In order to read the sections in their parts, click on the links to jump to parts I-VII.
I realized how badly I want to see the world and, more importantly, the Church become anarchist. The more I talk of anarchism with people, the more they tend to nod in agreement. Hierarchies are bad. Nevertheless, we all have been so indoctrinated into the hierarchical ordering of life that it is difficult to really question power in a truly constructive way. Coming to anarchism, for me, took a long time. In a way I never “became” an anarchist in the sense that no one made a sustained argument that convinced me anarchism was the way we should order our lives. Rather, I committed myself to certain principles, and in the end, when I no longer knew just what those principles meant, I found a name to my beliefs: anarchy. I believe many people secretly long to be anarchists or secretly are anarchists. They simply do not know it. I constantly subject myself to a state of self-evaluation, and I never fear to say what I think. Many fear the self-expression of controversial political beliefs immensely. The point of this post is to elaborate on the unique experiences and principles that I embraced in order to get to where I am. People may then compare their own experiences and principles to mine, evaluate themselves, and, in finding someone with like mind, remove the fear of owning anarchism for themselves. Allowing people to hear and respond is the key to anarchism. I will never tell anyone that they should be an anarchist, but I will always make myself vulnerable so that others may join me as an equal, without hierarchy.
My Life As A Conservative
In the 10th grade, we took a ten question quiz to determine where we stood on the political spectrum. My score came out 9 out of 10 on the side of “Reagan Republican”. I remember being proud of my score. At the time, I very easily identified Republicans with patriotism. The Republicans truly loved America (sic) and so did I. I can hardly blame myself for this. From 1st grade to 6th grade my private elementary school said 3 pledges of allegiance: one to the stars and stripes, one to the “Christian” flag, and one to the Bible in that order. For a school pageant in the 4th grade we sang the four hymns of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines. G-d and American (sic) values were conflated from a very early age. Every single year of my life until the 12th grade I took at least one U.S. History or government class. Finally, a week before my 14th birthday the World Trade Center Towers in New York City collapsed. Young people deeply desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. In the patriotic fervor that ensued that tragedy, I thought I had found it.
In the midst of all that patriotism, I grew up hearing a different tale. At the age of eight, our 2nd grade class memorized the Beatitudes. My family and I attended church every Sunday. Even though patriots populated my church, I still heard the enunciation over and over again: G-d reigns. Many would even go so far as to say that G-d is above the President and the military! G-d controlled the world. Nothing outmatched G-d. Quite naturally, I became befuddled in my youth. As I pledged allegiance to both flag and G-d, I began to blend them. If G-d stood in control over the powers, then the powers must be doing what G-d wants. What G-d wants is “liberty and justice for all”. Since the U.S. promotes liberty and justice for all, they must be the nation living out G-d’s will. This all made perfect sense to me. Little was I aware that the two scripts, the U.S. and G-d, were raging inside of me, and one would eventually win out.
Let me return to the 10th grade. At the end of 9th grade, the Second Iraq War started. By 10th grade, in late 2003, the bombs had pretty much been falling on Baghdad for over 6 months (although they had actually been falling for more than 10 years). I anxiously awaited for the U.S. to uncover WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction). The ground war raged on, and each day, they seemed to get closer. Time passed. No nuclear bombs, no biochemical weapons, and no link to Al-Qaeda were found. Saddam Hussein went missing, and eventually, the whole scope of the war shifted. The shift was palpable. Nobody talked about WMDs anymore. They talked about Iraqi people and their freedom. They talked about what an evil dictator Saddam Hussein was. They said “freedom”, “democracy”, and “security” so often it made me stop to think, “What do those words really mean?” I believed I was “free”. Men in uniform bought and paid for my freedom with blood (both their own and others’). I knew the U.S. had democratic aspects, but actually, the U.S. Government is a republic. People do not vote directly for laws; they vote directly for people. My first hint that the government and the media was lying to me was this word, “democracy”. Clearly, I thought, they misunderstand. This is a republic not a democracy. The blatant hypocrisy of this phraseology disturbed me more and more. It insinuated that someone speaking on my behalf, someone I did not know, was the same as me speaking. I saw the veil being pulled over our eyes. A democracy allows everyone an equal say. By maintaining that the U.S. is a democracy, the U.S. Government made people believe everyone received an equal share in the power while simultaneously the elected officials made all the big decisions that affected our lives. They told a bold lie that any 4th grade civics student could see through, yet it kept the people at bay. I would never trust the government ever again.
Months passed. I played a lot of sports, and I started dating a really cool girl. When I entered the 11th grade, I had no idea what that year held in store for me. As an aside, I find it funny that the two most important years of my life came when I was 17 and 19. Those years testify to the counter-cultural fact that the artificially created ages of importance, 18 and 21, do not mean anything more than a time when the state sanctions vices. That Junior year of high school transformed me in profound ways. My transformation orbited around several events.
