Thursday, October 20, 2011

If You Want to Spout Modernist Heresy, Leave Jesus Out of It

I was recently asked by a reader about the website, "Jesus Radicals" and their teaching on anarchism. So I went there and did some reading. Here is what jumped out at me.

1. Socialism: Under the "Economics" tab they say:

Classical anarchism is socialist. That means the the means of production should be owned by the workers and all decisions that affect their work (salaries, what to produce and how, etc) should be made by the workers as well, not a boss. These two pillars would significantly reduce the gap between rich and poor and and also go a long way towards a more egalitarian and democratic society.

A recent example of anarchist economics is developed by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel in the late 1990′s, called participatory economics (parecon for short). They envisioned this economic model as an alternative to capitalist market economies as well as state-based socialism. Participatory economics would strive for human and worker solidarity (rather than isolation and selfishness), equality (rather than disparity), and self-management (rather than having a boss) . . .

This type of anarchist vision is in stark contrast to capitalist free market economies where workers have little say in their own pay, hours, what they produce, and experience an instability in their work since their jobs could be moved at any time if a more profitable location were discovered by the owners, who exploit their labor for profit.
This is the exact opposite of the truth. Ask the workers of the former Soviet Union how much choice workers have in where they work and working conditions under socialism. Under capitalism, workers can individually choose to move from job to job according to what wages and benefits are offered and working conditions. Under socialism these decisions are made by groups over which the individual worker has virtually no control. Socialism is an idea that does not work in reality.

Socialism is bad for everybody. Wherever it has been tried the result has been increased poverty, atheism and tyranny. Socialism is old news; these folk need to get out of the 19th century.

2. Civilization: On this topic the so-called "Jesus Radicals" reach back behind Marx to another figure who is highly influential on modern thought: J. J. Rousseau.
We risk the extinction of all species so we can have momentary comforts. Thus, “green anarchism,” or “anarcho-primitivism,” traces the origins of the problem lie far back in human history with the first domestication of plant and nonhuman animal life. Repeating much of what anthropology has known for years, green anarchism shows that agriculture was the first step in human exploitation of the earth and one another. It was out of this sedentary existence that patriarchy, war, and other forms of social domination arose. As such, we ought to be looking at what anthropologists have found out about nomadic bands. Though not completely free from all violence, many of these bands have never known warfare and are arranged in an egalitarian fashion. There are no kings and rulers amongst them who dominate.

Thus, civilization is a target of green anarchism because at its root, civilization is inherently violent and sets up various relationships of domination.
This is utter, romantic, heretical nonsense. It is actually a heretical doctrine of the Fall of man, in which the Fall occurred not because of disobedience to the law of God but because of the rise of civilization. Thus the nature of sin is relocated from the human heart to the structures of society. Thus, social reform can overcome sin and that is why anarchism advocates the tearing down of the carefully built up structures of civilization that prevent social destructiveness.

People who advocate tearing down civilization are enemies of the people. They are dangerous, but fortunately not numerous enough to put their destructive ideas into practice. But they bearing watching.

Conclusion:
Much of what is on this site is inconsistent with the historic Christian faith. All of it is derived from modern thought, which has been drifting further and further away from the Bible and orthodoxy for centuries now.

I saw nothing on this site dealing with Jesus' substitutionary death on the cross for our sins or the need to confess, repent and believe the good news that Jesus died for us so we could be saved. I saw nothing about the need to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but plenty about typical, boring, secular, left-wing ideas from environmentalism to feminism to revolutionary politics.

So what do they mean by Jesus? Is it the Jesus of the New Testament? Is it the Jesus of the orthodox creeds? Is it the Jesus of traditional Christianity? No, "Jesus" here is a symbol used to baptize left-wing secular thought. "Jesus" as used on this site means "an evocative religious word that symbolizes to us the best intentions of modern radicalism."

But the road to hell is paved with our best intentions.

31 comments:

S Masson said...

Craig,

Both of these observations are rooted in romanticism. It is at the core of the thinking of theological liberalism, and unsurprisingly appears in the thinking of these Christian anarchists. In addition to the things you mention, what they fail to acknowledge is that everywhere God works, order is the consequence. Order is NOT per se a product of the fall.

To be sure, order can be oppressive when it is defined by man and his vain reasonings - that too is a legacy of modernism - but order is actually a necessary product of God's work. Anarchism is by its definition against order. The embrace of the environment and primitive life for its allegedly greater natural authenticity (and thus more humane approach) is actually an embrace of unordered chaos. It's as if dominion were not part of the creation mandate (Ge. 1: 28-30) and we could just live in harmony with nature, as if we were indistinguishable from it.

