Monday, 29 June 2009

This story is beautiful

There are around half a million homeless people in the UK and twice as many empty properties. Just one of the many contradictions of capitalism.

Both Jesus and Gandhi used nonviolent direct action to oppose the political elite of their day who oppressed and exploited the middle, working, and impoverished classes.

Jesus used fun (turning water into wine), surprise (turning over the tables in the temple market), and his own humanity to expose inhumanity and joylessness in the status quo.

That's what these guys did! So why aren't Christians doing this kind of thing? Some are but few; most of us are just looking on in awe and a certain amount of trepidation.

From Indymedia: A group of housing activists have entered and occupied the house of Anne and Alan Keene. Both Labour MPs they were known as “Mr and Mrs Expenses” two years before the MP spending scandal broke; Mrs Keen, a health minister recently admitted making an expense claim for private hospital treatment for a member of her staff. At the centre of their scandal was their double mortgage claim, where they illegally used Parliamentary expenses to pay interest on the mortgages of both their homes – one of which has now been occupied by outraged locals along with activists from all backgrounds and nationalities.

It was revealed several days ago that they faced having their Hounslow constituency home repossessed by the council after leaving it empty for over a year. The £385,000 three-bedroom terrace was being renovated whilst they stayed in their central home London near Parliament which they billed the public £137,679 for. After an alleged falling out with the builders the house was left empty, but at a local residents meeting a member of the public alerted activists to the location of the house, and 2 days ago it was occupied.

Speaking by phone one of the occupants explained why they had taken the building and what they wanted to happen.

“We want to get back something that has been taken from us in the expenses scandal. Everyone pays taxes, either directly or through VAT on their shopping - we’ve all been taken from. There are 10,000 people on the housing waiting list in Hounslow alone – and people like the Keens are spending our money on keeping houses empty.”

“Everyone who is needs housing should occupy empty buildings, but as Anne Keene voted in favour of the war in Iraq, displacing and killing millions of people, we demand she gets in touch with refugee centres to make reparations. In the meantime, the house will hopefully become a refugee centre and home to some of the people she made homeless through poverty and war.”

The group are asking for solidarity. Donations of food and water, bedding, hinges and screws are to be taken to:

38 Brook Rd South,

The group can be contacted on 07549160296

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Anarchist tendencies in Judaism

- by Furio Bagnini, edited by Bas Moreel -

"God's people, the people that received the revelation
before Christ came on earth, that is most universally
spread on the surface of the earth, has always seen
that the Christian teachings of the Church fathers
were incomplete, has always proclaimed that a great
age would come called "kingdom of the Messiah" with
the religious teachings presented as fully as
possible, with the spiritual and worldly powers in
balance and the human race united in one single
religion and one single organisation... The golden age
of the human race is not behind us but before us. It
is to be sought in the perfection of the social order.
Our fathers haven't seen it but our sons will see it
one day. For them we ought to level the road" (Henri
de Saint-Simon, Le nouveau christianisme). As a
socialist free from antisemitic sentiments Saint-Simon
was probably one of the first to formulate the hypothesis that
socialism affirms values claimed as its own by the
best Jewish tradition.

The modern revolutionary utopias, especially those of
the libertarian and anti-authoritarian kind, with
their belief in a forthcoming liberating revolution,
originate from two different psychological attitudes.
One is the critical examination of the essence of
human life and of the substance of society; the other
is the longing for a more genuine social life, for a
human society based on love, mutual understanding and
mutual aid. The former attitude springs from Western
thinking, the latter from Judaism. The prophets were
the first to transform this longing into a "political"
message of equality and justice, the Hassidic Jews
were the last collectivity trying to live this message
as something absolute. At certain times expressed
openly, at other times concealed / hidden the longing
has never disappeared. When the Jews left the ghettoes
and joined the world society the two attitudes merged
into the teachings and the apostolate of modern

Martin Buber, the famous Jewish philosopher who was
inspired by a strong "religious anarchism", defined
Judaism as a synthesis of three basic concepts: the
idea of unity, the idea of action and the idea of a
future. The idea of unity takes shape in the idea of
transcendental unity. God, creator of the world, is
one and unique, and he alone must be loved as essence
of all ethical perfection. The knowledge of God
teaches us what man should be, the divine tells us
what the human is. The basic teachings of Judaism as a
whole are summarised in the prohibition of idolatry,
which the prophets saw as the origin of all evil. As
God is one, so, the morals as laid down in the Torah,
the civil and social law of the people of Israel, must
be one. Equality and justice are the basis of the law
derived from Leviticus [one of the five books of which
consists the Torah]. Equality involves recognition of
the basic rights of man (the right to live, to own, to
work, of asylum, of rest and of freedom), whereas
justice ought to translate itself into the acceptance
of the obligations towards the weakest and the

The second idea is the idea of action. In its essence
Judaism doesn't demand theological adhesion but
practical compliance with the law, from the oldest times onwards action was the core of Jewish religiosity. In all the books of the Torah
there is very little talk of belief and much more of
action. Every action, even the most insignificant one,
is somehow linked to the divine and gets universal
significance and importance. Every joint action
becomes exemplary, as says a Chassidic saying: "When I
went to see the rabbi that was not to hear his
teachings but to see how he unlaces and laces his felt
shoes". The right praxis is important, important
is to live in accordance with the Torah, to behave in
accordance with the Torah in daily life. Action in the
shape of work and study ought to aim at a
transformation of reality towards a more just future.
Max Weber showed already that this aspect of Judaism
has a revolutionary potential when he tried to find an
answer to the question why so many Jews adhered to
revolutionary movements. According to the Torah the
world is neither eternal nor unchangeable but created,
and its orders are the product of actions of humans;
it is a historical realisation aimed at making room
again for a situation really wanted by God. As Weber
observed, the whole attitude of Judaism in respect of
life is marked by the idea "of a future political and
social revolution guided by God".

The third basic idea of Judaism is the idea of future.
Jews should keep the future in mind. In this respect a
traditional Jewish comment on the passage in Genesis
(21.9 seq.) in which Sarah, Abrahams wife, chases
Ishmael from the house of his father together with his
mother Haggar [a maid of Abraham with whom he had got
Ishmael]. The teachers have wondered how Sarah could
behave so cruelly towards Hagar and her son. One of
the answers has been that Ishmael "was playing", as
the word metzacheq is generally translated, with an
explicit sexual connotation. In reality, the word
metzacheq has the root tzadi chet kof, which means ‚to
laugh' and is also in the name Yitzchaq. One of the
possible interpretations then is that Ishmael wasn't
playing but "laughed very loudly"; morphologically the
word metzacheq is an intensive form of the verb,
whereas Yitzchaq, on the other hand, is rather the one
who "will laugh". Sarah shows her prophetic power
here, as she understands before Abraham that somebody
who is able to laugh loudly in a world so full of
injustice and grief doesn't deserve to be
his heir. But somebody who acts on something and in
such a way that he can laugh one day in a more just
world deserves to be his heir.