First, I took A.P. U.S. History with a man named Jim Litchfield. As intellectually challenging as the class was, it proved immensely illustrative of the truth of U.S. History. It revealed several dirty secrets of the U.S. that had been previously triumphed in U.S. History classes. For example: the Revolutionary War was not unanimously supported by the colonists and the wealthy elite instigated it; the Civil War was not fought primarily over the issue of slavery; the Spanish-American War was fought as a way for the blooming American military-industrial complex to flex its muscles; the causes of World War I were entirely arbitrary; the U.S. chose which side to fight on in an equally arbitrary way; much of what happened in World War II could be blamed on the result of WWI; WWII was not fought to liberate Jewish people from death camps; and the following wars occurred primarily because of the results of the previous wars. Essentially, the class showed me how the U.S., since before its inception, existed in a constant state of war. No one told me this important piece of information. Up until this point, the reason given for the U.S. and its prosperity was this logic: the U.S. promotes and stands for freedom; G-d loves freedom; and therefore, G-d loves the U.S. more than anyone. The true script looked entirely different. The actual history looked like this: the colonists won a war against their imperial lords; they pressed westward to claim sovereignty over a massive empire during which time the indigenous people were completely decimated; after attaining all rights to all the resources from the Atlantic to the Pacific by using military might, they fought a series of wars overseas that left the rest of the world in shambles; and they spread their economic prominence into every corner of the destroyed world. Obviously, many patriotic, pro-war Christians (which keep in mind, I was at the time) would look at this script as the blessing of G-d, but several experiences convinced me otherwise.
Simultaneously alongside my A.P. U.S. History class, I took an American Literature class with Jim Litchfield’s best friend Dan Borresen. They structured their classes so that while we studied one part of U.S. history we would read literature from that time. Eventually, we read a book right at the end of the year titled The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The book was about the Vietnam War. As powerful as the book was, it paled in comparison to the veterans we spoke with when we finished the book. Mr. Borresen and Mr. Litchfield believed strongly in connecting literature and history with real people. As a result, we met a man named Don Malarkey who lived in Salem, OR and was in the squad portrayed in the mini-series Band of Brothers, and in our literature class, we met two Vietnam vets. The meeting with the Vietnam vets would make me different forever.
One of the vets was Mr. Borresen’s father-in-law and the other was the father of one of Mr. Borresen’s former students. Mr. Borresen’s father-in-law was white, European-American and an officer; the other man was dark-skinned Mexican-American and an enlisted man. Their discourse exposed the inherently racist U.S. history of warfare. Mr. Borresen’s father-in-law had been afforded many benefits and opportunities not available to the Mexican-American man due to a difference in socio-economic standing. Their stories were grim. The story that shook me out of my sleep however, came from the Mexican-American man. He told us how in Vietnam, children ran up to soldiers and dropped hand grenades. As a result, they never trusted children. When this man returned from Vietnam, his large Mexican family held many family gatherings. The wounds from children dropping grenades cut him so deeply that he became unable to hug the children of his brothers and sisters without fear and anger. He removed himself from the room whenever the kids entered. War killed this man’s ability to be around the innocent. War took this man’s family away from him. I left the classroom that day changed.
Before the meeting with the vets, another incident occurred. My parents prevented me from viewing rated R films until I was about 16 or 17. Furthermore, my father banned me from watching the film Saving Private Ryan as long as I was living under their roof. He told me it was the most brutally violent film he ever watched, and it left him in a deep state of pain. Of course, I wondered what I would feel if I watched the film. One night, my girlfriend and her cousin decided to watch the movie. I called my parents, told them I was going to watch “a movie”, and reveled in my rebellion. If you are not aware, Saving Private Ryan is about the D-Day invasion of Normandy on the Northern shore of France. The Battle of Normandy was one of the most brutal, deadly battles in the history of humanity. It was hell on earth. The very re-creation of it left my father wounded. When I watched it, I felt surprised by my reaction. As I drove home, in the dark of a Spring Oregon night, I felt nothing. I knew how numb I had become at that moment. I wondered how my father, a man who had seen every war movie, who had seen egregious wounds as a doctor, who was an officer in the Public Health Service, felt pain when I felt nothing. On that car ride home, I confronted myself and determined something was wrong. Something was seriously wrong. I finished watching thousands of young men not much older than myself die. Not only that, they actually died on that beach on June 6, 1944, and still, I felt no remorse, no sadness, and no despair. I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel so badly and could not. That night, I decided G-d did not intend us to hurt each other in they way we did that day. I knew this because in my numbness, there was only me, and somehow, intuitively, I knew G-d was with my father in his pain.
