Christian existentialist

Christian anarchism

Christian anarchism is any of several traditions which combine anarchism with Christianity. Christian anarchists believe that freedom is justified spiritually through the teachings of Jesus. This has caused them to be critical of government and Church authority. Some believe all individuals can directly communicate with God, which negates the need for a system of clergy. Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You is a key text in modern Christian anarchism.


The Life and Teaching of Jesus

More than any other text, the four Gospels provide the basis for Christian anarchism. Dorothy Day, Ammon Hennacy, Leo Tolstoy and others constantly refer back to the words of Jesus in their social and political texts. For example, the title "The Kingdom of God is Within You" is a direct quote of Jesus from Luke . Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement particularly favored the Works of Mercy (Matthew ), which were a recurring theme in both their writing and art.

Many Christian anarchists say that Jesus opposed the use of government power, even for supposedly good purposes like welfare point to , which says:

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over the people; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves ‘Benefactors.’ But you are not to be like that.

Jesus antagonised the ‘system’ ruled by Satan:"He sent me forth to preach a release to the captives, to send the crushed ones away with a release."(Luke 4:18,19;John 12:31;14:30;16:11;17:16;18:36); he was against human leadership (Matthew 23:8-12) and he refuse to be made king (Matthew 4:8-10 John 6:15). The first Christians opposed the primacy of the State: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men” (Acts 4:19;5:29; 1 Corinthians 6:1-6) “Stripping the governments and the authorities bare, he exhibited them in open public as conquered, leading them in a triumphal procession by means of it.” (Colossians 2:15). Eschatology identifies the State with the wild beast (Revelation chapters 13,14,17) and predicts an end of anarchy: The meek ones will possess the earth (Psalms 37:10,11,28).

The anarchist attitude comes from the Old Testament: Nimrod was disapproved for becoming a dominator (Genesis 10:8,9). Abraham, who left civilization to life in tents, conflicted with Nimrod. (Jewish tradition Gen. R. Pesik. R.), Moses led the Hebrews out of captivity to live in the desert (Exodus 3:7,10), and the big nation remained three centuries without king: “In those days there was no king in Israel. As for everybody, what was right in his own eyes he was accustomed to do." (Judges 17:6:21:25). Gideon refused to be made king: "Jehovah is the one who will rule over you." (Judges 8:23), and his son described the state as parasites (Judges 9:8-21). Samuel then warned the Hebrews against the evils of a kingdom (1 Samuel 8:5-18.) The prophets disapproved domination (Ecclesiastes 8:9 Jeremiah 25:34 Ezekiel 34:10;45:8 Hosea 13:10,11), and a Kingdom of God of freedom was envisioned. (Isaiah 2:4;65:22).

The early Church

Some of the early Christian communities seem to have practiced certain features of anarchism. For example, the Jerusalem group, as described in Acts, shared their money and labor equally and fairly among the members. From the earliest period, women and men seem to have shared religious duties equally, though the public offices, such as missionary work and Temple observances, seem to have been held exclusively by men. In respect to the latter, Christianity did not differ from any of the other Jewish sects active in the ancient world.

Some, such as Ammon Hennacyand Keith Akers, have claimed that a "shift" away from Jesus' practices and teachings of nonviolence, simple living and freedom occurred in the theology of Paul of Tarsus. These individuals suggest that Christians should look at returning to pre-"Pauline Christianity". Although there is some evidence that egalitarian Jewish Christians existed shortly after Jesus's death, possibly including the Ebionites, the majority of Christians soon followed a more hierarchical religious structure.

As the Christian community grew and spread, some prominent members began to advocate legalism and strict obedience to church doctrine. This type of religious authority and adherence has been compared to the theological economy of Israelite sacrificial religion in the second Temple period which Jesus directly attacked in throwing the money changers out of the Temple district ().

Other Christians say that Paul's teachings emphasized congregational autonomy, servant-like leadership within the churches, prohibitions on one-man rule even in a local church, and other practices which contrast with this claim. Evidence of this interpretation can be found in Galatians 3:28 .

The conversion of the Roman Empire

After the conversion of the emperor Emperor Constantine, Christianity was legalised under the Edict of Milan in 313 bringing an end to the persecution of Christians. Some Christian anarchists argue that this merger of Church and state marks the beginning of the "Constantinian shift", in which Christianity gradually came to be identified with the will of the ruling elite and, in some cases, a religious justification for the exercise of power.

Anarchist Biblical views and principles


Some Christian anarchists are antinomian, often meaning that they do not consider themselves subject to a moral law given by religious or other authorities, but most frequently applying to the Old Testament. Many base their beliefs upon an interpretation of the simple principles and historic messages of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount, while others hold a higher critical view of the Bible, allowing for more lenient interpretation.

