Did you ever hear in church that Jesus was an anarchist? Probably not.
Many of my friends who are anarchists are Atheist. It makes sense. At its root, anarchy is the absence of a ruler – that would include a ruler on earth or in the heavens. Here are a few anarchist quotes about this:
“As long as we have a master in heaven, we will be slaves on earth.” –Mikhail A. Bakunin
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of a soulless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.” -Karl Marx
“Anarchism stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion and liberation of the human body from the coercion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government.” -Emma Goldman
I am in agreement with these sentiments. The “God” of religion is something we made up. There is no sky “God” beyond the clouds in the heavens who controls and orders the affairs of humankind, and working out some mysterious divine plan. It’s unfortunate that the Christian religion has used Jesus as the poster-child for this religious propaganda. One of the central reasons why I wrote the book Inner Anarchy was to show how the Christian religion has misrepresented Jesus and his message, and draw out the truth that Jesus bore witness to and demonstrated.
It’s regrettable how the Christian religion has typically portrayed Jesus. The truth is that Jesus could be considered the biggest anarchist of them all. Jesus’ life began and came to an end in defiance of government. If it had not been for Mary and Joseph’s intentional act of defying King Herod’s decree, Jesus would have never been born. Jesus was born into this world as a criminal and would later be killed as a criminal – a criminal as so regarded by the government. Everything surrounding the birth, life, and death of Jesus was a defiance of the religious and political power structures of his day, which ultimately conspired together to have Jesus executed. This anarchist spirit is prevalent in about everything associated with Jesus, including his own mother. I wrote in Inner Anarchy:
“Mary is not the serene and submissive one we see portrayed on Christmas cards. Oh no! The New Testament “Mary” is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Marion. It means “bitter rebellion.”
“Mary” is that spirit of anarchy—the need to rebel against the belief systems that have been dumped on us and led us astray. Can you now see? That is “Mary,” the mother of the messiah, within us! That is the anarchy that we have been talking about that is so necessary. That is the messiah’s mom! No mom, then no messiah!”
“Jesus confronted and challenged the hierarchical structures of power in his day. I wrote in Notes from (Over) the Edge:
“Jesus turned everything upside down. He desacralized everything – times, places, rituals, altars, hierarchies, traditions. In their place, he ascribed dignity and authority to the human being – ordinary men and women who bear God’s image. He put everything back under the feet of the human ones. Religion – Law, Scripture, everything – must serve them rather than be served by them.”
“Jesus was continually challenged, “By what authority do you say this or do that.” He never answered by appealing to the authority of the Bible. He laid no claim to a vision from any kind of special revelation. In fact, what makes Jesus immeasurably greater than any religious guru is precisely the fact that he spoke and acted without authority and that he regarded “the exercise of authority” as a profane characteristic.
Jesus’s perception and teaching of the truth was direct and unmediated. He did not even lay claim to the authority of a prophet. Unlike the prophets he did not appeal to a special prophetic calling or to a vision in order to legitimize his words. Jesus never used the classical prophetic introduction, ‘God says…’ What gave weight to the words of Jesus were the words themselves. Jesus was unique among the men of his time in his ability to overcome all forms of authority-thinking. The only authority which Jesus might be said to have appealed to was the authority of the Truth itself.”
Jesus taught that the guiding and governing principle for social relations and human affairs is to treat others as we would want others to treat us. By definition this would have to be a voluntary association between people as opposed to a mandated or legislated one. It also means that if someone is following the “Golden Rule” they must not do to others what they do not want others to do to them, which means one must respect the autonomy of other people’s personhood and their just property.