Some time later, my church youth group put on a 4-week long class about conscientious objection. This proved invaluable to me. As I began to contemplate pacifism, my church showed how many people choose to not fight. They demonstrated to me a rejection of war. At my hour of questions, I was provided a choice. I began to piece the whole puzzle together. The U.S. was a consequence of war. War alienated men from children, it killed millions upon millions in the name of its own consequences, war begot war, and since I no longer cared about the deaths of those millions, I felt nothing. In a sense, war killed me already. G-d hated our wars; of that much, I became sure.
Well, the title of this section is “How George W. Bush Turned Me Into a Liberal”, and this is where you get your answer. After my Junior year of high school, I officially became a pacifist. No longer could I embrace the deaths experienced by combating armies. At the same time, Bush had just been elected for the first time (sic) as President, and his pro-war rhetoric flowed freely from his mouth. I understood the Republicans to be pro-war. In my either/or thinking, I believed the Democrats must be the anti-war party since they are the opposite of the Republicans. At this time, I still considered myself a patriot. I became a vehement liberal. I registered Democrat, and I began thumping the Democrat line wherever I could. I thought I had found something bigger than myself to be a part of. I thought G-d led me to the true way of believing. Little did I know…
I mentioned earlier how 19 was an important year for me. The events of that year loom large in my mental vision. By that time, pacifism was less than something I believed. It became an identifier. Everyone knew how much I despised war, how much I truly wanted peace. I remember spending long late nights with ROTC members and conservative friends yelling and arguing about war. The more we debated, the more we yelled, the more one thing became clear: we rarely if ever argued about what Jesus expected of us, and we always argued about what was better for the U.S. My arguments for pacifism were political and not theological or even ethical arguments. They concerned themselves with anger with the Iraq War, anger with the senseless deaths of WWI, and more anger with the disaster in Vietnam. I failed to see the people dying by the hands of U.S. troops as human siblings because my arguments rooted themselves in an American-based political system. To me, the health and wealth of the nation still took precedence over the well-being of those outside the U.S. borders. Jesus changed all of that.
When I look back, G-d called me out of my relationship with my long-time girlfriend, Janelle, for reasons totally different than why I thought She called me out then. I realize now exactly why, but at the time, this is what happened.
In the original post, I have a long story about what happened during the break-up. I have told this story a million times, and I grow more and more irritated with myself the more I tell it. As a way to be sensitive to Janelle, since her voice cannot be heard here, I am not going to go into the painful details of the relationship and the break-up as I had planned. Instead, I will simply say that we broke up after a long, excellent, and sometimes rocky relationship. After the break-up, I changed significantly from a person who wore G-d like a badge of honor to someone who brought questions to G-d and found Her in the interrogation.
At the time, I thought G-d wanted me to break up with Janelle because of my sexual sin. I no longer think that. By staying with her, I lied to her every second of every day. I knew I did not want to stay with her forever. I knew the relationship was ending. Nevertheless, I led her to believe it would last simply because I was too weak to face the truth. When I finally did, G-d made the truth clear.
In that moment, G-d liberated me. I know that story seems tangential to my purpose for writing this blog, but it is not. I mentioned way back, way earlier how the U.S. and G-d were raging inside of me. At that moment, G-d won. G-d won because G-d began transforming my life. Unlike the numbness I felt after watching Saving Private Ryan, I began to feel with a passionate burning. G-d took away my inability to feel the sorrow of a world plagued by pain and death. G-d injected love into my heart. I felt a love of indescribable profoundness. Joy overflowed, and for the first time, I saw all people as sisters and brothers. While I associated breaking up with Janelle with this liberation for a long time, I now see how surrendering to G-d is what actually sparked the freedom, true freedom. The Creator took over by revealing the truth. G-d’s revelation of truth continued to be my passion and my obsession.
This began a new time in my life. Exactly what occurred during those days is difficult to pin down, and I still reflect frequently on those exciting times.
The gist of this story is this: G-d became first and foremost in my life. Nothing stood before G-d. What that means specifically I still find difficult to adequately define. In a way, I suppose my devotion to G-d became comparable to one’s devotion to a lover, but that is inadequate. G-d came to me less as a relationship and more as a force. G-d seemed less like a friend and more like gravity. I hardly started a “relationship” with Jesus, something I told everyone I had for years. G-d appeared to me like air in the way that the word in the Bible for “spirit” is the same for “wind”. One cannot avoid gravity, nor can one turn back the wind. I felt like a leaf blown by the breeze and a person recently returned from space, unused to the pull of the earth yet powerless to avoid it.