This orientation towards the future is connected with
the hope of redemption in the messianic times. From
the times of the Torah till the times of the chassidic
fervours the messiah and the future in which the
perfect life in truth and the unity of the world would
have become reality, with the separation between good
and evil abolished by the definitive annihilation of
sin, were the final existential aspiration of the
Jewish people. In Jewish as opposed to Christian
thinking, the messiah will not bring an apocalypse or
a horrible end of the world but the full realisation
of man, also as a social being. The coming of the
messiah will not take place in the other world but is
being prepared in history. In the Jewish, as opposed
to the Christian, thinking about the messiah, the
redemption, writes Gershom Scholem, will be kind of "a
public historical event in the Jewish community, a
visible event unthinkable without this exterior
manifestation. Christianity sees the redemption as a
spiritual, invisible event that takes place in the
soul, in the personal world of the individual human
being requiring an interior transformation not
necessarily accompanied by changes in the course of
history... What Judaism has irrevocably placed at the
end of history, as the event in which culminate the
exterior events has become the centre of history in

Man is the main agent of redemption, his actions alone
which will speed up the coming of the messiah: "If all
Israel respected the sabbath if only one single day,
the Messiah would come immediately, for it is written:
"To-day if you were to listen to his voice"". The
mentioning of the sabbath, the day devoted to rest, is
not accidental. As say the teachers, the sabbath is
"an example of the future world", an anticipation of
the messianic times when man will no longer be another
man's slave and be freed from daily alienation. The
sabbatical year when all activities stop is also an
announcement of liberation and of the exemption from
daily work. The jubilee is also a revolutionary
institution, as can be read in Leviticus. It restores
social equality every fifty years by the
redistributioin of property. On this subject Gustav
Landauer wrote: "Uprising as basic law, change and
overthrow as a rule for all times... that was the
greatness and the holiness of the mosaic social order.
We need that again: new rules and a spirit of change
that does not fix things and laws definitively but
declares itself permanent. The revolution should
become part of our social order, the basic rule of our
basic law".

The election of the Jewish people involves in the
first place the obligation for every Jew to take part
in the anticipation of the day of redemption. The
coming of the messiah on earth depends on the free
efforts of individual human beings during their life.
Not by chance did rabbi Nachman from Breslau [Wroclaw]
(???), one of the most fascinating and original
Chassidic teachers, conclude: "To become more perfect
man should renew himself day after day". What is
needed is a permanent mental revolution. Those who
live to-day must work for social justice, as in the
past those living then had to work for it in their
time and as those living in the future will have to
work for in the future: the coming of social justice
depends on them.. As is said explicitely in the texts
of the prophets, this "revolution" will take an
international character and will be a universal
movement involving all the States of the world. This
shows another difference between Jewish and Christian
messianism. Christianity has eliminated the political
element of the redemption maintaining only the
spiritual element. Christianity, writes rabbi Elia
Benamozegh, "speaks of ascetic morals, of an ascetic
kingdom and of an entirely spiritual messianism;
instead of political liberty it has spiritual freedom
for its followers".

In Jewish messianism, religious as well as political,
two currents can be distinguished: a restaurative
current and a utopical one. The restaurative current
expects the return and the resurrection of a situation
of the past but that has always been seen as an ideal
in the collective imagination of the Jewish people.
The redemption was seen as the return to an ideal
state of the past, a lost golden age. The utopical current looked
forward to a situation that has never existed and was
nurtured by the dream of a radical overthrow of all
that existed, of the coming of an absolutely new
world, of the "the unheard of", of "something that has
never been, the peak of bliss", as writes Walter
Benjamin. Although each other's opposites these two
currents have always gone together, both can be
tracked in the historical manifestations and
ideologies of messianism and in almost all modern
revolutionary currents. This combination of
restauration and utopia, as stresses Michael Löwy, can
also be found in libertarian thinking, where
"revolutionary utopia goes always hand in hand with a
profound nostalgia of forms of the precapitalist past,
of the traditional peasant community or of the

Isaac Luria's concept of the Tiqqun, reparation or
reintegration, is the most important example of this
duality in Jewish messianism. Isaac Luria and his
disciples of the Safed school in Galilea had
formulated (end 16th century) a cosmologic doctrine
directly linked to the belief in the messiah.
According to this theory God had voluntarily limited
or contracted his powers (tzimtzum) when creating the
world. The imperfectness of the world was a symptom of
the disintegration of the universe resulting from the
Shevirat ha-kelim, the "breaking of the pots", which
had been too weak to contain the divine light. The
scattered fragments of the pots had kept small sparks
of the divine light, however, and are a harmful
residue for the world. From them come the Qelippot,
the dark forces of evil. Man and Israel as a whole
have the mission to lift the scattered holy sparks and
to free the divine light from the domination of the
Qelippot, which, historically, represent tyranny and
oppression. This process is called Tiqqun and all
should contribute to it. The Tiqqun will restore the
ideal order disturbed by the "breaking of the pots"
and Adam's subsequent fall. Humankind has the task to
repair the pots, to eliminate evil, to bring the
absolutely perfect back, to restore the proper nature
of things and to put them back in their [right] place.

In this context reparation and redemption become
identical notions. When the world will have been
repaired it is impossible that there will be no
redemption [i.e. that it will not be free], as
redemption represents the perfect state of the world, a harmonised world in
which everything will be in its right place. The
Tiqqun leaves the purely mystical domain and drops its
cosmic and ontological dimension becoming messianic
and political. The Tiqqun world, as rightly observes
Michael Löwy, is thus the utopian world of the
messianic reform, of the elimination of impurity, of
the disappearance of evil.

Isaac Luria's kabbalah, which blended old mysticism and
traditional political messianism led to an explosive
manifestation of the forces that created it and made
it successful. The hope of an imminent redemption
putting an end to sufferings and injustices found a
dramatic historic and spiritual expression in the
adventure of Sabbatai Zwi (1626-1676). Sabbatai
Zwi was born in Smyrna [now Turkey] on the 9th of [the
Jewish month] Av, the day on which the destruction of
the First and the Second Temple is commemorated.
Already as a young man he had started studying the
kabbalah. In Jerusalem, where he had moved in 1662,
his disciple Nathan from Gaza persuaded him that he
was the messiah. The news that the messiah had come
spread like wildfire and caused great excitement among
Jews all over Europe. A true mass movement inspired by
him developed upsettinbg life in the whole Jewish
world. Sabbatianism, "the most polyedric heretical
movement of Jewish mysticism", according to Scholem,
became a definitive theoretical system thanks to
Nathan from Gaza, who, on the basis of Isaac Luria's
kabbalah and the cosmogonic conepts of those days,
imagined that the messiah suffered unspeakable pains
when he set out to restore the initial harmony on
earth. In order to overcome evil from the inside the
redeemer had also to become impure so as to be able to
purify the impure and to defeat the cosmic root of
evil. Sabbatai Zwi's anti-law behaviour - including
his apostasy: in 1666 he converted to Islam - were
seen by his followers as a descent into the abyss of
negativity which would enable him to free the
particles of divine light imprisoned in the dark.
Animated by a strong religious nihilism the
Sabbatianists interpreted the talmudic saying "an
intentional transgression weighs more than the
unintended fulfilment of a precept" (Nazir, 23b) in
line with their conceptions and held that a sinner is good in God's eyes because impurity brings the spirit to holiness. The doctrine
of the holiness of sin was not limited to the
violation of certain precepts but extended to all the
prohibitions of the Torah, and the followers of the
movement formulated the following law violating
blessing: "Blessed be You, Lord our God, who allow
what is prohibited". Some went so far as to affirm
that henceforth everything was pure because Sabbatai
Zwi had definitively defeated evil.