As such, its counsel is closer to that of the devil, whose work is marked by chaos, disorder and frustration.

Mark Van Steenwyk said...

I've got oodles to say, but for now, I just want to encourage folks to understand Jesus Radicals in its entirety. While many would say the fall is about the rise of civilization, that isn't mutually exclusive with traditional understandings of the fall. I believe in an intrinsic human imperfection and waywardness as well. The seed of civilization is in our hearts.

Also, don't be fooled by the word "anarchist." Anarchism is NOT about chaos or being without order. Every serious anarchist I know affirms the need for order, it just isn't imposed from above.

I'll say more in the midst of what is likely to be an ensuing debate.

Peace to you,

Mark Van Steenwyk
co-editor, Jesus Radicals

Andy Alexis-BAker said...
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Andy Alexis-BAker said...

Craig,

I am sad that you have moved in the direction that you have, but I am more sad about the spirit with which you have made that shift.

I won't defend the site to you, since I am not sure you can hear and it would be a waste of time as a result (no offense to Mark!). Needless to say I am not a modernist or a liberal. You yourself praised some of my work at a conference a few years back in regards to Yoder and policing (Alexis-Baker, Andy. "Unbinding Yoder from Just Policing." In Power and Practices: Engaging the Work of John Howard Yoder, edited by Jeremy Bergen and Anthony Siegrist, 147–65. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2009). You said aI had "rescued Yoder from the liberals" in that essay, a position I suspect you now take the opposite view on given your support for preemptive strikes on Iran and such things. So your own position is a bit slippery at present. What is "liberal" keeps changing for you.

So I won't defend myself or others, but I am very sad and perplexed about the spirit with which you now seem to see all things. But I won't be so arrogant as to say you are on the road to hell. I'll leave judgement up to the only Judge that matters.

Andy Alexis-Baker
co-founder, Jesus Radicals

charismanglican.com said...

I've been on a similar trajectory to you in terms of a post-secular critique of modernism, engaging the larger Catholic tradition, and mining premodern and classical Christian thought for the resources to "think Christianly". My influences are not so much Barth, but Yoder, Alisdair MacIntyre, and many associated with postliberalism (Lindbeck) and Radical Orthodoxy.

I think you assessment might be more generous and have more depth if you dug deeper or dialogued with the Jesus Radicals rather than extruding some parts and assuming they conform to your presuppositions because of certain keywords. To compare what Jesus Radicals says of socialism to the Soviet Union is kind of silly when in that same quote they reject state socialism. What they describe, in fact, sounds not too dissimilar to the commons and guilds of the middle ages. Who's the conservative?

charismanglican.com said...

I've been on a similar trajectory to you in terms of a post-secular critique of modernism, engaging the larger Catholic tradition, and mining premodern and classical Christian thought for the resources to "think Christianly". My influences are not so much Barth, but Yoder, Alisdair MacIntyre, and many associated with postliberalism (Lindbeck) and Radical Orthodoxy.

I think you assessment might be more generous and have more depth if you dug deeper or dialogued with the Jesus Radicals rather than extruding some parts and assuming they conform to your presuppositions because of certain keywords. To compare what Jesus Radicals says of socialism to the Soviet Union is kind of silly when in that same quote they reject state socialism. What they describe, in fact, sounds not too dissimilar to the commons and guilds of the middle ages. Who's the modernist?

wjhbrook said...

I was referred to this piece from a Facebook post. I thought I might find a thoughtful, if pointed, critique of JR. Instead, I found a cartoon-critique that resembles Fox News more than an authentic attempt at conversation. As someone who teaches theology both in the church and in the academy (at a Catholic university), I find your lack of rigor and contextualization of your excerpts from JR disturbing. I'd hate to be one of your students.

mountainguy said...

I had read your blog a month ago, and despite my disagreement, it seemed to be intelligent. Now I can't say the same. As a conservative you abviously disagree with many things of Jesus Radicals, but the way you spouted it now is, well, quite idiotic to me.

First you quote JR's on socialism in which said quote a clear distinction is made between democratic socialism and state socialism, and then you proceed to attack the quote using an example of state socialism.

"Under capitalism, workers can individually choose to move from job to job according to what wages and benefits are offered and working conditions."

Yes, from bad to worse wages.

