Should Christians Be Anarchists?

So argues scholar Alexandre Christoyannopoulos. Could today’s Christians really handle following the sociopolitical implications of Jesus’s teachings? Via New Left Project:

Leo Tolstoy wrote that: “Christianity in its true sense puts an end to the State.” This illustrates the main idea behind Christian anarchism, which is that when it comes to politics, “anarchism” is what follows (or is supposed to follow) from “Christianity”. “Anarchism” here can mean, for example, a denunciation of the state (because through it we are violent, we commit idolatry, and so on), the envisioning of a stateless society, and/or the enacting of an inclusive, bottom-up kind of community life.

There are many scriptures from the New Testament which provide the foundation for such a view. Arguably, all those passages that touch on politics point to facets of anarchism. The most famous must be the Sermon on the Mount, but much of its content is repeated in the many passages in which Jesus, James, Peter or Paul talk of forgiveness, of being servants or of not judging one another – the state does not do that (or rather we don’t do that through it), and if we did it then the state would anyway become redundant.

But, you might ask, if when it comes to politics, an anarchist stance is what Christ’s teaching and example demands from its followers, why are so few Christians also anarchists? There are many elements to this answer. For one, what Jesus asks of us is seen by many as simply too demanding, too ambitious, too utopian. . Indeed, it’s difficult not to agree with Christian anarchists that Jesus’ radical political demands were betrayed by almost all official churches and their theologians as they became more established and institutionalised.

Despite this, however, there are many examples of Christian anarchist political action, including over the past few years. Since 9/11, for instance, Christian anarchists have conducted public “liturgies”, taken part in direct action and joined broader coalitions to denounce the many angles of “War on Terror”, from Afghanistan and Iraq to domestic restrictions on civil liberties. So, for example: they have “turned into ploughshares” US military warplanes passing through Shannon airport; poured blood outside the DSEi Arms Fair; blockaded Northwood and Faslane; read names of war victims outside Downing Street; “exorcised” the MoD; and campaigned in support of wiki-whistleblower Bradley Manning.

But you can find examples of if not anarchism, at least anarchist tendencies right back to the first Christians. The early churches were persecuted at least in part because they were politically subversive, though they were later co-opted by the Roman authorities and turned into instruments of imperial power. In the late Middle Ages, several millenarian movements and protestant sects (such as the Anabaptists, the Mennonites, the Hussites and the Quakers) endeavoured to apply some of the radical political aspects of Jesus’ teachings.

There really are many scriptures from the New Testament which provide the foundation for Christian Anarchism. The most famous must be the Sermon on the Mount, but much of its content is repeated in the many passages in which Jesus, James, Peter or Paul talk of forgiveness, of being servants or of not judging one another – the state does not do that (or rather we don’t do that through it), and if we did it then the state would anyway become redundant. Then there are all the bitter criticisms of the Pharisees as hypocrites in their application of divine law, criticisms that don’t seem that inapplicable to some church authorities today.

As some Christian anarchists point out, perhaps Christians are to blame for not showing the anarchist way as they were called to. The failure of most self-proclaimed Christians to take up their cross and follow Christ might indeed be partly to blame for the turn, by many of those concerned with social, economic and political injustice, to non-religious (and sometimes strongly anti-religious) doctrines of change.

46 Comments on "Should Christians Be Anarchists?"

  1. Another scripture, cherry picking theorist.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Jun 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm |

      It’s true that the cannonical traditions handed down through the established authorities is a hopeless mess of conflicting messages.  So much so that any interpretation short of outright contempt is going to be an exercise in excision.

      Which should NOT be understood to mean that all passages are equally worthless.  It is possible, using the resources of the archaeologist, linguist, philosopher and social historian to identify distinct polemical threads that run throughout it.

      Guys like Albert Schweizer and John Dominick Crossan have developed a sound tradition of critical Biblical analysis and provide the discerning reader with an objective basis for identifying those specific passages which most likely reflect the contemporary teachings and actual words of the Historical Jesus.  And they are worth listening to.