In the course of the 18th century frankism, the
movement developed around the person of Jacob Frank
(1726-1791) took over the teachings of Sabbatai
Zwi and developed them further. Jacob ben Judah Leib,
as his real name was, was born near the border
separating Podolia and Bucovina [now parts of
Rumania]. He was a nihilist of a rare authenticity.
Initiated into the secrets of Sabbatianism he became a
guide for numerous followers and finally claimed an
almost divine status as possessor of Sabbatai Zwi's
soul. He proclaimed that man should free himself from
all laws, all conventions and all religions. Authentic
life meant rejecting all religious acts and every
positive belief. Franks belief in the redeeming force
of destruction knew no borders: "Wherever Adam came a
city was built, but where I go everything will be
destroyed, because I have come only to destroy
everything - but whatever I will build, will last
forever", one can read in the collection of aforisms
which he published under the title Sliwa Panskie
(Words of the Lord). This catastrophic-revolutionary view of emancipation is
also clear in Mikhail Bakunin's saying "a passion for
destruction is a creative passion". A merciless war
was to be waged against the inadequate laws that
govern the world: "And I say to you that all the
fighters should be without religion. That is to say,
they will have to conquer freedom by their own
forces..". This fight will affect all the layers of
the soul that descends into the abysses in order to
ascend: "In order to go up one must first go down.
Nobody can climb over a mountain without having been
at its foot. We have to go down to the lowest point if
we want to attain the infinite. That is the mystical
principle of Jacob's Ladder which I have seen and
which has the shape of a V. I have not come into this world to lift you up
but to throw you into the abyss. You can't go lower.
We can't get out of there by our own forces alone
because the Lord alone can pull us from those depths
by the power of his arm". Man can only become truly
free when he has been able to live a truly anarchic
life: "The place where we go doesn't allow any law
because all laws come from death whereas we go to
life". How can one again think of Bakunin and his
famous formula: "I don't believe in constitutions or
laws... We need something different. Passion,
vitality, a new world without laws and, so, truly
free"? The expectations and teachings of these last
sabbatianists played a decisive role in the opening up
of their souls to the apocaliptic wind of the time.
They then came close to the spirit of the Haskalah,
the Jewish enlightenment, and when the fire of faith
weakened they became maskilim, enlightened people,
religious reformers, indifferent prophets and true

In the beginning of the 18th century, while the wind
of sabbatian and frankian messianic madness was still
blowing, chassidismo started developing among the
Jewish masses of Poland and Russia. This popular
religious movement was started by Israel ben Eliezer
(around 1700-1760), better known as Baal Shem Tov
(master of the good name) or Besht (by the initials of
this name). While not significantly innovating
doctrine and writings [???] chassidism was,
nevertheless, an explosion of creative religious
energy against the old values that had become
meaningless. The following story characterises
chassidism: "Baal Shem Tov had changed the traditional
order of prayers. Some protested: "This order has been
established by the great men of our generation". To
which Baal Shem answered: "And who has said that those
great men have gone to paradise?". With study and
erudition not considered central chasidism took an
anti-elitist character and made the simplest acts of
daily life holy, faith became democratic and popular,
libertarian, a gigantic social revolution. The great
importance attributed to intention, even if remained
ineffective, and the fact that evil and sins were
attributed some holiness, freed the humble and the
weak from all guilt and allowed them to have their
imperfections. There is chassidism, writes Marc-Alain
Ouaknin, "when a society remembers that it is not
enough to be but that we have to exist, that, if we
want to live really, we must continually find new ways
of life, invent ourselves continually..".

In chassidism each person becomes the redeemer of the
world which he is himself, that is one of the aspects
of the great chassidic revolution. Man leaves the
collective anonymity and becomes a subject in the
strongest sense of this word. We may quote here a
famous saying of rabbi Menachem Mendel from Kotzk: "If
I am I because you are you, then I am not I and you
are not you. But if I am I because I am I and you are
you because you are you, then am I I and you are you".

In chassidism, Martin Buber wrote, every human
being represents something new that has never existed
before. Everybody has to recognise that this
particular person is unique in this world because of
his particular character and that there has never been
somebody like him, for, if there had already been
somebody like him there would have been no need for
him to come in the world. Every person is a new
creature in this world called to fill it with his
particularity. Every person has the task to realise
his unique, unprecented, never replicated
possibilities, not to repeat things done already by
others be they the greatest of all. Rabbi Sussja from
Hanipol illustrated this idea shortly before his death
saying "In the other world I won't be asked: "Why
haven't you become Moses?" but I will be asked: "Why
haven't you become Sussja?"" . The difference
between the kabbalah of Isaac Luria and the chassidic
doctrine is the difference between the
ontological-metaphysical and the psychological and
personal. In this way the kabbalistic concepts became
meaningful for individual life and accessible for
everybody without distinction, whereas in rabbinic
Judaism the kabbalah was reserved for the few elected,
in Hebrew yechidei seguld, who had fulfilled the
strict requirements for access to the esoteric aspect
of the Torah considered extremely dangerous.

Chassidic mysticism seeks to make man take part in the
divine life become history and to shorten the
distances between heaven and earth. For God who has
put limits upon himself in order to make room for the created man has the task to free the sparks hidden in all aspects of life. In this way simple and
insignificant acts also become fundamental and universally relevant. Chassidism puts an ethics of the deed into practice that has to do with the human
faculty to start things, to undertake things, to take
initiatives. Chassidic action is the opposite of
repetition, of lack of innovation. Chassidic ethics of
the deed is interruption of the flow of life that
leads to death, it's continuous being born anew. It is
freedom. Because we were born we are doomed to be
free. Life ought, moreover, to be lived in the sign of
concrete love for all human beings including those at
the bottom, the am ha-aretz, the simple minds and the
sinners. Rabbi Jakob Jizchak from Lublin [Poland] used
to say: "I prefer a sinner admitting he is one to a
saint conscious of his saintness. The sinner admitting
the truth passes his days in Truth. And Truth is God.
So, the sinner lives in God too. But he who thinks he
is a perfect saint lives in untruth, and God hates
untruth. Nobody is perfect".