Wistfully, I think of those times. Try as I might, and believe me, I try; I cannot go back. Those days of deep intimacy with an unavoidable G-d ended. Those days consisted of unearthing, planting, and exploding through the topsoil. Now, I grow by the invisible heat of the sun and cleansing rain waters. My growth and faith no longer roots itself in a powerful experience of a loving G-d; it roots itself in the daily slowness of conscientious faith.
I struck up to live radically. I quit running track for SPU. I became a Student Ministry Coordinator. Since my Sophomore year of high school, I planned on being an English major, but I switched to Christian Theology. That summer, the summer of 2007, I moved back to Oregon. I returned to my job as a valet parking attendant (worst job in the world, by the way) in Portland. With my new found radicalism, I realized how much gas I would waste and how much money I would spend driving back and forth from my parents’ house in Salem to Portland (a forty minute trip, minimum). To prevent myself from such status quo living, I bought an old bike and a bigger backpack. I proceeded to call everyone I knew in Portland in order to find a place to sleep. For six days a week, I slept on couches, in parks, at the airport, on buses, and on the light-rail while I worked five days a week. Once a week, I returned to my folks’ place on the bus. Proud of my lifestyle, I grew increasingly alone. I tried to hang out with friends, but I always felt outside. At all times, I slept in someone else’s space. Free to go anywhere, I belonged nowhere, to no one. In these moments of alienation, I saw the need for community without hierarchy. I will talk more about that later.
Deep down, I wish I had a really static “before” and “after” comparison of me the Summer of 2006 and me Fall quarter of 2007. After high school, I tried dressing well. Admittedly, I was trying to impress the women of SPU even though I had a girlfriend. I never let myself get extravagant; to this day, I have never made a purchase at Abercrombie. Nevertheless, the following year took a dramatic shift. As a Sophomore in college, I wore about 3 shirts, one pair of shorts, a crappy green jacket, and one pair of pants for a year. I walked barefoot everywhere. Using cheap carabiners, I carried brown, leather flip-flops from my belt loops to wear when I went into coffee shops and restaurants (they will kick you out if you go in barefoot). I wore a “Sea World” hat my parents bought me when I was four that I decorated with political and religious buttons. Finding me in the shower was rare. I grew a pony-tail, and I never shut my mouth.
This time might be as good as any to sum up what I held to be truth at that time. Very strongly, I believed G-d worked through the state. More importantly, I thought Jesus cared about poor people immensely. A Christian’s purpose in life was to be on the side of those under oppression. Rich Christians who failed to live with extravagant generosity were fooling themselves. Ultimately, I rejected violence outright. When I first became a pacifist, I believed violence was still an option for those who believed in it. By the time I turned 20, I no longer subscribed to violence as an acceptable solution to any issue. I believed big businesses hurt the economy. By then, I stopped standing for the national anthem and pledge of allegiance. I wanted everyone to have equal access to resources (I still do). Christians in the military were fooling themselves. The homeless were G-d’s chosen people. The Democrats were G-d’s chosen party. Conservative Christians were fooling themselves. Simple living. I became a vegetarian. I argued for socialized healthcare. The environment mattered; cars were the problem. I read the Bible every day. I began reading books about the Bible. The words of the Prophets flowed from my lips. Nightly, I ranted about Christians who prohibited women from being pastors, who stayed silent on politics, and went to concert-style churches with charismatic leaders and rock bands. Christians in these churches were fooling themselves. I proposed very few solutions to the mass of problems. No longer would I call myself a patriot, but good government still mattered to me. They did, after all, hold immense power, and the U.S. needed someone to clean up after the mess Bush made. I strongly supported Barack Obama.
In my Foundations for Educational Ministry class, I boldly claimed Communism as my political affiliation. Someone gave me one of those trendy black and white Barack Obama posters, and I hung it prominently in my tiny dorm room. November 2008 could not come fast enough. The debates began heating up, and I eagerly soaked them in. Keep in mind, at this time two things mattered more to me than anything else: G-d and pacifism. The November 2008 elections were to be the first available Presidential election following my 18th birthday. I wanted to be very well-informed. In those days, everything came down to Bush. How would the next President be different than Bush? With Obama, the most obvious difference came in his demeanor. Barack Obama may be one of the greatest speakers I ever see in my life. Bush’s legacy was one of a fumbling buffoon while giving speeches. I determined to not be fooled by Obama’s pretty words. What were his policies? I listened carefully. Bush promised to cut taxes while continuing two wars, increasing access to healthcare, creating a better school system, paying off the debt, and maintaining U.S. economic dominance abroad. What did Obama promise? He promised an increase in defense spending, increased access to healthcare, an end to the Iraq War, a balanced budget, economic stimulation, government transparency, and a bunch of other sparkly things. “Perfect. He’s perfect,” I thought. “He is…wait, did he just say he would increase defense spending?” Yes. “Did he say not everyone would get healthcare?” Yes. “Did he say a bunch of other ridiculous, useless garbage?” Absolutely.
