A quick post before I teach that isn’t developed to nearly the degree it deserves. While it is true that there have been Christian anarchists and communists, anarchism and communism has historically been attached to atheism. Why is this? Is this some accidental relation, such that atheism can be safely severed from these political projects, or is there something about the very concept of anarchism and communism that entails atheism? There is, of course, the historical reality. When these movements were arising, the Church was one of the main ideological mechanisms of the State, defending both a certain form of capitalism and monarchial authoritarian power. Indeed, leftist political struggle has had to contend with the church for a long time– going back to the French Revolution and before –because by and large the Church has sided with oppressive power, rather than emancipatory struggle. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been notable exceptions– people are always quick to cite Martin Luther King –but the point is that again and again we’ve seen religion, by and large (and that statistical qualification is important), side with the oppressors.
Given this history it’s not hard to see why anarchist thought (Tolstoy aside) and communist thought have been suspicious of religion. However, is this only an accidental, “historical” relation, such that we could have a good religion that doesn’t function as a support for the State? In other words, do anarchism and communism suffer from a prejudice? Perhaps, and certainly I’m not hostile to all forms of religiosity, even if I would prefer a world where people are strictly centered in this world, in this material reality, and don’t posit any sort of afterlife, eschatology, or divinity. I’m a realist about what is and is not likely the happen with regard to humanity and religiosity (especially given what an increasing body of neurological research is suggesting about brain and spirituality).
All that aside, I suspect that for the anarchist and the communist, hostility towards religion (and the monotheistic religions in particular) isn’t simply about a contingent historical relation between the Church and State. As highly provisional and heuristic definitions, let’s suggest that anarchism is the concept of rule by the multitudes, without mediators such as monarchs, bosses, or representatives. Similarly, communism is, in part, governance by “the common” or the people, such that both government and economy are regulated by the multitudes. In other words, both political orientations target a particular model of sovereignty, where a father, boss, monarch, or representative stands at the top, and people are to obey that sovereign.
This model– Deleuze and Guattari would call it a “diagram of power” –is the structure of both theism and patriarchy (it’s no mistake that both communism and anarchism have also historically been feminist in orientation). The thesis then would be that overcoming theistic religiosity is not simply a contingent or secondary project of anarchism and communism, but is at the heart of these political projects, for these structures are a diagram of power that inform both human thought and social relations. Until that patriarchal/theistic structure is overturned, rule by the multitudes is impossible for micro-fascisms/Oedipus will always slip in the back door.
Now it’s sometimes suggested that negative theology and mysticism avoid this problem– a problem closely tied to philosophies of presence –by treating the divine as a withdrawn mystery that avoids the model of God as a patriarchal lawgiver. However, from the standpoint of the relationship between transference and power in the organization of social relations, mystery is precisely the secret of attachment to authority. Here we might think of the character of English Bob in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and his argument that no one ever assassinates a king because he embodies a certain sublimity, a certain mystery that makes us quake in their presence. It is the mystery that grounds the transference in such circumstances. Kafka teaches a similar lesson in his “parable of the law” in The Trial, where a man spends his entire life before the door of the law, hoping to discover the secret of the law. The power of the law in this instance is found not in the law itself, but in the man’s belief that the law harbors a secret. Just as we are drawn towards the gift and cannot stop thinking about it because we endlessly wonder what is beneath the wrapping paper, power functions by our belief that it embodies a sublime secret. Both negative theology and mysticism are the most advanced versions of this logic, because in their portrayal of the divine as withdrawn and mysterious they transferentially attach us all the more to these forms of power. From the anarchist and communist point of view, working through the model of social relations premised on transcendent authority therefore also entails working through these theistic structures. In the future I’ll try to show how Christianity contains another possibility revolving around the shift from the Father to the son, from a logic of patriarchy to that of brotherhood and sisterhood, but that this requires thoroughly detaching Jesus from any framework of divinity, rejecting the resurrection, and understanding him as an ordinary man overturning both transcendent authority and patriarchy.