Decolonizing Anarchism and Christianity

By Derek Minno-Bloom, Jesus Radicals

Anarchism

To be clear, I identify as a Judeo-Christian and a radical, but in the last few years my politics have transformed from anarchistic politics to a more de-colonial politics. In this essay I will explain how de-colonial thought first changed my politics and then my spirituality. When I use the word de-colonial I mean thoughts and ways of living/governing without colonial rule/Western thought. Learning about visions of decolonized futures from different Indigenous folks, I realized that there is not only one way in which decolonization is envisioned. These visions include a return of land and resources, healthy rivers, return of traditional life ways and languages, a return of the buffalo and grasslands and salmon runs, a return to matriarchal societies, abolition of the Prison Industrial Complex, an end to systematic prejudice, racism, and sexual violence, and for their settler neighbors to realize, understand and deconstruct their settler privileges/white supremacy culture (look here for an definition of white supremacy culture), and to recognize each nation or tribes’ right to self determination.

Thinking about competition and perfectionism, which are two major forms of white supremacy culture, I started to think of how competitive the activist world is today. It reminded me of the Christian idea of Manifest Destiny that says everything on this land is for settlers, and our ways (Science, Religion and Politics) of life are the only correct ways to live. Some activists today seem to think of their politics in a similar way. At times, it seems like the left and post-left spend more time arguing with each other about tactics and theories then they do attacking the systems of oppression we are trying to dismantle. This made me think of how a lot of Anarchist/Primitivist (I realize that these are two different schools of thought, but did not want to get into it during this essay) thought can lead to radical moralisms, to judgementalism, exclusive subcultures, and a European superiority that says my/our way is correct for everyone. I am not saying it is wrong to disagree with folks or that we all become one big happy family, I know that is not possible, but what if de-colonial Activists, Anarchist, Socialists, Primitivists, Queers, Feminists, Anti-Racists, Anti-violence activists and different movements for liberation collaborated in any ways that they could? A few examples might be Christian peacemakers who still think it is not right to be gay, they may not want to encourage queer sexuality, but I am sure they would want to stop any kind of violence occurring to LGBTQ2 communities. Another example maybe Primistivists working with Anti-Racist activists from the left. Primistivists might have a hard time working with folks who are not trying to take civilization down, but if Primitivists see that part of the Civilization/Colonization process of the US some 500 years ago is systematic racism and genocide of Indigenous peoples from Turtle Island(USA) and Africa, they could see that working to fight against racism is a de-colonial and anti-civ practice. There are many more examples but a good book to look at for more examples is Alliances: Re/Envisioning Indigenous-non-Indigenous Relationships.

Sometimes I picture colonized U.S. society as being a bigger form of the Prison Industrial Complex. The last thing correctional officers and wardens of prisons want are for the prisoners to get along and be able to organize; they encourage racism, religious hatred, and gang violence to exist.  Similarly, the last thing the U.S. government wants for the people it rules is for them to learn how to work together. We need to de-colonize our competitive ways of being and learn to cooperate as much as we possible if we are going to dismantle systems of oppression.  As a radical I will still try and encourage folks to look at and learn from the problems of colonization, centralized power, symbolic thought, ecocidal agriculture, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and oppressive religions, but if I learned anything from the Occupy moment it’s that one type of thought will not be had by everyone. Collective liberation will be guided by different people with different politics and from different backgrounds trying to work with each other.  Maia Ramnath mentions in her book Decolonizing Anarchism that decolonizing anarchism, “means that instead of always trying to construct a strongly anarcha-centric cosmology-conceptually approaching movements and voices from elsewhere in the world as part of ‘our’ tradition, and then measuring it against how much or little we think they resemble our notion of our own values.” She goes on to say something like, but what if we see our western anarchist ways as just one option for human liberation and learn to respect other global perspectives as other meaningful ways to gain liberation. “Something else is then the reference point for us, instead of us being the reference point for everything else. This is a deeply decolonizing move.”  Civilized life is very complicated. We must decolonize our ways of perfectionism as well, we cannot always be right or have the only answers, we must go beyond simple dualistic thought. Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe that there is right and wrong and know that we just won’t be able to work with some groups, but let’s not loose possible allies because of a long history of competition. It has been a long journey, but I am learning to believe that my way of life, spirituality, and politics are not the only right or liberating way to be.

