“I hate people. ”People suck.” I hear these phrases frequently these days, and I get it. My favorite comic strip character, a rat, maintains this attitude all the time. When I walk the path by the river, I observe the frenzied interactions of recreationists competing for their personal pleasure on a busy bike path. Astounding disregard for others congeals with courtesy and pleasantries.
Here in Colorado, we love our outdoor recreation, but to our consternation so do lots and lots of other people. It seems that no matter when or what one wants to do, one must now negotiate a crowd, traffic, competing interests, and an absence of civility or sympathy. Get out of the way of my pleasure! Even more so, we are coming to the point where layers of limitations must be applied in order to preserve the outdoor experience. Recreation yes, reck creation no.
These examples are benign compared to the human capacity for astounding cruelty and horror. People, especially groups of people are a problem, and hence the negative sentiment. So it might seem odd to begin my discussion of Christian anarchy by quoting from the recently deceased Russian leader Michail Gorbachev objecting to Russian’s war with Ukraine:
“There is nothing more precious in the world than human lives.”
He adds: “Negotiations and dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and recognition of interests are the only possible way to resolve the most acute contradictions and problems,”
In addition but from a different direction, there is the oft repeated phrase in Orthodox litanies. Christians pray to a God who “without change” is “the lover of humankind.”
God loves humans. There is probably no more of an accurate sound bite for Christian anarchism than that.
Persons over kingdoms, empires, corporations, ideologies, political parties and platforms, economies, theories, policies, systems, algorithms, governments, institutions (even religious ones), efficiency, technology, and egos. All of the above list should serve the human person and allow each a full expression of freedom and creativity.
Persons not profits must be the mission statement of every kind of social organization—corporations, non-profit organizations, NGOs, governments, school boards, political parties, trade unions and associations etc.
In an earlier article—“From Christian anarchy to the mystical as political”—I revisited the Christian anarchy of my young adult life in light of the delightful challenge of Aristotle Papanikolaou’s book The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy. There, I recalled my ongoing negotiation between being a Christian and political engagement. Papanikalou read my article and we had some good exchanges to which he informed me of a newly released book by Davor Džalto entitled: Anarchy and the Kingdom of God: From Eschatology to Orthodox Political Theology and Back.
After reading Dzalto’s book, I’ve decided to embrace once again the term with a few caveats and hence the title of this article. Džalto starts in a similar place as Papanikolaou, rehearsing the history of a “political theology” of the Christian East, and like Papanikolaou, he challenges the Orthodox conception of symphonia, a symbiotic relationship between church and empire, as poorly reasoned and never really implemented. Inevitably, symphonia concedes the Church’s prophetic mission to empire, draining its potency. It results in empire manipulating and subverting the message of Christ for expediancy. (See Papanikalou’s public orthodoxy article.)
I was further encouraged by Džalto’s embrace of Jacque Ellul who was a major influence in my early Christian formation. The prominent books that have influenced my understanding of Christian anarchy all attribute a foundational influence to Ellul.
Džalto’s book culminated and solidified my understanding of political involvement as a Christian, especially since for the last 20 years, I have been immersed in Orthodox liturgical life. My intention here is to clarify Christian anarchy in dialogue with Džalto, Papanikalaou, Verhard Eller, John Howard, Yoder and Jacque Ellul. I’m not claiming these books exhaust the subject, but certainly their combined biography comes close.
I do not claim to exhaust the subject here even in my attempt to synthesize. I write here mainly for my own sake as a guide for political engagement and also as a point of reference for further articles I plan to write in this direction.
Coming to terms with the term Christian anarchy
Eller and Džalto tackle the term Christian anarchy head on especially in reference to Jacque Ellul. As Džalto reminds, the variety of anarchies are as numerous as breakfast cereals. Certainly the term anarchy translates for many into chaos or lawlessness. As incorrect as that is, not much, unfortunately, can be done to dissuade such connotations because fear of collapse vastly outweigh persuasion. We are conditioned to recoil at the sound of it.
Eller helps define anarchy by playing with the Greek term arche. He talks of “arkys” or “arky faith” in a similar way as Džalto speaks of the “logic of this world.” In Greek, arche primarily denotes the beginning or start. It refers to the first in time, rank, importance, value, order or cause. Because of its connection to origins, the word moves easily toward notions of authority, superiority and power.
