Written for the Christian Anarchist workshop at the Brisbane Anarchist gathering Jan 2013
Christian anarchists believe that Jesus and the disciples were anarchists or strongly implied anarchism in their words and deeds as recorded in the new testament. Christian anarchists believe there is a line of continuity between the first century anarchist gospels and the 21st century Christian anarchist movement, that modern Christian anarchism is loyal to the original Jesus anarchist tradition.
Where Christian anarchists tend to get vague or confused though, is explaining how the radical anarchist tradition of Jesus was transferred to us today. Somehow it is assumed to have been passed along through a long line of the religious institutions of the most tyrannical imperial regimes the planet has ever seen. The myth of apostolic succession that provided Caesar and the Popes with a divine mandate to conquer the whole world is the same myth that authorises the Roman interpretation of the bible and basic tenets that even radical christians believe today.
Let me be clear, this is not an anti-Catholic rant. The protestant sects have faithfully replicated the basic doctrines of Caesar’s church and are just as much adherents of the religion of Caesar as those loyal to the Bishop of Rome. Protestants might give their religious allegiance to a variety of monarchs instead of the Pope but the theology of the state and empire is the same. While protestants might argue about transubstantiation, they still embrace the Eucharist as the centerpiece of the universal church – a ritual created by Constantine based on the Hellenic tradition of summoning the Gods to a feast, to replace the Biblical Passover, a celebration of indigenous sovereignty that Jesus commanded his followers to observe, because Constantine hated Jews. Similarly the protestants embrace the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as the basis for its faith and belief. The Trinity is a notion created by Caesar’s church derived from the hellenic notion of “Theos” (Zeus – the big old man in the sky) and mentioned nowhere in the bible and very different to the biblical concepts of Elohim – the collective of creator spirits or YHWY – the existential nameless “I AM”.
Jesus was crucified by Rome. There was an indigenous Hebrew revolt against Rome in the 6th decade and in 70 AD Rome re-invaded and began a hundred year war to exterminate all Hebrews from the Holy land. The New Testament was written during this time. It is the most gross of historical insults for Caesar to adopt and adapt the Jesus story three hundred years later as an official religion of Rome, yet this bastardisation of the gospels is what radical and conservative christians alike profess their faith in.
The imperial/colonial church has interpreted the bible within its own cultural and theological frameworks and extinguished the tribal indigenous spirituality represented in the bible just as missionaries have extinguished indigenous spiritualities in colonised societies. Radical Christians have adapted the imperial theology but been as ignorant and dismissive of the Aboriginality of the bible stories as the imperial church has been.
In the last half century the Catholic Worker and Plowshares movements have been the role models of Christian anarchism. Most radical Christians, not just Christian anarchists affirm them as a model of contemporary discipleship. Their Roman Catholic theological and philosophical framework and the model of mission as charity, symbolic protest and public liturgy has largely determined the parameters of theological, political and spiritual consciousness of Christian anarchism.
I assert that the Catholic Worker/Plowshares paradigm is terribly flawed because Its theology, spirituality and basic underlying platform is firmly based in the religious superstitions of Rome, the universal (or “catholic”) religion that was imposed throughout the empires as a framework to demolish indigenous spiritualities. The spiritual basis of the Catholic Worker and Plowshares is rotten at its core.
The models of charity and symbolic action, based on frameworks of the imperial religion, only serves the purpose of reinforcing the ideology and identity of those who engage in such action and is essentially a patronising colonising relationship with the blessed poor. At best it has no impact at all on suffering and injustice and at worst provides an escapist personalist response to social reality that effectively numbs and dumbs any possibility of real political change. The blessed poor are treated as second class communards, clients and guests in hospitality houses and as objectified statistics and reports quoted by self appointed advocates in symbolic protest and public liturgy – just like the mainstream church relates to the blessed poor. The liberation and empowerment of the poor themselves, as promoted by liberation theology before it was extinguished by the artist formerly known as Ratzinger, is largely absent from Christian anarchism.