      But not because they depict the Historical Jesus as some omnipotent Avenging Warlord, intent on imposing a new political order on the world–but because they represent the (re-) birth of a new, anti-authoritarian strain into the tradition of western philosophy and ethics.  It really doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus literally “rose from the dead”, as per later traditions of church propaganda.  What matters is that Jesus was a wise man who understood the power of compassion in the quest for a better society.That almost always gets lost in the super-charged political fight surrounding the interpretation of the Jesus tradition.  It’s hard for most people to maintain the objectivity needed to see what’s really important about Jesus.  About 99.99999% of folks base their interpretations solely on:

      1.  Frustration with the amount of effort required to understand what Jesus actually said,


      2.  Fear or hope of the common misunderstandings of later accretions to the Jesus tradition.

  2. I once met a christian anarchist. He was here in exile from a foreign land where he had not been allowed to practice his religion. He lived on a beach-side bluff in a little house made of sticks and ate squirrels. Should Christians be anarchists? No, they eat squirrels! Squirrels should be anarchists and they should eat Christians!

  3. Watch out for Antinomians!

  4. Anti-Theist Atheist Anarchist | Jun 9, 2012 at 11:45 am |

    No Gods!
    No Masters!(A)//(E)

    • ….By saying that; doesn’t that mean you have submitted your ideas to social/cultural hierarchy and haven’t free your mind to make your own choices and develop your own views (hopeful coming to anarchism)? I mean, all your doing is chirping the views of a dead Russian possible racist. Shouting No Gods No Masters! is then meaningless because you haven’t developed any deep argument to back it up and thus haven’t truly convinced yourself.

      And what if a Religious person wishes to join an Anarchist movement?  Will you lay a hand on them and force them give up their beliefs, verbally or physically because then…well you’d be a tyrant. What would it matter if they did anyhow if they believe in a classless free society with no state to rule their lives? Look I’m not haven’t a go at your views and I don’t want to cause an internet debate since no one wins in those. Just go away for a bit, think about things, observe and come back. If you feel the same way fair enough, no harm no foul. If you don’t then again no harm no foul. Having previous statements and quotes to back up your feeling, ideas and arguments is good but if you just chirp them then you don’t really believe in them.

  5. Jin The Ninja | Jun 9, 2012 at 12:10 pm |


  6. Anarchy Pony | Jun 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm |

    What I don’t really get is; how can they be? I suppose they could be in a sense that they are rejecting Earthly human authority for divine authority, but they would have to be rejecting most if not all of the old testament. Which is not in itself a bad thing, cause it’s a pretty awful set of documents, but does it not lead to something of a Christian identity crisis if it is abandoned?

    • Calypso_1 | Jun 9, 2012 at 1:16 pm |

      From a Gnostic viewpoint it can make sense.  Individual access to higher-self and gnostic revelation subsumes authority structures both temporal and divine (as interpreted by those in the temporal realm).  Such schools of thought often speak of the removal of ‘laws’ as the individual assumes greater immersion in the spirit, resulting ultimately in emancipation from even the physical properties of the world.

    • Senleewashington | Jun 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm |

      You’ve overlooked a key part of the OT, in the transition from Judges to Kings.

      The Israelites had no central government, but since the nations around them did, they wanted one, too. God said this demand was a rejection of His authority. He warned the Israelites that having a king would lead to:
      -Military drafts
      -Corruption and theft (although this was already a problem)
      -” When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

      They didn’t heed the warning, and much of the pursuant OT literature was them trying to deal with that bad decision.

      1 Samuel 8

  7. Liam_McGonagle | Jun 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm |

    Well, that’s the central issue in Anarchism as well, isn’t it?

    I guess it comes down to the STYLISTIC APPROACH a person takes–a very subjective matter.  My sense is that most self-described Anarchists do not openly court insanity by taking that label to it’s logically most extreme and absurd conclusion of abandoning all efforts to perceive the world in a coherent fashion.  They merely favor more flexible approaches, which try to comprehend as many mutually compatible points of view as possible, rather than violently insisting on one narrow programme.

