THE ASPIRATIONAL POLITICS OF CHRISTIAN ANARCHISM
by Peter Turner (European Christian Anarchist Conference, 2015)
Both Christians and anarchists want to see a better world, a world without suffering, exploitation and oppression, where all men and women act in solidarity like members of the same family. If you are both an anarchist and a Christian you are doubly motivated. The problem is and always has been “How do we get from here to there!?”
My personal view is that you probably never will get to those sunny uplands, but may just have to make do with glimpses. Instead of striving all your life for the impossible, maximise your exposure to and participation in these “glimpses” or temporary moments. Then watch and see what happens. That’s what this article is about.
I write a blog in which I look for overlap between the teachings of Jesus and socialism in all its forms, especially anarchism. In this article I want to explore the striking similarities between the anarchist classic “Temporary Autonomous Zones” by Hakim Bey (i) and Jesus’ favourite topic – the kingdom of God – as described in his own words.(ii)
Neither man uses much concrete language; instead they prefer metaphor and parable, poetry and hyperbole. We find no recipe for ending world hunger, no instructions on building barricades, instead we find longings and aspiration. This is not crap – don’t bail out yet! Bey and Jesus both have their feet in the gutter but they gaze at the stars. They have relatively limited, and therefore more achievable, goals; and who knows where this may lead.
Bey defines the TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) as being an experience of short duration in a small area of the planet. Like a butterfly it is a thing of exceptional beauty which lives an ephemeral life and is gone before you know it. Think Occupy Movement, a squat, a party, an anarchist conference, a forest enclave of eco-saboteurs. All these are already “liberated zones” of sorts, potential TAZs.
“Like an uprising which does not directly engage with the state, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area of land, of time, of imagination, then dissolves itself to reform elsewhere before the state can crush it. The TAZ is the perfect tactic for an era in which the state is omnipresent and all powerful and yet is simultaneously riddled with cracks and vacancies.
Because the TAZ is a microcosm of that anarchist dream of a free culture, I can think of no better tactic by which to work towards that goal while at the same time experiencing some of its benefits here and now.
Fight for the right to party! Let us admit that we have attended parties where for one brief night a republic of gratified desire was attained. Some parties have lasted 2 or 3 years. ‘The seed of the new society is taking shape within the shell of the old’. Isn’t this worth imagining – worth fighting for? Who knows what we might attain!”
I feel Jesus would have liked this because he was a party animal, and because as a teacher of wisdom he would have been well familiar with all those verses in the Old Testament proclaiming that the really good life is one spent sitting out in the evening with a glass of wine in one’s hand, e.g. “Go eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart for it is now that God favours what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7)
Horsley comments “In Mk 2:19 and Acts 2:46, for instance, celebration is shown to be the only appropriate response to the kingdom, and we see Jesus and his companions celebrating the kingdom’s presence with feasting.”
The Kingdom of God
Although Jesus is tantalizingly vague about the Kingdom (he doesn’t tell us whether it has a CEO or a bureaucracy or anything else concrete at all) it obviously obsessed him, and as his followers or even just as students of his teachings it’s our job to try and make some sort of sense out of it all.
Here are a few of his words on the topic.
“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say “Here it is ” or “There it is” because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk 17:20-21)
“The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mk 1:15)
“The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever hearing but never understanding.” (Mk 4:11-12)
“…the kingdom is spread out on the earth and people don’t see it” (Thomas 113:1-4)
“Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s justice and then all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mt 6:33)
Doesn’t that sound like a TAZ?
Christian interpretations of the kingdom
Here are some very diverse views of what that “kingdom” means today.
“Jesus’s alternative social vision. It is a counterworld of unfailing justice, full inclusion, authentic freedom, incredible love, astounding forgiveness, sheer grace and unending peace.” (R.N.Sanders)
Richard Horsley says “The kingdom would also require egalitarian, nonexploitative, and nonauthoritarian social relations”: ‘How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.’ (Mk 10:23).
The “Zingcreed Manifesto” (iii) written by me when I started my blog includes the following lines:-
Line 3 “We believe his (i.e. Jesus’) teachings are still relevant today and that when we apply them in our daily lives we bring the ‘Kingdom of God ‘ into being, however fleetingly;”
Line 4 “We believe this ‘Kingdom of God’ on earth is open to all, whether believers or not, and that it may resemble a utopian democratic republic where no-one has power over anyone else.”
“In ecumenical circles the concept of the kingdom of God, although undefined, played a major role in several contexts. Generalizing, one can say that the notion of the kingdom as an ideal society, characterized by equality, justice and freedom has gradually been accepted. Socio-ethical implications and conclusions critical of church structure and its life and worship are often drawn.”(“Dictionary of the ecumenical movement” WCC Geneva (2002) p.644)
“Human beings are liberated to participate actively in establishing at least signs of the kingdom.” (WCC 1980)
“The way the apostles organised themselves communistically (Acts 2 and 4) after the death of Jesus corresponds to Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom.” (A. Kee, 1990)
Liberation theologians in South America in the 1970s were generally agreed that a home-grown socialist social system would be closer to the kingdom than the capitalist one they were living under.
“The kingdom is a symbol of a cluster of meanings that vary from time to time and place to place.” (R.D. Kaylor)
“To find out what the kingdom of God is you simply live it! The struggle for justice is also the struggle for the kingdom.” (Gustavo Gutierrez)
Luke 7:32 lists the signs of the kingdom in Jesus’ time “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear.”
What are our modern equivalents? Lloyd Geering’s list in the original Post from which most of this article is extracted (iv) gives us plenty to think about.
Note that the kingdom cannot be initiated by people alone. It’s no use setting up networks of cells in every town to implement it, not that that might not help, but in the last resort it requires an inbreaking of God’s grace.
Let’s roll our sleeves up and get down to work, and put aside a good bottle for when we finish tonight! (If you’re inviting me, I love a bit of Aussie Shiraz!)
The named writers in this piece can all be tracked down through the references at the end of the 4 Zingcreed Posts from which this paper is extracted.
These posts in turn can be accessed through the title page of Zingcreed.Wordpress.com. Look in the top left corner below the butterfly.
Click on “Index” and scroll through for “Kingdom” (Posts (i), (ii) and (iv)) and “Zingcreed” (Post (iii))
Titles of Zingcreed Posts referred to in text:
(i) Temporary Autonomous Zones and the kingdom of God
(ii) Jesus’s 15 authentic statements on the kingdom of God
(iii) The Zingcreed Manifesto with numbered lines
(iv) The kingdom of God, a kingdom of nuisances and nobodies
The writer may be contacted at Zingcreed@Yahoo.co.uk