My journey with de-colonial politics and futures could go on and on, but I just wanted to reference briefly how de-colonial politics made me re-think Western lines of thought and opened up new possibilities, including a de-colonial spirituality.

Christianity

At the moment I claim to be an anti-racist radical with a de-colonial queer politics somewhere in between Anarcho-Syndicalism and Anarcho-Primitivism.  While Anarchist thought still helps me critique power and pious religious thought, primitivism and then de-colonial thought has made me think of how violent and dangerous the monotheism of Juedo-Christian spirituality can be. When I mention de-colonial spiritual thought I am thinking mostly of Vine Deloria’s book God is Red, which after reading, decolonized my spirituality and made me seriously contemplate my faith and tradition.

Thanks to folks like Liza Minno, Andy Lewis, Jacques Ellul, Jeremy Stigist, Ched Myers, Neil Gynther, Andrea Smith, and Daniel Quinn and many other folks I started to believe in a more literary narrative of the Edenic fall. I believe his/herstory is very hard to understand and figure out, and that I can never be completely certain about the Old Testament’s Fall narrative and what happened so many thousands of years ago, but it seems to be pretty common thought that the Jews in the first few books of the Bible were tribal/Indigenous people who lived off of the land. The first few chapters of Genesis seem to be a tribal creation story that was part of the Jewish oral tradition. From the Exodus all the way to the book of Judges it seems clear that the Jews were not part of civilization and centralized governments, but foregoing a serious colonization process.

In the beginning of this essay I mention that I am a Jeudeo-Christian. I think it is extremely important to believe and uphold Jewish thought in Christianity since it is such a large part of the Bible and of Jesus’ life. You cannot separate the two, even though a large amount of Christians have done just that. With that in mind I started to think of how I came to know Christianity. The shorter story is that I had an existential experience at a Christian music festival in Pennsylvania, but what is the larger story? How did Christianity come to North America? The answer everyone knows is that it came from European conquest and colonization of the Americas. When I started to think of this narrative I wanted to immediately distance myself from this story, the idea that I became a believer of the Jeudeo-Christain faith at the coast of the death of over 100 million Indigenous people of the Americas, the murder of millions of African tribal people, slavery, the death of old growth forests, ocean, rivers, stream and lots of different species. The mostly right wing, homophobic and militaristic Christian music festival I was at when I first believed was a product of colonization and on occupied Indigenous land. I started to question my faith and everything I ever believed. After a while I started to think of the Egyptian colonization and subversion of the tribal Jewish people my faith is based on. I started to think and understand that my faith tradition had a land based origin from a place that I am not from. Vine Deloria in his book constantly critiqued western thought and asked how one G-d could communicate with the whole world and all its land bases? He talked about how most indigenous people have a very specific spirituality given to them by their different and diverse land bases and creators. I started to think that just as the Dineh, Hopi, Lenni Lenape and Apache people have land based creation stories, the tribal Jewish people probably also had and have these stories (maybe the creation story found in Genesis). This got me to thinking about how much I hate white culture’s ability to appropriate Indigenous cultures and their spirituality for its own benefit (mostly found in New Age Circles and sometimes primitivist circles that hold up the Idea of the noble savage while not locating themselves in current Indigenous struggles for self determination), which is a continued form of colonization and cultural genocide. I am part of a collective called Black Mesa Indigenous Support. We are a solidarity collective that supports Dineh (Navajo) Elders and families who have been resisting relocation from the US government and been a direct blockade to the expansion of Peabody Energy Corporation’s coal mine for forty years now. One of the many things we do is put people in contact with the Elders to go and heard sheep and help support their traditional ways of life, while doing human rights observing. We also work to educate non-Native folks about cultural appropriation. Sometimes we turn away settler folks who not only want to come and live/support the Elders, but who also want to become Dineh or use their spiritual practices for their own benefit. I nicely try to tell these people that of course you can learn and find wisdom from elders who live on Black Mesa/ Big Mountain Arizona, but that Dineh spirituality is not their spirituality to take and use. It is not their land base that they belong to. The first time I said this to a person who wanted to come out to Black Mesa I started to ask myself and G-d, have I stolen the spirituality of a specific people that belong to a specific land base that is not my own (The Tribal Jewish Peoples)? I started to think about Jesus who was a Jewish person himself who claimed to be the messiah/G-d and spread His word of love to mostly other Jewish folks, but also to Gentiles. He made His word or spirituality available to others that were not part of the Tribal Jewish story.