Opponents of Christian anarchism, ranging from Jewish to Catholic to certain Protestant sects, have criticized the anarchist viewpoint for what they view as rejection of the "inerrant Word of God" and also of church leadership. They believe that there is a need for a law to maintain order, while anarchists claim that good people do not require a law. See also Biblical law in Christianity.


The spirituality of a Christian anarchist can be as diverse as in any Christian tradition. For Christian anarchists who have their roots in the New Testament their spirituality may be described as mystical but is also very orthodox. In both Christian monasticism and lay spirituality certain elements of anarchism which, while being present in normative Christianity, move more to the forefront. Thomas Merton, for instance, in his introduction to a translation of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers describes these early monastics as "Truly in certain sense 'anarchists,' and it will do no harm to think of them as such.

Directly, anarchists have borrowed from Quakerism the method of facilitation and meetings known as consensus decision making. This technique, which forms a fundamental part of Quaker worship, is used in most anarchist meetings.

Other anarchists would hold to the syncretisms of Christianity and the New Age movement, which describes a broad movement of the late 20th century and contemporary Western culture. It is characterized by an eclectic and individual approach to spiritual exploration, such as mixing Christian principles with meditation and yoga practices from the East. One could describe Spirituality as anarchic if it is seen as being based on individual freedom and choice rather than keeping within rigid boundaries.

Pacifism and nonviolence

Many Christian anarchists, such as Leo Tolstoy and Ammon Hennacy, are pacifists opposing the use of both proactive (offensive) and reactive (defensive) physical force. Hennacy believed that adherence to Christianity meant being a pacifist and, due to governments constantly threatening or using force to resolve conflicts, this meant being an anarchist. These individuals believe freedom will only be guided by the grace of God if they show compassion to others and turn the other cheek when confronted with violence.

Christian anarchists appear far more likely to be pacifists than either secular anarchists or non-anarchist Christians.

A few of the key historic messages many Christian anarchists practice are the principles of nonviolence, nonresistance and turning the other cheek, which are illustrated in many passages of the New Testament and Hebrew Bible (e.g. the sixth commandment, Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, "You shall not murder").

Simple living

Christian anarchists, such as Ammon Hennacy, often follow a simple lifestyle, for a variety of reasons, which may include environmental awareness or reducing taxable income.

States and state control

The most common challenge for the Biblical literalists is integrating the passage in Romans 13:1–7 where Paul defends obedience to "governing authorities", arguing that "there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." Christian anarchists who subscribe to Paul's teachings argue that this chapter is particularly worded to make it clear that organizations like the Roman Empire cannot qualify as governing authorities because they are not "approved" of God and do not recognize Him in word or action. If it could, then, according to Paul, "they [Christians] would have praise from the authorities" for doing good. Instead the early Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire for doing good, and became martyrs. Further, the "governing authorities" that are legitimate in the passage were never given the authority to make laws, merely to enforce the natural laws against "doing harm to a neighbor" in verses 8-10 (see tort and contract law). This interpretation makes all statute laws of states illegitimate, except as they restate Biblical moral precepts. Some Christians subscribe to the belief that God did not establish all authorities on the earth.

A different interpretation of Romans 13 which is used to support Christian anarchism grants that the passage commands submission to all governing authorities, but points out that this does not equate to a vindication of those authorities. Vernard Eller articulates this position by restating the passage this way: "Be clear, any of those human [authorities] are where they are only because God is allowing them to be there. They exist only at his sufferance. And if God is willing to put up with ... the Roman Empire, you ought to be willing to put up with it, too. There is no indication God has called you to clear it out of the way or get it converted for him. You can't fight an Empire without becoming like the Roman Empire; so you had better leave such matters in God's hands where they belong. This was the position held by French philosopher and Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul.

Ernst Kaseman, in his Commentary on Romans, has challenged the usual interpretations of Romans 13 in light of German Lutheran Churches using this passage as justification to support the Nazi holocaust. Others hold that Romans 13 teaches submission to the state while not encouraging or even condoning Christian participation in the workings of the state. According to this view Jesus submitted to the state while still refusing its means.

Another passage of the New Testament also appears to require some amount of harmonization with the ideals espoused by Christian anarchism. Hebrews 13:17 commands Christians to "obey your leaders and submit to their authority", without referencing to any circumstantial qualifications as to when this command applies.

There are other Christians, such as Ammon Hennacy, who do not see the need to integrate Paul's teachings in Romans 13:1–7 into their anarchist way of life. Ammon Hennacy believed "Paul spoiled the message of Christ"

Tax resistance

Some Christian anarchists resist taxes in the belief that their government is engaged in immoral, unethical or destructive activities, such as war, and paying taxes inevitably funds these activities.

