Jesus is in the Anarchists

Sometime in the last year, I began a faith deconstruction, and I realise that this is a terrible way to start this post as I don’t even know where to begin describing what that means. What have I deconstructed? Why? What prompted it? What does my faith consist of now that I’ve deconstructed? Have I started reconstructing or am I mostly just sitting around looking lost and wondering what I even believe any more?

I stumbled across this post from Unfundamentalist Christians today and it kind of put into words what I’ve been struggling to explain:

“I’ve asked about every troubling question you can imagine, and yet my faith remains intact. It’s a lot less comfortable than before, and in some ways barely recognizable, but it’s also deeper, richer, and more authentic. It’s constantly changing too, which can be exhausting, but also kind of exhilarating.”

I still believe that God exists so I guess my faith is (mostly) intact, but I’m definitely right in the middle of the constantly changing, exhausting part of reconstructing my beliefs, with the exhilarating moments few and far between. Occasionally I find something that really speaks to me in the midst of this weird deconstruction, and it’s incredibly freeing to realise that other people believe the same things as me–not just in the sense of “God exists”, but “God exists and we should dismantle the patriarchy”. Just knowing that I’m not alone and that other people have come to the same conclusions makes me feel a whole lot saner and a bit less heretical.

One of the conclusions that I’ve come to in the midst of my deconstruction, is that I’m an Anarchist. I mean, I already call myself a Feminist and confuse the heck out of a lot of conservative Christians, so why not add Anarchist into the mix as well to make things even more controversial? I’m not entirely sure when I started labelling my beliefs this way. I have a wonderful, amazing friend–whom I’ve only known for two years but it feels like she’s been there forever–who frequently writes posts on Facebook about her anarchist beliefs, and at some point during the two years we’ve known each other, my internal responses shifted from “This is intriguing but also kind of crazy” to “All of this makes complete sense and I entirely agree with it”. Not going to lie, my utter anger at the post-Brexit, post-Trump world kind of ignited my desire to align myself with anarchism, but it was a gradual process and entirely accidental. I didn’t go looking for anarchism–it found me, or I fell into it, or some other cliche.

So, what even is anarchism, and how has it somewhat saved my faith in God and humanity, and well, just everything? As much as I suck at describing my faith, I also kind of suck at describing anarchism. It’s super tempting to describe what anarchism is against rather than what it advocates for–which, admittedly, kind of happens with Christianity a lot as well. I was initially going to quote from Mark Van Steenwyk’s That Holy Anarchist (which is amazing because it helpfully brings together many of my beliefs in one accessible place and if you’re even remotely intrigued by Christo-Anarchism you should read it because it’s available for free here) but I discovered that Jesus Radicals (to which Van Steenwyk contributes) has a more coherent explanation:

“Anarchism is the name given to the principle under which a group of people may organize without rule.  It is being against one group or person having “power over” others.  For us, anarchism begins with naming and resisting those things that oppress, rejecting social hierarchies that place one group of people over another.  Anarchism rejects the logic that places some over other on the basis of race, ethnic or cultural background, legal status, social status, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or any other rationale used for one group to exercise domination over another.  It means challenging capitalism with its social inequalities based upon private property and wage labor and instead envisioning a society that emphasizes cooperation, mutual aid, holding land in common, and workers sharing ownership of the means of production.  It means committing ourselves to undoing the legacies of oppression that have been passed down to us as we seek to build communities of hospitality and inclusion.”

In That Holy Anarchist, Van Steenwyk writes that:

“Anarchists are rarely simply against the State—they have (or should) become namers of all forms of oppression, seeking to understand the way oppressions reinforce each other in enslaving creation and seeing, in contrast, a way of liberation and life for all of creation.”

To those who call themselves Christians, this idea of liberation shouldn’t sound particularly radical, because supposedly our faith is about bringing about the liberation of all creation too. That’s not to say that anarchists have just hijacked Christianity and taken Jesus out of it and attempted to rebrand it as their own thing. Anarchism may be considered revolutionary, but it’s not a new movement in any way. Anthropologist David Graeber writes that:

The basic principles of anarchism—self-organization, voluntary association, mutual aid—referred to forms of human behavior they assumed to have been around about as long as humanity. The same goes for the rejection of the State and of all forms of structural violence, inequality, or domination…even the assumption that all these forms are somehow related and reinforce each other. None of it was presented as some startling new doctrine. And in fact it was not: one can find records of people making similar arguments throughout history, despite the fact there is every reason to believe that in most times and places, such opinions were the ones least likely to be written down. We are talking less about a body of theory, then, than about an attitude, or perhaps one might even say a faith: the rejection of certain types of social relations, the confidence that certain others would be much better ones on which to build a livable society, the belief that such a society could actually exist.”