    Personally, I find nothing inherently incompatible in Christianity with the practice of Buddhism.  Probably the same applies for lots of other spiritual/psychological traditions.Catholicism or sectarian Protestantism, on the other hand, is another matter.  Those are almost more political than spiritual or psychological traditions, and require a lot more tolerance for contradiction than most are able to bear.  I think it might be important to consider the distinction between Christianity and the traditions of its sectarian (mis-) interpretors.

  8. Liam_McGonagle | Jun 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm |

    [Duplicate posting deleted–mea culpa]

  9. honestthought | Jun 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm |

    for some reason Many Christians view themselves are the moral barometer  of the world.  I am Christian because after careful study, I do believe that Jesus was an incredible being,  I do realize that his story ws found in other religions, or cultures.  it could be the same being.  However, it is not easy being Christian.  It is difficult when those who are Christian are bigoted, ignorant and have so little moral character.  

  10. DeepCough | Jun 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm |

    Christian anarchy? Y’all realize that Christianity is quite possibly the most Establishment religion on the planet, having, uh, established numerous monarchies all over Europe, the oldest of which is the Vatican.

    • Mr Willow | Jun 10, 2012 at 4:25 am |

      The Vatican was established by authoritarians who convinced the masses that a clergy is needed for people to have a relationship with god. The monarchy was a means of the Vatican influencing the regions of Europe through claiming the kings had a divine right to rule, acting as ethereal emissaries of divine authority, malleable faces of earthly authority, and a means to extend the reach of the popes’ manipulation, since all the kings ultimately answered to the Holy See. 

      If you reject the idea of any sort of clergy being necessary in relating to any manner of ethereal, divine, or spiritual entity, it is a statement, and example, of anarchist theology. 

      • DeepCough | Jun 10, 2012 at 8:27 am |

        See, the clergy very much understands that, that’s why society espouses religion: it gives people an outlet, so as to make them less anarchistic. A god or set of gods has
        always been a part of state authority, and this goes all the way back to the time of
        the Pharaohs. I’m not saying you can’t find anything at all in the Bible that’s anti-establishment (case in point, the Book of Revelation, because it tends to just drive a lot of people crazy), but for a religion that was espoused by the emperors of the Roman Empire until its demise, I find Christianity hardly anarchistic, save for those few sects of Christianity (Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance) that are anarchistic for their own narrow interpretations of Biblical scripture.

        • Mr Willow | Jun 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm |

          Sure, if approached as a religion of Roman Imperialism, to subdue the world under one belief system—if if such a goal is done under the intent of unity—then Christianity is inherently authoritarian, even totalitarian. 

          However, there were many Gnostic sects that existed prior to Constantine’s wish to unify the theology of his empire, and before St. Paul sought to impose his interpretation of the words attributed to Jesus upon the rest of those followers (or admirers). 

          Such sects encouraged personal spiritual exploration, personal interpretation of the words the spiritual philosophers of which they were familiar presented (the most prominent, of course, being Jesus), personal relationship with god, which no other corporeal authority could judge or interfere with. 

          • DeepCough | Jun 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm |

            “save for those few sects of Christianity….that are anarchistic for their own narrow interpretations of Biblical scripture.”

            I’m aware of the anarchist sects of Christianity, Willow, and I also point out the anarchist screed inherent within the Book of Revelation, which still captures the imagination of Christians and non-Christians alike, as it was a nasty diatribe against the Roman Empire (but that’s also one reason why the Catholic Church and Martin Luther did not acknowledge it as Gospel, for one thing).

        • Not always. 

          In many times and places religion has formed the social backbone and spark of anti-authority. Like all ideas it depends on whose ideas are in control of the minds at the moment.
          One thing that should be remembered is that the word Bible means “books”. Desmond Tutu once told people to view the Bible therefore as a library rather than a signal text and thus open to many interpretations and when you deal with any philosophies (religious or secular) they are always going to be narrow in interpretations

  11. Christian anarchism is an oxymoron. It is trading the rule of the state for the rule of a singular omnipotent tyrant.