The Latin counterpart to arche is found in the prefix pre or pri, before. The prefix fills out the idea and brings us closer to our understanding of politics or governess. Words such as prior, primary, or previous connect us to the notion of that which comes before. Even more so, words such as prince, principality, principal, president (presider), primacy, and premier directly connect us to the realm of the political. Notice Eller’s pri word choice in defining “arky.” “Any principle of governance claiming to be of primal value for society.”
Something was put in motion in some distant and mostly hidden past that binds the present and holds the key to the distant future. The weight of the past holds the structures of the present in place.
This primal notion is a profoundly deep-seated and ubiquitous image in human history.
Ultimately and I would venture in nearly every case, a human or a small group of humans organizing and leading a group rests on the smoke and mirrors of that which came before. Human mobilization requires myth or story, and the primary myth of authority or power is firstness or origins. It is a claim to the-source for all access to re-source.
The logic of sequential order holds tremendous sway with us humans, but it is not based on true power, what it takes to energize people. It is based on the misguided notion that what starts the engine runs the engine.
The past is power. I will have to leave to later articles an exploration of why we humans place so much importance on the past to validate the present. Nonetheless, David Wengrow and David Graeber’s recent book, The Dawn of Everything, skeptically explores why and how the idyllic past powerful appeals to us, especially in times when a society experiences collapse, which it always does.
Arky, then, is a claim to rule over something based on origins. That something is social organization. Eller is correct to assert that arky extends to all forms of human organization from the macro—complex and theoretical, all the political/economic -isms and -ocracies—to the micro—practical, haphazard and assumed human social organization like small business, families, and relationships, even within our own psyche. Arky’s spurious claim to span especially over past, present, and future is complete and closed. End of discussion.
Džalto clarifies the claim of arkies as “the institutional exercise of power,” accustomed to exerting force and violence to encompass all things into perpetuity.
Džalto favors the term coercion in connection with arkys. For him, it is the defining characteristic. Coercion derives from the Latin co, together, and arcere, to restrain, enclose, confine, or contain. Arcere is connected to the word ark which connotes enclosure, to hide, keep safe, or safegaurd. Another cognate form of ark is arch which means to bow or bend. To bow or bend together connotes an enclosed circle. The driving force of coercion is the insistence on a closed and binding system. There is no alternative. This way or no way. Džalto insists that the arkies’ reliance on coercion is the fulcrum of disconnect with God and his kingdom. Coercion, Džalto insists, will never get us to the Kingdom of God (Džalto 208).
Wengrow and Graeber pose the closed, hidden nature of arkys in the question: “how did we get so stuck?” Their sweeping historical rehearsal presumes and attempts to demonstrate that humans have an extensive history and habit of not organizing complex human interaction in recalcitrant hierarchies with its accompanying default to the use of force.
Human organization tends toward grandiose claims for itself of being all-in-all in a closed and ever perpetuating system. This accelerates, ironically, the more this is not happening. The not is precisely where the an of anarchy rudely interjects. Social organization is not closed, predetermined, good or bad or “stuck.”
The an prefix of anarchy is a negator, but not a destroyer. This is a critical point. It goes directly at the pretentious claim of all human social structures. The prerogative of human systems to structure life and well-being is not absolute. It is not a closed system. I am an anarchist, but not an anti-archist.
The lyric of Edwin Starr amplifies my point here: War, huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Anarchy (of the Christian kind) is not about going to war with anybody or anything. It is not against law, order, government, social organization, regulation and so on. It is not against idols, Caesar or taxes. To speak euphemistically, it is a war against wars. It defeats power with no power or better put, by deflating power.
Džalto affirms that anarchy is directly related to the Eastern Christian apophatic tradition—knowledge of God is only realized through negation. Anarchy is the negation of infallible claims to primacy, rule, or authority but not elimination of these. The Christian anarchist takes seriously the injunction of Jesus to not resist evil and love your enemies. To be anti-something is to already grant that thing existence and even more so legitimacy and power.
Here, I come to the all important qualifier for anarchy, Christian. There are numerous and sober challenges to the notion of anarchy, and all my primary authors are quite clear about one thing. We are not about choosing a political theory, method, platform, or party. We are about choosing Jesus and seeking God’s kingdom as Jesus models for us.
