Anarcho-Christian rejection of ordained authoritarianism and the failed terror option
The fact of empire, like the fact of liberal democracy, rigged economies, state and crony capitalism, and violence, are facts of authoritarian regimes. Anarchism, in an assumed de-facto opposition to the state, generally refuses to acknowledge, perhaps, the fact of the state as a reality is potentially unalterable. The state may be a sort of law of human existence. Of course, nothing changes more than laws, except ways of persecuting those who violate the laws of the state.
There are also the peculiarly anarcho-Christian concerns regarding the question of whether nation-states and empires are, not simply facts of existence, but part of the divine order. Is empire, or is the state-monopolization of violence and armaments, a divine construct contingent upon the fact of sin? I do not suggest that nation-states or governments are indicative of gospel order, or even “natural order.” I do believe it recommends that any potentially ordained ordering of violence on any scale (ranging from animals in the wild to armies) through state-monopolies should have an impact on the way Christian anarchists witness to the gospel, and our faith that the church is God’s response to the inherently failed but ever-present “law and order” weightiness of the state. Is the state an inherent threat to the faithfulness of the church?
The creation stories of Genesis are the result of such a perceived threat. The texts edited in exile are pieced together within the context of a Babylonian, then Persian, monopoly on state sanctioned violence. The stories of Genesis intend to work toward maintaining an institutional memory of a people (the Judean ruling class, religious, and academic elites) in exile, while countering the otherwise obvious claims that the Babylonian gods emerged victorious over YHWH. Refusing to accept the defeat of their God, Judean exiles not only made a corporate decision to blame themselves for experiencing military failure and the destruction of the Temple (due to failure to establish a just governance), they constructed a YHWH mythology that intentionally superseded the creation myths of their conquerors. The similarities between the stories of creation in Genesis and Enuma Elish are remarkable.
The narratives of the Hebrew canon, as we know them today, are rife with an editorial purposefully bent toward making sense of being on the wrong side of history – that being the side that loses. Part of the losing side in the biblical record, however, is the ruling class of Israel, who had a monopoly on violence and military might regarding the Judean “state.” It is often forgotten that not only do the People of God anticipate suffering, even the Judean elites, as well as Christian leadership, lose everything. It is not just the prophets that get the shit end of the stick. Anyone chancing a position in the ruling class of Israel or the earliest messianic assemblies loses.
One need only read through the Pentateuch to see that Deuteronomy is written to make sense of the fact of the Davidic dynasty in the context of a national narrative which fondly remembers it was formed to be ruled by a deity bound to them by covenant. Israel rejected a stateless existence while Samuel’s judicial role in a tribal confederacy came to an end. What we see in the Scripture is that Judeans still had an awareness, even after a lengthy period of dynastic monarchy, that it was easy within the boundaries of the Yahwist narrative to construct a meaning for exile that exposed authoritarian regimes as the cause of exile as opposed to the defeat of their God. According to the text, the wealthy elites, ruling class, and state-established prophetic class had failed to do justice. Exile was the rod and staff of a God who demanded justice, and the Judean ruling class did not ensure justice, but in fact did the opposite and enabled the wealthy to monopolize power and unjustly control economic and judicial outcomes. This is why Deuteronomy (second law) inserts admonishments against unjust rulers. It is a restatement of the law with warnings about the failure of the monarchy and the unholiness of justice arbitrated only with an eye toward wealth in mind. Yet, it only appears after the monarchy has been established and Judea is in crisis.
Furthermore, we see a later literary response to the fact of lost sovereignty (or better yet, God’s exercise of apocalyptic divine sovereignty) during the post-exilic era in the book of Daniel, and, the early Maccabean texts. What is important about these texts is manner in which they are intended as narratives of response to the threat of oppressive expanding empire and authoritarian regimes, and how different the editors viewed the Seleucid Hellenization crisis. The Maccabean narratives chronicle the historically successful revolt of what became the Hasmonean priestly class – an insurrection sparked by the ridiculous decision of the Syrians and Antiochus Epiphanes to force the sacrifice of swine at the Temple, ban circumcision, and bring full Hellenization to Judea and Palestine. Maccabean organized terror won the day against the Seleucids; with some help from Rome. Then the Maccabees took terror on tour as a militant wing swept down from Judea up the coast of the Mediterranean into Galilee and reportedly forced circumcision upon just about every male they met along the way who was otherwise intact.