Listen, I am no economist; I never took a class in political science; and I did not go to West Point. I like to think I am not a complete idiot, however. In the midst of drowning under double-digit trillions of dollars in debt after a disastrous presidency that included a defense budget larger than the next biggest defense budget by almost 10 times, Obama planned to increase spending? I have been told that insanity is doing something repeatedly yet expecting a different result every time. This seemed to constitute just that. These arguments failed to persuade me. At the time, I was wary to really throw my weight behind any politician, yet despite all the Bush-like things he promised, his words sounded so pretty. I decided to attend a rally for his campaign at Mac Court on the U of O campus with my friend Rick during Spring Break in 2008.
For those of you who come from an evangelical Christian background, have you ever attended one of those giant revivalist rallies? Have you stood in line fervently awaiting the band and the speaker who gets you to rededicate your life to Jesus? You feel so awesome. It must elicit a spike in dopamine or something. You leave feeling refreshed and exhausted. You suddenly feel like you are a part of something really big and really important. The Obama rally in Eugene was one of those experiences.
I remember standing in line with the attitude that I “came to see” what was being offered. Was Obama really going to deliver? I planned on listening to his words in order to judge for myself. The line to the door was huge. We waited for at least an hour, maybe longer. We chatted with people around us and read signs being held up. Someone came up to us with a hand full of little pieces of white paper. She handed me one. Printed on it was Obama’s iconic red, white, and blue head. A serious yet not angry expression spread across his face. One word stood directly beneath the picture in all capitals. “HOPE” it read. The simple pictorial meme slapped me in the face.
Early in church history up until things like the printing press made literacy more widely available, most people could not read. As a result, artists depicted icons and paintings showing different biblical and faith stories. While I see very little difference between icons and idols, the moderate disjuncture between the two makes all the difference. An idol is something a person worships; an icon points to what a person worships. That piece of paper was an icon.
We entered the arena. An extensive time of crowd foreplay occurred before the man himself came out to speak. When he did, the fervor hit its zenith. The whole charade felt just like a Christian revival meeting. Even the language emulated it. Obama talked about recommitting ourselves to the cause of making America (sic) better. He used key words and phrases to elate the already explosive crowd. People proudly and joyfully looked at each other with hope. Hope for the U.S. and hope for the future. The spectacle revealed the problem we found ourselves in. The U.S., in its imperial impetus, had engaged itself in perpetual wars, drowned itself in insurmountable debt to maintain these wars, profited immensely off the cultural and environmental destruction of foreign lands, deposed numerous democratically elected leaders internationally, committed genocide against the original inhabitants of the middle North American continent, created an unmatched disparity between the rich and the poor, dropped two nuclear bombs on a defeated Japanese island, polluted its own waterways, enslaved millions of people from Africa, utilized free market economics to profit a few using oppressed labor by the many, instituted numerous policing organizations to spy on and repress its own citizens, fool all its citizens into believing it is a democracy, and worst of all, it did this all in the name of freedom. Watching the spectacle before me in which everyone cheered for this man who promised to protect and redeem this legacy, I opened my eyes. Being a pacifist, this looked absolutely ridiculous. Being a Christian, the whole event seemed blasphemous.
The parallels are easy enough to draw. The U.S. (not the people but the ideology that makes up the U.S.) is G-d. Obama called us to recommit ourselves to this deity. Each presidential hopeful represents the U.S.’s messiah. The people are Israel. They decide who they will support as the next messiah. The messiah’s purpose looks more like King David than it does Jesus. It involves politics and war. In the end, when the U.S. wins the battle and brings peace to the world, the president will be commended for redeeming the brutal violence in the U.S. history books. The world, completely rid of evil, will look to this leader as their savior. If you do not believe me, then how can we explain the religious fervor, the defense of “American democracy”, the sign I saw a young woman holding that read, “Obama SAVE U.S.”, the salvific rhetoric used, and the fanatical devotion to an empire that has crushed anyone who stands in its way? When I finally left that rally, I realized that being patriotic is to be religious. We can center our religion around the merits of the U.S. empire, or we can center it on following the Way of Jesus. I chose Jesus. I could not bear to support the hideous activity of the self-righteous empire anymore.
I came to the conclusion that I could not support the U.S. in any way, shape, or form. It would only be a short step for me to become an anarchist.
I could hardly say I grew up “Feminist”. Nevertheless, feminist movement and theory played a major role in my life. This part will be short and not nearly as personal. It stands very prominently for me. Like Robert Jensen, a great author I really admire, I cannot be sure that as a man I can call myself “Feminist”. Feminism grew to liberate women. As a result, I can be on the side of feminist movement, but I find it hard to put myself into the movement since it is not me who needs liberation. I only claim the titles “Pro-feminist” and “Anti-Patriarchal”. This way, I demarcate what I am for and what I am against. Up until now, I made very little mention of feminism. That is because I believe it to be too important to not talk about on its own. It deserves that much attention.