The Christian anarchist is not primarily motivated by the search for a better politic, and she is definitely not aiming for a perfect or Christian society. Rather, she is motivated by the parables of the hidden treasure (Mt 13:44) and the pearl (Mt 13:45-46), willing to sell all, insisting on the treasure being infinitely more valuable than the cost.
As Papanikalou’s book title suggests, Christian anarchy is not radical; it is Christian. It is not revolutionary; it is Christian. It is not militant; it is Christian. It is not left, right, or center; it is Christian. It is not about elites verses counter elites, or elites verses the proletariat ; it is Christian.
Dźalto boldly asserts that “Some kind of ‘anarchist’ approach to the sphere of the political is the only approach that is consistent with the basic presuppositions of Orthodox Christian theology”(Džalto 1).
Orthodox theology at its core is truly incarnational. It stubbornly yields to the logic of the true God/man. It follows through on the logic of who Jesus is in relationship to himself, to God as Father and Spirit, to his followers, to all humans, to the natural world, and to the future of the humanity.
It is the motivation to follow and imitate Jesus that leads one to engage a critical part of the Church’s mission: to reveal, articulate, and deconstruct the sphere of the political in all its forms “for the sake of living Christian faith in the concrete historical, cultural, and social contexts”(Džalto 3).
As a starting point, I offer this definition of a Christian anarchist: a person in relationship to Jesus the Christ (Christian), and Jesus the Christ’s (king or ruler) relationship to “arkys” (human constructs of rule, power, authority, and governess).
From here, I’ll attempt to fill out the picture.
Foundation of Christian anarchy
Christian anarchy diverges from other anarchies in both its foundational myth of origins (theology), but even more so in its vision of “the end” or goal of humanity, where humanity is headed (eschatology).
Jesus is the only motivation and reason for Christian anarchy, and it is through a long and tortured history that the Church struggles to understand him and be led by him.
Džalto and Noam Chomsky insist on anarchy being a “tendency” that pervades nearly every historical and cultural situation. The negation of “arky” must be equally applied to anarchy itself. It must steadfastly resist rigid identification, formulation, and organization. It is rightly argued that an anarchical tendency in Christian history and institutions are not mainstream. Nonetheless, anarchy’s suspicion of the self-justifying use of power is resilient and persistent. Džalto names a few important figures: Zizioulas, the Cappadocians, Maximus, Heidegger, Sarte, Maritain. We could also add David Bentley Hart and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Several of Jesus’ parables reinforce the apparent insignificant or unassuming energy of the kingdom of God. The images of the mustard seed or leaven in bread are helpful. An anarchic strand motivated by Jesus has a way of influencing without taking center stage. Wengrow and Graeber’s book expand the possibility of such “tendencies” beyond parables, providing examples of non-hierarchical “civilizations” and anarchic-looking social organization. The archeological record give witness to societies and groups who really did say to overbearing and oppressive hierarchical setups, “the hell with this.” As I have argued in previous articles, the anarchic vein runs all the way through ancient Israel’s history as depicted in the bible
One of the strengths of Džalto’s argument for Christian anarchy is his firm grounding in Christian theology, orthodoxy, and especially its eschatology (vision of the future). Džalto asserts that Christian anarchy is grounded in and inherent to the Orthodox understanding of God.
(I am using Orthodox in a broad and proper way, including but not limited to the deeply-embedded cultural regions through out history—Russian, Greek, Middle Eastern and African. Evangelicals and Catholics claim a legitimate orthodoxy in that they affirm the incarnation of Christ and the Trinity.)
The starting point for Christian anarchy is in the very nature of God as three persons sharing the same nature in a perfect union of love. We should take note here that Christian anarchy is not grounded in the past as much as in the Person(s).] Humans are created in this image of God. That truth does not waiver regardless of whether a human knows it or openly rejects it. The very nature of a person’s being is unalterable. The purpose of a human life is to become like God, to share more and more in the nature of God as a communion of love.