    • Jin The Ninja | Jun 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm |

       well you can choose to ignore an entire tradition of religious and communal anarchism, but that doesn’t mean the history does not exist to support it.

      • DeepCough | Jun 9, 2012 at 10:28 pm |

        Codified Christianity is an Establishment religion, brought on by the Council of Nicaea, that sought to define the nature of the Christian God. The biggest proponent of monotheism during the latter years of the Roman Empire of Constantine, who found that the only way to rule the flailing Roman Imperium was to consolidate authority into one position. Christianity has lent itself since then to a whole lot of absolute monarchies throughout Europe and parts of Asia.

        And let’s not forget how the story of that philanthropic anarchist “Jesus Christ” ends: with him dying on a cross, crying “Father! Why have You forsaken me?!”

        • sonicbphuct | Jun 11, 2012 at 11:39 am |

          generally, I enjoy your thoughts – however, here, I am left disappointed and really dissatisfied. If the question was: Can an institution built on hierarchy be anarchists? Then your response might be applicable – however, it is Should Christians – those who profess to follow the teachings of one (or three) Jesus Christ of Nazareth – be Anarchists? Of course, we can always point to Stalin as the failure of Communism, our Current whatever-the-hell-it-is as a failure of Capitalism, but much like the Gospels and other (arguably as valuable if not more) texts of the times, most “capitalists” have never read “The Moral Sentiments of Men”, let alone, “The Wealth of Nations.” Neither have most of the self-proclaimed communists ever read “Das Kapital” or the wealth of literature from Marx & Engles.

          Then again, one should not expect others to think deeply, or read the philosophy’s literature itself, on any particular subject just because it may happen to be Anarchy. And most certainly not consider the time frames and historical context in which the philosophies arose. That might give rise to doers and not just sayers.

          • DeepCough | Jun 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm |

            Look, everyone starts out a revolutionary or an anarchist or just a plain ol’ upstart, but eventually, people come to realize that the purpose of trailblazing is to make a path easier to tread. In other words, Christian anarchism, which led to the destruction of a lot of “pagan” structures and works of art from the Roman Empire, for instance, could not help
            but lead to a Christian establishment (As in Heaven, so on Earth, to paraphrase). And I’m glad you enjoy my postings, but I stick to my guns on this one. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist; and if you show me a “King of Kings” I will show you a demigod emperor.

    • Calypso_1 | Jun 10, 2012 at 3:23 pm |

      but it should not be, as it predates xtianity becoming state religion.

  12. Hey it is Jesus Che, or Che Christ if you prefer, on the poster there!

    Give Caesar what is Caesar’s?? I recall that Jesus said something along these lines.

    • sonicbphuct | Jun 11, 2012 at 11:53 am |

      Give unto Ceaser what is Ceaser’s, give unto god what is god’s. Some questions to help your through your analysis: What thing might be Ceaser’s, and what thing might be god’s? Who is Ceaser and Who is god?

      More than that, check into some context: What question was this in answer to? Who was asking the question? Was there a subtext in the question that may be played out in the answer as well?

      • Jesus implied they should pay the tax. But as is too often the case with that Bible, the context and the quote are… less than satisfying. I can say with certainty that Caesar is the most powerful head of government of the Roman Empire which ruled with a brutal iron fist and the Jews, Jesus’ people, were subjects against their will to the Empire. Then you ask me who god is… Lol

  13. Alan Morse Davies | Jun 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm |

    Libertarian Socialist I think best serves the vision of the JC character, and the much older deity character he’s based on, Horus.

    • AHHHHHH NO! NO NO sorry, sorry, being rude don’t mean to be.

      Right I did some study in comparative religious a few years back (nothing major, just of my own bat) and while the rebirth aspect is common between the two there is very little between Jesus and Hours….fecking Zeitgeist, can hear James Campbell rolling in his grave over the first part of that film.

  14. Alan Morse Davies | Jun 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm |

    If you’re a Christian, you can’t also be a Capitalist.  I despair at the cognitive dissonance in people that see any compatibility between these two faiths.