The story of Jesus commanding us to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s is commonly misrepresented as Jesus commanding people to give to Caesar the denari which he asks for (i.e., to pay taxes to government) as – it is assumed – the denari are Caesar’s, being that they have Caesar’s image and name on them. But Jesus never said that this was so! What Jesus did say though was an ingenious case of rhetorical misdirection to avoid being immediately arrested. When the Pharisees asked Jesus whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar they did so as a ruse in the hopes of being able to either have him arrested as a rebel by the Roman authorities or to have him discredited in the eyes of his followers. Jesus simply said “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” This begged the question, what exactly does belong to Caesar? The answer was demonstrated in everything Jesus taught and lived. What belonged to Caesar? Nothing. Jesus was a subversive person, and quite clever. He said be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Jesus picked his battles. A time or two he paid the Temple tax to avoid arrest. In his mind, there were bigger fish to fry.
There’s much more that could be said about the anarchist sentiments that Jesus taught, lived and demonstrated but that will have to be a subject for a future post.
One of the central themes of Inner Anarchy is showing how Jesus was an inner anarchist. Jesus confronted the religious and societal/political power structures of his day and called people to divest themselves from them. He was viewed as a dangerous threat to these hierarchies of power, which ultimately conspired together to have him killed, which Jesus did not resist and faced voluntarily. What separates Jesus from typical anarchist thinking is that Jesus did NOT see the root problem as individuals or groups of people in power or the ruling class. Instead, Jesus identified the culprit of human injustice, suffering and oppression as the power structures within ourselves in the form of the false beliefs, mindsets, narratives and ideologies that have been programmed into our heads and rule us from within.
Inner anarchists are people who strike down and turn away from those false beliefs, mindsets, narratives and ideologies that have been ruling within them. Instead, they turn to the power and authority within themselves and lift up a new reality and world in its place. Jesus referred to this inner reality and authority as “the kingdom of heaven.” It’s not a religious thing but a natural part of each of us deep within. It is what’s most real to us in our deep feelings and what we know to be true in our gut. Once one does their inner anarchy they can no longer support or perpetuate the systems of religion or this world that operate upon those false beliefs and ideologies. This is the connection between inner anarchy and anarchy. Jesus said first address the system within yourself so you can truly aid the liberation of others, and replace the old order with a new world.
Contrary to popular belief, Jesus did not teach or advocate the view of a sky God who is located somewhere beyond the clouds and who is guiding and controlling the affairs of humankind according to some divine plan. Jesus called this “God” a lie. Instead, Jesus taught that “God” is a spirit, dimension, and authority that is naturally within every individual person, and does not need religion to regulate it. The primary message of Jesus was calling people to switch sources – to turn away from those false beliefs and ideologies in our heads, and to turn toward what is real in our deep feelings and what we know is true in our gut. In other words, to turn to that natural authority within ourselves – to speak, act and live from that higher spiritual presence with us. We all did this quite naturally as children until we were inoculated with the poison, dispensed by societal institutions such as education, religion, government, media and society.
So back to the question: Do you have to be an atheist to be an anarchist? I would say yes… and no. The answer is “yes” in terms of divesting oneself from the “God” of religion – that tyrant in the sky who rules the world and the fate of humankind. Jesus himself did not hold belief in that “God.” But I would also say “no” with respect to the fact that, whatever one chooses to call it, there is an authority, dimension, source, consciousness… that runs equally through us all. We touch that source often but perhaps we doubt it or don’t know what to do with it. John Lennon was connecting with and giving expression to that source when he sang the song, Imagine. Martin Luther King, Jr. was connecting with and giving expression to that source in his “I have a dream” speech. Noteworthy anarchist Errico Malatesta was connecting with and giving expression with that source when he said, “We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves.”
I don’t believe there can be any sustainable anarchy without inner anarchy. The target of our struggle is never merely the tyrant on high but also that piece of the oppressor planted deep inside. Until we tun away from the false beliefs, mindsets, fears, narratives and ideologies that have been programmed into our heads and ruling from within… and until we turn to that source and authority within us and lift up what we know to be real and true in our gut… we are not going to birth that world that John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Jr. Errico Malatesta and all of us carry deep inside.
Photo by Darla Winn