God is love, and Džalto’s discussion of Christian anarchy revolves around his understanding of what love is and how it operates. Love drives Christian anarchy, and this understanding of God is grounded in revelation. That Love oozes from the universe is so radically opposite imperial and empirical thinking. Mountains of data and algorithms won’t get us there. It is not something we humans have contrived on our own. When one peruses the violent history of humans, it is literally unimaginable.
Only revealed love can free us from our violent prison of necessity and survival. Only revealed love says that we don’t live by bread alone. God-is-Love supersedes order, cosmic principles, or time. God-is-Love is not bound by any externalities, only internal realities. God-is-Love does not obey grand designs, timelines, or order, even, dare I say, a divine or cosmic plan. God-is-Love has prerogative over rule, authority, law, history, precedent, and all social arrangements, postures, and principles. God-is-Love is the arky that negates and supersedes all humanly constructed arkys.
Orthodox notions of the nature of a human being in relationship to a triune God drives nearly every point of Džalto’s argument for Christian anarchy. Humans were made by Love for love. Critically, the love of a triune God in perfect communion is never fixed or static. It is ever moving toward perfect union. It is, to the consternation of many, progressive. Human existence or “reality” is always a potential, something moving, struggling, emerging. It is a never-ending end. God-is-Love is the “foundationless foundation, the anatural nature, the substanceless substance of Divinity” (Džalto, 162).
Jesus reveals an ideal reality relentlessly and obstinately before us. It was inaugurated in Jesus, when “the true light was coming into the world” (John 1:9) and “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). As Christians, there is no turning back from this. The kingdom of God is an “eschatological” reality that “cannot be established within the boundaries of the world we live in and in the historical process as we know it (Džalto, 1).” Christians do not look for the next revolution; they look for the only and true transfigurement. Resurrection not revolution.
Džalto is adamant on this point as he must be, and we should take heed to his more accurate understanding of the eschaton. Unlike quick-fix online definitions which feed the popular notion of “the end times” where God must submit to a grand will or design in a timeline and use violence to implement it, eschaton equates last things with true things, the fullness of all things. The eschaton is where truth prevails, and truth is admittedly having a very difficult time right now. “The eschatological mode of existence is, therefore, the manifestation of the truthfulness of all particular things”(2), Džalto states. The “last days” or final days will indeed see the complete dismantling of imperial modes of operation. The “final days” is where revealed mysteries come to full expression.
The “kingdom of God” is beyond history, capitalism, socialism, or communism. It is beyond all -isms, -ologies, -ocracies, and -archys. It looks to a different mode of existence, to the very meaning of existence.
Through my many years of trying to live out the Christian faith, I lost sight of its eschatological reality. This is mainly due to two aspects. The first is my reaction to the overly-charged “last days” rapture nonsense that I unknowingly was immersed. Even though I pray it nearly every day, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” tends toward obscurity or dreamy wish. On the contrary, It is a bold affirmation. The kingdom of God, what Džalto rephrases as a new mode of existence, is inevitable. “Your kingdom come” is a declaration not a wish.
Second, the loss of the early Christian focus on the eschatological reality is due to the apparent failure of it to happen fully and immediately within a small window of time. Again, the mistake revolves around God submitting to a timeline. This led the Church to do what Peter suggested on Mt. Tabor: build permanent structures. Peter is roundly rebuked by Jesus, but the Church has gotten over that. Džalto rightly points to Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” for a full picture of how that “logic” works. The Church abrogated its eschatological vision and hope.
Mode of existence
All my Christian anarchist authors affirm a fundamental dualism inherent in the Christian and Jewish traditions. Again, Christian anarchy rejects utopianism and concedes an unavoidable clash of worlds. There is a hardball reality to human living that continues unabated, and Christian anarchy stares it down directly. It does not shirk or hide from it. It does not pretend it doesn’t exist and passively retreat, nor does it say “to hell with the world.” In Orthodox liturgical life, we constantly sing the hymn of martyrs who absolutely confronted the wrongness of the imperial world.
Džalto clarifies Jesus’ dichotomy of “this world” and the “world to come” as more than merely a perspective or paradigm. World mainly refers to a logic (logos), reasoning, or mode of existence. It goes well beyond the political, and that is precisely what Christian anarchy steadfastly focuses on. In a sense, world, mode, or logic is the energy source (power) expended to not only keep things operational but moving.