Adin Ballou wrote that if the act of resisting taxes requires physical force to withhold what a government tries to take, then it is important to submit to taxation. Ammon Hennacy, who, like Ballou also believed in nonresistance, managed to resist taxes without using force.

Opponents cite that Jesus told his followers to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's," (Matthew 22:21) but that another interpretation for the passage is that it argues against material attachment.


Vegetarianism in the Christian tradition has a long history commencing in the first centuries of Church with the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers who abandoned the "world of men" for intimacy with the God of Jesus Christ. Vegetarianism amongst hermits and Christian monastics in the Eastern Christian and Roman Catholic traditions remains common to this day as a means of simplifying one's life, and as a practice of asceticism. Many Christian anarchists, such as Tolstoy and Hennacy, extend their belief in nonviolence and compassion to all living beings through vegetarianism or veganism.

Later anarchistic Christian groups

The Doukhobors

The origin of the Doukhobors dates back to 16th and 17th century Russia. The Doukhobors ("Spirit Wrestlers") are a radical Christian sect that maintains a belief in pacifism and a communal lifestyle, while rejecting secular government. In 1899, the Doukhobors fled repression in Tsarist Russia and migrated to Canada, mostly in the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The funds for the trip were paid for by the Quakers and Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Canada was suggested to Leo Tolstoy as a safe-haven for the Doukhobors by anarchist Peter Kropotkin who, while on a speaking tour across the country, observed the religious tolerance experienced by the Mennonites.

Catholic Worker Movement

The Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin on May 1, 1933, is a Christian movement dedicated to nonviolence and simple living. Over 130 Catholic Worker communities exist in the United States where "houses of hospitality" care for the homeless. The Joe Hill House of hospitality (which closed in 1968) in Salt Lake City, Utah featured an enormous twelve feet by fifteen foot mural of Jesus Christ and Joe Hill.

The Catholic Worker Movement has consistently protested against war and violence for over seven decades. Many of the leading figures in the movement have been both anarchists and pacifists. Catholic Worker Ammon Hennacy defined Christian anarchism as:

Maurin and Day were both baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church and believed in the institution, thus showing it is possible to be a Christian anarchist and still choose to remain within the Church. After her death, Day was proposed for sainthood by the Claretian Missionaries in 1983. Pope John Paul II granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open Day's "cause" in March of 2000, calling her a Servant of God.

Student Christian Movement

Streams within the World Student Christian Federation, an international ecumenical network, follow anarchistic principles of Biblical interpretation, including non-creedal faith expressions, radical social justice activism, non-hierarchical decision-making structures and commitment to resisting oppression and imperialism. Some member movements, or Student Christian Movements, openly embrace a Christian anarchist ethic and structure, for instance the Student Christian Movement of Canada which makes decisions by consensus, adheres to a decentralized, autonomous structure and opposes hierarchies.