The chassidic word is also an ethics of the word, the
rejection of the instituted word, of what has been
said already. The chassidic word laughs, dances, it's
joy, the opposite of the prefabricated language of the
cliché, of publicity, of politics. The reasonings of
the institutions and of public opinion correspond to
prearranged models. They are incomprehensible because
the institutions are committed to creating opinions,
i.e. non-words and non-thoughts. As Marc-Alain Ouaknin
says: chassidism is against the
"we-all-say-the-same-and together". Chassidic
people are people of the Chidush, of the new, they
have the task to seek freedom, to invent other forms
of life. Chassidism is doing things every day but not
just repeating the things done the previous day, in
the language of rabbi Nachman: "it's forbidden to be

Historically, chassidism was a critique of the
official rabbinic institutions of the time but this
criticism can very well be extended to institutions in
general. But the greatest contribution of chassidism
is the democratisation of study, the possibility for
everybody to start interpreting. As says rabbi Nachman: "a simple person who
takes the time to read, to look at the words of the
Torah can also see new things, new meanings; if one
looks at the sayings intensely they begin to "make
light", to blend, to combine (Yoma, 73b) and one can
see new combinations of sayings, new words, things of
which one hasn't thought at all. All this is also
possible for simple people, without effort...".

This subjective relationship with the text existed
already in the talmudic tradition but later on study
became reserved for an elite and the thinking became
dogmatic and ideological. The changes introduced by
chassidism can be seen in the following story, that
can be considered a paradigm of the cultural and
existential revolution brought by chassidism: "A
disciple sees his teacher, who asks him: "What have
you studied?" The disciple answers: "I've gone three
times through the Talmud", whereupon the Teacher says:
"But has the Talmud gone through you?"". Study is a
political act because the freedom to interpret is also
a freedom that affects life. In this sense study is
revolution, an attitude of contestating tradition and
the main obstacle to accepting the stereotypes of
ideological thinking. But - a point on which rabbi
Nachman insists repeatedly - one should not innovate
with new laws that reinforce institutional thinking.
Integrative laws are rejected because they strengthen
the institutions and the custodians of ideologies
instead of weakening and destroying them. As the
individual affirms himself continuously by
interpretation his task is not to repeat or to
paraphrase verses [e.g. of the Torah] but, as Emmanuel
Lévinas would say, to go beyond them, to go from the
text to one's own text. This is, so to say, the whole
political dimension and function of chassidism, its
anti-ideological and revolutionary aspect "in respect
of an order in which nothing, neither words, nor
people, nor people's bodies or looks are allowed to
communicate directly, but as values they have to go
through models that generate and reproduce them in
total "estrangement" of each other... Revolution is
wherever there is a beginning of a change that makes
models meaningless - whether that change is a minute
change in appearances, a change of syllables in a poem, or the fact that
thousands of people talk to each other in an insurgent

Chassidism showed again what Jewishness is basically
about: lived religiosity, a religion of doing free
from precepts. Life, man, community became supreme
again in Jewish life. Unfortunately, this libertarian
movement has turned into a despotic power. Singing,
dancing, sacred gestures have become ceremonial acts
and a reactionary spirit has taken the place of
democracy. But in spite of the abuses and the
degeneration of the movement, writes Gershom Scholem,
the chassidim "as mystic moralists.. have found the
way to social organising", which is their main

I would like to end my essay with a chassidic parable
of rabbi Uri from Strelice that seems most
appropriate: "When I was still a boy and my teacher
started teaching me how to read, he once showed me
two minute letters in the book of prayers, which
looked like square dots, saying: "Uri, do you see
those two letters one beside the other? They are the
monogramme of the name of God, and each time they
appear together in a prayer you should pronounce the
name of God, although the name is not written in
full". I read on together with the teacher till we
found the two letters at the end of a sentence. They
were also two square dots, yet not beside each other
but over each other. I thought they were the
monogramme of God and pronounced his name. But the
teacher said: "No, no, Uri, this sign doesn't indicate
the name of God. Only where the dots are beside each
other, where each sees the other as a friend equal to
himself is the name of God; where one dot is under the
other and the other dot is over the former, there the
name of God is not"...".

Religious Anarchism Newsletter nr.2. Salvaged from
Geocitiessite Christianarchy, which has a date of execution: Oct. 26th 2009

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy speak

Salvaging my Geocities-site also implies I have to see where to stall Bas Moreel's Religious Anarchism Newsletter. They date back from the times when very few people had their own daily weblog. This is issue nr.1, from June 2001.

The real reason why I start this bulletin is that, at the moment, nobody else is known to me who does such a thing. A theoretical reason might have been that religious anarchism is too important a thing to leave it to religious anarchists as it is also not good to leave anarchism in general to anarchists alone (impurity, reformism, dirty hands is the law of survival, also for ideas, as wrote once Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who coined the word "anarchist" and was not blind to contradictions in life, for which he saw reconciliation in the specific serial dialectics he developed).

In this first issue I have only materials from a Roman Catholic background. I came across them by chance, as is the case with much of what I pass on in my newsletters. I will be happy with materials that widen my knowledge in this field: my more or less nomadic life leaves me little opportunity for systematic searching.

I start with fragments from an interview with Dorothy Day, the American co-initiator of the Catholic Worker movement together with the Frenchman Peter Maurin, as published for the first time in 1971 in the Los Angeles Catholic Worker monthly "Catholic Agitator".

Agitator: Are you an anarchist?

Dorothy Day: In my first year of college, when I was sixteen years old, I joined the Socialist Party. But I found most of the members 'petty bourgeois', good people but very settled family people. And it was very theoretical. It had no religious connotations, none of the religious enthusiasm for the poor that you've got shining through a great deal of radical literature. Then there was the IWW moving in. The IWW has this motto: 'An injury to one is an injury to all'. That appealed to me tremendously because I felt we were all one body. I had read scripture, but I don't think I'd ever really recognized that teaching of the 'Mystical Body' - that we are all one body, we are all one.

A: Was this more of a political than a spiritual outlook at this point?

DD: No, I think it was a spiritual outlook, too. I just felt a profound truth there that appealed to me. The idea that when the health of one member suffers, the health of the whole body is lowered is a teaching of St Paul which is timeless. So I joined the IWW.

A: Would you be more specific about what it means to be an anarchist?

DD: The whole point of view of the anarchist is that everything must start from the bottom up, from man. It seems to me so human a philosophy.

A: Why did you become a Catholic?

DD: Because I felt it was the church of the poor, because I felt its continuity. I felt that no matter how corrupt or rotten it became, it had this feeling for man. It had the mark of Jesus Christ on it, walking the roads of the country, gathering a few around. You see this pattern. You see this pattern in Castro, Che Guevara; and that's why they are so attractive to people. They work where they are. They begin at the bottom. And then, of course, they go off and become the bureaucratic state. Castro wasn't a Marxist. He was a Catholic educated by the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits. The Communists in Cuba didn't assist Castro in his revolution. It wasn't until Castro marched triumphantly into Cuba that you might say the whole thing grew into a Marxist revolution.

A: Do you ever, as an anarchist, see any incompatibilities between anarchy and Catholicism?

DD: No, I think anarchy is natural to the Catholic. The Church is pretty anarchistic, you know. Who pays attention to the Pope or the Cardinals? Conscience is supreme, and that's why we print it on the front page of our The Catholic Worker monthly paper. The saying of Vatican II is above all 'Conscience is supreme'.

