My Anarchism-in-the-Moment

I think often that my anarchism is too mystical for most other anarchists to find much in common with. Hell, it’s been seen as too impractical by liberals who insisted that I needed a plan to make my version of the ideal world come into existence, and that if I wasn’t advocating the overthrow of the government then I wasn’t much of an anarchist. Given the criticisms of “Lifestyle” anarchism from many camps I feel certain that I could get the same kind of responses from anarchists, particularly those who are more dogmatic. Yet for me it is completely practical. It’s not pie-in-the-sky, after the revolution anarchism. My anarchism asks how we can manifest the spirit in everyday life. It asks how we can increase autonomy covertly or overtly. It’s anarchism-in-the-moment.

It seems to come down to the belief (and my lack thereof) that the world is perfectible. No, we’re an imperfect mess. But anarchism, far from being utopian, recognizes that mess and works with it openly. In a conversation with a coworker recently I was asked “Doesn’t anarchism require a lot of faith in other people?” That’s a fair question, and my answer is “No more than any other system, and possibly less.” People ask this because they assume that without the threat of violence keeping them in line, people will be reduced to murdering, thieving, raping hordes. And there are lots of answers to this concern.

1) We have laws now, and people still commit horrible acts. Laws don’t prevent bad behavior.
2) Is using violence against people okay if they’re judged to be bad people? Who do we trust to make that judgment?
3) We already have murdering, thieving, raping hordes. We just call them governments.
4) Is the only reason you don’t steal or kill because you might get caught and punished, or because it’s wrong?

And so on and so forth. In my estimation, removing the institutionalization of violence is a much greater good (and more sensible) than retaining it for fear of violence.

But all that said, I don’t expect there to be an anarchist society or territory, not for any long term at least. So then why do I call myself an anarchist? Because I still think anarchism is the best option, and that the systematizing of violence on which government is dependent is wrong. And I let those ideas drive me to strive for something better. I’m willing to take small victories.

My anarchism is tied up with my faith, and my faith is an outgrowth of my experience of Christ. Jesus himself said the poor will always be with us (Matt 26:11, John 12:8). I think that if that is true then Empire will always be with us as well, as it is the uneven distribution and use of power that causes poverty. That doesn’t excuse anyone from struggling against Empire and its effects. James wrote later that true religion is caring for the suffering, so Jesus’ statement can be taken as an ongoing challenge. If the poor are always with us, and we are to stand with them, then we are to stand against Empire. (There are those who would argue against my interpretations, citing other scriptures they believe to be in support of government. My only response is that I understand sacred scripture through my experience of the Divine.)

My problem with anarchism as it’s often put forth is that, just like liberalism and conservatism (assuming those words carry any content at all), it seems to want to create the world in its image. The syndicalists think the world should be run one way, the primitivists another. Often forgotten is the room for localization. Bakunin wrote:

[W]e neither intend nor desire to thrust upon our own or any other people any scheme of social organization taken from books or concocted by ourselves. We are convinced that the masses of the people carry in themselves, in their instincts (more or less developed by history), in their daily necessities, and. in their conscious or unconscious aspirations, all the elements of the future social organization. We seek this ideal in the people themselves.

So perhaps this means that my anarchism does require a lot of faith in people to manage themselves, while at the same time having little faith in their ability to manage others.

But for those of us who are not revolutionary anarchists, we wonder how we can manifest anarchy in our own lives and our immediate surroundings. I recently quoted Emma Goldman, from her Anarchism: What it really stands for:

“Anarchism is not, as some may suppose, a theory of the future to be realized through divine inspiration. It is a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions… Anarchism does not stand for military drill and uniformity; it does, however, stand for the spirit of revolt, in whatever form, against everything that hinders human growth.”

This makes sense to me, and thus my anarchism is in the moment. It is doing what I can to make things better (making more room for human growth) with no attachment to the actions being systematized. It is a declaration of self. It is not asking permission. And for a lot of folks this takes the forms of Food Not Bombs, dumpster diving, Critical Mass, intentional communities, flash mobs, things that are sometimes written off by revolutionary or social anarchists as “useless”.

After writing the first draft of this I came across a passage in the book I’m reading, Tearing Down The Streets, that speaks to the usefulness of this small victory, anarchism-in-the-moment:

As seen in the ongoing direct action of Critical Mass, Reclaim the Streets, and other anarchist groups, in their talk of “the bicycle revolution” and “the ghosts of past revolutions,” revolution for anarchists suggests not so much a single, historical moment of insurgence as an insurrectionary process that is already and always underway, never to be completed or resolved, only to be embraced and enjoyed. In fact, a century before Critical Mass and Reclaim the Streets, Bakunin invoked this same sort of endlessly disorderly process, defining anarchy in terms of an emergent “unfettered popular life,” and arguing that “what we understand by revolution is unleashing what are known as dangerous passions and destroying what the same jargon refers to as ‘public order.'”