Džalto defines “world” or “mode of existence” in basic Orthodox terms. Even more so, “world” is a hypostasis—the underlying or foundational substance of existence. Logos and hypostasis refer to the very essence of being and the horizon of meaning. Both push toward an understanding of what is really real, authentic, or true. On the contrary, imperial thinking moves toward camouflage, deception, and trickery. In modern terms, it’s called “spin” or “marketing.”
“This world” (John 8:23, Mt 13:40) claims eternal immutable truths that guide human existence and meaning. “This world” insists incessantly that the way things are, are the way things are. “This world” poses as the only reality, the only thing substantial when in fact it is empty of substance. “This world” drives necessity to absolute supremacy. That is how the world works. Their gods are false, and their kingdoms never-lasting.
The world to come insists on God-is-Love as the overrider of such necessities of survival. It is always moving toward everlasting human potential in communion. Love is ever-elastic and everlasting.
“This world” thrives on wealth hoarding. It always partners with stolen and hoarded wealth at the expense of the poor and exalts greed and pride as the dominate passions. The world to come thrives on a common wealth where accumulation is only for distribution, the poor do not exist, and the needs of others supersedes all other values.
“This world” thrives on slave labor—impersonal, alienating, dehumanizing. It thrives on a negative view of humans and their labor. Humans are lazy and pathetic. They will only work if coerced, robbing them of dignity. They only live to eat, drink, and rabble-rouse. They exist to serve the few. Quite a bit of ancient mythology pictures gods and goddesses who view humans in such a fashion. Humans only exists to serve the gods, who are coincidently characterized as self-obsessed rivalrous elites. Huh!
The world to come understands that humans want and need to work, and that it can be creative and meaningful especially when it is motivated by love, not fear. Labor serves the other not profits. It is an expression of personhood, not an individualized ego. It affirms human worth and dignity as the parable of the laborers in the field reflects (Mt 20:1-16). All work. All are compensated.
“This world” moves toward complex and specialized social organization that gets “stuck” in hierarchy, builds walls to protect it, and posts “no trespassing” signs to restrict its benefits. The world to come moves toward simplicity and non-ranked and non-privileged specialization. It welcomes “border-crossers” (likely the meaning of the word Hebrew).
The most critical distinction of “worlds” for Džalto and hence for Christian anarchy lies in the logic of necessity of “this world” and the logic of liturgical communion in the world to come.
This world’s logic of necessity places the individualized expression of self as nearly the supreme value which only a few can attain. Only king Gilgamesh embarks on a journey to find the meaning of life. Assyrian rulers were obsessed with an ideal of self-fulfillment that drove them to cruelly and incessantly expand the borders of their kingdom. All of which sounds like entrepreneurial giants of today’s world.
The individualized self places rights and ownership as the highest of values. Self-preservation through exertion of power is assumed as natural and essential. The logic of necessity clamors for the necessity of biological reproduction. More humans, we need more humans (A contemporary equivalent to the biblical pharaoh’s “more bricks, less straw”). After all, how can one find his individualized happiness without cheap, indebted (slave) labor and soldiers to expend in wars of expansion?
The logic of necessity consumes and objectifies humans. It parades endless visions of glorious, utopian kingdoms chiseled to perfection with human sacrifice. The logic of necessity that dominates “this world” only envisions taking. Becoming is out of its purview. “This world” presents death as the only end.
The logic of the world to come is one of liturgical communion, Džalto asserts. The self as person is the supreme value which isn’t acquired but gifted or granted in love. It values and is only discovered through askesis, self-emptying love. Liturgical communion treasures persons, minimizing the demand for rights or a claim to privilege or ownership. It looks only to what is granted, not owed. It operates off of Sabbath and jubilee economics ushering in debt-forgiveness, rest from endless labor, and restoration contrary to creditor/debtor economics. The logic of liturgical communion rejects the striving of perfection where coercion is required. And it presents a never-ending and ever-expanding target of life and love.
The logic of liturgical communion is a logic of aspiration, of what God-is-Love aspires for every person to become. In this sense and in the words of Abraham Heschel: God needs us to fulfill the requirements of love. Love and truth is the perfection to strive for.
