catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 22 :: 2007.11.30 — 2007.12.14


Anarchism and hope

The prophetic imagination

Anarchists! The mere mention of the word probably conjures images of crazed revolutionaries in black masks running amok in the streets breaking windows, setting things on fire, and generally wreaking havoc and chaos. At first glance it might boggle the mind to associate anarchy and the Christian faith, especially given the strong relationship we often perceive in the United States between the church and the state—even as we celebrate their supposed separation in civil society. Asking what anarchy and Christianity have in common is reminiscent of Tertullian's famous question about Athens and Jerusalem as he rejected the pagan philosophy in which he had been trained.

Many of the negative images associated with anarchists, however, do not suggest real understanding of the principles of anarchism, which may reflect the practices of the ancient church in relation to the Roman empire in surprising ways we ought to consider today. Indeed, there are basic aspects of anarchism that can serve not only to illustrate the practices of the early church, but also witness against the church in history and its tendencies to ally with the privileged against the powerless and its all-too-common identification with modern idols such as militarism, capitalism, and the nation-state.

Anarchism is an excellent topic for a discussion of cynicism and hope, both in its deconstructive qualities and the ways it urges the church to do better, to be faithful rather than “effective,” to live out the peace of the kingdom instead of depending on politics and police to impose order. An anarchistic understanding of Christianity may be vital for helping the church navigate the waters of the post-democratic world of Pax Americana.

Those who describe and criticize culture today often use various terms prefixed with the ubiquitous designation “post,” as in post-modern, post-industrial, and post-democratic. This of course raises the questions of what is modern, industrial, democratic; were we ever actually any of these things to begin with; where did they come from; and what is the relation of the “posts” to their antecedents?

It seems to me that the very appellation of “post” to a culturally descriptive word implies a kind of cynicism, or perhaps more properly a kind of deconstructive criticism that suggests we live in an age that is new-but-not-new, an age that has gone beyond modern, beyond industrial, and beyond democratic—and yet our world is still in a sense defined in the terms of those categories.

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