"Socialism is bad for everybody. Wherever it has been tried the result has been increased poverty, atheism and tyranny. Socialism is old news; these folk need to get out of the 19th century."

Not, is bad for some and good for others, as capitalism is. And don't forget tyranny is far older than socialism (I think it is even older than religion).

"This is utter, romantic, heretical nonsense."

Not being a primitivist, I aggree it is romantic, and worse. But why heretical? Because it doesn't glorify the white men as you wouls like?

"Much of what is on this site is inconsistent with the historic Christian faith. All of it is derived from modern thought, which has been drifting further and further away from the Bible and orthodoxy for centuries now."

Many of the reasons I rejected christendom (well, not totally)

So what do they mean by Jesus? Is it the Jesus of the New Testament? "Is it the Jesus of the orthodox creeds? Is it the Jesus of traditional Christianity? No, "Jesus" here is a symbol used to baptize left-wing secular thought. "Jesus" as used on this site means "an evocative religious word that symbolizes to us the best intentions of modern radicalism."

And then you sound exactly like those "discernmentalist" ministries (I suppose you're not one). And what is your antidote? Back to traditionall christianity? Crusades? Burning witches? Bombing Iran?

Craig Carter said...

Andy,
You said:
"But I won't be so arrogant as to say you are on the road to hell. I'll leave judgement up to the only Judge that matters."

Please quote me without distortion. I did not say you and your group are on the way to hell, although that is what you clearly imply.

I said that good intentions are not enough and it is true that socialists have the most wonderful ideals. Yet, the from the deliberate famine in the Ukraine to the killing fields of Cambodia to the Cultural Revolution in China these idealistic ideologies all too often end up in mass murder. The lesson is that good intentions are not enough. You can't escape responsibility for your ideology merely by saying "Oh, but that is not what we intended." That was my point and you completely missed it.

Craig Carter said...

Charismanglican,
The idea that you can reject state socialism and embrace socialism is incoherent. That was Mao's dodge: he unleashed the cultural revolution in opposition to Stalin's state socialism and the "party state." Either you have socialist communes with voluntary membership or you resort to coercion. History shows no other alternative.

As for the medieval guilds, I find it curious that having used "medieval" as a swear word and having relocated witch burnings from the age of Enlightenment to the Middle Ages and having created a whole philosophy of history (progressivism) that views the past as inferior, anti-capitalists suddenly find the guilds of the medieval period so attractive and progressive. I think it just shows that their irrational hatred of capitalism will lead them to embrace anything: Islam, the middle ages, anything but capitalism.

charismanglican.com said...

Hm. I wonder if thoughtful Christian radicals have anything but good intentions, or if they have any knowledge of the horrors done in the name of ideology in the modern era?

Your response to Andy gives me little hope that you will seriously engage anything outside of your own ideology. Bummer.

Craig Carter said...

Mark,
What is in our heart is sin and sin leads to death. Civilization, and particularly the state with its sword symbolizing coercive authority, is a necessary institution in a fallen world because otherwise the sinfulness of human beings would lead to chaos, murder and brutality. But your website identifies civilization, which is part of God's common grace designed to mitigate the evil effects of our sin, as itself the source of evil. So your website is ungrateful for a good gift of God and exhibits a prideful self-confidence that we don't need to have order imposed on us because we are quite good enough to live peacefully together without it. (Of course the state does evil too; how could it not in a fallen world? But even a bad state is better than utter lawlessness and chaos and a moderately good state like the US or Canada is a great blessing.)

Order, without a centralized authority which is under law and mandated to enforce order, only lasts until the strong start to dominate the weak. You see so much injustice all around you; why do you assume that if the state were abolished all the unjust people would cease their exploitative ways?

This is bizarre - having literally to defend civilization against those who call themselves Christians! Christians have defended civilization for 2000 years.

I suppose you envy the splendid anarchy of Afghanistan where the order arises spontaneously out of the tribes, as opposed to the horrible, person-crushing oppression of the American Midwest.

charismanglican.com said...

We're cross-posting since I'm on my phone.

The idea that we have to deal with concrete history rather than abstract ideals is a great one. I'm completely on board. But, for those who follow Christ and are members of his Church, it us, at the least, problematic. After all, history gives no alternative to a violent and schismatic church.

The Christian Radicals, I suspect, have decent responses to all if this. But your comments seem to imply that you don't care. Can you recognize your own uncharity? Maybe the JR crowd don't conform to your caricature.