Finally, the logic of liturgical communion is a logic of freedom. Džalto is serious about the affirmation of human freedom. He reiterates this throughout his presentation. Personhood, not individualized fulfillment, and the pursuit of love, not happiness, is freedom. Freedom is a fundamental constituent of the human being. Human freedom is the basis of human existence. We are not born first, then (maybe) given opportunities to act in freedom. No. Our very existence identifies our freedom. For Džalto, the only law is freedom, and freedom is characterized by a steadfast resistance to close systems.
Džalto’s near equation of love and freedom dominate his presentation of Christian anarchy. It is simple enough for any of us to understand, and we all do. Love cannot be forced. It must be chosen, actually love requires vigilant and persistent re-choosing. Rinse, wash, repeat: also known as askesis or repentance. Love can only be “pro-life” when it is “pro-choice,” when it is especially freed from the imprisonment of necessity, coercion, suppression, oppression, demand, and command.
Džalto points to God’s creative act in Genesis 1 as a prime icon of freedom. God-is-Love annihilates all our empty and worthless kingdoms of necessity with a bold and creative act: “Let there be light!” Necessity did not require God to make the earth, but Love energized God to create it.
Of course, human freedom creates an uneasy tension with security, protection, and safety, and contrary to “this world’s” notion of freedom, one’s personal experience of freedom can only expand in proportion to the other’s freedom. No more freedom for me, but not for thee, which libertarianism inevitably ends up affirming. Rather it is: your freedom is my freedom.
Tendencies of Christian anarchy
Seek first the kingdom of God
As mentioned earlier, the goal of this article is to synthesize and articulate my own Christian anarchic “tendency” as it developed over my adult life. This struggle spanned 40 years during the apparent conquest of Neo-liberal economics of Ronald Reagan—“government is the problem”—and Margaret Thatcher—“there is no alternative.”
This also spans the time of my growth from a naive seminarian and young minister to a less naive “doctor of theology” as my degree on the wall says.
It also spans the time of my key influences. Honestly, the Bible remains one of the greatest influences for me. My writings should reflect that. There is no document in the Bible that was not generated under the shadow of empire. (See John Dominic Crossan’s book God and Empire). I would argue that part of its inspiration as Scripture is its persistent revelation that imperial gods are not what they appear to be. An even greater and more encompassing source of energy is at work.
Christian anarchy can only remain a tendency to the extent the goal is vigilantly pursued. To reiterate, the goal is not Christian anarchy. The goal is a new creation in communion with the Triune God-is-Love, a goal that cannot be created by humans and requires a new “mode of being.” The more I engage that goal, the more inadequate and inappropriate are social constructs that rely on coercion. For Džalto , Christian anarchy generates a tendency to deconstruct, expose, and dismantle the human quest for power and domination. But even here, this cannot be the primary focus. This is just the natural outcome of communion with God and nature.
I offer below a general and tentative list of basic Christian anarchic tendencies. Christian anarchy:
What does Christian anarchy look like?
A Christian anarchist is a person in relationship to Jesus the Christ, and Jesus the Christ’s relationship to “arkys.”
But what does Christian anarchy look like in a deeply political world? Should a Christian anarchist vote? Join a political party? Run for a political office? Engage in political debate? Protest? Join a monastery? Lobby? Start or join a think tank?
Politics comes from the Greek word polis meaning the city, and where we get words such as policy and police. Its Latin equivalent is civis where we get our words civics, civilization, civilian, and citizen.
The longstanding tension between rural communities and larger, complex urban centers does seem to contribute to notions of politics. The bible attests to the problem of cities being established by “heroes” (strong men - archegos).
The larger and more complex social arrangements become, the more political they are out of sheer necessity. Certainly, a farmer, rancher, or miner can keep a more nuanced distance from the hubbub of large groups of people packed together in smaller spaces.
Rural people, devoid of conservative talk radio, can be characterized by a reticent quiet reserve. A contemplative hesitancy to judge combined with a less rushed and more predictable way of life produces an even-minded, slow to jump on the bandwagon posture. Intensity of political polarization is indeed city centered and market driven. Christian anarchy shares some of that disposition.
Christian anarchy probably does look a little like a recent description of how most Russians view politics. Once again, the city factors in. Russians tend to let politics be politics maintaining a posture of distance and irrelevancy certainly influenced by real geographic and demographic distance. It is similar to many Orthodox and Catholics who simply ignore the injunctions of their bishops. Most people I know keep a certain psychological distance from political engagement, perhaps feeling or hoping it doesn’t really effect their personal lives.