I’m still figuring out what forms my anarchism can and will take, but it’s these things, these small victories, that matter. Leonard Cohen sang in “Anthem” that “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Occupying and adding to those cracks is my micro-revolution. Whose cracks are where I can relate to people as equals. They make room for human growth and take away the room in which the Empire operates. Anarchism-in-the-moment is life in the cracks.

It is coming. It is here. It will come again.

I recently wrote at length about my faith in response to some questions from a young woman who is considering converting to Christianity. I’d like to share part of that with you. It’s not a systematic theology, it’s a gushing forth of faith as I experience it. It’s not even been thoroughly proofread, much less edited. I hope that you find something of worth in it.

What I’m offering you below is my understanding of my faith in God through the person of Jesus Christ. It’s highly personal, and the result of my studies and of my experiences of the Divine. I know not everyone’s faith takes the form that mine does, and I know that I judge some versions of Christianity to be failures, but I admit that this is only my articulation of my experience. It’s the best I can do with what I have, and that, I think, is all any of us can hope for.

To me God is not a ruling authority in the sense that a monarch would be, one whose rules we have to follow meticulously in order to curry his favor. God is the incredible force that existed before there was existence. God was so much defined by love that where there was nothing he created something out of himself. He didn’t create to sit and weigh the good and the bad, but to pour his love into something. That love and that creative force is the image of God in which we were created. No matter what else happens, we carry that love within us. And love is nothing if it is only given by coercion, and so we’re able to hold true to that love or not as we see fit. Sometimes we do that wonderfully and sometimes we don’t, but the love that is poured out into us does not decrease.

So where then do all the rules come from. Most of them have their origin in sacred scripture. And how one views those scriptures define much of how one interacts with those rules. Many churches (including the one in which I grew up) consider the Bible to be whole and complete and a direct transmission from God to us. It contains all rules for life, tells of our condition in relation to God, gives our history and is an infallible document that is the ultimate rule of life.

I don’t hold to that. Throughout history people have been aware of the presence and guidance of God. They understood their world and themselves in relation to this experience of the divine, and they developed much around those experiences, including the writings that become our Bible. They are not history in the modern sense. They are divinely inspired, but not transcriptions of God’s word. They are a record of our spiritual ancestors and their understandings of the divine in their times and in their cultures. They are a guide to us that shows our tradition and a past of human interaction with God. They have the authority of tradition and the authority of so many finding their own spiritual lives reflected in or shaped by those writings.

But they are products of their time and place. We understand that slavery is wrong, even though the Bible gives rules for handling slaves and slaves are exhorted to be true to their owners. In a time and place in which slaves were treated as dirt, then rules for their fair treatment were a reflection of the light of God. In a time in which we understand the ownership of another person to be an affront to God, then we are called to a different standard. If we can accept that the rules of slavery in the Bible point toward the spirit of God rather than the social order he has prescribed, then can we not also accept that it is the light of God that we are called to follow now above and beyond the understandings of that same light that others have held in the past. The Bible is not a rule book for getting into heaven, but a record of people’s continual struggle to live in a way true to God in a world that is ever changing.

Jesus said the Kingdom of God isn’t some coming manifestation of God’s power. It’s neither His reign over Earth as Emperor nor a reality that is coming to us after we die. Instead he said it’s already here. “The kingdom of God is among you.” God is not striving to hold us to his immutable law. His kingship is not one of domineering, of forcing people’s loyalty. It is one of invitation. He does not say, “I am your master, obey or be destroyed.” He says, “I am here, be with me.” In Jesus the very idea of a king was turned on its very head. He is our Lord, but he exercised no power over others. In his hierarchy one must strive to be at the bottom, serving all, not at the top, commanding all. To be part of the Kingdom of God isn’t following rules in order to secure one’s eventual reward. It is being open to the light of God and living true to it. To do so as a Christian is to live in awareness of the tradition that has brought us to where we are. To follow Jesus is to remember that God’s love is so overpowering that he wasn’t content with creating out of love. He had to become one with his creation, to live as we do. That which is beyond all things through love became part of things and through love redefined power, law and rule. Christianity is (or should be) a way of invitation to live the light of God in a way that transcends mere lists of rules. In the Kingdom of God our actions are determined by love of God and love of one another.