If Anarchism has basically been around forever, so has Christo-Anarchism. Van Steenwyk devotes an entire chapter in That Holy Anarchist to Christian movements whose actions have overlapped with anarchism, from the early church right up to the current day. This isn’t some ridiculous new idea that I’ve dreamed up to try to rebuild a faith in the midst of my Trump-prompted deconstruction, some amusing but unrealistic concept dredged out of sleep deprivation and near-delirium from too many mornings spent watching Team Umizoomi with my toddler. Christo-Anarchism (or whatever you want to call it, because apparently no one can decide on an official title) is an actual thing, a thing that people other than me practice. People have been doing it since Christianity existed (you could even be totally radical and argue that it is Christianity), and it just, well, makes a lot of sense.

Christianity that is infused with capitalism, imperialism and patriarchy, that both props up and relies on oppressive political powers while somehow simultaneously discouraging its followers from being “too political” (how does that even make sense?), that doesn’t actually succeed in helping our neighbours beyond telling them the Good News of Jesus, that creates a community that consists of occasional casseroles and platitudes and promises of prayers and not much else—is not what Jesus advocated for. I’m not sure how we ever convinced ourselves that it was.

I’ve believed in God for too long to simply abandon the possibility that he exists, but I need to be part of a faith that allows me to criticise and challenge (and possibly even dismantle) structures of power, that allows me to admit that the rampant imperialism in the Old Testament and Christian history in general is actually pretty uncomfortable. A faith that confesses that it created and contributed to many of the problems in the world, and that’s ready to fix them. A faith that isn’t just for the gainfully employed hetero-normative middle class. A faith that looks around the world and shouts “THIS ISN’T WORKING.” A faith that sees our capitalist, patriarchal, oppressive society and believes that this is not what Jesus’ kingdom is supposed to look like.

Back in November, I seriously struggled to see Jesus anywhere. I couldn’t see him in the colleagues who had voted for Trump and stood behind their decision. I couldn’t see him in the friends who tried to tell me that it wasn’t really that bad, that we just had to wait and see how things panned out. I couldn’t see him in the prayers and the platitudes and out-of-context Bible verses that were spouted in an attempt to convince me that everything would be okay if I just had faith and kept believing. I really struggled to see him anywhere at all, to be honest. But there’s this small anarchist community in my city–where I have one friend who I met through a freaking breastfeeding group, of all places–who actually seemed to be angry about all the same things as me. They didn’t stop being angry after a couple of days or weeks. They attended protests and held discussion groups where they talked about topics like mutual aid and solidarity, which felt like the kind of things my Bible study group should be discussing, to be honest. They seemed to care, to want to change things, to not want to put up with the way things are. It sounds utterly ridiculous, but the one place I saw Jesus was in the anarchists, and the more I read about their beliefs, the more I felt like I’d found my home. 

I’ve been hesitantly owning the Anarchist label for the last six months, and reading That Holy Anarchist confirmed a lot of the ideas that I’ve been mulling over. I don’t feel quite so crazy for believing that Christianity and Anarchism can line up, that this fusion of beliefs does make sense in some way;

Since Jesus is (as Christians believe) the truest revelation of God, then he defines for us what the reign of God looks like. The social, economic, political, and religious subversions of such an un-reign are almost endless—peace-making instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation, sacrifice rather than subjugation, mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the powerful, generosity instead of greed, embrace rather than exclusion. Jesus is calling for a loving anarchy. An unkingdom. Of which he is the unking.”

Our faith has never been about gaining power, and I don’t believe we’re only called to challenge the world in a spiritual sense. If we’re called to love our neighbour, then we’re also called to advocate for them, to bring them out of oppression–and perhaps it’s entirely necessary to bring about freedom from earthly oppression before we broach the subject of spiritual liberation. Maybe dismantling systems of oppression is a form of evangelism. Sometimes loving our neighbour might require us to be uncomfortable, to take a stance that is neither polite nor neutral, to stand beside those who don’t share our faith but do share our desire to completely do away with all forms of oppression forever. As Van Steenwyk writes;

“In the early days—the first century of the Jesus movement—the church was invisible to most people in the Roman empire. However, they had a growing reputation as an alternative and seemingly antisocial community that lived in the nooks and crannies of Empire.

