I want to talk about ideas in this blog rather than about myself, but I thought it would be helpful to establish the context for my ideas by explaining a bit about myself. Thus, I explained in my first post why I consider myself a revolutionary and an anarchist more than anything else, which seemed like a useful introduction.
To establish more of a background for what lies ahead, I now want to add that I’m willing to own (or at least borrow on occasion) a few other labels. For instance, I’ll accept the label “anarcho-pacifist,” in view of my commitment to avoiding the use of violence. In view of actual facts, pacifism for me is little more than an ideal that I have failed to live up to. Pacifism is, however, a cherished ideal, and I think it’s worth striving to achieve a state of mind and a mode of being in which violence is rejected 100% of the time.
It’s impossible, from my perspective, to achieve anything truly good by any kind of coercion ─ especially liberty, except in cases of an individual coercing his or her own body to comply with the dictates of reason and conscience, or coercing his or her mind to acquiesce to spiritual direction. Indeed, I consider the human tendency towards violence to be a kind of slavery. Love beckons and attempts to influence. Love woos. Love does not coerce. And love, to me, is the pinnacle of all emotions, thoughts, words, and actions. Love should be the central focus of every person’s life and mission. If it were, this world would look drastically different. Things would be exceedingly better.
So I see the pacifist mindset as integral to a loving lifestyle, and I suppose if pacifism were easy, it wouldn’t be a worthy goal. But the difference between having a goal and attaining that goal is the difference between a person who’s truly worthy of the label anarcho-pacifist and myself. I’m more of a wishful anarcho-pacifist. A would-be, you know, in the ideal circumstances. I was taught as a child that certain people and things are worth defending. Like most boys, I grew up fighting on the playground and on the sports field. And there’s always a chance I’ll find myself in the presence of somebody I think really needs nothing more in the present moment than a swift kick in the ass. Thus, to always take the pacifist route is a perpetual challenge. Hence, I’m hesitant to claim attainment.
The older I get, however, the more obvious it becomes that all the ass-kickings in the world don’t help the sorts of people who seem to “need” them. And the bad vibes involved in such confrontations is a huge drag for most everyone else in the vicinity. So hopefully I’ll turn the other cheek from here on out… or… you know… you can shit in one hand and hope in the other, and we’ll see how it all plays out. Anyway, I approve of and highly recommend pacifism. It seems like the way of the spiritual master. It was definitely the way of the only person I’m willing to call master ─ that notorious Jesus fellow from Nazareth, by way of Bethlehem. Yep. Jesus Christ. The one true badass in all of human history.
Speaking of Christ, I’m willing to identify as a “Christian” too, but I’m reluctant to own the label for reasons similar to those that dissuade me from calling myself a pacifist. On one hand, the circulation of the term Christian over the past two thousand years has exposed it to sundry perversions and misconstructions with which I decline to associate. So I might want to distance myself from “Christians” for pride’s sake. Pride, however, is foolishness. Thus, more importantly, I’m reluctant to apply the name Christian to myself because my own faith (if I have any) is too small, fragile, and fluctuating for me to profess myself a Christian with any real confidence. Assuming I might possess or exercise true faith at any point is one dubious thing, but my overall conduct falls too far short of the Christian ideal for me to further blacken the name Christian by my affiliation. Consequently, just as I’m more of a wishful anarcho-pacifist than an actual anarcho-pacifist, I’m more of a hopeful Christian than an actual Christian. I’m an aspiring Christian, if you will.
I was baptized as an infant and brought up in and around mainstream Christianity, but I’ve walked in and out of churches throughout my life. I’ve earned formal degrees in comparative religion and Christian theology, but that amounts to little more than the purchase of dunce caps and paper certificates. My family is mostly Protestant, but no Protestant sect today interests me, except perhaps the Amish. I admire the simple, earthy lifestyles of the Mennonites and Amish. Unfortunately, I’m dissatisfied with significant portions of their theology. The “independent” or “home church” movement interested me for a time, but it too fails to satisfy. The most convincing preacher I’ve known was an “Old School” “Hardshell” Primitive Baptist, and I like much about the Old School Primitive Baptist faith and sect, but not all of that doctrine convinces. I also think traditional Lutheranism has much to recommend it ─ “traditional” meaning the more rigorous sects like the Church of the Lutheran Confession. But again, the closer I look, the more deficiencies I see.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there aren’t genuine Christians involved in all those sects. To the contrary, I’m certain that there are! I believe there are true Christians in all denominations and sects that I have explored. I’ve just never felt completely satisfied in any of them. Never found a comfortable, stable home, until...