Is there a heaven and a hell? I don’t know. I think so, but I don’t think that hell is a pit of eternal punishment ruled over by a bitter fallen angel who wants all to fall along with him. And I don’t think that heaven is a place of happiness and singing and white robes and gold streets. I believe that just as God created everything out of no thing in love, that love is the cause of all things returning to God. “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess,” is not a declaration that God will prove his might, but a hope that everyone will be swayed by the power of love. I have that hope, and I don’t believe that God’s love ceases at death. We are not forced to be with God. If there is a hell then it is a place where those who refuse his love can dwell apart from that which is everything. That is their choice. For me, life (or afterlife) without an awareness of the presence, power and love of God would be pain. But my experience of that love tell me that it is never out of reach. Not now. Not after death. Not to anyone. That’s the story of Jesus. It wasn’t an isolated incident. It wasn’t just a moment in history. His coming, death and return are eternal. I wrote this recently in my journal.

The presence of God comes to us, and even when it seems to be gone forever, when it seems that the harshness of the world has crushed the very spirit which breathed life into it, that presence will return. It is coming. It is here. It will come again. That promise is not of an end point. That promise is for all points.

If there is a heaven, then I don’t think I can describe it. Writers throughout the ages have used metaphor of gates made of pearl and streets made of gold to cast a city that was like their own, only perfect. I can’t come up with a metaphor. I just believe that heaven is the eternal fulfillment of that promise I mentioned above, and I can’t imagine what that will be like.

The Way

“Throughout the first five centuries [of Christianity] people understood Christianity primarily as a way of life in the present, not as a doctrinal system, esoteric belief, or promise of eternal salvation. By followers enacting Jesus’s teachings, Christianity changed and improved the lives of its adherents and served as a practical spiritual pathway.”

~Diana Butler Bass in A People’s History of Christianity

Gingrich has a change of heart!

Okay, I’d normally just put this on delicious and wait for the auto update, but I had to add some commentary on this news items from Religion and Ethics Newsweekly:

In Washington last weekend Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, was received into the Roman Catholic Church. He had been a Baptist, but his third wife is Catholic. Both of Gingrich’s two previous marriages were annulled by the church.

(emphasis added)


Being Made Invisible

The following was written by my girlfriend. I found my own voice in her writing, and so I offer it to you from us both

You really can’t know, until you’re on this side of things.

I had no idea. I grappled and prayed and thought, and made a decision. I made a decision about an act I will take, that will not directly affect anyone else. And now, every single day, I am inundated with messages about what’s wrong with me, or messages that make me invisible. Inundated, surrounded, immersed. I don’t seek it out, it just gets handed to me everywhere.

Some advocates and ads just say “Vote.” Fine. That’s your right to say to me. I’m gonna answer “No.” End of exchange. That’s about 5% of the conversations.

The rest are earnest, arrogant, condescending, angry faces. “If you’re concerned about your environment, you’ll do this.” “Get off the couch, you lazy bum, and do this.” “If you don’t do this, you’ve got no right to complain about anything.” People I know and people I don’t know. Everywhere, everywhere. Over and over and over and over and over again, in every direction.

Have you ever felt like the only person experiencing something? Have you ever felt invisible? There is nothing in the wider world that exists outside the voting juggernaut. There’s nowhere casual to go that gives me peers to hang out with. There’s nothing to combat the feelings that I am hated, that I am a threat.

It’s a bit like it was when I first became a vegetarian, though the scale is much more enormous this time. Meat eaters would (and still sometimes do) engage me viciously; they would argue and try to debate with me. I’ve never tried to convert anybody to vegetarianism. Your diet is not my business. I don’t understand why I’m such a threat to you, just making my own decisions. I do not see why there can’t be room just to be this thing, quietly.

Oh, but I’m not one of those vegetarians? I’m not one of those kind of nonvoters? I’m not one of those kind of Christians? Oh, well then, that doesn’t make me feel less lonely. Where is the space for me, then? Will you actually try to understand me, and others like me? Will you make space for the ones that are different, or will you negate us? Will you even fully imagine our existence, so that there’s some small place for us in the conversation? Or will you continue to lump groups together when it’s convenient for you?

There is no public venue where legitimate reasons not to vote are given any space. None. This is part of my anger, as it makes them invisible, even to those who don’t realize they’re struggling to find them. Every time nonvoters are so casually characterized as lazy, or ignorant, or selfish, or misinformed, or in need of help, one of our core freedoms is being taken away.

Have you ever listened, really listened to the arguments given on most voting PSAs? They sound like evangelists. They do not work from logic, they work from emotion. They make no room for you, the audience, to disagree. They assume you’re either one of them, or that you need their help. They make assumptions about you, about your character and attitudes and wellbeing. They bully. It may not be clear, since they’re talking about being voters, and you likely are one. But the next time one comes on, pretend they’re asking you to convert to Christianity, or some other group foreign to you.

Now I’m reminded of being in another minority… growing up queer in a family where queer didn’t exist. It’s really quite similar in a lot of ways.