The truth of the matter is that I have not found all the answers to my questions. I live in this beautiful tension of the unknown. I still have my faith in the Judeo-Christian message and no matter how hard I try, I can’t deny my ability to communicate to the creator and the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is true that I heard of this message because it was forced upon this land 500 years ago, but it is also true that this message led me to have a spirituality that desires collective liberation for all. It has helped me to understand love and how in sin or separated I am from others and from the natural world, it has humbled me to work and de-colonize my mind and inner forms of patriarchy. I am sure Vine Deloria did not picture me using his book in this way, but one of his main critiques of Christianity is the western thought and science of its philosophy. He mentions that spirit and creators can never be fully known or understood, that there is always mystery. I have come to believe that in my own faith. I don’t have all the answers or the perfect theology. I don’t even understand if I have stolen my spirituality and am continuing the colonization of the Jewish people by stealing their faith, but I do know that civilization or colonized society is confusing. Deloria constantly looks down on Christianity for needing a savior, but maybe the G-d of Judaism and Christianity saw the horrors of cities and colonization. Maybe G-d saw how powerful the colonization of the Jews was so many thousands of years ago. Maybe G-d gave Jews and Christians a savior because the sin/separation of colonization was so strong and violent that human animals needed a way to forgive themselves for the deep and horrible effects of colonization, in order to be able to reconnect to everything they have been separated from. When I read about Jesus looking over the city and weeping, this is one of the many things I imagine he may have been thinking.

4 responses to “Decolonizing Anarchism and Christianity

  1. “white culture’s ability to appropriate Indigenous cultures and their spirituality for its own benefit (mostly found in New Age Circles and sometimes primitivist circles that hold up the Idea of the noble savage while not locating themselves in current Indigenous struggles for self determination)”

