), the notion of work as a practice of turning profit subverted the meaning of work and turned it into a job. Jobs serve the very structure that alienates one form the notion that there can be a common good in which one can place their service. Jobs serve to buttress a factory-based system in which both humans and their objects of creation are reduced to commodities that are on good inasmuch as they can aid in the production of profit for the few elite.
– Trip York

Property is theft.
– Pierre Joseph Proudhon

Anything a person has that goes beyond what the necessity of life requires is stealing from the poor.
– Chrysostom

Shepherds? There is not one in the American Church! They are all upper-management people for the most part. And they are the State’s sheep!
– Philip Berrigan

In this world, history continues not because of what kings and presidents might do but because ravens keep alive a prophet starving in the desert (1 Kings 17) and because even as kings and presidents count their people and take their polls and plan the future, the word of God comes into the wilderness (Luke 3).
– David Toole

It comes as a surprise to most contemporary Christians that the first form of social organization indigenous to the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible was a tribal confederacy that bears some resemblance to “anarcho-syndicalist” vision in modernity. It seems that ancient Yahwists exhibited a profound antagonism toward the centralized political economies and cosmologies of the Babylonian, Egyptian and Canaanite city-states in whose shadows they dwelled. This bias can be seen, for example, in the ancient folktale parodying the Tower of Babel Genesis 11, in which the social conformity of centripetal empire was deconstructed by the Creator’s centrifugal “scattering” of humans into the more sustainable social ecology of diversity.
– Mark Van Steenwyk

Founder of the movement, Gerrard Winstanley argued in his 1649 pamphlet Truth Lifting up its Head above Scandals that power corrupts, that property enslaves, and that freedom is only possible in a society without rulers.
– Mark Van Steenwyk

If a religious group is dominant, they won’t like anti-authoritarian tendencies among its religious adherents.
– Mark Van Steenwyk

YHWH sets up a brilliant economic and political reality, which will follow Jubilee economic practices and, instead of having a centralized government, will employ temporary leadership as need arises. Instead of a king, God dwells among them to rule directly rather than ruling through kings or priests. For example, one of the leaders who emerges, Gideon, tells the people “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”[16] Unfortunately, Gideon’s offspring attempt to set up a dynasty.
– Mark Van Steenwyk

2 Comments

  • Interesting. I just started reading Proudhorn’s What is Property last night.

    However I have to admit, in general, it seems difficult to me to reconcile the hierarchy of traditional religious framework and the abolishment of hierarchy that Anarchy demands. As an aside, I also see bumper stickers here in Oklahoma that read “I am a slave to Jesus”

    So what is your opinion of Paul in Romans 13? When he is talking about submission to governing authorities? Paul, in some of his other moods can come off as a bit authoritarian, and at the very least he has general respect for authority and hierarchies, which seems a bit contradictory?

    Colossians 3:22
    Ephesians 6:5-8
    1 Timothy 6:1-2
    Titus 2:9

    are some other examples

    Is Paul just flat wrong on this concept?

    • Hey Rob, without getting too into it, I think there is lots going on here. Like your verses are there, but then there is also the life of Paul, who was martyred, and Jesus who was put to death by state execution. So there is an element to understanding what this actually means when they say submit, because it can’t just mean do whatever they say. The Van Steenwyk book lays a pretty solid argument out responding to what you brought up here (I have it on Kindle if you ever want it, it’s less than 100 pages).

      A highlight to what you said from his book…

      According to the Anarchist FAQ: So there is a minority tradition within anarchism which draws anarchist conclusions from religion. However, as we noted in section A.2.20, most anarchists disagree, arguing that anarchism implies atheism and it is no coincidence that biblical thought has, historically, been associated with hierarchy and defense of earthly rulers. Thus the vast majority of anarchists have been and are atheists, for “to worship or revere any being, natural or supernatural, will always be a form of self-subjugation and servitude that will give rise to social domination. As [Bookchin] writes: ‘The moment that human beings fall on their knees before anything that is ‘higher’ than themselves, hierarchy will have made its first triumph over freedom.'” …Clearly, a Christian anarchist would have to be as highly selective as non-anarchist believers when it comes to applying the teachings of the Bible…if non-anarchist believers are to be considered as ignoring the teachings of the Bible by anarchist ones, the same can be said of them by those they attack… Moreover the idea that Christianity is basically anarchism is hard to reconcile with its history. The Bible has been used to defend injustice far more than it has been to combat it. In countries where Churches hold de facto political power, such as in Ireland, in parts of South America, in nineteenth and early twentieth century Spain and so forth, typically anarchists are strongly anti-religious because the Church has the power to suppress dissent and class struggle. Thus the actual role of the Church belies the claim that the Bible is an anarchist text.[33]

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