Why is it hard to live the Sermon on the Mount at work? Why are we constrained to live and act badly in our work lives enough of the time to make Radio 4 level sighs about it? Why do even the most benevolent of companies demand actions and processes that are anti Christ?
Before I go any further, this piece is not a manifesto or an attempt to write anything especially original (is anything I write?) I just want to stimulate debate. And work out if anybody else can resonate with what I’m thinking and feeling.
I have come to understand modern proponents of Christian Anarchism having a discourse something like the thoughts below- which I have put in my own words, because I’m full of myself.
The role of Empire here is the key. It’s a term I never really thought much of apart from equating it to the British Empire and something embarrassing in the past, like what my mother dressed me in prior to 1980. But Shane Claiborne in his book “Jesus For President” says that Empire is as present as it has ever been from the Old Testament and Roman times.
Empire/ Government claims to have a monopoly on violence. Empire/ Government can only exist through the application of law based on violence and imprisonment. Empire/ Government makes us fight in or fund via taxes wars that are all about perpetuating our comfortable lives and living off people who don’t have as much money or guns.
Winston Churchill once said that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” and he wasn’t far wrong.
The church ostensibly ruled in the Middle Ages, and later through Cromwell, and it was either foul and godless or uptight and nasty. Or all four at once. Communism in varying forms has been attempted throughout the world, and in every single case it reduced the country to disaster and collapse (the purer the form, the worse the mess) The two applications of secular Anarchism I can recall (the Ukraine 1918 – 1921 and regions of Spain in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 ) did not thrive.
Whilst democracy, in the short term, is probably the most easy to live with system of Government, its pretty crap. The word itself means “rule of the people” but the ancient Greeks who systemized it didn’t live by that tenet. You only had a voice if you were male, free, rich or good at killing people. And from what I read even if you had all that going for you, the whole thing was so corrupt it was easier to work within a tyranny. Wow. Come to think of it, that’s not far from the truth now. The thing that blows me away about Western Democracy and politicians is the fact they cannot tell the truth. We say this lightly, and with resignation, but why on earth do we endure it? Would we work for a boss as brazenly dishonest? A partner as treacherous 24/7?
Sholto Bynres wrote in the New Statesman in 2010: “We are constantly told that the public wants greater honesty from politicians. A survey (in 2009)…. showed only 13 per cent of the population trust our tribunes of the people to tell the truth - the lowest in Ipsos/ MORI's 26 years of asking the question. But when they do tell the truth, how do we react?...... Honesty is clearly not the best policy. If electioneering in this country has become a nationwide version of the children's card game "Cheat", the first reaction may be to blame the media. But it is not the media that decides elections. If the public really wants more honest, trustworthy, truthful and candid politicians, I have a suggestion: why doesn't it start voting for them?”
You will be glad to know that an entity called the Democracy Index exists, and that we in the West get a thumbs up. But whether in the long run we are any freer than North Korea, and whether our governments kill less nice people, is debatable. And if that sounds like something a sixth former would come up with (well it is, actually) have a look at the civilian deaths in Serbia and Iraq caused by NATO/ UN mandates. And add Afganistan.
If we live in a toxic but gilded cage, but a cage nonetheless, what would Jesus do? I mean apart from buy a rubber wristband and annoy Atheist friends by being pious?
So if Empire is evil, it is logical that it cannot work with Christianity. Not the Christianity founded by Jesus and carried by the Apostles.
You have to have Christianity Lite- which some have called……
The online Urban Dictionary cites this as a term coined by Richard Pope during a sermon characterizing the condition of the modern-day Christian Church and how different it's teachings are from the original ideas and message of the historical Jesus.
For every good thing the UK Christian church does- and I’m thinking Alpha, the ecumenical movement, and…erm, above average refreshments, it does lots of Empire things. It’s in bed with politics. It has entwined “Christian” creeds with state and law and military jargon so whether we are crowning a monarch, or firebombing baby Nazis in Dresden hospitals, its all given a Divine thumbs up.
It has also reintroduced one of the oldest heresies of them all; that you go to heaven for being good.
One of the biggest problems with that is that it has led to churches being seen to be a pillar of the state and respectable. Which makes church for good people. A moral social club that sends out terrible signals of a povertised goodness, and a judgmental faux holiness. The former was epitomised for me when I was a vicars assistant in a C of E church. Every harvest festival (don’t ask; I cant explain what one is either) tons of old people who never normally came brought in tins of crap food they didn’t want. So in the end we had a small mountain of dented tinned pears and value brand beans to give out to “frail” members of the community.
