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Anarchism and religion

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Anarchism and religion

[1] Nevertheless, some anarchists have provided religious interpretations and approaches to anarchism, including the idea that glorification of the state is a form of sinful idolatry.[2][3]


  • Anarchist clashes with religion 1
  • Religious anarchism and anarchist themes in religions 2
    • Buddhism 2.1
    • Christianity 2.2
    • Gnosticism 2.3
    • Islam 2.4
    • Judaism 2.5
    • Neopaganism 2.6
    • Taoism 2.7
  • Footnotes 3
  • References and further reading 4
  • See also 5
  • External links 6

Anarchist clashes with religion

Members of the Italian Anarchist Federation marching in an anticlerical demonstration. The banner reads "Free from dogmas, always heretics"

Anarchists "are generally [1]


Published posthumously in [1]

[1] wrote an essay titled Twelve Proofs of God's Inexistence.[5] German insurrectionary anarchist Johann Most wrote an article called "The God Pestilence".[6]

In the United States "freethought was a basically [7] Late 19th century/early 20th Century anarchists such as Voltairine de Cleyre were often associated with the freethinkers movement, advocating atheism.[8]

In Europe a similar development occurred in French and Spanish individualist anarchist circles. "Anticlericalism, just as in the rest of the libertarian movement, in another of the frequent elements which will gain relevance related to the measure in which the (French) Republic begins to have conflicts with the church...Anti-clerical discourse, frequently called for by the french individualist André Lorulot, will have its impacts in Estudios (a Spanish individualist anarchist publication). There will be an attack on institutionalized religion for the responsibility that it had in the past on negative developments, for its irrationality which makes it a counterpoint of philosophical and scientific progress. There will be a criticism of proselitism and ideological manipulation which happens on both believers and agnostics.".[9] This tendencies will continue in French individualist anarchism in the work and activism of Charles-Auguste Bontemps and others. In the Spanish individualist anarchist magazine Ética and Iniciales "there is a strong interest in publishing scientific news, usually linked to a certain atheist and anti-theist obsession, philosophy which will also work for pointing out the incompatibility between science and religion, faith and reason. In this way there will be a lot of talk on Darwin´s theories or on the negation of the existence of the soul.".[10] Spanish anarchists in the early 20th century were responsible for burning several churches, though many of the church burnings were actually carried out by members of the Radical Party while anarchists were blamed. The implicit and/or explicit support by church leaders for the National Faction during the Spanish Civil War greatly contributed to anti-religious sentiment.

Emma Goldman wrote in Anarchism: What It Really Stands For:

Anarchism has declared war on the pernicious influences which have so far prevented the harmonious blending of individual and social instincts, the individual and society. Religion, the dominion of the human mind; Property, the dominion of human needs; and Government, the dominion of human conduct, represent the stronghold of man's enslavement and all the horrors it entails.[11]

Chinese anarchists led the opposition to Christianity in the early 20th century, but the most prominent of them, Li Shizeng, made it clear that he opposed not only Christianity but all religion as such. When he became president of the Anti-Christian Movement of 1922 he told the Beijing Atheists' League: "Religion is intrinsically old and corrupt: history has passed it by" and asked "Why are we of the twentieth century... even debating this nonsense from primitive ages?"[12]

Religious anarchism and anarchist themes in religions

Religious anarchists view organised religion mostly as authoritarian and hierarchical that has strayed from its humble origins, as Peter Marshall explains:

The original message of the great religious teachers to live a Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed.[13]


Many Westerners who call themselves Buddhists regard the Buddhist tradition, in contrast to most other world faiths, as nontheistic, humanistic and experientially-based. Most Buddhist schools, they point out, see the Buddha as the embodied proof that transcendence and ultimate happiness is possible for all, without exception. They note that Buddhist scriptures such as the Kalama Sutta have an inherently libertarian emphasis, placing a priority on the questioning of all authority and dogma, with properly informed personal choice as final arbiter.

The Indian revolutionary and self-declared atheist Har Dayal, much influenced by Marx and Bakunin, who sought to expel British rule from the subcontinent, was a striking instance of someone who in the early 20th century tried to synthesize anarchist and Buddhist ideas. Having moved to the United States, in 1912 he went so far as to establish in Oakland the Bakunin Institute of California, which he described as "the first monastery of anarchism".[14][15]


Political cartoon by socialist cartoonist, Art Young, The Masses, 1917.

According to some, Christianity began primarily as a pacifist and anarchist movement. Jesus is said, in this view, to have come to empower individuals and free people from an oppressive religious standard in the Mosaic law; he taught that the only rightful authority was God, not Man, evolving the law into the Golden Rule (see also liberal Christianity).

According to Christian anarchists, there is only one source of authority to which Christians are ultimately answerable, the authority of God as embodied in the teachings of Jesus. Christian anarchists believe that freedom from government or Church is justified spiritually and will only be guided by the grace of God if Man shows compassion to others and turns the other cheek when confronted with violence.

As per Christian communism, anarchism is not necessarily opposed by the Catholic Church. Indeed, Distributism in Catholic social teaching such as Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum novarum and Pope Pius XI's Quadragesimo anno [16] resembles a Mutualist society based on Cooperatives, while Pope John Paul II's Catechism of the Catholic Church states "She (the Church) has...refused to accept, in the practice of "capitalism," individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice". Notable Catholic anarchists include Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin who founded the Catholic Worker Movement.

The anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s and in the North American anti-globalization movement, both of which included many thousands of anarchists and self-consciously adopted secular, consensus-based aspects of Quaker decision making.