I want to be perfectly clear that feminist movement is not over. Many theorists speak of a post-feminist world, but we hardly see such a world. When I visited Colombia, many women who were abandoning the restrictive patriarchal laws of their culture to provide for themselves and others refused to refer to themselves as “feminist”. To them, feminists represented a radical fringe of power hungry women. These women I spoke with experienced liberation and continued struggling for it. Their social status belied the reason why they did not identify as “feminists”. Somehow, they did not belong in that hard-lining, elite category. Something similar can be said about feminists in this part of the world. For too long, feminism belonged to the elite, white, educated, middle to upper-class women. They wanted a piece of the power. When they received it, or at least part of it, they claimed the end of feminism. Meanwhile, women of color cleaned their restrooms, served their food, and raised their kids. For these women, feminism is hardly over. For them, feminism should not be over.
My parents raised me with a strong sense that men and women should not be considered unequal. My father always told us how women’s and men’s muscles are literally identical. Maybe various hormone-levels and body parts distinguish us, but nothing in our brains separates our abilities. Most importantly, spiritually, we were total equals. G-d loves all people the same. They consistently demonstrated how women could pastor churches, be educated, and do anything men can do. Patriarchy still finagled its way into our family. My mother did the grunt work of the child-rearing, food preparation, and house-keeping. When it came to important decisions, my father remained authoritative (although they could argue that he is less indecisive). He dispersed the harsh discipline, and he showed very little affection. I love my dad. Many things he taught me were valuable and incredible, yet patriarchy still had a hold of both my parents. I do not blame them; I do wish to move beyond the patriarchy that still infects them.
I graduated from high school the same year my mother graduated from George Fox Seminary with a Masters in Spiritual Direction (do not ask me what that actually means). She became a quarter-time pastor at their church later that year. Consistently, throughout my life, I faced the difficult scripts fighting one another. One claimed women to be equals, sharers in the load, and partners. Another, said men were to rule and dominate. They were smarter, stronger, faster, and more responsible. People told stories about how men were sexually aroused through sight unlike women. They talked about men’s various capabilities as powerful, physical warriors. In the end, these traits necessitated men to be the leaders in society.
Alternatively, I heard another story. It came from my mom, the seminarian. Humans were made to be peaceful. Women and men share all things. As this script began to take hold, I saw little usage for men to be powerful warriors. What seemed clearer was that the most violent men rarely made good leaders anyway. Slowly, the veil lifted from my eyes. As I grew older and heard story after story of men beating women, beating children, transgressing women’s sexual boundaries, and committing crimes even more horrible, it seemed stupid for us to commit power into a person’s hands predicated exclusively on their sex organs.
What were we to do? Obviously, one answer is to grant power only to those responsible enough to handle it, regardless of sex. This cannot be the solution simply for the reason that the most powerful and violent will seize power for themselves. Powerful people taking control of societies happens, but on the microcosmic level, it looks even clearer. Strong men marry physically weaker women. They use their strength advantage to physically intimidate and take power. Typically, patriarchy supports the man having power. Dominance can derive from any sex. Additionally, dominance oppresses people no matter what. Feminism revealed the oppression of women for millenia, but this way of gendered thinking stops short of the worse truth. The truth is this: anyone can dominate someone else; all they need is violence and power; and since people living in fear of the violence of the powerful cannot escape their fear, we must eradicate domination as the root in order to erase patriarchy. By permitting women to work outside the home, we fail to address the fear they have of violent husbands at home. By forming a society where dominance of one person by another is completely unthinkable, we eliminate the motivation of a man to dominate his wife whether he is stronger or weaker than her.
Many feminists blamed men for the problems of the world. Nevertheless, many men are good. Thus, clearly something intrinsic about men did not cause patriarchy. Rather, something intrinsic about humanity caused it. Humans desire to rule over others. Eventually, they even try to rule over G-d. Ruling over others initiated the problems caused by one group ruling over another group (seriously, it seems like pretty simple logic). I saw through feminism how spreading the power to a few more people, a select group of women, could prove to only create another group of dominators. The only final way to solve this problem was to eliminate domination altogether. Let everyone have equal power. Give everyone a fair, equal chance. I knew this was what I believed. By the time I was a Junior in college, I was ready to find others who believed it as well.
