"Christian Anarchist": An Oxymoron?

Some of those responding to a recent article of mine took me to task for its reference to the doctrine of original sin as a "myth." One message hoped that I'd arrange to be buried in an asbestos suit; that was subtle, but I think I understand. So here, I thought to address the question: can one with intellectual consistency embrace both individual freedom and Christianity?

Undoubtedly, a few try hard to do so. James Redford has a valiant web page which sets out to convince Christians that Jesus and the leading disciples were all anarchists. That's a really tough task, for when Jesus was on trial for his life before Pilate and the latter asked whether he realized he, the Governor, held over him the power of life and death, Jesus answered with amazing courage: "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above." (John 19:11) That is, he was saying that if he cared to snap his fingers, the entire Roman Empire would instantly implode--that it derived all its powers from him, as a member of the Trinity, as did every other government. A claim to be absolute monarch over all the governments in the world . . . some anarchist!

So I fear it's not possible; that there are too many flat contradictions between the two world-views. If I'm wrong, I hope others will show how those obstacles can be overcome. My conclusion, as follows, is that the gap cannot be bridged; and that since the case for free-market anarchism is logically sound, the religious belief will have to be abandoned. That will seem terrible news to those now immersed it it--but having made such a break myself (albeit by more than one step) I can promise: not only is it not so bad, it's immensely liberating.

Here, then, are what seem to me to be some unresolvable contradictions.

1. The Bible presents an unmistakable hierarchy of authority, which we mortals are expected to obey. "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth . . ." is how it starts, and on every page it claims that that universal creator takes a close interest in his human creatures, especially Jewish and most especially Christian ones, and lays down detailed rules for their proper behavior on no other basis (what other could be needed?) than his own supreme authority. That authority is conveyed through the Bible, with or without certain priestly interpreters according to one's denomination, and according to the infallibly revealed divine will in Romans 12 and 13, also through governments; and the reference there is not to those whose evil is relatively mild, but to the government of the Roman Empire , one of the most brutal ever.

A free-market anarchist, of course, starts his thinking with the recognition that nobody tells him what to do; that he is his own, exclusive self-owner. The contrast could not be greater.

2. Christianity--and religion generally--demands that adherents worship; that is, that they humble themselves before a super-being, whether invisible or made of stone. Prostration is expected, as the unworthy sinner approaches the immaculate judge; a self-abnegation.

What a contrast with the proudly upstanding, self-owning, self-directing, sovereign anarchist! - who knows that he is his own master, slave to none, wholly responsible, free and independent. To see the contrast more starkly, try to imagine John Galt on his knees!

3. Anarchism is logically derived from the most primitive of premises: that I exist, and that my life is mine--premises so basic, they are axiomatic. It is based on reason alone. Christianity, in contrast, is based unashamedly on "revelation" and faith; its more intelligent advocates agree that it starts with the premise that God exists, and that that premise is absolutely incapable of proof. (That hasn't stopped a lot of others trying, but none have succeeded.) There's nothing "primitive" or axiomatic about that at all.

A cynic once remarked to me that "faith" is "believing something that isn't true" but to be fair, that's not quite right. It is, rather, believing something that cannot be proved. Christians don't deny that--indeed, they celebrate living by faith alone! Yet the entire superstructure of religious observance and practice is constructed on that flimsy foundation.

4. The two have opposing ethical standards. That may surprise some, who see extensive areas of common ground; doesn't "opposing" overstate the differences? Not when we place the two systems side by side.

The highest standard of virtue in Christianity is "to lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13 ) and its entire emphasis is on service to others, a sacrifice of self. In contrast, the anarchist's basis for ethics is his own wellbeing; whatever serves the interests of his own life is good--and what damages those interests is bad. The two could hardly be more deeply opposed. Let's compare them using the principle of reductio ad absurdam; let's ask, what if everyone in the world followed each respective principle?