I know you're excited to discover historic orthodoxy and the failure of the "Enlightenment project". I'm going to suggest that you turn the conservative view of human nature back on yourself, say the prayer of confession, and be quicker to listen and slower to anger.

Craig Carter said...

Chrismanglican,
You know, I get this same kind of response all the time from left-leaning people:

1. I say that I reject socialism in all its forms from Marx on.

2. I offer instead the Augustinian, Western tradition, the English legal and political traditions of liberty, the traditional family, free markets etc - the tradition that has enabled the Anglo-Saxon world to bring liberty and prosperity to the globe and which has created the United States of America as a free and Christian nation.

3. The response is: "So you won't meet us half way and admit that socialism is at least half right? Then we can't talk." Then, I'm deemed to be stuck in my ideology, which becomes the excuse for dismissing my views.

The reality is that I reject your starting points: your presuppositions.

Two Examples:

First, you have a cartoon caricature of Western civilization as totally evil and you have the nerve to assume that as your starting point. That is simply not my starting point.

Second, you assume what needs to be demonstrated by starting with the modern re-definition of justice as income equality. But I believe the ancient definition of justice as "giving to each one his due" to be stronger and more biblical. So I can't accept your starting point.

The only way we can really dialogue is to try to drill down to our actual presuppositions and discuss why we hold them.

I am genuinely open to dialogue. But don't expect me to take you seriously when you just parrot talking points from the secular left and refuse to explore the presuppositions behind them.

Craig Carter said...

Charismanglican,
You are saying I'm being uncharitable and you hint that the Jesus Radicals have perfectly good explanations for their apparent heresies. Would that you are right.

But hold on just a second. I quoted from their website and interpreted it I think fairly. (If not, point out my errors.) And the interpretation is that it is heterodox. So do you mean that I'm uncharitable to point that out?

I'm not sure what you are after here. Nor do I see what the basis of your confidence in their orthodoxy is. I've been hanging around this crowd for 20 years, you know, and it has been going from good to bad for quite a while now. The Mennonite drift into liberal Protestantism has been picking up steam over the past few decades.

Sara said...

Regarding the reference to the fall: Why wouldn't the sins of the human heart lead to the creation of oppressive social structures? If you recall, in Genesis, the first humans were given dominion over the animals, not the plants, and most definitely not each other. And it was plants (fruit of trees) that God provided to be food for both humans and animals. So the concept of dominion from the beginning was NOT tied to the obtaining of food, which was the only necessity of life in paradise, and, as Jesus reminded, is a gift from our heavenly Father. The fall occurring in the human heart through disobedience of God's law then led to further forms of playing God by dominating the plant kingdom for food (grain wars), using the animals to obtain food (not what they were created for), and eventually enslaving other humans to obtain food, using the withholding of food as leverage for the stronger to rule the weaker, along with other forms of domination. It is possible to see the curse as the natural progression of sin as well as punishment for disobedience. But the gift is greater than the trespass. So if we receive the cleansing of our hearts through the death of Jesus, it will then have social consequences and we should begin to see a way out of the elaborate (and inefficient) systems that claim our allegiances, claiming to be benefactors for our good, while enslaving us to their versions of necessity. I don't think the evolution of our bodies allows us to suddenly jump back into prelapsarian paradise, but I think we need to be more critical of the "paradise" that civilization promises, which is basically defeating the fall through the works of MAN. I would add, though, that without the Biblical story, there could arise dangerous politics and reasons for exterminating even more human life than the current capitalist system does already (hard to believe). But if it leads to a bunch of people planting trees as a glad and communal response to the gift of salvation, for food, soil health, air quality, land and water retention and local self sufficiency, for future generations as well as for now, I'm not going to argue with that.

Craig Carter said...

Sara,
I too have no beef with soil conservation, tree-planting and laws against air pollution. And I agree that our personal sinfulness has social & ecological manifestations.

I would say that it is the modern nation state that over-promises in terms of "paradise." I wouldn't say "civilization" in general does that. I would just say civilization is better than barbarism in this fallen world because, like you, I can envision a politics even worse than what we have now.

Mark Van Steenwyk said...

Plenty of folks have lived largely decentralized lives outside of the dominating structures of "civilization" (which is just another name for Empire). You've drunken too deeply from the Augustinian Well. You are right in saying that I'm ungrateful to god. But it is the god of this age, who you apparently confuse with our Lord, who holds my contempt. I am proud to be cast into the heresy pile if your beliefs are orthodoxy. Let Jesus be my judge if I'm wrong.