In the days following the Obama rally I attended, I gave up all patriotic allegiances. I abandoned the state as a provider of security and health. By looking at history, especially early 20th century history, and the ontology of the nation-state, the true nature of humans organized around state centrality blossomed before my eyes. Additionally, the Holy Spirit worked tirelessly to redeem my view of who G-d loves and therefore who I should love. When we structure our government around a minority of economic elites who live thousands of miles away making decisions with effects on people and topics they know nothing about, we invariably concede autonomy for the sake of imagined security and prosperity. Those who live within the boundaries of the state’s watchful, “beneficent” eye receive the honorable title of citizen. Citizenry creates “us” and “them”. Consequently, the state demands solidarity of its citizenship. Without citizen solidarity, how would it know who to protect? A circular feedback loop grows. The state offers security to its citizens, the citizens support the state, dissenting citizens remove their support of the state, the state enforces its security protocol on the dissidents, and the citizens return to support. This way of maintaining state power can be done both explicitly and subconsciously. For example, the “Shock and awe” campaign of Bush-era Second Iraq War quietly tells citizens that we should fear terrorism, but we should fear the bombs of F-117 stealth fighters even more. What became quite clear was that support of the state meant support of violent measures of protection of “us” against “them”. Since I never supported violence, I withdrew my support of the state.
Herein lied my major problem. Up until this moment, I maintained a fairly healthy socialist viewpoint on most topics. I supported state sanctioned health care, state schools, etc. Contrary to the arguments of Chris Hedges and other neo-socialist Americans, socialism mandates nationalism. To say otherwise is to deal in faulty, ridiculous logic. Nationalism looks somewhat different than patriotism. The root for nationalism comes, obviously, from the word nation, but patriotism derives from the Latin word for father, “pater”. Nationalism is plainly support for the state; patriotism implicates an intimate love of the state. Ultimately, both demand belief in the system. Nationalism indicates one can reform the nation and still support it; patriotism means an acceptance of the state’s direction no matter what. In the end, both fail to live up to the standards of a G-d who calls us to “love neighbor, stranger, and enemy”.
To call for reform means accepting the system as good. When the state promises security through violence, prosperity at the expense of others, and a system of hierarchical bureaucracy that typically elevates one person (the president) as the most powerful person in the world, a pacifist, anti-patriot, who detests the hierarchies between men and women, rich and poor will see reform as out of the question. The only option is revolt. To give the state more control sounds insane. Democratic socialism will not work when the government finds it so easy to lie to its citizens not to mention provide more power to an already defunct hierarchical political system. Republicanism clearly failed. Therefore, the state, who holds a monopoly on violence, must be vanquished.
More deeply, during this time of growth and reflection, a theological debate motivated me, as well. Growing up, everyone taught, in my church, to rely on G-d and G-d alone. To thrust the power to provide all necessary services into the hands of the state looked like a replacement tactic. We need no G-d when we have the wonderful generosity of the state. Meanwhile, the more I read about Jesus, the more I reflected on the nature of community, the more it seemed as though the state really did try to replace G-d. The Caesars called themselves divine, and when I watched Obama rally the fervor of thousands of supporters around the great and glorious United States of America, the country who Obama called “the last great hope of the world”, it looked like the state had replaced G-d. Was socialism going to end this usurpation? Quite clearly it would not. Of course, neither would the laissez-faire free market and its replacement of G-d with multi-national corporations. How could we provide for everyone, live without power over one another, not replace G-d with a system, live in true freedom, love our neighbor, live without fear of death when we dissent, and outlaw the state? The churches provided me no framework to do this. Socialism only reinforced state control. The way things were was failing. Only anarchism gave me the room for all these things.
Finally, the very notion of being a citizen in a country supported everything I stood against. It created a divide between people based on state security. Only small communities committed to non-violence have a reason to not live in fear. The citizens of a nation-state must live in fear simply because the nation demands they do. With a military, the nation implies that there are people “out there” who seek to harm “us”. The xenophobia intrinsic to nation-states and militarism makes G-d’s love of all people into an impossibility for G-d’s people. State support makes us unable to follow G-d. Period. Support of the state mandates “us” and “them”. Security by the state creates military violence. Military violence against people deemed different and less than “us” rebukes Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. These were things I could not accept.
In my next post, I will finally outline exactly what anarchism is, and how it serves to address all the problems facing us in these dark times.
Anarchism, by placing everyone on the stage of equal importance, fundamentally calls for the end of oppression. Unfortunately, ending oppression is not a goal unique to anarchism. Leftists and even the Right maintain that they long to see an end to oppression. Marxists, socialists, democratists, republicists, libertarians, federalists, and even many capitalists excuse and promote their behavior in the name of liberating people from extrinsic evil that can be broadly qualified as oppression. The promises made by those in power and all vying for power distorts the rhetoric of liberation. What anarchists find in common with nearly all ideological regimes, when employed by all parties wanting power, is of no use. What profits our thinking about ending oppression lies in how we propose to end it. Instead of simply standing against oppression (the platform of the Left), anarchists stand against the opportunities to be oppressive. The opportunity to oppress comes with hierarchy: one person being in a position of authority over the other. Through eliminating hierarchy, anarchists lucidly admit more than anyone else the human capacity to commit crimes against another. They force themselves to organize without repressing even the smallest voice. We could hardly call this idealism. It is no more idealistic than believing a state government run by the wealthy will provide for the needs of the poor or establish justice and peace simply because of checks and balances.