While organized terror led to a nominal home-rule for Judea, and even opportunities for expansion, the fact is that it only succeeded with the help of Rome’s military assistance and an ebbing Seleucid core of power, and it paved the way for the Romans to finally and fully colonize the whole of Palestine in the wake the Hasmonian Judaizing campaign. Terror was not only useful as a response to de-Judaizing oppressors, but turned out rather useful when Rome simply used the questionably legitimate Hasmonean regime to be client kings over parts Palestine. It was just like Western authoritarian regimes dividing land among warlords in contemporary Afghanistan and Iraq to the benefit of western interests.
I will address the Daniel text further below, but now, I want to return to the discussion of anarcho-Christian responses to state authoritarianism and the nature of terror, which is largely a narrative used to legitimize increasing militarism of the domestic political realm all across Europe and the United States. The apparently-collective fear of terror manipulatively underwrites a debt which funds a national defense and homeland security industry that growing sleek and fat from the treasury notes of authoritarianism as a lord of security for the populace. This is Pax Americana, a global reality that would be readily recognized by Judeans of the first century, and the centuries before.
Sectarian or insurrectionist terror is one response to the nation-state model, which benefits from a monopoly on violence. However, in order to control or restrain market monopolies and marginalize “illegitimate” attempts to grasp the reigns of or subvert power and control mechanisms of the state, ruling authoritarians have an incestuous relationship with terror. Authoritarian rule will employ market manipulation, military force, and democratic promises of liberation from the assumed limitations of localized knowledge regimes. The intended outcome of this state-sponsored aggression is to coerce or lure populations without the means of competing with or defeating mergers of economic interests in the depths of despair. Often, the only choices seem to be acquiescence and self-loathing, or violence and self-destruction. Either way, there is an absolute loss of dignity. This is in fact state terrorism. Primarily, the violence undertaken against the oppressive regime does little more than validate that nation-state’s argument that terrorism as counter-monopoly option. As such, authoritarian regimes both sponsor and utilize terror for multiple purposes, all to benefit and further secure their ruling status.
There are other considerations to explore. I believe, if we trust the Bible as a resource for a discourse of our faith community, that such attacks on market-reticent regions or non-competitive and under-productive markets and populations do not necessarily provide Christian anarchists with sufficient expanse of understanding what drives people to terror. We must also develop a biblical understanding to contextualize our witness against such sin. While economic and military realities relegate certain populations to wage-slave status without resources for self-determining outcomes, I believe the greater reality, especially those realities leading to terror as a response to economic and state-originating terror is a matter of identity and meaning. The anti-Hellenization sentiment of the Maccabees is one example. For too long, the West has not only bought into the lie that democracy is inherently liberating, but also that it is necessary for humanity to reject our “provincialism” and accept the freedom to choose (if not purchase) new and competitive identities that legitimize our places in the exploitative hierarchy of capitalism and social liberalism.
The biblical record is nothing if not a record of a large community of faith fighting to maintain an identity in the face of exile, and, military occupation of the homeland. What is important, however, is that the Bible clearly refuses to resolve ongoing identity struggles of Israelites and Palestinian Jews, and, later, Gentile Christians, in any prescriptive manner. In fact, identity markers of Israelites in the Hebrew Bible are confounded by wonderful narratives that assault and overthrow the concepts of Israelite ethnic purity of any kind. The story of Ruth the Moabitess is nothing if not a subversive tale of where Israelite salvation can be found to originate. We know from the genealogies that Jesus comes from all the wrong stock. And, we know that a Christ-centered ethic is a marker of Christian faith as opposed to circumcision and ritual observance.
Yet, terror is part of the Israelite and Palestinian Jewish historical record. Historically, terror such as forced baptisms, inquisitions, and genocide among native populations is the recorded-in-blood history of the institutional church. What Christians should consider, however, is that an ethic of non-violence and servanthood, while eschewing social, political, and economic power, is the biblical and revealed desire of God as a witness to the violence of degradation of nation states and empires. We have our own struggles with our history, and we must own it as ours every bit as such as we benefit from evangelism by conquest. It is our repentance.
Also, the non-violent option chosen by Jesus and the earliest church was not an only option. There were militant messianic claimants and pretenders before, during, and after Jesus’ ministry and the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans.