DanO said...

Craig,

You state that you are "genuinely open to dialogue" but I have invited you to a sustained dialogue on more than one occasion and you have rejected the invitation because, and I quote, you see me as "the enemy of civilization and ordered liberty" (not sure how that expressing any openness...).

If your current statement means you are actually willing to change your mind, talk like an adult and an academic, and actually engage with arguments instead of creating straw men or simply avoiding any points made (like the point about how anarchists actually have a deeper appreciation for the fallen state of humans because they think it is utopian madness to give people, like cops, guns and then tell they are only accountable to themselves), then let me know. The invitation is still open.

BTW, I'm thinking about auditing your "Christ and Culture" course next term... may bring a few friends. I believe that the capitalist system that you love obligates you to engage with me then, since I'll be paying for that product (although, even if you don't, I'm sure I'll have plenty of good conversations with other students in the class).

Craig Carter said...

Dan,
The reason I won't debate you is simple. If you had objected to the Bush breakfast and wanted to dialogue then, I would have been willing.

But you didn't want debate or dialogue then; you wanted Bush to be cancelled and prevented from speaking. You took advantage of public opinion against Bush to shut down your ideological opponent and score some points. And he didn't get to say a word. You got to do all the talking and you got what you wanted. Fine. But don't pretend you are really after debate; you are after the end of debate.

The moral of the story is: Think about what you demand; you just might get it.

Matt said...

"Civilization, and particularly the state with its sword symbolizing coercive authority, is a necessary institution in a fallen world because otherwise the sinfulness of human beings would lead to chaos, murder and brutality."

Sorry, I couldn't keep reading after this because I was doubled over in laughter. You're suggesting that civilization prevents the sinfulness of human beings from leading to chaos, murder, and brutality? Or, if "prevents" is too strong an interpretation, choose a weaker one. But either way, that point could not be more incorrect. It is the very essence of civilization that leads to more and more chaos, murder and brutality.

Craig Carter said...

Matt,
So you would rather raise a family in 9th century England with Vikings raiding regularly than in early 20th century England under a Christian-influenced parliamentary democracy? . . . oh, sure you would.

Do you really expect to be taken seriously?

Wedding Photography Girl said...
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charismanglican.com said...

"The reality is that I reject your starting points: your presuppositions.

Two Examples:

First, you have a cartoon caricature of Western civilization as totally evil and you have the nerve to assume that as your starting point. That is simply not my starting point.

Second, you assume what needs to be demonstrated by starting with the modern re-definition of justice as income equality. But I believe the ancient definition of justice as "giving to each one his due" to be stronger and more biblical. So I can't accept your starting point."

I did neither of those things. Are you normally this paranoid, or are ad hominem attacks and straw men characteristic at Tyndale? I hardly know you. I just came across your blog and thought that you were very shallow and uncharitable. I suspect there's a lot of area of agreement between us, but you wouldn't know because you're busy fighting ghosts.

"I am genuinely open to dialogue. But don't expect me to take you seriously when you just parrot talking points from the secular left and refuse to explore the presuppositions behind them."

Well, when I start parroting the talking points of the secular left and refusing to explore my presuppositions, I'll know who to go to for abuse.

In the meantime, I think you're totally unaware of how you have characterized and mischaracterized just about everybody you've spoken to on this particular blog post without being slightly curious about any of their positions.

I understand using the word "heresy" rhetorically, but I'm conservative enough to know that such words aren't the domain of the heroic intellectual but the Church catholic. If you're curious about your appropriation of those words, the heterodoxy of these people that you disagree with, or even in just becoming more virtuous as a conversation partner, talk to your bishop. Us deluded lefties (according to your good judgment) are simply undeserving of your time, talent, and respectful speech.

Craig Carter said...

Charismanglican,
I didn't mean to accuse you of holding those presuppositions. I apologize for letting it appear that I did. I was talking about the website, which does appear to hold those views and, by extension, the authors of the website. They declare themselves to be socialists and anti-civilization on the website. Don't you think that kind of rhetoric needs to be challenged?

I still don't understand why you think I'm misrepresenting them. Could you point out an actual example?

Behind this debate is an old Anabaptist-Reformers debate about the role of the civil magistrate. If you take the 39 Articles seriously, why are you defending them?

DanO said...
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Ron12 said...
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Daniel said...
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Daniel said...
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Daniel said...
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Craig Carter said...

Comments are turned off on this post until the trolls go away.