Being the dutiful, people pleasing mong I was then, I would knock on the doors of the lost and give them more stuff that they already had- instead of stories about Jesus, and a chance to see them healed or even connected with in a meaningful way. Now they’re probably in hell with all their tinned pears.
The latter strand of faux holiness was brought home to me in one of the opening stories of Philp Yancey’s "Whats So Amazing About Grace". Yancey wrote; “A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter—two years old!—to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable—I’m required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman.
At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. “Church!” she cried. “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
What struck me about my friend’s story is that women much like this prostitute fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift? Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers. What has happened?”
Churchianity has happened.
But I want to make a vital distinction here; Christians like me are involved in it. Don’t believe for a minute that we can heartily agree to all the above but say that real Christians don’t do this, or support hard nosed, life denying, politically affiliated, boring, judgmental religion. We do.
For years I used to say to people who didn’t like the church that real Christians didn’t organise or take part in the Crusades, or the Spanish Inquisition, or the excesses of Colonialism (notice I used the caveat “excesses” as if the day to day rape of cultures, slave labour, and exploitation and extortion was merely cheeky).
All this is begging the question…….
What Kind of Christianity should we do? Or what is Christianity?
Ciaron O Reilly give a very lucid talk on Christian Anarchism and I urge readers to watch the 8 minute video to the end. He’s not Martin Luther King but it’s a great summary off the cuff.
Succinctly the points he makes are these (I develop to illustrate, hopefully); Every movement, whether secular (i.e. punk) or religious (Christianity) that takes on the state gets seduced and subsumed by the temptations of Power, Wealth, and Status.
The Clash said in 1977 “Meanwhile things are hotting up in the West End alright, Contracts in the offices, groups in the night, My bummin' slummin' friends have all got new boots, An' someone just asked me if the group would wear suits” (“Garageland”). And so very soon the Frantic Elevators became Simply Red, etc.
O Reilly argues that looking back on the early church- crudely, the pre Constantine/ state church- the believers were both pacifist and anarchist. Of course those are modern constructs applied retrospectively, but I believe we need to use those as the very term Christianity is infected with meanings and practices at odds with Jesus.
They argue the early church was anarchist in that it was taught by Jesus never to lord it over people, but to serve and seek their blessing, and that Jesus’ rule was not going to be ushered in on the back of a war elephant in front of an mighty army, but by acts of service in love. Jesus taught community, served people throughout his ministry, and taught us how to die without wishing or bringing death to his enemies- after taking on all wordly powers.
The three powerhouses of real Christianity are;
Think "The Simple Way" to illustrate this.
But this alone becomes quant and will draw tourist buses, like the Amish in America. It can be self indulgent and self obsessed. Sweet and harmless, the kind of thing a Pagan can meditate on and then carry on. Most UK churches manage community pretty well, even if just at face value.
Acts of Mercy/ Service
But such acts alone merely mop up after capitalism, a co- dependence. Capitalism loves us cleaning up their messes. It looks great for the tourists and it costs nothing! Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, the radical Roman Catholic priest once said "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." And that ties in, as slick as Dave Lee Travis doing the Top 40 Countdown in 1983, to the big third point;
Resistance and Protest
The key strand- challenging evil and injustice, whilst living out the Beatitudes. And what should be getting us in trouble. Because Jesus was always, always, always in trouble. And He is still causing trouble today.
It’s the strand the church doesn’t do, by and large. There’s an emerging chumminess in the UK church that I’m going to blog on in due course, but for now I would say the UK church seems at times happy to be the bitch of Government, seeing the pro Victorian Christianity mumblings from the ConDems as a green light to have a validated role and presence. But we don’t need any Governments validation, and the day we “seize” an opportunity to serve our country, rather than just serve our country, whether we have the suede denim secret Police or some humanist PC cretin persecuting us, is irrelevant.
Some criticisms of Anarchist Christianity
It can have a “low view” of the Bible- how we got the Bible, whether it is inspired and whether we need to adhere to what it teaches.
A culture of heresy and Jesusism has gone hand in hand with the modern movement
Is Anarchist Christianity a culture destroyer? The bedreadlocked Shane Claiborne and Ciaron O Reilly seem to inhabit a world of Mad Max type uniforms and houses. I do worry if there will be time amidst the earnestness for the pursuit of the Arts and good architecture?
The world of my grandparents was one of disease and poverty. But during that time we had cool things like the foundation of Letchworth Garden City social capital and Bournville. I don’t want to live in a burnt out car, drinking herbal tea, looking like Gandalf, thanks.
All that remains to ask now is if all this is true, what have I being doing about it?
Muhahahaha. Tune in next time.