Something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is the distinction between beliefs and actions. If you’re anything like me, you likely spend a lot of time in your own head. You intellectualize everything. You might even get the idea that you have a coherent political philosophy and that it matters what that political philosophy is. At least, that’s what I do and that’s how I think.
I consider myself a Christian anarchist. I grew up as a Christian, and I attended churches of various denominations. Recently I came back to the Catholic Church. My Christian faith is best expressed by the religious writings of Leo Tolstoy. My Religion: What I Believe is a great summary of his beliefs on the subject, What this means is that, if taken literally, Jesus’ message implies that the state is morally evil. His commandments against murder, swearing oaths, judging others, and in favor of love for your fellow men do not square well with the actions of modern states. The state executes people, makes war, forces its subjects to swear allegiance to itself, runs judicial courts, and divides humanity into arbritrary geographic entities, all of which stand in stark contradiction to the heart of Jesus’ message.
Yes, there are plenty of theological justifications for how “actually” Jesus’ message is fully consistent with the actions of modern governments. This was inevitable when Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. The religion had to be made a faith consistent with rulers, rather than the faith of the oppressed as originally understood. Many theologians and apologists stood ready to make the excuses necessary for Christianity to become the bloodthirsty creed that it is today.
I don’t care about the excuses. I have read the Gospels with my own eyes and understood what Jesus meant. Or at least what his teachings mean to me. I became a Catholic to make my grandmother happy but I don’t agree with it’s many dogmas. I believe in what I can make sense of myself. In that way I am something of a Protestant.
The key to Christian anarchism is non-violence. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and to give in to those who would take from us. Under no circumstances is a Christian anarchist to commit an act of violence, no matter how “justified” the act. It is a moral evil.
I live in a tower in downtown Houston. When the George Floyd protests started in Minneapolis I observed the action on Twitter from my little pod. I thought, “It’s amazing what goes on in other places”. I was scrolling, thinking about how wild these riots were, then stood up and walked over to take in the skyline from my balcony. Lo and behold, about five blocks away from me the police and protestors were in a standoff. They were really going at it. The rhythm of the standoff reminded me of waves breaking on the shore. I was flabbergasted. How could this sort of thing happen in my city? History happens in other places. Never here.
Thankfully, there was minimal looting in town. I walked along Main Street the morning after that that standoff and saw a lot of broken windows. Only one store was looted. It was a Verizon store. I didn’t care that much. The window of Bombay Pizza Co. was broken. That pissed me off. It’s one of my favorite restaurants. Many people milled around the city center that day marveling at the spectacle of cracked glass and graffiti on skyscraper walls. It was surreal to see.
The few weeks after the start of the protests were very tense in downtown. Helicopters buzzed around constantly. Huge lines of cop cars cruised the streets. Occasional lines of protesters walked down my street. A group of cars “protesting” swerved up and down my street while riders screamed slogans through megaphones. They stopped at the corner of my building and were going to spray paint graffiti on the building but changed their minds. Plywood went up over every ground floor window in sight. I saw a DHS armored truck a couple of streets behind my building.
I was scared for a while there. I saw images of cities across the country in flames, rioters yanking people out of their cars, and cops shooting protestors with rubber bullets. I prayed for peace, and hoped that my city wouldn’t end up in the same situation. Thankfully, that ended up being true.
The whole situation me to think about my vow against violence. Was I really willing to hold my hand and accept evil done to me or my family? I struggled with this question for those few tense weeks. If I’m honest I considered buying a gun. The chaos threw me into disarray. Who knows what could happen in the post-COVID world?
What struck me was how all of my philosophizing went out the window when the real world came a calling. I was willing, albeit reluctantly, to think about hurting another human being if they were to come after me or my family. All ideologies are but ideas in the void until met with reality, and my view of the world shattered on the altar of civil unrest. What’s wild is that I still don’t know what I actually would do in that situation. I didn’t end up buying a gun. I told myself it was just a little scare and that I would hold to my ideals when put in that situation. But really who knows.