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Anarchism and religion

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Anarchists traditionally have been skeptical and opposed to organized religion. Most organized religions are hierarchical in nature and, more often than not, aligned with contemporary power structures similar to those found in state hierarchies. This does not mean that anarchists are in opposition to personal faith, only to the perceived 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[edit]

Published posthumously in French in 1882, Mikhail Bakunin's 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.

Anarchists in Spain 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",

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.

Anarchist themes in religion[edit]

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.

Anarchism and Abrahamic religions[edit]

Anarchism and Judaism[edit]

Main article: Jewish anarchism

There have been many Jewish anarchists. Jewish anarchists, primarily Ashkenazi Jews were prominent in the labor movement from the 1880s to the 1930s. Nowadays, there is a large anarchist movement in Israel. Some of the laws and practices of orthodox Judaism, embodied in the Torah, may seem to be in diametric opposition to anarchism. However, Judaism doesn't have a single definition of Orthodoxy and has a long tradition of reinterpreting the laws in allegoric and esoteric fashion, sometimes completely against the literal meaning of the text. Political diversity within Judaism is best illustrated by Neturei Karta, which is a Jewish Orthodox radical anti-Zionist movement known for its strong pro-Palestinian stance and total rejection of the Jewish state.

In fact, a number of prominent Orthodox Jews in the first half of the 20th century were anarchists and offered sound anarchist interpretations of traditional or quasi-traditional Judaism.

Main article: Anarchism and Orthodox Judaism

One contemporary movement in Judaism with anarchist tendencies is Jewish Renewal. It's a recent trans-denominational spiritual movement, which includes various Jews, from Orthodox to non-Orthodox to Judeo-Buddhists and Judeo-Pagans, and focuses on feminism, environmentalism and pacifism.

Anarchism and Islam[edit]

Main article: Islam and anarchism

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. Some of the laws and practices of Islam are in diametric opposition to anarchism.

Anarchism and Christianity[edit]

Main article: Christian anarchism

According to some, Christianity was originally a peaceful anarchist movement. 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 men display compassion and turn 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.

Libertarian Christian anarchists, on the other hand, see the invisible hand of the marketplace as a natural replacement for the state. "Anarch-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 lead to the development of Anarcho-Gnosticism.

Anarchism and Quakerism[edit]

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 member's voice has equal weight. There is no centralized power or ministers, because Quakers believe that both men and women can share spiritual messages, therefore anyone can participate. Quakers as a whole hold a wide variety of political opinions, though the long tradition of Quaker involvement in social-justice work and similar outlooks on how power should be structured as well as how decisions should be reached has led to a significant percentage of the International Society of Friends to identify along anarchist lines. The quaker influence was pronounced in the church's participation in Anti-Nuclear Movement of the 1980s and in the North American anti/alter-globalization movement, both of which included dozens of thousands of Anarchists who self-consciously adopted the Quaker's consensus-based decision making process.

Anarchism and eastern religions[edit]

Anarchism and Buddhism[edit]

Main article: Buddhist anarchism

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 although he is worshiped as a god by a few schools. 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 them.


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 were many competing schools of thought, including 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.

However, simply resonating with modern anarchists is not the same as an actual connection. When considering Taoism and Anarchism one must bear in mind that Taoism views the state as a natural object, whereupon any attempt to improve the human condition is ultimately misguided. This is not a view often ascribed to Anarchists.

Anarchism and modern religions[edit]

Unitarian Universalism[edit]

Unitarian Universalism, or UUism, is not necessarily an anarchist religion, but has structures which have anarchist characteristics. It grew out of liberal Protestantism and embraces wide theological diversity in its membership. UUism is a religion in which the churches and services are generally democratically run and somewhat decentralised and autonomous (called "Congregationalist polity"). Lay congregants often organise their own services when the ministers take breaks and in congregations that have no full-time minister. The services are often open to member participation. The seven values of UUism are generally in agreement with anarchist values. A few Nineteenth Century Unitarians and Universalists (the predecessor movements to UUism) were among the pioneers of Christian and individualist anarchism. Many contemporary UUists are involved in social justice and environmental activism.


The teachings of Discordianism strongly resemble Situationist ideas and other core anarchist sentiments. The surreality of Discordianism certainly rings of anarchism, even if it is only ontological. As with the works of Hakim Bey, chaos is a major theme.


A number of anarchists in the U.S. are pagans and vice versa. The Reclaiming Tradition of paganism is overtly anarchistic in structure and cofounder, Starhawk, has associated herself with anarchism for some time.


Wicca is a decentralized religion where each practitioner is free to modify rituals, prayers, etc as long as they adhere to the Wiccan Rede: "An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will". Wiccan covens (groups) are self-contained and have no central authority greater than the High Priestess of the coven. Although most Wiccans are not anarchists themselves the dozens of branches of Wicca, along with the many thousands of Solitary Wiccans (Wiccans not connected to any coven), are a testament to Wicca’s inherent anarchistic structure.


Stregheria, from c. 1350 onwards, is based around the teachings of Aradia de Toscano. According to Stregheria, the wealthy Christian class made slaves of the poor, who fled from their oppressors and became thieves and assassins and began to make homes for themselves in outlaw camps in the Alban Hills surrounding Lake Nemi. Aradia, after her initiation into a Dianic Witchcraft cult, began to counsel and to take pity on them. She became known as La Bella Pelegrina (The Beautiful Pilgrimess). After receiving a vision from Diana, she came to believe she was the spiritual incarnation of the goddess Aradia, and was revered by the outlaws. She taught them Witchcraft and methods to curse their wealthy oppressors.

Stregheria originally honored the Roman god Lucifer, the Roman goddess Diana, and their daughter Aradia. Stregheria came to adopt a somewhat Christianized view of Lucifer and Diana; Lucifer became a brave rebel who opposed the tyrant God of the Christians, whilst Diana became a nearly Lilith-like figure.

The Benandanti, Witches employed by the Church to combat the followers of Aradia (labeled the Malandanti), eventually joined the movement when they also became the target of witch-hunts.

Stregheria lacks centralized authority in a strict sense, though deities are honored as wise teachers.


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 emphasis and focus on individualism in Thelema. Aleister Crowley himself also encouraged (usually indirectly) followers to refuse dogmas and things that may appear as collectivism. Therefore, many ideas prevalent in Thelema could be more or less described as anarchist.

Anarchism and other religions[edit]


Vodun, like Stregheria, evolved as a religion by which slaves were able to reconnect with their cultural roots. Like Stregheria, it was somewhat influenced by Christianity as it did so.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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