    I think you’re skipping over something, (I could be wrong, that’s happened before) namely, the link between Christianity and colonization and the resulting attitudes of people after centuries of living with that perspective.
    One of the greatest examples of appropriation of indigenous culture and religion in history was perpetrated by Christianity in Europe. Christianity as we know it today is pieced together from usurped pagan and other indigenous European nature based religions. Christianity usurped festivities and ideas and stomped out any other practice, effectively whitewashing Europe’s spiritual landscape. The organization of Christianity as a church rather than a movement was initiated to dominate and unite peoples and nations and to keep the peace amongst an ever increasing empire of many different nationalities. When Christ’s followers became to numerous to ignore, Constantine became a christian in an attempt to pacify and unite the masses. He made Christianity the state religion and began it’s reign as an institution. And with that came dogma. Christian theology has never been solely spiritually based. It was amended time and time again to accommodate for the accumulation of territory, wealth and power. It’s doctrine was flexible and when needed, festivities and customs were incorporated to mollify and subdue local populations. In my opinion this is one of the reasons why Christianity has been enforced so violently and why it came hand in hand with colonialism everywhere in the world. It is a conqueror’s religion. It was designed that way. The basic tenants of Christ’s teaching are mostly peaceful and point to self responsibility and love. They too were usurped. I guess what I’m wondering is, How do you define Christianity? Do you understand it is linked to colonization?Are you speaking about the religion as a whole or about specific points and theory that you have accepted?
    I also want to make clear that I am genuinely interested in this topic and I by no means wish to downplay or negate cultural appropriation by New Age practitioners. I know that exists and it is deplorable.
    It just jumped out at me that, part of why people in the New Age movement do this, in my opinion, is because Christianity has so thoroughly stamped out religious tradition in Europe. There is such fragmentation that it is hard to piece together a coherent tradition and religion of old. This is of course no excuse to “borrow” and appropriate other people’s religion and culture! It just feels to me that even the lack of imagination and initiative to rekindle and reinvent our own nature based religions (I’m speaking as a European here) has to do with the violent and successful crushing of our previously nature based spirituality. The origination and spread of organized Christianity to Europe has left our spiritual landscape monochrome and we are having trouble recalling the colors. From that standpoint, I can’t even imagine how truly harrowing and destructive the colonization of indigenous peoples in the current US must have been. It is just mind blowing in scale.
    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  2. Sorry, the top of my comment was left off:
    I found your article interesting and it left me wondering about something. When you say:
    “white culture’s ability to appropriate Indigenous cultures and their spirituality for its own benefit (mostly found in New Age Circles and sometimes primitivist circles that hold up the Idea of the noble savage while not locating themselves in current Indigenous struggles for self determination)”

    I think you’re skipping over something, (I could be wrong, that’s happened before) namely, the link between Christianity and colonization and the resulting attitudes of people after centuries of living with that perspective.
    One of the greatest examples of appropriation of indigenous culture and religion in history was perpetrated by Christianity in Europe. Christianity as we know it today is pieced together from usurped pagan and other indigenous European nature based religions. Christianity usurped festivities and ideas and stomped out any other practice, effectively whitewashing Europe’s spiritual landscape. The organization of Christianity as a church rather than a movement was initiated to dominate and unite peoples and nations and to keep the peace amongst an ever increasing empire of many different nationalities. When Christ’s followers became to numerous to ignore, Constantine became a christian in an attempt to pacify and unite the masses. He made Christianity the state religion and began it’s reign as an institution. And with that came dogma. Christian theology has never been solely spiritually based. It was amended time and time again to accommodate for the accumulation of territory, wealth and power. It’s doctrine was flexible and when needed, festivities and customs were incorporated to mollify and subdue local populations. In my opinion this is one of the reasons why Christianity has been enforced so violently and why it came hand in hand with colonialism everywhere in the world. It is a conqueror’s religion. It was designed that way. The basic tenants of Christ’s teaching are mostly peaceful and point to self responsibility and love. They too were usurped. I guess what I’m wondering is, How do you define Christianity? Do you understand it is linked to colonization?Are you speaking about the religion as a whole or about specific points and theory that you have accepted?
    I also want to make clear that I am genuinely interested in this topic and I by no means wish to downplay or negate cultural appropriation by New Age practitioners. I know that exists and it is deplorable.
    It just jumped out at me that, part of why people in the New Age movement do this, in my opinion, is because Christianity has so thoroughly stamped out religious tradition in Europe. There is such fragmentation that it is hard to piece together a coherent tradition and religion of old. This is of course no excuse to “borrow” and appropriate other people’s religion and culture! It just feels to me that even the lack of imagination and initiative to rekindle and reinvent our own nature based religions (I’m speaking as a European here) has to do with the violent and successful crushing of our previously nature based spirituality. The origination and spread of organized Christianity to Europe has left our spiritual landscape monochrome and we are having trouble recalling the colors. From that standpoint, I can’t even imagine how truly harrowing and destructive the colonization of indigenous peoples in the current US must have been. It is just mind blowing in scale.
    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  3. The native experience during colonization is really horrible, specially in asia where they force them to accept Christianity. They say that it is for the benefits of everyone, but in the end, it only benefits one side. Genocide is very rampant in history too.

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