Terror, while indicated in the Bible as a response of the Israelites and Palestinian Jews throughout history, is revealed to be the wrong choice. It is revealed to be a failed option in the crucifixion of 4000 rebels in Galilee. It is revealed to be a failed option when the Romans crucify so many Jews during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE that they ran out of wood.
Terror is an option that always leads to failure. The problem is that, since the Constantinian shift of the fourth century, the church has chosen to adapt terror, and with the season of democracy upon us, assent to state terror and militarism, as a means of maintaining an anti-Christ-centered monopoly over the other. Post-Constantinian biblical canons include the Maccabean option, but instead of recognizing it as terror, the church instead sees such history as a legitimization of the state as a militarized vehicle to expand the church. The Maccabean texts were removed from the canon by Protestant reformers, but remain as part of Catholic canons.
Yet, terror is terror, whether it be sectarian or secular, state-sponsored or revolutionary. When faced with nationalism and militarism as an option in his witness against Roman authority and the ruling elites of the Temple cult, Jesus rejects the Maccabean narrative as a foundation for liberating the oppressed Jews of Palestine. He does, however, make use of Daniel. And while Daniel rejects violence, the text does instead prescribe full faithfulness to God through identity maintenance, and the courage to be faithful as the path to vindication of suffering.
When faced with the choice of apostasy, Daniel stands with the terrorist by believing that there are things one must die for. Daniel and Jesus, however, reject the terrorist option that there are institutions that God desires us to kill for. What is more, while the terrorist option seeks an outcome that produces a sovereign ruling class, Daniel and Jesus reject any class, and all authority that does not come straight from the egalitarian process of community-making and a corporate identity which provides for meaning-making – the church.
Terror is incestuous because nation-states need it to produce favorable outcomes related to market exploitation, military logistics, and resource development. Terror destabilizes community to such a state that authoritarian regimes can fill the vacuum and exploit resources. Yet, terror is also necessary because it in fact validates the authoritarian argument that militarism must not only be monopolized by institutions legitimized by an intertwined world market, but also because the fact of terror incites fear that leads to the acceptance of such military monopolies. Terror also legitimizes armament sales. This is as true for handgun sales in the United States as it is at the international level.
So, an anarchist with faith in the hope of Jesus may consider the role of the state, its path to self-validation, and whether the realities of sin indeed necessitate some sort of state monopoly on violence. I hope our answer is no, but I also hope we can negate the view that ordained authoritarian power is necessary by affirming that non-participation in authoritarian rites of legitimization is grounded in the gospel. For if we are attracted by an argument for defense of rights or liberty as a priority over Christian servanthood, we affirm the western mandate that governments are necessary to protect some specific class of rights and liberties. As such, we not only accept the benefits of militarism, but work actively to legitimize the system by validating the state as a worthy possessor of monopoly of violence because it “defends” specific rights.
The state does not defend rights any more than any established concept of rights is God-ordained. Furthermore, there is simply no collection of rights or indications of protected status delineated in the New Testament. Like Daniel and Jesus, we are called to throw privilege aside to serve one another, even oppressors. Individuals, anarchist or otherwise, simply cannot do this and effectively witness to the anti-statist aspects of the Gospel with any credibility. That the state may be a fact of history and a sort of traffic-cop at the intersection of international chaos does not ordain the state as a partner of the church. We must not participate in national rites of authoritarian legitimacy. No oath-taking, anthems, or pledges. No honor for courts or judges or politicians, and no arguing on behalf of state-sponsored or defended rights.
We must, however, as distasteful as it is, serve the authoritarian regimes as far as it is within our own power to serve and still be faithful. The key to such servanthood is not only the rejection of all violence, but the corporate commitment of dignity as the first marker of justice. It is possible to serve humbly with dignity. Jesus called it going the extra mile. He also called it carrying our own cross. The more we commit to alternative Christian communities, the less reliant we are on the state to protect our interests or provide and safeguard access to our needs. We will have no need to legitimize authoritarian claims of paternal connectedness. Such paternalism is incestuous.
The state is anti-Christ, but terror as a response in not only a certain path of self-destruction. It is an exemplary failure of faith. Yet, participation in the rites of authoritarianism furthers the causes of terror, because even democracy is reliant upon it to keep the emperor clothed.