Anarchist quotations

Petr Chelčický

Ammon Hennacy

David Lipscomb

Leo Tolstoy

Jacques Ellul

Nicolas Berdyaev

List of key individuals

The following people may be considered key figures in the development of Christian anarchism. This does not mean that they were all Christian anarchists themselves (see Christian anarchists).Adin Ballou: Adin Ballou (1803–1890) was founder of the Hopedale Community in what is now Hopedale, Massachusetts, and a prominent 19th century exponent of pacifism, socialism and abolitionism. Through his long career as a Unitarian minister, he tirelessly sought social reform through his radical Christian and socialist views. Tolstoy was heavily influenced by his writings.Søren Kierkegaard: Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), a Danish philosopher and theologian who some consider to be the archetypal Christian anarchist for his theory that the claims culture and state make on an individual lie in opposition to the claim God makes on all people. Kierkegaard advocated perfect obedience to God even if that conflicted with customs, secular law and government. He has been compared to Max Stirner, the great individualist anarchist. Kierkegaard is regarded as the father of Christian existentialism.Henry David Thoreau: Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was an American author, pacifist, nature lover, tax resister and individualist anarchist. He was an advocate of civil disobedience and a lifelong abolitionist. Though not commonly regarded as a Christian anarchist, his essay Civil Disobedience does include many of the Christian anarchist ideals.William B. Greene: William B. Greene (1819–1878), an individualist anarchist based in the United States, was a Unitarian minister, and the originator of a Christian Mutualism, which he considered a new dispensation, beyond God’s covenant with Abraham. His 1850 Mutual Banking begins with a discussion (drawn from the work of Pierre Leroux) of the Christian rite of communion as a model for a society based in equality, and ends with a prophetic invocation of the new Mutualist dispensation. His better-known scheme for mutual banking, and his criticisms of usury should be understood in this specifically religious context. Unlike his contemporaries among the nonresistants, Greene was not a pacifist, and served as a Union Army colonel in the American Civil War.Leo Tolstoy: Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) wrote extensively on his anarchist principles, which he arrived at via his Christian faith, in his books The Kingdom of God is Within You, What I Believe (aka My Religion), The Law of Love and the Law of Violence, and Christianity and Patriotism which criticised government and the Church in general. He called for a society based on compassion, nonviolent principles and freedom. Tolstoy was a pacifist and a vegetarian. His vision for an equitable society was an anarchist version of Georgism, which he mentions specifically in his novel Resurrection.Nikolai Berdyaev: Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1948), the Orthodox Christian philosopher has been called the philosopher of freedom and is known as a Christian existentialist. Known for writing "the Kingdom of God is anarchy" he believed that freedom ultimately comes from God, in direct opposition to anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin, who saw God as the enslaver of humanity (symbolically; Bakunin was an atheist). Christian anarchists claim Man enslaves Man, not God.Léonce Crenier: Léonce Crenier (1888–1963) first rejected religion, becoming an anarcho-communist when he moved to Paris from rural France in 1911. In 1913 he visited his sister in Portugal where he stayed for several years. During this period he suffered a debilitating and agonising illness. Receiving the attentions of a particularly caring nurse, he survived, despite the gloomy predictions of the doctors. Converting to Catholicism, he became a monk. He is particularly known for his concept of precarity, and was influential on Dorothy Day.Ammon Hennacy: Ammon Hennacy (1893–1970) wrote extensively on his work with the Catholic Workers, the IWW, and at the Joe Hill House of Hospitality. He was a practicing anarchist, draft dodger, vegetarian, and tax resister. He also tried to reduce his tax liability by taking up a lifestyle of simple living and bartering. His autobiography The Book of Ammon describes his work in nonviolent, anarchist, social action, and provides insight into the lives of Christian anarchists in the United States of the 20th century. His other books are One Man Revolution in America and The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist.Dorothy Day: Dorothy Day (1897–1980) was a journalist turned social activist (she was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World) and devout member of the Roman Catholic Church. She became known for her social justice campaigns in defense of the poor, forsaken, hungry and homeless. Alongside Peter Maurin, she founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933, espousing nonviolence, and hospitality for the impoverished and downtrodden. Dorothy Day was declared Servant of God when a cause for sainthood was opened for her by Pope John Paul II.Jacques Ellul: Jacques Ellul (1912–1994) was a French thinker, sociologist, theologian and Christian anarchist. He wrote several books against the "technological society", and some about Christianity and politics, like Anarchy and Christianity (1991) asserting that anarchism and Christianity are socially following the same goal.Thomas J. Hagerty: Thomas J. Hagerty was a Catholic priest from New Mexico, USA, and one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Hagerty is credited with writing the IWW Preamble, assisting in the composition of the Industrial Union Manifesto and drawing up the first chart of industrial organization He was ordained in 1892 but his formal association with the church ended when he was suspended by his archbishop for urging miners in Colorado to revolt during his tour of mining camps in 1903. Hagerty is not commonly regarded as a Christian anarchist in the Tolstoyan tradition but rather an anarcho-syndicalist. Christian anarchists like Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy have been members of the Industrial Workers of the World and found common cause with the axiom "an injury to one is an injury to all."Philip Berrigan: Philip Berrigan was an internationally renowned peace activist and Roman Catholic priest. He and his brother Daniel Berrigan were on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for illegal nonviolent actions against war.Ivan Illich: Ivan Illich was a libertarian-socialist social thinker, with roots in the Catholic Church, who wrote critiques of technology, energy use and compulsory education. In 1961 Illich founded the Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC) at Cuernavaca in Mexico, in order to "counterfoil" the Vatican's participation in the "modern development" of the so-called Third World. Illich's books Energy and Equity and Tools for Conviviality are considered classics for social ecologists interested in appropriate technology, while his book Deschooling Society is still revered by activists seeking alternatives to compulsory schooling. Ivan's view on Jesus as an anarchist is highlighted hereVernard Eller: Vernard Eller is a member of the Church of the Brethren and author of Christian Anarchy: Jesus' Primacy Over the Powers (1987) Fyodor Dostoevsky: Fyodor Dostoevsky in many respects can be considered to have believed in Christian anarchism/autonomy. His greatest novel The Brothers Karamazov postulates the idea that all men should be monks and that everyone is responsible for everyone else. Also, that belief in God can only be found through the practice of active love.

Anarchist organisations

See also


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