The discovery of the ancient Gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi coupled with the writings of the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, especially with regard to his concept of the Black Iron Prison, has led to the development of Anarcho-Gnosticism.[17]

Some ancient forms of Gnosticism had many things in common with modern ideas of anarchism: their members lived on communes with little to no private property and they practiced ceremonies led by people chosen each time by lots rather than hierarchical authority. Some Gnostic groups also practiced equality among the sexes and people of various sexual orientation; some were vegetarians. Central to all Gnostic philosophy was an individual attainment of spiritual understanding and experience rather than one based on dogma. They often had decentralized church structure and, given that Gnostics believed we are all divine and one within the "fullness," they placed a strong emphasis on equality. Gnostics saw themselves in opposition to spiritual entities called "archons," a word which means "ruler"; the word "anarchy" comes from, "anarkhos," meaning, "without rulers," and so in many ways the goal of Gnosticism is literally anarchy.


There have been anti-authoritarian traits throughout the history of Islam, often related to Sufism. The end of the 20th century brought the syncretism of Islam and anarchism into a non-violent, anti-authoritarian philosophy espoused by people like Hakim Bey and Islam Hadari.


While many Jewish anarchists were irreligious or sometimes vehemently anti-religious, there were also a few religious anarchists and pro-anarchist thinkers, who combined contemporary radical ideas with traditional Judaism. Some secular anarchists, such as Abba Gordin and Erich Fromm, also noticed remarkable similarity between anarchism and many Kabbalistic ideas, especially in their Hasidic interpretation. Some Jewish mystical groups were based on anti-authoritarian principles, somewhat similar to the Christian Quakers and Dukhobors. Martin Buber, a deeply religious philosopher, had frequently referred to the Hasidic tradition.

The Orthodox Kabbalist rabbi Yehuda Ashlag believed in a religious version of libertarian communism, based on principles of Kabbalah, which he called altruist communism. Ashlag supported the Kibbutz movement and preached to establish a network of self-ruled internationalist communes, who would eventually annul the brute-force regime completely, for "every man did that which was right in his own eyes.", because there is nothing more humiliating and degrading for a person than being under the brute-force government.[18]

A British Orthodox rabbi, Yankev-Meyer Zalkind, was an anarcho-communist and very active anti-militarist. Rabbi Zalkind was a close friend of Rudolf Rocker, a prolific Yiddish writer and a prominent Torah scholar. He argued, that the ethics of the Talmud, if properly understood, is closely related to anarchism.

One contemporary movement in Judaism with anarchist tendencies is Jewish Renewal. The movement is trans-denominational, including Orthodox, non-Orthodox, Judeo-Buddhists and Judeo-Pagans, and focusing on feminism, environmentalism and pacifism.


Neopaganism, with its focus on the sanctity of nature and equality, along with its often decentralized nature, has led to a number of Neopagan inspired anarchists. One of the most prominent is Starhawk, who writes extensively about both Neopaganism and activism.


The central text of Taoism and Taoist philosophy, the Tao Te Ching, is considered by some as one of the great anarchist classics. At the time it was written in ancient China, there was a struggle between Taoists, Legalists and Confucians, where the Legalists were in favor of codification of law and a centralization of governance, while the Confucians generally preferred moderation using rites instead of laws. The Taoists, on the other hand, rejected such ideas. At the center of Taoism lies the notion of wu wei (often translated; action through inaction). It can be summed up by the following quote from the Tao Te Ching; 'The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering.'

These Taoist ideas resonate with modern concepts of anarchism. However, simply resonating with modern anarchists is not the same as an actual connection.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Nicolas Walter. "Anarchism and Religion"
  2. ^ Christoyannopoulos, Alexandre (March 2010). "A Christian Anarchist Critique of Violence: From Turning the Other Cheek to a Rejection of the State". Political Studies Association.
  3. ^ Christoyannopoulos, Alexandre (2010). Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel. Exeter: Imprint Academic. p. 254. "The state as idolatry"
  4. ^ Michael Bakunin (1916). "God and the State". Archived from the original on 30 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  5. ^ Sebastien Faure. Twelve Proofs of God's Inexistence.
  6. ^ Johann Most. "The God Pestilence"
  7. ^ a b Wendy McElroy. "The culture of individualist anarchist in Late-nineteenth century America"
  8. ^ Sharon Presley. "Exquisite Rebel: Voltairine de Cleyre". Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  9. ^ Virus Editorial. 2007. pg. 143El anarquismo individualista en España (1923-1939)Xavier Diez.
  10. ^ Virus Editorial. 2007. pg. 152El anarquismo individualista en España (1923-1939)Xavier Diez.
  11. ^ "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For" entry at the Anarchy Archives
  12. ^ Zarrow (1990), p. 156-157.
  13. ^ Peter Marshall (2011). Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, ed. Religious Anarchism: New Perspectives. p. xx. Introduction 
  14. ^ Anarchist Portraits by Paul Avrich, Princeton University Press, 1988, p30
  15. ^ Ghadar Movement: Ideology, Organisation and Strategy by Karish K. Puri, Guru Nanak Dev University Press, 1983
  16. ^ Allitt, Patrick (2000). Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome. Cornell University Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-8014-8663-0
  17. ^ The Radical Tradition: Philosophy, Metapolitics & the Conservative Revolution, edited by Troy Southgate, Primordial Traditions, 2011, pages 123-125
  18. ^ Baal HaSulam. "Building the Future Society". World Wide Kabbalah Academy. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  19. ^ Zarrow (1990), p. 6-13.

References and further reading

  • Zarrow, Peter Gue (1990). Anarchism and Chinese Political Culture. New York: Columbia University Press. .  

See also

External links

  • Buddhist Anarchism, by Gary Snyder
  • Anarchism and Unitarian Universalism, by Clayton Dewey
  • Taoism and Anarchy, essay by Mark Gillespie
  • Academics and Students Interested in Religious Anarchism (ASIRA)
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