Christians were thought to be extreme, subversive, stubborn, and defiant. The Roman writer Tacitus called them “haters of humanity.” They rejected the central facets of Roman religious and political life. In his view they actively undermined society with their indifference to civic affairs. Some critics even blamed Christians for the fall of Rome.”

I can’t do comfortable, privileged, neutral Christianity any more. I want the subversive kind that seeks to undermine societal norms and systems of oppression, but I’ve seriously struggled to find this radical, disruptive form of Christianity in the church. Reading That Holy Anarchist and discovering that Christo-Anarchism is an actual thing has made me feel a bit less alone. Realising that there are other people who are just as frustrated and disillusioned as me has given me hope that I’m not alone in my anger and desire to change things.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing, and I feel like I should add a disclaimer stating that I’m not an expert on either Christianity or Anarchism, but this is where I’ve ended up. I’m not sure if Anarchists want me or if Christians will finally deem me too heretical to use their label any longer, but here I am. 2017 is turning out to be a pretty insane year, and Christo-Anarchism is one of the few things that makes sense.

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It’s Healthy to Not Be Entirely Fulfilled by Motherhood

Last night my friend Moriah tagged me in a Tumblr post about not demonizing women who want to have families, with the following comment:

because I like to hear you rant… I’m tagging you in case you have Thoughts™. 😉 

I kind of love that having Thoughts™ on subjects like this is something that I’m known for. My response ended up becoming a bit of an essay, and it seemed to hit a chord with a couple of friends and my writing group, so I thought it warranted posting publicly.

* * *

The crux of the original post was that women who chose to get married and have children—especially in their early twenties—are often judged harshly by their peers who are focusing on their careers. That these women are made to feel that they’ve failed at being feminists because they’ve chosen a more traditional route, even when the emphasis is on the fact that they’ve actively chosen this life. Personally, I don’t think I received a lot of flak for getting married at 20 and having a child at 22, but this is most likely because I spent a lot of time in Christian circles at the time, and marrying young is definitely more common in that culture.

I know a lot of women who have proclaimed that all they want in life is to get married and have a family, and at one point, I was one of those women. I’m not entirely sure how I found myself saying those words, as I’ve been writing “novels” since I was six years old. Getting married and having children isn’t something I actually thought all that much about until I was older. I never expected that I’d get married while I was still at university, but it happened, and I found myself falling into the lie of believing that I was “called” to be a wife and mother, above everything else. It kind of makes sense in retrospect—I’d never been interested in a traditional career, one that put me behind a desk from 9-5 every weekday and actually paid a living wage—but having come out the other side of this period of my life, I can see how this line of thinking was actually pretty toxic.

While I entirely agree with the sentiment in the original post about not judging women who chose to marry and have children in their early twenties, or just women who don’t have any desire for a standard (read: corporate) career, I feel pretty conflicted about the rhetoric of “but what if some women just want to be wives and mothers and nothing else?” I could de-gender this statement, but I honestly haven’t heard any men say that they only want to be husbands and fathers. Even my dad, who was a stay-at-home parent way back in 1991, had hobbies he worked on when my brother and I weren’t demanding all of his attention. He occasionally made money off these interests, but the crux of it was—he had stuff he did outside of being a dad, and that was an integral part of his identity.

It seems incredibly healthy to have interests and hobbies and just stuff that you do that isn’t related to the people in your life. Whether you’re male or female, married or single, childless or a parent, you need to be fulfilled by something other than relationships with other humans, otherwise you’re going to be incredibly disappointed, because people are flawed and screw up and disappoint you. Even the ones you love. Even the ones you gave birth to. Again, I think this is an issue that particularly pertains to women. Stay-at-home dads are frequently praised and kind of given superhero status, and no one is going to sneer at them for having a hobby that doesn’t relate to their kids, or for wanting one evening every week where they can skip bedtime so they can participate in some activity or just go to the pub. The same cannot be said for women, especially when their children are babies or toddlers. And truthfully? It’s often other women judging the mothers who carve out time for themselves, away from their children.