I joined the Roman Catholic Church. Shocking as it may seem, I’m thoroughly pleased with my decision. Of course, I realize that I joined an institution fraught with tensions, difficulties, contradictions, and much ugliness. For those reasons, I walked out of that Church too. I stayed away for over a year in the wake of highly publicized waves of global scandal, but eventually I returned, finding no better place to go. I admire the Eastern Orthodox faith. I revere the Coptic and Syriac traditions. Yet, as a Westerner, I can’t find a church with a fuller, richer Christian history than the Catholic Church.
Blatant, widespread corruption in the Church is problematic, of course, but only mildly so, because I know that all humans are imperfect — and besides, Jesus said to let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest (Mt 13:24-43). If you’ve ever seen a cornfield infested with weeds and brambles, it probably looked more like a briar patch than a cornfield. Such a field is the Church. More often than not, to the casual observer, the Catholic Church looks like a frightful briar patch overrun with thorns and thistles fit more for the flames of hell than the founts of heaven. Nevertheless, there really is choice corn flourishing among those nettles – not just the present-day saints throughout the world, but the saints in heaven and the testimonies they have left, which the Church has safeguarded now for more than two thousand years. The fruits of the Catholic Church are astonishingly plentiful and robust. Accordingly, I’ve learned to accept the Church for the briar-choked cornfield that it is.
The authoritarianism, for me, was a tougher sticking point than the corruption. I mean, the civil government and demands of survival in a capitalist/communist global economy place enough laws, rules, and restrictions on me. I don’t need the additional “obligations” of a Church on top of all that. The resolution to that dilemma lay in recognizing that, whereas most secular laws are arbitrary and primarily benefit the lawmakers and law enforcers over the people they pretend to assist, Catholic government really does intend the good of the whole Church. Catholic governance via the hierarchy is like a body of physicians recommending that everyone drink plenty of water, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and get plenty of rest. Doubtless, many physicians fail to heed their own advice, but the advice itself remains sound and is more beneficial than it could ever be burdensome. The “demands” of the Church are similarly beneficial.
Finally, I had some difficulties with revelation itself, and with the accompanying “pretensions” of “revealers” so poignantly raised in the writings of Mikhail Bakunin. The Church seems to mirror secular society (or vice versa), with an opulent minority riding high on the backs of an enslaved majority. And the concept of a Church hierarchy would appear to be grounded in the doctrine of revelation itself with its necessity for an elite class of revealers. However, if one looks carefully, one sees a marked difference between the Church and the world. If God is so infinitely pure that a relatively wretched human being would prefer not to encounter Him in such a state, then the revealers are not so much privileged as they are burdened. That’s exactly how the revealers are portrayed in the Bible and other Christian literature. Personal visits from God are purportedly more terrifying than comforting. So the revealers undertake a burden on behalf of the Church that most people would prefer not to bear.
The Catholic hierarchy is also destined to bear more responsibility than the laity will on the Day of Judgment (Jas 3:1). Thus, Catholics can be thankful for the hierarchy rather than feeling oppressed by it, even if many within the hierarchy fail to practice what they preach. In that, they resemble the Pharisees that Jesus spoke about, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” Here the priests, bishops, and cardinals together with the pope have taken their seat on the chair of Peter rather than on the chair of Moses. That’s about the only difference.