A: Sometimes you go to see the bishops and members of the hierarchy in the Catholic Church. What do you talk to them about?

DD: We talk about the work. As Cardinal McIntyre said to me looking at our paper: 'I never studied anything like this in the seminary'.

A: Would you talk briefly about how the Catholic Worker started with you and Peter Maurin?

DD: This will madden Women's Liberationists when I say that Peter Maurin was the one who was totally responsible for it all. I met him as a result of the things I had written. When he came to see me, he was a regular tramp living on the Bowery; a French peasant and a man of great knowledge, however. He had taught in Christian Brothers' schools in France. He had tremendous knowledge of movements all over Europe. He laid down a very simple program - the kind of program people would just laugh at. Foremost in this program was the necessity for the clarification of thought. I knew that Lenin had said there could be no revolution without a theory of revolution. And when Peter talked about clarification of thought, I thought this was what he was talking about. He said we needed discussions and meetings and a paper to bring things before the public. He said we should sell it ourselves on the street. He used to have 'Friday night meetings' every night of the week. He wore us out. He talked about Houses of Hospitality where there would be direct action of the works of mercy. Round table discussions, Houses of Hospitality, and farming communes - that was his solution. And you see them coming about. You see ideas that somehow or other are in the air - communes all across the country, young people trying themselves, testing themselves in various ways. I think it's all part of a world movement. Why should so many people find assent to what we write in the paper - and such a diverse group of people, too? It's something which is coming, which is evolving. I think that just as we're in the nuclear era we're also in an era of non-violence. It's undefeatable. And the evidence of non-violence are these great movements like the Chavez movement [an American movement to get better working and living conditions for farm workers, BM]. It makes its appeal. It seems impossible to buck the agribusiness. But I've seen this with my own eyes.

A: How is the work you do in the city with the poor related to the work you do as a journalist?

DD: You can't write about things without doing them. You just have to live that same way. You start in with a table full of people and pretty soon you have a line and pretty soon you're living with some of them in a house. You don what you can. God forbid we should have great institutions. The thing is to have many small centers. The ideal is community.

A: Does the Catholic Worker offer any sort of alternative existence to the poor other than a bowl of soup and a bed to sleep for the night?

DD: It offers them community too - although we fail every time. That's also life. How can you not fail? That's the human condition. I think that at the Catholic Worker we have high aims. But how much mingling is there, really, between the worker and the scholar? You get acquainted with some and they become very dear to you. They become so much part of the family that you get mad at them. There's so much you have to endure in community. It's like parents with their children. You just have to forgive seventy times seven. There is nothing logical in all this. It's very hard to talk about. That's why I dread any kind of interviewing. Because, how can you express these intangible things that the Catholic Worker is doing? You can sit down and add up how many people were fed yesterday afternoon, how many people were served each morning at the jail, how many cups of coffee are distributed - that kind of turnstile counting. It's impossible to measure the real value of these things.


Ammon Hennacy became a religious anarchist at some point and had connected with Dorothy Day. The following is a quote from 1950.

I had not met Dorothy since September 1941 in Milwaukee. Now I was overjoyed to get a card from her saying that she would be here in Phoenix December 29th. The leading anarchist of this country happened to be in Phoenix just then, so I asked him if he and his atheistic Italian anarchist friends would like to meet Dorothy. Accordingly we met one evening in an anarchist home. The atheistic anarchists led off by saying that anarchism as defined by Bakunin negates all authority: that of the state and that of God. Therefore for Christian and especially Catholic anarchists to use the name anarchism is unethical. Furthermore it hurts the feelings of Italian anarchists who have felt the lash of the Catholic hierarchy.

Dorothy listened carefully to this reiterated statement and replied that this argument had not been brought to her attention before and deserved careful consideration. She felt that man of his own free will accepted God or rejected God and if a man chose to obey the authority of God and reject the authority of the state it was not unethical to do so. She inferred that we were born into a state and could not help it, but accepted God of our own free will. She and Bob Ludlow are converts to the Church. The atheistic anarchist answer was that it was entirely illogical to use the anarchist conception of freedom to accept the authority of God which denies that freedom. Dorothy felt that the authority of God only made her a better rebel and gave her courage to oppose those who sought to carry over the concept of authority from the supernatural to the natural field where it did not belong. She said that the use of the word anarchism by the CW might shock people; that Peter Maurin, although an anarchist, had generally used the word 'personalist' instead, but she felt that Bob Ludlow and myself used it rightly.

Another anarchist present thought that Ludlow had slipped over the use of the word anarchism on Dorothy. She replied that she stood back of all he said on the subject. This same anarchist repeated the regular argument that religion was opium for the people and that the Catholic Church always stood for the rich against the poor and that the CW was as bad as the history of the church. The anarchist leader felt that if the CW was only called the 'Anarchist Worker' instead of the CW it would be the best anarchist paper going. It was the word Catholic that spoiled it. These atheistic anarchists felt that if I had not hid behind the CW I would have been arrested long ago for my tax refusal. Dorothy answered that I had been a Christian anarchist long before the CW was ever heard of. The anarchist leader said that Tolstoy in his 'Appeal to Social Reformers' denounced the regular anarchists of his time and therefore should not be considered an anarchist. I replied that I had read that article of Tolstoy's long ago and that Tolstoy was simply decrying the atheism and violence of various types of anarchists, and saying that without pacifism and the Fatherhood of God there could not be an effective anarchistic brotherhood of man. I also quoted from a book 'Tolstoy the Man' by Prof. Stirner issued by Fleming Revel Co. about 1902. Prof. Stirner visited with Tolstoy and quoted him as saying that he was such an anarchist as Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount had made him not to be afraid of the word anarchism, for the time would come when people would know its true meaning; that one who had accepted and obeyed the laws of God was thereby divorced from obeying the laws of men and did not need them. Stirner was sort of a Fabian Socialist, and he asked Tolstoy if socialism was not a step on the way to anarchism. Tolstoy answered that it was not and that it would end in a terrible [illegible in the photocopy I'm using, BM]. Dorothy mentioned the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, original sin, etc., emphasizing the fact that rebels who sacrifice for a cause need this supernatural help to remain true. The anarchists misunderstood this idea or else were physically unable to accept the importance of sacrifice saying that what they wanted was better material conditions and not pie in the sky; that religion made people willing slaves. Under pressure from Dorothy and myself they admitted that a good martyr now and then like the Haymarket men and Sacco and Vanzetti, was a good thing; but they did not like the emphasis upon sacrifice.

