“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the world’s only Christian/atheist blog. This post is the first of several resulting from my weekend at the 10th European Christian Anarchist Conference held at the Catholic Worker Farm in Hertfordshire, just outside London. Zingcreed is happy and privileged to report on the talks given at the conference in the hope that they will thereby be brought to a wider audience of people who might be curious as to what “Christian anarchism” is.
Maybe you will even be interested in coming along yourself next year. Look the conference up on facebook – join the hundreds who get new articles and updates that way.
This post is a summary of the talk given by my old friend Ciaron O’Reilly, who has recently returned to Europe again after spending some time in his home town of Brisbane. He’s the only person I know who has his own Wikipedia page, and his life as an activist is an inspiration to us all.
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”
The life and times of Ciaron O’Reilly
Times were hard in 19th century Ireland: one quarter of the population (2 million out of 8 million people) either died of famine or emigrated. They were part of the British Empire, and they knew exactly what ‘Empire’ meant. It meant death or exile or cooperation with the oppressor….. or resistance. Is it any wonder that over a century later many of Ireland’s sons and daughters, both at home and in the Irish diaspora, should continue to harbour resentment against Empires of all descriptions? Ciaron O’Reilly grew up in Australia, where he saw at first hand the mining of radioactive uranium to make nuclear weapons for the Empire, and the appalling treatment of the indigenous aboriginal peoples. Although they only made up 2% of the population, they were 30% of the prison population (men) or 50% (women). They didn’t have the vote and it was against the law for an indigenous person to share a house with a white person.
Both the Roman Catholic religion and socialist Irish republicanism provided Ciaron with a means to analyse the world around him. Both helped him to make sense of what he saw and it told him what to do about it. For example in the book of Genesis he found themes of Empire and Captivity. In Marxian socialism he found the concept of Alienation which he equated with Sin. In James Connolly, the Irish republican, he found a dead hero and in US anti-war activist Daniel Berrigan a living one. Ched Myers provided the theology for the active wing of the Catholic Workers Movement which O’Reilly was helping to organise in Britain. (He set up 4 Catholic Worker houses of hospitality for the homeless in England, while taking part in anti-war ‘ploughshares’ activities in 3 continents.)
Both anarchism and pacifism were an integral part of his Christianity: denying that would have meant that Christianity was an imperial religion. For him the Christian ethic meant no violence, and not exploiting anyone, either physically, politically or sexually. This was more than just an ethic for the church, it was for everyone, i.e. it is a universal ethic. Being born into a white Australian culture presented ethical problems of its own. He was a privileged person, but the indigenous inhabitants were not, they were persecuted. As Ciaron put it :”Australians have never been good at the guest/host thing: guests are supposed to have certain obligations but when the whites came to Australia they killed their hosts and took their land; now that the whites are the hosts they put new arrivals in prison camps on remote islands. We can only love God by loving people.”
Ciaron was raised an Irish Republican and he was very pleased to get to Dublin this spring for the one hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Uprising against the English. He pointed out that the nickname of “Paddywagon” for a police van was a racist term, and he felt strongly that people should not abandon their identities when they migrated. In an effort to blend in to English society some Irish dropped the O’ from the front of their names (it means “grandson of”) as in “Riley” as opposed to “O’Reilly”. Many abandoned their native tongue and failed to teach their children Gaelic. Ciaron thought this could lead to mental ill health, and quoted “Legion”, the madman in the gospels who internalised the values of the Roman Empire and became full of self-hatred. As for immigrants who came to Britain from all corners of the British Empire, “they are here because we were there, and what’s more we still are there both commercially and militarily.”
Ciaron pointed out that most cities in California had Spanish names (think Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego etc), so how could the US tell Mexican immigrants that they had illegally crossed a border – the border had crossed them! US torture in Iraqi jails like Abu Ghraib had spawned Isil. Back in the cold war, the US worked with Islamic militants to get rid of Arab and other socialists with millions dying in Indonesia and Afghanistan as a result. He had had plenty of time to ponder these issues while in jail. In Pecos on the Mexican border he was the only white prisoner. In Darwin prison 86% of his fellow inmates were aboriginal. He became very aware of accent, of ethnicity and of colour. As a Christian he felt called to practise hospitality, even if that just meant making a new prisoner feel at home in a shared prison cell. In his words “We are called upon to witness to truth, and to keep our egos out of the way. We must be like leaven in the dough, like a light in darkness.” Things would never be straightforward: in the Liverpool Catholic Worker house they had a police spy living for 3 years. Demonising the ‘enemy’ or romanticising the oppressed was a form of racism. One should never expect an easy ride with humans – animals were far easier to work with!
He felt that refugees who came to Europe with high expectations from war-torn lands should not try and integrate into the system here, but rather should challenge the capitalist/military forces that drove them out of their homes in the first place.
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