Secular rulers would like the public to think the same things of them, of course ─ that the secular hierarchy, like the Catholic hierarchy, serves others more than itself and bears more responsibility for its role. Then too, if many persons in secular government are corrupt, well, at least some are not, and we should all do and observe whatsoever they proclaim and enact because they mean us well and good in all of that. However, that’s pure nonsense (Romans 13 notwithstanding). The difference between Catholic governance and secular governance shows itself in the differing practical results.
There have been innumerable demonstrably good, helpful, self-sacrificing priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes throughout history, while even the best secular rulers appear more or less depraved, enriching themselves and a minority of favored constituents while depriving the vast majority of subjects through a multitude of crooked plots and schemes . Everything proclaimed and enacted by the Catholic hierarchy verifiably promotes the good of all Catholics, while most of what the secular hierarchy proclaims and enacts merely oppresses and degrades most people. The main reason is this: God’s Holy Spirit is always operating to preserve the good amidst the evil in the institutional Church, while the same Holy Spirit seldom if ever operates in secular government.
Indeed, despite the tendency of Catholic hagiographies to exaggerate the excellence of saintly lives, as near as I can tell, Catholic saints are among the best and loveliest persons in the history of the world. Furthermore, I think Catholic theology is the most beautiful, thorough, and balanced body of spiritual thought in the world. Yes, I deplore much Catholic conduct and all scandal, and the lifestyles of most Catholics appear boringly status quo. But I feel drawn to the Catholic Church for its 2,000 years’ worth of truth and beauty, and for the company of so many saints who are always present in her midst.
I have no delusions of becoming a saint myself in this life, but I’m determined to try. And I’m encouraged by the thought of purgatory. That I might die with at least enough faith, hope, and love to enter into a purifying process whereby God’s love will continue operating on me and drawing me upwards seems like the best news anyone’s ever offered me. I don’t just want to be “saved” and “declared righteous” in the Protestant juridical sense. I want to be completely transformed by love. So I’m working on that here and trusting God to work on me too, primarily through means of his Church, Sacraments, and so forth.
Clearly then, I’m a Catholic in some sense. But I’d hate to further sully the name Catholic by association with that term too. So I might be a hopeful Catholic or an aspiring Catholic. It’s an odd place to be. But what can I say? I’m me. Doubtful, sinful, and aloof, yet hopeful, yearning, and attached at the same time. I don’t know where I belong in this world, but I suspect it’s nowhere. I suspect I’m only a pilgrim and a stranger passing through, such that no place in this world is a really suitable home for me.
Overall, I’m skeptical. I’m completely distrustful of civic government. I’m only slightly more trustful of Church government. I see no reason for anyone to put faith in any religion outside of Christianity, but I applaud whatever love anyone finds in other religions. I give the benefit of the doubt to all who profess themselves Christians and suppose that true Christians are scattered throughout the world in various denominations and sects, while I prefer the Catholic tradition for the depth of its spiritual riches. I’m distrustful of pretty much everyone and everything, including myself. Hence, I focus on establishing self-trust by prosecuting the personal revolution discussed in my first post. Beyond claims of being this sort of revolutionary anarchist, I can only say that I’m an aspiring anarcho-pacifist Catholic Christian. Such aspirations involve me with “Christian Anarchy.” Peter Maurin. Dorothy Day. Ammon Hennacy. The Berrigan Brothers. I like those kinds of people and their living testimony.
Whatever I say from this point on, it should be clear that there is a strong anarcho-pacifist Catholic Christian influence on my thoughts and actions, although I’m hesitant to identify as an anarcho-pacifist Catholic Christian if it means claiming more for myself than is proper or dragging true anarcho-pacifists and Catholics and Christians further down through guilt by association with me. I’m a work in progress, and my main concern is love ─ true love, and how to increase true love everywhere, in every loving way, through every loving means.
I love comedy and laughter too though, so don’t expect me to be serious all the godam time. What the fuck? The whole habitable world is oppressed by government bullies and assorted gangsta-ass bastards, and you expect me to keep a straight face through all this? Won’t happen. This bullshit is so hateful, wasteful, and obnoxiously stupid, it’s downright hilarious. I’m laughing all the time at how much this whole place sucks.