    I don’t believe in either but I do see the corruption of both. The problem is “faith”… the word has weight, mostly positive.  Faith means that despite your own life experience or empirical evidence to the contrary you continue to believe the same thing.

    I call that stupidity, no matter how intelligent you are.

    • Senleewashington | Jun 10, 2012 at 9:12 pm |

      To me, faith means–among other things–recognizing the world as a thing outside our own subjective life experiences, and also acknowledging the possibility that empiricism is a worldview derived from the old aristocratic need to control fate and history.

      • Alan Morse Davies | Jun 12, 2012 at 10:32 pm |

        Agree somewhat on collective empiricism, but faith in a view of the world that directly contradicts your personal, subjective experience I have an issue with.  Put aside everything you’ve experienced and buy into someone else’s subjective view of the world?This kind of faith is what causes large numbers of poor Southern voters in the U.S. to vote Republican even though it’s directly counter to their interests.

        • Well that’s not really faith, that’s fear. Fear that the government will take what little they have away, fear that they’ll be murdered in their beds by what ever form the eternal “Other” is at the moment.

          They say Reason is foe of Faith but I don’t think so (ask any Deist). Its Fear. Faith makes you go out, feed the homeless, protest wars, demand social justice. Fear makes you vote for the man that will let you buy more guns, distrust change and think anyone who isn’t like you is going to steal your job and your lover.

        • Well that’s not really faith, that’s fear. Fear that the government will take what little they have away, fear that they’ll be murdered in their beds by what ever form the eternal “Other” is at the moment.

          They say Reason is foe of Faith but I don’t think so (ask any Deist). Its Fear. Faith makes you go out, feed the homeless, protest wars, demand social justice. Fear makes you vote for the man that will let you buy more guns, distrust change and think anyone who isn’t like you is going to steal your job and your lover.

    • sonicbphuct | Jun 11, 2012 at 11:09 am |

       my favorite Capitalist usurpation of Jesus’ teachings was the parable of the land owner offering the same pay to each person that came to work on his farm regardless of if they showed up in the morning or came late in the day.

      however, I would argue faith isn’t what you say it is – what you describe is, in fact, cognitive dissonance. Faith is a mixture of hope and belief and is applied when the variables at hand are too numerous to know or to effectively calculate. Unfortunately, the kind of calculator most people have has not followed Moore’s law, rendering them much more dependent on faith.

    • DeepCough | Jun 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm |

      Actually, Calvinists (paleoconservative Protestant Christians from Europe who followed the teachings of John Calvin’s interpretation of Biblical scripture) are the ones who are responsible for establishing modern Capitalism. And don’t forget the “Prosperity Gospel” that has filled the collection plates of Evangelical ministries the nation over.

    • Anti-Crowley | Jun 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |

      Wrong Davies.  Faith as in “I have faith that my brother will be here on time.”  Faith is a statement of trust in someone or something that has proven itself to be reliable.   You defined the term yourself and then declared it stupid…now what was the term for such an act?

    • Anti-Crowley | Sep 18, 2012 at 11:02 pm |

      Oxford def of faith:
      complete trust or confidence in someone or something: 

      I do agree however that the definition you fabricate is stupid.

  15. Lucifer Rising | Jun 11, 2012 at 8:31 am |

    It’s hard to say because there are many different strains of Christians and multiple varieties of anarchists, i.e. peace-punks, bomb-throwing Italians in bowler hats, etcetera. Jerry Falwell and Torquemada and such-like are certainly nothing like any anarchists I’ve ever seen, but people into mystical Christianity sort of are. In one of his books Thomas Merton said the desert fathers were basically anarchists, but he qualified his statement to mean that mostly they were just outsiders who fled society. I wish I had the book because as I recall its introduction was very lively and engaging…. 

  16. Simiantongue | Jun 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm |

    Christianity can at times be anarchistic in it’s institutional cultural construct. But ideologically it’s core concepts, first principles, are authoritarian.  As in most human constructs there is something for everyone.

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