327: RED CHRISTIAN DOCUMENTS #23: ‘Christian Anarchism’

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the world’s only Christian-Atheist blog, in which no holds are barred, paradigm shifts are monitored and convergences between Jesus’s teachings and socialism/anarchism/Marxism are plotted. This is a spotty young project – in spite of over 300 Posts and nearly 7000 hits, we have only just started. If you’re coming on board, expect a bumpy ride!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

For an excellent, wide-ranging survey of Christian Anarchism see http://anarchy.wikia.com/wiki/Christian_Anarchism

For a reading list see ‘Reading about Christian Anarchism’ by Keith Hebden on apinchofsalt.org, (date 16/6/14)
Only one book covers the topic thoroughly: “Christian Anarchism. A political commentary on the gospel.” by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos (2011) from which this extract is taken.

For Christian Anarchist views on line check out Jesus Radicals, Ekklesia, and apinchofsalt.org

This is Christoyannopoulos‘s survey of Christian-Anarchist interpretations of the Sermon on the Mount.

Red Christian documents #23:

‘A manifesto for Christian Anarchism’

Jesus’s reinterpretation of the Old Law, for Christian Anarchists, therefore amounts both to a set of indirect, implied criticisms of state  theory and practice, and to a blueprint for the life of the Christian community.
The Sermon on the Mount is thus a political document, a manifesto for a Christian anarchist society. It touches on all the main points of the Christian (anarchist) political vision and how to reach it. Dorothy Day (founder of the Catholic Worker movement) thus writes that the Sermon “answered all the questions  as how to love God and one’s brother.” It amounts to a complete “philosophical, moral, and social doctrine,” says Leo Tolstoy (author of ‘War and Peace’). For him, Jesus gives mankind “practical rules for life” which would lift it from the vicious cycle of violence it is caught in, and move it towards “the kingdom of peace on earth.”

Tolstoy moreover rejects the view that the Sermon, this “vital Christian teaching,” is “impracticable.” He accepts that it might be difficult, but believes that what matters is constant progress in its direction. For him, “These commandments are, as it were, signposts on the infinite road to perfection towards which mankind is moving.” That this road may be difficult does not make the commandments any less binding. Jesus’ words may be “hard words”. quips Peter Maurin (co-founder of the Catholic Workers’ movement) “but the hard words of a book were the only reason why the book was written.”

Of course, to show that this Christian (anarchist) manifesto is not impossibly utopian, those who claim to follow Christ need to live by it. Maurin writes that “the Sermon on the Mount will be called practical when Christians make up their mind to practice it.” Yet as Dave Andrews (Australian evangelical writer and activist) bemoans, the “most vocal” Christians “demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings” but none of them “demand that the Sermon on the mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.” Christians seem to elevate the Old Law as the ideal to live up to, but not the teaching of  the teacher they profess to follow, Christian anarchists wish the same energy and commitment were given to  the Sermon: “What a fine place this world would be,” writes Maurin, “if Fundamentalist Protestants tried to exemplify the Sermon on the Mount.”

Christian anarchists, for their part, do try to exemplify it. Day says of both Maurin and Ammon Hennacy (Catholic Worker activist and writer) that they were constantly guided by the instructions of the Sermon. One writer to A Pinch of  Salt (a now defunct British Christian-anarchist magazine) professes to be trying to take the Sermon literally, and adds that there “is no real justification” for doing otherwise. Andrews describes how the Sermon became his community’s “manifesto” when he lived in India.

In short, Christian anarchists take seriously the political implications of Jesus’ instructions, especially non-resistance of evil. Tolstoy claims that it “should be the binding principal of our social life.” For him, Jesus tells mankind “you think that your laws correct evil; they only increase it. There is only one way of extirpating evil – to return good to all men without distinction. You have tried your principle for thousands of years; now try mine which is the reverse.” Jesus is thus calling for his disciples to transcend lex talionis, to love and forgive evil doers in order for the cycle of violence which has blighted humanity to be overcome. For Christian anarchists, this cannot but require a rejection of state theory and practice. Moreover, they argue that the state  also contravenes – or through it obliges its citizens to contravene – the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. For Christian anarchists, therefore, the Sermon contains “the most revolutionary teaching in the world” (Hennacy). It calls for revolution by its  implied criticism of the state, but it also  instructs Christians on how to behave in order for them to lead that revolution – a revolution which Jesus taught and practiced throughout the rest of his life.

Sources:
Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5
Christoyannopoulos, A. “Christian anarchism” Imprint Academic (2011) p.65

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Red Christian documents #5: Aims and means of the Catholic Worker movement
Red Christian documents #21: My Brother the Communist (Dorothy Day)
Red Christian documents #20: Beatitudes (Dave Andrews)
Tolstoy quotes
‘My religion’ by Leo Tolstoy

[326, indexed & linked, t&c]

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