I felt that this was the trouble with the present atheistic anarchists: that they were not willing to sacrifice enough. I reviewed my prison history to prove that what changed me from being a socialist and an atheist was the example of that true rebel Jesus. That thus my sanity had been saved and I had emerged from prison an anarchist. That I was associated with the CW because of its brave stand in publicizing my anti-tax campaign when anarchist and pacifist papers said very little about it. That my idea of God was not an authority whom I obeyed like a monarch but a principle of good as laid down by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which I interpreted in day by day decisions as the forces of the state came in conflict with these ideals. And that in the same manner every person had to make a choice between his conception of good and of evil. The anarchist leader still felt that religious people had no right to use the word anarchist, although we knew that he as an anarchist could not go to law and prevent it. I replied that the atheistic anarchists were more atheistic than they were anarchistic, so he should not be adverse to allowing Christians or Catholic Christians to be at least as religious as they were anarchistic, if not more so. That the atheistic anarchist should be glad that the CW had left the state worship of ecclesiastical authorities and were anarchists. I said that the atheistic anarchist did not realize that it was possible for a Catholic to accept spiritual authority and not - like most Catholics - accept the state and temporal authority; that the atheistic anarchist should be glad that someone was fighting authority in one sphere - and the most difficult sphere at that - where the atheistic anarchist stood no chance of being heard. Dorothy told of losing over half of the CW subscribers because the CW opposed Franco and World War II. The summary of Bob Ludlow on this subject seems conclusive: "There is an incompatibility between anarchism and religion only if the Christian insists on transforming the authoritarian set up of the Church to the temporal field or the anarchist insists on rejecting authority in religion. In both cases it comes from a confusion of the supernatural with the natural".

I felt that a fair summary of the question would be that whenever we of the CW became cowardly because of pressure from the Pope, then it would be time for the atheistic anarchists to decry our use of the name 'anarchism'. And that as long as they had no Pope to tell them what to do they ought to assert their native anarchism and come out and be as brave fighters against war and capitalism as were Bakunin, Berkman and Goldman, whom they revere.

The New York Catholic Worker monthly magazine has since some time been bringing purely anarchist articles again. (For a while it was almost exclusively religious.) The May 2001 issue carries three short articles on the classic subject "Electoral Politics and Anarchism" that would not be treated differently in a mainstream anarchist publication. Further, it carries an almost full A3 page review of Alice and Staughton Lynd's "The New Rank and File", which might as well have been published in "Fifth Estate" or in "Echanges". Every May the magazine publishes "The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker", a title and much of the contents that covers which might as well have appeared in a mainstream anarchist publication, e.g.: In politics, the state functions to control and regulate life. Its power has burgeoned hand in hand with growth in technology, so that military, scientific and corporate interests get the highest priority when concrete political policies are formulated.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Is Black and Red Dead? registration deadline!

"Between the 7th and the 9th of September 2009, the ASN and the PSA Marxism Specialist group are organising a joint conference on the intersections between Marxism and Anarchism over the past 150 years.

An academic confe rence organized and supported by the PSA Anarchist Studies Network, the PSA Marxism Specialist Group, Anarchist Studies, Capital & Class, Critique-Journal of Socialist Theory, Historical Materialism and Studies in Marxism.

Hosted By: The Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice University of Nottingham

"Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever again the Black and Red unite!"

(Otto Von Bismark, upon hearing of the split in the First International)

What is the political relevance of the ideological labels "anarchist" and "Marxist" in the contemporary geo-political climate? Despite recurrent crisis, the costs typically borne by the people, neoliberal capitalism continues to colonize the globe in a never ending quest for profit and new enclosures. Meanwhile, an effective political response from the left to the wars, ecological destruction, financial collapse and social problems created by capital and state has so far failed to garner the widespread support and influence it needs. Indeed, the sectarianism of the left may well have contributed to this failure. Still, despite fracture, there have always been borrowings across the left."

ASN Website

The Unspeakable Experience

Considerations about ethics and mysticism on the basis of Jacques Ellul and Henri van den Bergh van Eysinga
The following is a speech, delivered on a seminar on mysticism and ethics, in Aberystwyth, 2002.
It is the first piece in English brought to the lifeboat from in its Geocities-form.
I can now add that reading the book by Chastenet mentioned below, particularly the non-story of Jacques Ellul's mystical experience to me dwelled on being such an experience itself - sitting and reading in the grass of a meadow on a hilltop in Wales, for a child of the Low Countries an Experience in its own right...
What I call the across-the-canal-experience must be the subject of Sheldrake's The sense of being stared at, which I have not managed to finish yet.

The first question to be asked when one speaks about mysticism and ethics is whether there can be any separation between the two. Or - putting it more practically: can there be any difference between experience and consequence?

Mysticism can only be based on experience. Most people will find this a disturbing statement. You need not be an atheist to react this way. Mysticism belongs to "the others", and it should not come nearer than the content of the New Age Shop in the High Street. It is Dorothée Soelle's idea, in Mystik und Widerstand, that every human being must have some experience with mysticism, and she wants it to be popularised, nay democratised. But you still must dispense with the idea of buying incense and practicing breathing meditation as a replacement (it may be a consequence).

The Dutch theologian Van den Bergh van Eysinga [1868-1920], on whose mystical ethics this contribution is based, equates religion totally with mysticism - and they cannot be separated from ethics either, but more on that later. You may well know that for example the Roman Catholic Church makes a difference between sainthood and "ordinary believers" - and mysticism to the general official practice is indeed something for the Others. This may be subject to change in the future, but that is as far as I know still the official Catholic standpoint. In the Eastern Orthodox churches mysticism is part of living religion, and generally speaking the same goes for Judaism and Islam. For the greater part of humanity the equation between mysticism and religion may be self-evident, when explained - if it can be explained in terms of separation between the two. Probably the problem of separation is a Roman Catholic speciality, and a Protestant one - and of course, of atheism, which is unmistakably an offshoot of both.

Etymologically, the word "religion" in itself already refers to what I shall call henceforth The Experience. The Latin word religiomeans: awe, deigning back in humility or even fear - taking a step backwards for Something beyond daily experience. This must have been part of life in what we call pagan Rome, as much as in any other part of the world. That the etymological explanation of the word has been "handled" in the Roman Catholic Church to suit a separation between Experience and official religion is part of the problem of this separation. Being united with the other and the Completely Different is implied in the original Latin meaning of religio, and yet the Experience can only be personal. It also means a call to doing what lies beyond daily practice: a call to ascesis, and in that way a call to ethics.

To Protestants, especially of the Reformed denomination - usually referred to by outsiders as Calvinist - the separation between Experience and official religion is even more complicated than in Roman Catholicism. The Reformed tradition asks, according to Scripture, everybody personally to be holy (Matth. 5:48). This is a task which from the start should be seen separated from Experience - reading the bible should be enough to teach you ethics and ascesis alike. I hope you can accept the simplification which is necessary in the framework of this communication. Real calvinists in the Netherlands, the bevindelijken [roughly translated: Those speaking from experience], certainly stress the importance of personal religious experience. They even do not object to mysticism - provided you do not call it that way. But the mainstream Reformed way is to abhor from anything which might bear the connotation of the original religio. One of the staunchest strugglers against mysticism I know is the French reformed sociologist-theologian Jacques Ellul. He is so much against it, that he blames the muslims for introducing it into Christianity - it does not belong there, to him it is some medieval invention which came to Christians through Spain - the trovadors apparently being the sinners in this respect. Ellul was anti-islamic before this became topical or fashionable. Being Reformed, and stressing the need to go back to the basic idea of being a follower of Christ, he can simply overlook a tradition as old as Christianity itself. His personalist approach brings him to stating that christianisme itself is anti-Christian.