The Roman-American model of Christian anarchism is a very small box. Over the last fifty years the confines of the box have emerged as a tradition, an orthodoxy and there has been very little exploration or critique of the integrity of the box from within the the radical Christian movement. It is time to look outside the box, to explore and create a relevant spirituality and mode of social engagement rather than regurgitate the new tradition and its symbols.
Right here right now (Oz 2013) there are two sacred resources from which to explore new and relevant modes of spirituality that have been largely ignored by radical christians, these are the ancient tribal indigenous Hebrew dreaming stories of the bible read on their own terms and the ancient spirituality and covenants of the land on which we live.
The bible is a collection of dreaming stories of tribal indigenous Hebrews. Most of it is concerned with maintaining the integrity of the covenant between the land, the people and God – about indigenous sovereignty. Jesus’ first act of public ministry was to declare the Jubilee year, the festival where all Abraham’s land is returned to its traditional owners and all debt is extinguished. The Jubilee Good news of Jesus and the reclamation of ancestors land from colonial domination are of obvious relevance to the ancient covenants of this land on which we live and the circumstance of the blessed poor here.
The Roman-American model of Christian anarchism that has dominated the minds of Australian Christian anarchism is an obstacle to even seeing, let alone participating in a spirituality in some kind of harmony with Gods ancient covenant of this land. The Roman-American model and the traditional Roman superstition must be abandoned and radical Australian Christians need to return to the drawing board, free of two millennia of Roman imperial assumption, to rediscover Jesus, the land on which we live, God and indeed ourselves as humans in real time and space.
I will not speculate here as to what form such a new Australian Christian anarchist spirituality might take although I could pontificate on the matter for hours. Before any meaningful discussion of real life action options can be considered, the Roman christian mind must be born again, the illusions of Caesar’s religion need to be cast off. This, I say, is the overdue priority for the Christian anarchist movement.
Such a re-birth is a very difficult thing for people who have been personally conditioned into the church world view. Many radical Christians have devoted and risked much for their faith in Caesar’s illusions and a spiritual re-birth means a whole identity overhaul, not just a change of opinion. This is not easy, but this is the task that is necessary before any meaningful engagement can be had with the spirituality and social reality of the bible or of this land. The colonial religion and its doctrines simply do not fit into the bible or contemporary indigenous world view. Any attempt to adapt and modify colonial religious belief or indigenous spirituality so that the two can somehow harmoniously co-exist is either a dishonest manipulation or a delusional denial of the obvious.
The next step for radical Christians is truth telling – to ourselves, not some grandiose prophetic exclamation to the powers that be. Tell the truth to ourselves about the bible, tell the truth about the church, tell the truth about the land on which we live. These are all hard truths for those loyal to religious orthodoxy to accept, but it is the truth that will set us free.
If there is any merit in what I have said, the next action step would be a deliberate process of decolonising our spirituality, of re-assessing everything and generating a new spirituality within the frameworks of the real bible, the land on which we live and conceivably new and different sources – all of which are presently systematically self censored by the maintenance of orthodox theology and tradition within the Christian anarchist movement. Such a lid-lifting of the box by Christian anarchists could even be a catalyst for the broader Christian movement to allow the scales of colonial illusion to fall from their eyes,
This of course can be done individually and to an extent it must be done individually. Each of us must deeply consider what we believe and what that means. But the real spiritual power can only come from (at least) two or three gathered in his name – a collective, dialectic, pro-active, creative, generative process. A time of study and reflection, a time of debate, a time of prayer. Then, and only then, will we be able to conceive of any meaningful social action agenda. Without such a radical renewal, our Christian anarchism is just a self serving ego trip that indirectly reinforces the religion and culture of colonial domination of the globe.
p.s. It is not so much a matter of learning a new spirituality but of unlearning the old religion. Only once we have unlearned ourselves can we see with clear eyes a vision unadulterated by our religious and political presuppositions. Who knows what might happen then?
Index and links to other essays – here