Sunday, July 01, 2007

Was Jesus an Anarchist? - Part One: Discovering Jesus Again for the First Time

Ask a few non-Christians who they understand Jesus to be and it's likely you'll get answers like "good man", "profound ethical teacher" or "great religious figure". Then ask some Christians the same questions and you might get "Lord", "Saviour" or "Messiah" thrown into the mix. Ask either group and it's pretty unlikely that you will hear the term "Anarchist" thrown around. Now I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with the descriptions that have usually given, but I wonder what difference it would make if Jesus was known as an anarchist? How would Christians live theirs lives differently? And how would non-Christians respond to the person of Jesus?

Although I only recently came to understand Jesus as an anarchist, I'm starting to see that the foundations for this understanding were laid at the very foundations of my faith. On the Good Friday of 2000, I felt this undeniably strong compulsion to read through the gospels. While I came from a church background and was fairly well acquainted with the parables and miracles of Jesus I was not prepared for what was about to happen.

Over the next few nights as I read through all four accounts of Jesus' life and ministry I became captivated with the person that I was discovering for the first time. In a world of mediocrity and conformity, here was a man who stood for something different. Who stood for something. Even more importantly, in a world where people lived their lives without even stopping to question the values that society held dear, here was a man who stood against something. My favourite stories were the accounts of Jesus' opponents trying to trap Jesus with questions that would seemingly get Jesus into trouble no matter how he answered. Literally fighting for his life, Jesus would come up with a response that would not only dodge the bullet heading straight for him, but a response that would leave his accusers in stunned silence and exposed for the scheming cowards that they were.

I began to see Jesus as a man who was waging war on the establishment. However, rather than fight with the weapons of the world, he would fight with the power of his words. I was stunned when he stepped into the fray to save the life of a woman facing the death penalty for adultery. Here was a guy worth following. And so, thoroughly sick of the way that I had been doing things up to this point and thoroughly sick of the way that the world did things, I decided to do the most rebellious thing I could possibly think of at the time - I became a Christian.

Full of enthusiasm and anticipation, I started to go to a church to embark on the Christian life. However, my enthusiasm and anticipation were short lived. Over the next few years and in several different churches and Christian groups I began to realise that these churches taught two Jesuses. The first was a spiritual Jesus that seemed to have come to earth merely for the purpose of dying. The second was a moralistic Jesus was seemed to care more about whether I looked at a bikini-clad woman on a billboard on Parramatta Road than whether I was doing anything to help the poor. Suffice to say, I was disillusioned - this was not the Jesus I had come to know and love through my reading of the gospels. Indeed, half of the time we didn't even touch upon the person of Jesus at all since we seemed to be so preoccupied by the abstract matters of theology taught by a guy known as St. Paul of Tarsus.

The other problem with the churches I attended is that far from subverting the dominant paradigms of an increasingly materialistic Western culture, they embodied them. To be honest, I couldn't see much to differentiate the self-indulgent middle-class mentality of broader society and the behaviour that pervaded the church. The only discernible difference I could see was that the Church was far more adept at speaking in the strange dialect of Christianese. In this respect, my involvement with the mainstream Christian Church was doubly problematic - not only did I have to negotiate with the conformity of society, but I also had to navigate through the conformity and mediocrity of Christian culture. I eventually decided that if I was to rediscover the Jesus who had originally drawn me to follow him, I would have to do so outside the mainstream Church - he had left the building a long time ago ...


One Salient Oversight said...

As far as I understand, an Anarchist is a person who believes in the destruction of the state ie they do not believe in the structures and power that have been accorded to the state by society.

It's a bit anachronistic to insert a modern political philosophy into the 1st century.

Not to mention the fact that Jesus had no problem in ordering his disciples to honour Caesar, and not falling into the anti-Roman revolutionary crowd.

Neither of those seem to back up the view that Jesus was some form of proto-anarchist.

David Castor said...

Hey OSO,

My title isn't entirely helpful because I'm only halfway through my argument and I really haven't explained what I mean by my terms. I was originally intending to write this article in one post, but after a while I realised that it would be too long for most people to conveniently read. Things should start looking a lot more clear after my next post on the subject.

I should point out that "Christian Anarchism" is somewhat different to "Anarchism", just as the existential of Kierkegaard is different from the existentialism of Sartre. This is not to say that there are not common points of contact. Literally translated, "Anarchy" simply means "against the powers".

I'm quite mindful of the "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" quote, which I will probably look at much more closely in the follow-up post.