Be this as it may - and fortunately I may still deem Ellul an interesting thinker without having to agree with him on this -, Ellul has his own story to tell, and I must say I was amazed to read it. It simply is not in line with his written thought. In a series of interviews with Patrick Chastenet (Entretiens avec Jacques Ellul. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1994) Ellul comes to the autobiographical point where he has to explain how he became a confessing Reformed himself. He is very reluctant to tell about it. Even in the context of something as immodest as being interviewed about your life and views there is something to retain modesty about. And this is it: Ellul has had an Experience. Apparently it happened to him whilst reading Goethe's Faust. And no, he does not tell what the experience was, except that he had to flee from home and get outside, running away from it seems to be the fitting expression. After that he was a confessing Christian. That is all he has to say about that.

I certainly would not like to advocate anything else but modesty about what I call The Experience. That might be explained with my own Reformed background, but I see no reason to look at it in any other way. In fact, the modesty Ellul expresses, to me makes it all the more convincing that he had this personal Experience. The amazing thing about it is, that his ethics apparently is based on this Experience, and yet it includes complete rejection of mysticism. Perhaps it means he does not accept the separation of religion and mystical experience, but that is not what he says. We might consider the modesty as religio in the original sense: the experience is so awesome that it is unspeakable. Soelle may be proven to be right again: an anti-mysticist turns out to be a mysticist himself. Perhaps we should have a new look on Karl Barth too, but I will not venture on that dangerous ground.

Some final remarks to this introduction, still, I hope, within the boundaries of well Reformed modesty. Sceptical reductionists may say that this Experience after all is only a neurophysical reaction. I might answer this with Schumacher's remark that the only thing scepticists are not sceptical about is - their scepticism. But that would be too easy in this case - a more adequate answer would be that it never can be proper to call any physical reaction "just a physical reaction". But, not knowing about neurophysiology, I shall try to say something about the Experience, approaching the general idea without crossing the line of modesty - and in passing yet answering a probable question.

To begin with: forget the notion of anything supernatural or occult. I am inclined to deny the idea of a sixth sense, which should be the religious sense, an idea which I think can only be a manner of expressing, not referring to anything existing (since senses cannot exist separated from the living body I think postulating this sixth sense would mean introducing the supernatural again through a backdoor). Neurophysiologists may be able to explain what I call the across-the-canal-experience. Living in Amsterdam, indeed on a canal, I know sitting near the window when someone passes on the other side. It is a quiet, unknown canal, there are not many passers-by. I look out of the window, see the person walking on the other side, and if I look long enough he or she somehow will feel being watched, and will feel more or less exactly where the eyes are located which are watching him or her. What sense made me look nearly automatically, what sense made the passer-by look in return? The sense of the Experience must be akin to this - and if there is a convincing neurophysiological explanation for this experience (with lower case e) still the question will remain: how can one sense a Presence which sensible people will say is not there? I do not accept the verdict "hallucination" for this.

Which brings me to the last point: is this sensual Experience a human speciality? Intersubjective communication between humans about it may be difficult enough already, but when one does away with fear or modesty, it should be possible. Communicating with other conscious beings is nearly impossible, especially on this point. But human beings should certainly be modest about this. If hippopotami really have a mourning ritual, as was shown once in a television documentary which went beyond the usual chase-and-eat-spectacle (after all, hippopotami do not fit into that scheme), then they must have some idea or experience of what is beyond the visible. There is nothing more that can be said about that, other than that anthropocentrism makes talking about religion or mysticism more questionable than is necessary.

This is a long introduction to a Dutch reformed reverend who at the end of the nineteenth century went against the modernist current in his Church by equating mysticism with religion and with ethics and ascesis. This equation can be called dialectical. Indeed, the reverend was a dialectic, inspired mostly by Hegel, and by Von Hartmann and Schopenhauer. The man I refer to is Henri (H.W.Ph.E.) van den Bergh van Eysinga. Born in 1868, having studied theology and - as his name immediately betrays - if indeed social reality at the fin-de-siècle were not enough - a son of the ruling elite in the Netherlands, as several other modernist dominees he was touched deeper by the reality of class society than his elder colleagues. What these dominees, who called themselves "the young" as oppposed to the well-settled practised pastors, saw was a debased class of underfed, drinking, toiling mass which completely had lost any sense of living religion. The young accused the settled of having a materialist look at ethics. It seemed to be enough not stealing your neigbour's chickens to be holy and religious. But what if you were forced by hunger to indeed steal those chickens? And anyway, what kind of ethics could this be to inspire anyone? Christianity had become trite and tedious, and had incorporated atheist materialism itself.

Interestingly, most of the dominees I refer to identified themselves with anarchism - religious or as they called it then by this new name, Christian anarchism. As you can infer from their ideas, rejection of the powers that be, in state and church, to them was the exact opposite of atheism. The idea was helped by Tolstoy and - more on the background - Dostoyewsky (mostly The Brothers Karamazow). Outsiders called these Dutch Christian anarchists of the fin-de-siècle Tolstoyans, though only a few of them really were, and accepted this name reluctantly. This Christian anarchism in the Netherlands is an independent current of socialism alongside the parliamentary social-democracy and atheist anarchism. It emerged in the weekly De Hervorming, the paper of the radical modernist current in the Dutch Reformed Church. Going through the columns of this paper, I must say that the writings of the radical-liberal so-called older dominees look less dated than the angry young modernists, who want to add more feeling to all the intellectual writing. Alright, Bileam's donkey did not speak - what has that got to do with living religion, Van den Bergh asks. But what he had to offer instead probably was not less difficult to accept for the working masses he wanted to see organised for Sharing, Freedom and Fraternal Love - socialism, that is, according to his words.

He called supranaturalism actually equal to atheism, the mystical approach necessarily led to agnosticism. Accepting and using all the knowledge science has to offer you can stress the beauty of creation by evolution, the unfolding of the Divine Idea (Hegel!). And the best way to offer mysticism for the masses (these are my interpreting words) is by inspired poetry: Shelley, Tennyson, Whitman, Baudelaire, Goethe (Faust again), Dutch contemporaries like Gorter and Van Eeden and many others. The intersubjectively communicable experience is through poetry, Van den Bergh states - and indeed, the more conscious parts of the working class he wanted to enthuse were willing to take notice of poetry. These were the workers who also saw the need to organise, and who were not willing to be brought back to church. Those below, whom may be referred to not necessarily jokingly as the drinking class (de natte gemeente), were beyond poetry or church and maybe even organising - in fact, there should still be a task ahead nowadays, things have not changed in that respect.

