Anarchism and religion

Anarchism and religion

Anarchists have traditionally been skeptical of and opposed to organized religion. [] Many organized religions are hierarchical and are aligned with contemporary power structures similar to those found in state hierarchies.Clarifyme|date=March 2008 As the [ Anarchist FAQ] site states; "If anarchism is the rejection of illegitimate authorities, then it follows that it is the rejection of the so-called Ultimate Authority, God." This does not mean that anarchists are in opposition to personal "faith", only to the authoritarian nature of organized religion. Further, Anti-authoritarianism is a central theme in some religious sects and non-sectarian churches, and some other variants of mainstream religions. Many notable anarchists have been religious. Some anarchists, like Leo Tolstoy and Ammon Hennacy, were firm believers in the principles of Christian anarchism and nonviolence.

Anarchist clashes with religion

Published posthumously in French in 1882, Mikhail Bakunin's "God and the State" [ [ God and the State] ] was one of the first Anarchist treatises on religion. Bakunin expounds his philosophy of religion's place in history and its relationship to the modern political state. It was later published in English by Mother Earth Publications in 1916.

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 fascism during the Spanish Civil War greatly contributed to anti-religious sentiment.

Emma Goldman wrote in "Anarchism: What It Really Stands For", [anarchives|goldman/aando/anarchism.html|"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."

Late 19th century/early 20th Century anarchists such as Voltairine de Cleyre were often associated with the freethinkers movement, advocating atheism. [Exquisite Rebel: Voltairine de Cleyre, Sharon Presley [] ]

Anarchist themes in religion

Anarchistic and anti-authoritarian movements have played significant roles in the development of certain religions, particularly those that arose during a class struggle. Some of these are viewed as having explicit anarchist teachings.


Buddhism is a nontheistic, humanistic, experientially based tradition in contrast to many other religions. Most Buddhist schools recognize Buddha as a man and as a symbol for attainment of enlightenment. Buddhist scriptures, like the Kalama Sutta, have an anti-authoritarian attitude encouraging the questioning of authority and religious dogma and trusting personal judgment.

Buddhist communities are often feared by kings or rulers due to their lack of property. By voluntarily rejecting all material possessions and not fearing pain or death, Buddhists naturally "escape" earthly systems of power because there was no way to manipulate themFact|date=April 2008.

The Indian nationalist Har Dayal aimed to draw together his anarchism with buddhism, particularly while in San Francisco. ["Ghadar Movement: Ideology, Organisation and Strategy" by Karish K. Puri, Guru Nanak Dev University Press, 1983]


According to some, Christianity was originally a peaceful anarchist movement (see Ebionites). Jesus is said, in this view, to have come to empower individuals and free people from oppressive religious doctrines in Mosaic law; he taught that the only rightful authority was God, not Man, evolving the law into the Golden Rule.

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. The 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 Quaker church, or the International Society of Friends, is organized along anarchist lines. All decisions are made locally and by consensus in a community of equals where every members voice has equal weight. While there are no formal linkages between Quakerism and Anarchism and Quakers as a whole hold a wide variety of political opinions, the long tradition of Quaker involvement in social-justice work and similar outlooks on how power should be structured and decisions should be reached has led to significant crossover in membership and influence between Christian Anarchists and Quakers. The quaker influence was particularly pronounced in 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 the Quakers consensus-based decision making.

Libertarian Christian anarchists, on the other hand, see the invisible hand of the marketplace as a natural replacement for the state. "Anarcho-capitalist" Christians are confident that such market-based alternatives as aggression insurance, private security, and private arbitration will replace abusive state monopolies in these areas.

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.


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 Yakoub Islam.


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". [ [ Building the Future Society | Baal HaSulam | Kabbalah Library - World Wide Kabbalah Academy ] ]

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.


The central text of Taoism and taoist philosophy, the Tao Te Ching, is considered by some as one of the great anarchist classics.Fact|date=March 2007 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 Confucianists 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.' This and other ideas in the Tao Te Ching resonates with modern concepts of anarchism.


One of the most important rules in Thelema simply states "Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the law." and also there is a strong emphasize and focus on individualism in Thelema. François Rabelais and Aleister Crowley encouraged followers to refuse dogmas and things that may appear as collectivism. Theodor Reuss, a close associate of Crowley, was deeply involved to the anarchist movement, infiltrating the London anarchist milieu whilst working for the Prussian police to expose anarchists.

Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalism, or UUism, is not necessarily an anarchist religion, but has structures which have anarchist characteristicsFact|date=April 2008. UUism is a religion in which the churches and services are generally democratically run and somewhat decentralised and autonomous. Lay congregants often organise their own services when the ministers take breaks. The services are often open to member participation. The seven values of UUism are generally in agreement with anarchist valuesFact|date=April 2008.


Wicca is an initiatory and hierarchical form of religious witchcraft organised into independent covens, each governed autocratically by a High Priest and/or a High Priestess. All Wiccans are considered priesthood, capable of approaching divinity without intermediaries, and the approach to theology tends to be undogmatic. Practitioners freely modify and invent ritual, although there is a tendency to preserve certain traditional structures. The ethical philosophy is almost entirely summed up in the Wiccan Rede: "An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will". There are also an increasing number of "Eclectic Wiccans" who have no formal connection to the traditional forms of Wicca but have adopted many of its structures and principles, and often remain totally independent (as "solitaries") rather than worshipping in groups. Wicca is not inherently anarchic.


ee also

*Freedom of religion
*Haghani Circle
*Simple living
*Tax resistance

External links

* [ Anarchism and religion] from
* [ Zen and the Art of Anarchy] , essay by King Mob
* [ Zenarchy] , by Kerry Wendell Thornley
* [ Buddhist Anarchism] , by Gary Snyder
* [ Buddhist Anarchism] , by Daniel Trent Dillon
* [ Anarchism and Unitarian Universalism] , by Clayton Dewey
* [ Taoism and Anarchy] , essay by Mark Gillespie

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