Honestly, good politics should be boring. It is tedious, meticulous work, like computer coding.
It is a mistake, however, to presume one can avoid politics by retreat, avoidance, or cloistering, not if we define politics in broader and in a sense narrower terms. Broadly, politics involves the negotiation between humans in any social arrangement according to the necessities of survival. Rural communities aren’t immune from that. I’ve witnessed firsthand the intense politics that goes on even in the smallest of country churches. Smaller doesn’t mean less or better.
A big problem is that people tend to view only government as political, but not their families, churches, clubs and bars, entertainment, places of work, social media, and all economic arrangements from borrowing your neighbors lawn mower to international trade agreements.
To reiterate, it is precarious having guidelines of Christian anarchy, but even more so prescriptions. Whatever imperfect model we engage in, we must always be looking for the Kingdom of God. Christian anarchy is a process, not a prescription.
During the writing of this article, I have questioned whether the term Christian anarchy is the most helpful. Sometimes my authors talk of power in a restrictive social sense—social or organizational power. But power, as in energy, is a physical fact and one belonging to the world of necessity. Whether I ride my bike or drive a car to work, I am relying on power (energy) sources. Some physicists and anthropologists, are exploring the correlation between energy and the cycles of “civilizations” or even institutions (See Tainter, Turchin below and my article )
Certainly, it appears that the bottom line is not really anarchy, but the relationship of the person to groups of persons. The problem is not archy per se, but the tendency inherent in them. They inevitably move toward closed, totalitarian systems based on some hocus-pocus originalism where the few claim divine status and prerogative over the pathetic, mostly useless unless enslaved proletariat.
Christian anarchy is admittedly not what most people want. The Gospels persistently present Jesus who attacks methodologies and ideologies without offering to replace them. “The parables of Jesus,” says Crossan, “seek to draw one into the Kingdom, and they challenge us to act and to live from the gift which is experienced therein. “But we do not want parables. We want precepts and we want programs.” (See my article "Evangelism at the end of the world")
Crossan insists that the “real” or “historical” Jesus radically and dangerously engaged the world of first century Palestine. There is a tendency to turn Jesus into a policing regulator and official sponsor of our social structures or a Jesus meek and mild who leaves politics to the professionals.
The parables are the critical medium for communicating the kingdom of God. It is how Jesus helps us picture the potential of God’s way among humans. The parables do more to expose us to God’s world rather than tell us what to do.
The parables for Crossan are assaults on all kingdom visions and expectations that shut down or exclude God’s prerogative to act freely, openly, and in harmony with His nature and in turn restrict our capacity to vigilantly remain open and responsive to God. We tend to turn the prayer “Thy kingdom come” into “let me help you with your kingdom come.” Or bottom line, it seductively becomes “my kingdom come.”
Christian anarchy refuses to give up on any new act of God. It rejects the posture that all God’s decisive acts are in the past and resists the default position to simply maintain the world we have. It also means that we default to what “works,” which inevitably means the use of power. Christian anarchy is a refusal to de-eschatologize.
Valuing humanness, personhood, and the kingdom of God is a core mark of the many martyrs and saints of the Church. The Church, despite its despicableness in many ways, has miraculously kept that vision alive. That fact is the bases for future hope that countless humans will more and more reject and refuse the ways we humans have organized.
Perhaps the young Russian conscientious objector being conscripted into an unjust war is one such example. Even though his documented objection was ignored, he writes: I cannot serve with weapons. I cannot kill people and help people who do it” because it was “contrary to my conscience.”
Let consciousness arise! Onward Christian anarchists!
Chomsky, Noam, On Anarchy. 2014
Crossan, John, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus 1992
God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now 2007
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Džalto, Davor, Anarchy and the Kingdom of God: From Eschatology to Orthodox Political Theology and Back. 2021
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Icon of the mocking of Christ
Great exposé. Loved the summary points. " It chooses the “madness of love” over the madness of human coercion, suppression, violence, and enslavement." We follow a radical God who loves us and longs for us with fury, not giving weight to any of our efforts or failures.