Friday, February 8, 2013

Fatal Flaws (an orthodox rebel considers anarchism)

First, watch this video. It's a bit long (approx. 30 minutes), but you need to watch all of it if you're to do it any justice. Fair enough? Okay, here you go:

Now, I'm pretty sure that some of you are feeling the need to beat those kids senseless with an orthodoxy ugly stick. I would ask that you relax and consider something: these kids do have good intentions. Seriously. I don't doubt their sincerity at all. In fact, I greatly sympathize with their desire for real community. As I've said and argued many times before, community is at the heart of Christianity (right up to the trinitarian nature of God), and yet it is something that is sadly lacking from the Church today, at least the Church in the west, which has been diluted and mutated by a mega-church, culture-aping mentality for decades now. If you do not desire real community, then I question your understanding of the Christian Faith, for it is all community, esp. you with Christ and Christ with God (John 14:20).

Still, their choice of anarchism as a solution is...interesting. To be sure, it is not unheard of. There is a whole swath of young Christianity today that is in rebellion of (what they perceive to be) the dead formalism of their parents, regardless of when or where they came from (whether it be fundamentalism's contradictory quirks, evangelicalism's white-washed tombs, or reformed theology's ironic gracelessness). They want a less stuffy and stuffed Christian Faith, one that has elbowroom, one that has room for mysteries and beauty and surprises, for a God of mystery, beauty, and surprises. Again, I sympathize with such a desire, but anarchism (or as they have, not defined it) will not satisfy that desire. I fear their noble enterprise is doomed to failure because it is based on at least three false premises.

The first is that authority (of any kind or level) necessarily equals oppression. While it is certainly true that authority can be oppressive (and who would argue otherwise?), it is not necessarily true that it is de facto oppressive. For example: if you were lost in the woods, would a map be necessarily oppressive because it serves as an authoritative representation of the land? Of course not. On the contrary, you would thank God for the map. Authority can be a good thing (when it leads us in the right direction).

The second is that Christianity is reducible to anarchism. I would very easily grant the possibility that Christianity has room for anarchistic veins or movements. As the young lady in the video explained, there have been such things in the history of the church, and I cannot say that those people were not true Christians simply because they didn't believe in hierarchy or authority. However, for her or anyone else to claim that Christianity (in its truest form) is merely anarchism in disguise is simply being naive. Again, I will grant that Christianity is not less than anarchism, but I will not grant that it is not greater than it. It is a tapestry of many threads, a coat of many colors, and its paradoxical children are all a part of its beauty. The young lady referenced the Franciscans (incorrectly, I might add) as an example of true, anarchical Christianity. I cannot help but wonder why she failed to mention how St. Francis was summoned before the pope and the institutionalized church (a summons that he obeyed) so they could hear him explain his work, and how they approved of and validated that work. I also wonder why she failed to mention other monastic orders contemporary with St. Francis, like the Dominicans (of whom St. Thomas Aquinas was a member). They were certainly hierarchical (even militantly so). Would she say that there were no true Christians amongst their ranks?

The last one is that civilization is the root of all evil. Of all the false premises, this one is the worst because it is (to be frank) the dumbest. Ask yourself: who exactly built civilization? Humans. And who is typically in charge of all our civilizations? Humans. So where does the evil really lie? With humanity. We are all of us (king and anarchist alike) sinners. Sin taints everything that we do, whether it be building empires or starting communes. Yet it seems that these sincere young souls really believe that if you remove the authoritative trapping of civilization (with its evil police and stuff), then you will effectively be free from evil, from sin. It is the same fatal naivete of all utopists: all systems are fallible, except our system. What room is there for Christianity and its notion of grace in such a mindset? It is removed. We will not fail if we just stick to the program.

I would actually love to take this video point by point (i.e., the young man's internalized self-hate because of his inherent "white imperialism," the young lady's constant fumbling with calling God a "he" or "she"), but I will not inflict you with a barrage of my own verbiage. Instead, I would just end with this question, I question I would like to ask all so-called "Christian Anarchists": if authorities (bosses, kings, capitalists, the police, etc.) are all necessarily evil because they are all necessarily oppressive power structures, then what about God? Is He an authority? Our authority? If so, how is that even possible in the anarchist framework? If not, then what is He?

Food for thought.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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