Saturday, August 28, 2010

Christian Anarchism

Count Lyev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
Earlier this month, I finished the book, "The Kingdom of God is Within You," by Leo Tolstoy. It is an incredible book filled with truth and insight about the nature of government and society. It has been labeled by some a treatise on Christian anarchism that exposes the true nature of the teachings of Christ, as elucidated in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the Gospels. 

In this light, the political anarchism of intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky can be better understood and appreciated; but it must be differentiated from that of Tolstoy's exposition of  that of Jesus of Nazareth.  

Although Tolstoy more or less independently developed his thinking on the active non-violent resistance that is at the heart of Christ's teaching, after his first edition, entitled "What I Believe," he was introduced to the writings of the American Quakers, William Lloyd Garrison and Adin Ballou, both of whom deepened his understanding and led to the current edition entitled "The Kingdom of God is Within You."

Quaker activist William Lloyd Garrison
Quaker activist Adin Ballou
According to Tolstoy, over time ALL governments become despotic despite the forms they take, whether democratic, republican, socialistic, fascistic, communistic or monarchic. Their first act of state is to secure their own power against the people, whom they perceive as a threat because of the human propensity to form groups that seek their own interests.

Given over to a basic anxiety regarding holding onto power and status, they rely upon violence or the threat of violence to achieve their ends.

Despite all their glorious and benevolent promises enshrined in constitutions and legal systems, the incipient function of all government is to preserve and protect itself.  The institutions of police and military forces are given the mandate at their deepest levels to protect government and the elite who empower them. 

Only after they have secured their own power do governments act outside their borders to extend the goals of its merchant and upper classes through commerce and adventurism. All foreign policy and commerce is underwritten by the ability and willingness to employ violence.

Persian miniature of Sermon on the Mount
Dependence on violence and aggression is treated as a given by all forms of society, whether primitive or post-modern, despite all efforts by the few, at least thus far in history, to initiate lasting transformation. Our greatest sages have recognized this limitation in our current level of spiritual evolution and so have directed their teachings on transcendence to those called, few being chosen, for these are noble truths.

The principle of violence is upheld by all social institutions, including religion, whose essential betrayal of the teachings of Christ is to ignore through specious reasoning his core teachings on active non-violent resistance to evil. This core teaching was never meant to be parsed in a way that would justify the use of violence by the state.

Indeed, the Kingdom of God is within us, hidden from those who have no eyes to see, no ears to hear; thus, it is the refuge of all who perceive the Light of Truth.

Those "of the world" who cannot or will not come to this Light of Truth, sadly, remain caught up in the bondage of suffering at the whims of social trend and the mundane attachments of the ego. All denizens of current forms of society are subject to their governments' use of violence in all the forms it takes to achieve for its apparatchiks and the elite they represent ever expanding power, status and wealth, even at the cost to its own people and neighboring nations.

This lust for power, status and wealth is the dysfunctional attempt by all to allay the existential angst we suffer in the absence of faith.

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch
"Look at the birds of the field. They do not reap, nor sow, nor gather in barns. Yet their Heavenly Father feeds them. Therefore, resist not evil with violence but with love, for there is nothing to protect from thieves, no life to protect from murderers and enemies of the state that does not already extend beyond all limits of measure, united in the Universal Essence." [paraphrased] --Yeshua ben-Yosef

Words of Kindness 
This is what should be done
Be the one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburned with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life,
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outward and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

-Guatama Siddhattha Buddha

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