I absolutely do not think that every woman (or person, for that matter) should be pushed to have a career, or earn money, or even go to university. The fact that we have the right to do all of these things doesn’t mean that we all have to do them. I do think that it’s incredibly important to just have some hobbies or things you’re passionate about. Scrapbooking! Airfix Models! Tennis! Gardening! Amateur Radio! Literally anything that interests you and gives you a sense of fulfilment. Becoming a parent might even ignite in you a passion that you’re able to continue once your child has left home—I know many mothers of older children who are still breastfeeding counsellors with La Leche League.  Just…find something you’re passionate about that isn’t reliant on pleasing other people. Because people can fail you. And pinning your entire life’s purpose on being a wife and mother can come crashing down if you aren’t able to actually become a wife and mother, or those roles look entirely different from how you imagined.

I hit fertility problems after my first child was born, and suddenly my entire life-plan of having 3+ children and having them all close together and staying at home to homeschool them entirely collapsed. It affected my mental health really badly, as I wasn’t able to live up to the my/society’s standard of what motherhood looked like, and since that was what I was basing my worth on, everything just imploded. I had reduced my entire personhood to Rachel the Mother, and I’d forgotten who I was outside of that. It took me a while to figure out who Rachel the Human was, and fall back on the hobbies I used to be interested in before I became a parent. Writing helped me to figure out who I was outside of being a mother, and it’s something that I can continually work at and improve on. Having more kids? That’s not something I can just “try harder” and get better at, in spite of the insane amount of fertility charting I conducted. Every month that I didn’t get pregnant, it felt like I was failing at achieving the idea of motherhood that I’d been presented with.

It took me a while to accept that my experience as a mother to one child was just as valid as that of a mother of three or five or nine children. That just because I didn’t have that joyous messy image of mothering multiple tiny children at once—as is presented in so many Christian memoirs and self-help books—it didn’t mean I was any less of a mother. For now, I have one child, and he’s growing up incredibly quickly and becoming less reliant on me by the day. In this season of him becoming more independent while my friends are having their second, third and fourth children, I’m finding it incredibly helpful to have other interests. It’s ended up being an entirely essential form of self-care, and I think think having interests outside of mothering would still be pretty important even if I did have more than one child.

There are many, many days where I feel like I’m utterly failing at being a good mother, and it’s so encouraging to have something else I can focus on that I know I can do well. For me, it’s writing, but for other stay-at-home parents it could be something as simple as baking a cake or knitting a scarf or getting out of the house to play a board game with friends. Literally, just, having a hobby. It’s not something stay-at-home parents should need to fight for the right to have, but in a society that wants mothers to forget their own needs and martyr themselves on the altar of perfect motherhood, we often forget that we need to do something unrelated to our families.

[As a side-note, I want to call out the phrase “good mother”, even though I just used it. I don’t want to label anyone, even myself, as a good or bad mother, but it happens almost unintentionally when we claim that being a mother is our “job”. We’ve established that it’s an entirely valid life choice to not want to have a career outside the home, and that raising a family can be a full-time job, but if we view it in that light, we can fall into the trap of measuring how “good” we are at parenting. After all, you can be a good writer, a good programmer, a good chef—but if your job title is wife or mother, measuring those roles in this way feels super problematic. Let’s just not do it.]

Honestly, if we don’t tell men that they should feel entirely fulfilled by their relationships to their wives and children, we shouldn’t have the same expectation for women. It’s okay—nay, incredibly healthy—to have something else you enjoy, besides caring for your family.

So, yes, support women who choose to get married and have a family, who don’t get married but still have children, who get married but don’t have children, or who stay single and have no desire to ever have children. ALL of these options are valid. But whatever you’re doing with your life, don’t fall into the trap of basing your entire self-worth off your relationships with other people. Being a wife or mother can be incredibly fulfilling, but it isn’t the only thing that defines you, and it’s entirely normal and healthy to need time to do something, anything else.

I’m Rachel the Wife and Rachel the Mother, but I’m also so many other things. I’m a feminist, an anarchist, a romance novelist, and a book reviewer. I’m sometimes an editor, an historian, and a bit of a goth. I listen to a lot of metal and play board games. If I could make time for it, I’d love to do more non-written art. I can’t find the words to accurately describe what I believe spiritually, but I’m working on that, and I’m always up for talking about it. I bake on a regular basis, but mostly out of habit and so that I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks undisturbed. I do know a lot about breastfeeding and babywearing and cloth nappies, so feel free to hit me up about those things, but on any given day I’d much rather discuss toxic masculinity than my favourite kind of sling. I have too many descriptors to fit into a Twitter bio, and it feels rather liberating.