What I find completely extraordinary is how vehemently people react against such a reasonable belief as though anarchism is comparable to fascism, the very antithesis of anarchism. A professor, whom I truly respect and like, once commented that anarchism is nothing more than turning oneself into a monarch. When one actually thinks about this, it is crazy not to be an anarchist, for if everyone were a monarch, no one would be a pauper. Furthermore, the obvious implication of my professor’s comment, that anarchism would result in us all trying to take power over one another, exposes his ignorance of anarchism, a word whose plain etymology negates monarchy. By using autonomous monarchy to take power over someone else, the way he suggests anarchism does, would cause a person to cease to be an anarchist! His critique is totally ridiculous.
Essentially, anarchism finds that people are neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but rather, capable of both right and wrong. It self-consciously prevents people from assailing one another by functioning in egalitarian cooperation. Surprisingly, despite the obvious benefits and logic of anarchism, people still perpetuate in elevating themselves over others, and in cases such as republic style governments like the U.S., elevating others over themselves. Quite clearly, this happens because systems that dominate people develop better and better techniques of indoctrinating people into hierarchical ways of thinking. What might be even more convincing is using fear of death through massive military might to uphold that indoctrination. As you can see, anarchism poses a major threat to any state or institution hierarchically organized. To be an anarchist is a sure way to invite the fear of state-sanctioned repression. This is why Jesus, and the resurrection in particular, is so important.
We need to take very seriously why the Roman Empire and the Judean puppet authorities crucified Jesus. Rome killed people for political and not religious purposes. To purport that the Judeans convinced Pontius Pilate to kill Jesus because he disrupted their religious cult stinks of absurdity. Take for example in Matthew 26.64-5, “’You have said so. But I [Jesus] tell you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He is worthy of death.’” The Judeans had no authority to kill Jesus, yet his words convinced them that the Romans would be willing to use his words as a reason for execution. Without question, Jesus’ teaching challenged and threatened the Judean elite’s power to the extent that they felt the need to silence him. They appealed to Rome’s power to accomplish their goal. I do not want to read Jesus anachronistically as an anarchist, but I want to be plainly clear that Jesus shared anarchism’s challenge to authority. In the end, by identifying with Rome’s power to kill, we cease to be on the side of Jesus who died by that power.
When Jesus’ challenge to authority arrives at his execution, the power of oppressive structures won. However, the resurrection surprised everyone. Additionally, the resurrection showed the oppressive powers their inability to have power over life and death. Power over someone’s very life is the ultimate form of hierarchy. To dominate someone to the point of forcefully removing their very animation represents hierarchy in its most dehumanizing form. By rising from the dead, Jesus removed that final authority from those who kill as a means of maintaining their own authority. The resurrection revokes the hierarchy of murder.
Finally, ask anyone who believes in heaven what it will be like. Ask them which person will be in charge. Ask how elections will work. Ask who will have the most money, who will live in the largest house, and who will have the sweetest toys. The answer to all these questions is clear to anyone. Heaven will not be stratified along any these lines. All will be of equal value. When we resurrect from the dead, just as Jesus did, will it not be anarchy? Will people have power over others? No. Then how can we excuse, as Christians, power over each other now? Jesus rose from the dead which means that life after resurrection begins now, not later. The resurrection leveled us all. For us to say otherwise is to deny Jesus’ resurrection, and that is something I, as an anarchist and a Christian, am unwilling to do.
Anarchism aims to end oppression by living in a way that prevents power. The prevention of power keeps us from abusing that power. We do not trust leaders to be good. We trust leaders to be either good or bad, but we would rather cover our bases by making sure they can never act antagonistically to people subjected below them. Jesus, like anarchists, confronted and confronts the power of hierarchies by turning the power to the “have-nots”. Eventually, the highest power in the land killed him, but he rose again. The promise that we too will rise again calls us to live in a way that rejects the system that killed Jesus and was refuted in his resurrection. Anarchy does this in the most proactive, realistic way possible by organizing in ways that do not allow the powerful to exercise their power over others. Unlike the other Leftists in the world, anarchism questions both hierarchies and oppression. That is why I, even though I am a Christian, subscribe to anarchist ways of being. Thank you for reading.