I don't aim to belittle the outstanding contribution that Christians have made to human wellbeing, while following their ethic of sacrificial service. They are nice people; generous, gentle, helpful. Their influence for good has been huge; hospitals throughout the world, for example, were most frequently established as a work of Christian compassion and service. But what would be the result, if everyone sacrificed himself to the service of others?

As soon as we ask that reasonable question, we see the problem: it's impossible! Conceivably, about half of the human race could sacrifice itself for the other half, but clearly there comes a point--long before our assumed "everyone"--at which there are none left, for whom a virtuous person might sacrifice himself. For the system to work, for some people to be ethically virtuous, there must be a supply of non-virtuous people available! This is highly repugnant. It means that for the system to work, about half of us can and must never aspire to virtue. More: if somehow fully implemented, the Christian ethic would leave the world consisting of (a) people exhausted or dead by self-sacrifice and (b) people incapable of looking after themselves. Looks like a certain recipe for human extinction.

Accordingly, it is fatally flawed.

In contrast, anarchist ethics--that of selfishness--can be practised without limit. Each human can (and should) seek his own wellbeing, including of course the wellbeing that comes only from the trust and high regard of his fellow humans, and including the pleasure he derives as benefactor from acts of uncompensated charity; and therefore he will arrange his affairs to please others while enhancing his own position and enjoyment of life. That's a rational ethic, and a reflection of it can be seen in every honest business transaction in history. In theory--and hopefully one day in practice--every single human being has the ability and potential of being "good."

I can see no way to reconcile these opposing concepts.

5. Christians actively support the institution of government as directed in Romans 13, noted above. This happens now, and it has happened for 20 centuries. That cooperation, that mutual back-scratching, has served the Church quite well; its biggest single boost came in the 4th Century from the Emperor Constantine, who "established" Christianity. The association varnishes the utterly evil institution of government with the illusion of morality, and even its wars; recall the repugnant absurdity of God's servants on both sides of WW-I, each earnestly praying for victory for his own side. God must have been real confused. Maybe that's why a victory was so long coming, and why it was so fouled up when it did come that there had to be a replay 20 years later. More recently, it was no coincidence that the present war-drunk administration was re-elected thanks to a high turnout of Christian voters.

In turn the endorsement of Church by State naturally adds to the prestige enjoyed by the former and on occasion in history, the State has been valuable in helping suppress heretics and dissidents. Some of them escaped from England to populate America .

In contrast, no anarchist ever supports what he rightly sees as that irreparably evil organization; he obviously has to tolerate it, for there's nowhere else to live, but he never votes for it and never pays it a dime of tax he doesn't have to. Murray Rothbard rightly and cheerily counseled freedom-lovers to "hate the State" as a fountain of destruction, misery and death; but Christians get along with it all too cozily. A few years ago, I challenged a set of ministers about taxpaying, asking them to urge their congregations to resist tax because of the massive evil to which the money is put; but those who responded all furiously denounced me for such a wicked suggestion! Taxpaying, they said, is a Godly duty! Yuck; the sinister alliance of church and state is alive and well.


For reasons both theoretical and practical therefore, there's no melding of freedom and religion, and "Christian Anarchist" is, unfortunately, a nonexistent species, a hopeless oxymoron. If you, dear Reader, presently have a foot in both camps, it's decision time; pick one thing or the other.

Contradictions do not exist in reality, but only in the minds of those who fail to think clearly; and here, you surely do have one humongous contradiction.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


johncioffi's picture

Mr. Davis,

I consider myself a member of that "non-existent species" you refer to; a Christian Anarchist. I do not support any government, only the authority of The God of Abraham as manifested in Jesus Christ. I think it comes down to semantics. If you believe that to be an Anarchist the individual is the Idol to worship, then I guess I am not of that ilk. If you believe, as I do, that freedom comes from God and that any man made authority is usually contrary to freedom, than Christian Anarchy is quite rational. Man is the problem, not God. Rights are Inaliable; that is they come from God. John Galt is, literally, fictional.