In the early days of his reverendship Van den Bergh's mystical approach was based on the image of the Pale Suffering Young Man at the Cross (he refers to Him as being blonde as well). The living Christ would be that of Tolstoy. Not much later he rejects this as being too uncivilized an invention. The settled dominees of De Hervorming as good modernists could not accept this image, and they expressed mild and polite but still strong rejection of this "young idea". To Van den Bergh it was probably his reading of Hegel that brought him back from the idea of Christian anarchism in this style. The other young organised around a new bi-weekly Vrede [Peace]. Van den Bergh wrote his thesis and went his own way in the margin of social-democracy. This complete revolution inside and then outside the modernist tendency of the Dutch Reformed Church happened within four years: Christian anarchism was presented as such in 1893, Van den Bergh totally embraced Tolstoy's ideas in 1895 and in 1897 he rejected them. The speed of these developments justifies the word "revolution" - and by the way, the christian state authorities had it crushed in 1903, the last year which smelled of revolution in the Netherlands. Van den Bergh did not go along to the Vrede-groep since he apparently had discovered his own mystically based system of ethics, which I shall dwell upon now.

His thesis, Levensbeschouwing (A look at life - 1897), asks for Reason to be taken as the prime source of religious view. Believing in miracles means unnecessarily asking to do away with Reason. Yet, like Shumacher whom I mentioned earlier, he states that scepticism asks for one truth at least, so there is no point in denying the existence of Truth altogether. He rejects the possibility of consciousness ever knowing itself. We can only infer by belief that others have consciousness, and we must believe that there is an objective non-I, an objective world. The idea that there is no Beyond the discernible outside world is naive and childish. There must be Something transcending the material reality, a Something, or rather the Absolute which is the foundation of the sensually discernible world. We are indeed living in Plato's cave, there is no escaping. The consequence of this is that we can only interpret the Absolute in human terms, with the tools for thinking we have, but the Absolute continually asks us to cross borders in this respect.

The Absolute is not an unchangeable Being, it is perenially in movement, it is a Becoming. And so striving for unity with the Absolute, which striving is called religion, must indeed be just that - it can only be striving. There is only this striving, and in this striving we are one with the Absolute, with God. This means that we never can accept the world as it seems to be given - we must reach for the harmonious, the reasonable, the ethical, the aesthetic. Yet again the consequence is that there can be no such thing - sit venia verbo - as Christianity. One can only a posteriori decide to comply with Christ's striving.

Like the other "young" in the radical-modernist Reformed Church Van den Bergh was very impressed with the "Parliament of religions" at the World Fair in Chicago, 1893. It showed them the deeper relationship between the religions, a common idea of the Absolute in all religions - which they saw as basically monotheistic. That is why they welcomed the Brahmo-Somaj movement in what we call "hinduism". Important for those days, and for these days as well, is the conclusion that there is no superiority in civilisations or race - this really meant going against the current in the heyday of imperialism or colonialism.

Striving can only work towards harmony, through dedication and ascesis to Beauty. And in this respect there is progress: we can look at humanity as a whole, and we will succeed in reaching this unity. It will not be the work of the masses, it is a cultural task - and culture, as Von Hartmann says, is always a matter of minorities. Despite the barbarism of the Great War Van den Bergh believed this harmonious socialism through culture could be reached. He was spared what might have been disillusionment, he died rather young in 1920.

This ethical-mystical world view had been developed rather cerebrally in his thesis, and it could not be otherwise. He was Reformed, which implies, as I said earlier, a tendency to keep silent about what looks like the Unreasonable. Can a lifelong work of looking for the meaning of the Absolute be based on The Experience? Van den Bergh does not mention any knowledge of it.

Yet I must conclude that in this silence there is eloquence on a Something which must have been beyond that which he thought Reasonable. It should have been unreasonable to spend a life looking for the Absolute and the harmony which It demands without an Encounter. The work is the proof. Giving this glimpse in a mystically based ethical idea is meant as an invitation to see what must have inspired any author or artist worthy of the name - The Unspeakable Experience. And so this essay ends where it really starts.

Going out of business...

...everything must go!

I am told that the free webservice Geocities will be shut down soon.
Well, we all know the saying about free lunches - it is not really true, but in many cases you have to accept it as if it is true.
Although will still be available, the site as it is today - looking pretty dated anyway, after ten years - will be shut down and the content has to be brought into safety - at least the pieces which look like worth saving.

The most often cited ones are in Dutch, but there are some in English which might end up here, as provisionally as all life is provisonal.
So be prepared for some things you might know but probably have not read yet...
Especially the ones on mysticism and Christian anarchism. After I started what I intended to be a series (and I still intend it to be one) I was confronted with a speaker in public who shared her mystical experience with those present in church - which stunned me and left me silent on the subject for a while.

To be continued.

Monday, 22 June 2009

The Massacre

If you can get to Bury St Edmunds this week you might want to check out "The Massacre" by radical playwright and friend of William Godwin, Elizabeth Archibald.

This play was never performed in its own time because it was considered too politically sensitive. It's only now, over 200 years later that it has been considered safe enough.

Archibald (nee Simpson) lived in exciting times and expected the revolutionary spirit that hit France to transform Britain too. But Britain continues to enjoy the kind of ironic indifference to politics that keeps us calmly and gently sedated to our lack of freedom to do and be all that is good. Good luck Elizabeth!

The Theatre blurb: "The play retains its power to this day and the tale of the family Tricastin and their tragic demise is as provocative and disturbing as it was when it was first suppressed – by its own author."

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Anarchist "Movement" Conference

I went to the first of two days of the Anarchist Movement Conference in London but having just moved house three days before I had to hot-foot-it back to Gloucester on the Sunday.

We were split into groups of as diverse as the organisers could manage and allocated rooms and facilitators. If the group wanted to change the facilitators they could but they were asked to stick to the same groups all weekend.

We were suggested topics to cover like whether or not there is an anarchists movement in Britain and whether talk of 'class' is still relevant.

Our group had some interesting conversations on race, gender, class, and 'what works and what doesn't'. Few of us were particularly excited by the idea of an anarchist 'movement'.

I was dissapointed that some had the same mentality as the centralists "we need greater unity" they said: except the mantra of fascists and national socialists everywhere.

I was disappointed that we didn't break new ground as a group and all the more disappointed not to make it to the Sunday when perhaps we might have. I may never know.

The conference was due to end with all the groups re-joining for a plenary and I hear back from two others that this was a much more constructive day. I suspected as much.

We were promised at the outset that a written report would follow. When it does you will see it here...

On a personal note I met Gerrard from Tolstoyans (UK), and Dan from . Also I left about 25 copies of 'A Pinch of Salt: Issue 19' on the table and they went like hot cakes. If they were removed by someone anti-Christian then I hope they recycled them! At least one made it into safe hands since I got an email from a new reader who happens to have been the protestor mentioned in Dan Stork Banks' report on AWE. He's going to pen a reply.

Brought to you by Real Anarchists

As far as I know there is only one report covering the London Anarchist Conference of June 6th. It sounds even more depressing than the photo - especially the comments.

Some years ago a trotskyite wrote a dissertation about the role of anarchists during the occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans (you are supposed to call them "nazis" now, that sounds more polite and pro-European - Britons may ask about this on the Channel Islands).
The conclusion of this trotskyite was: there was no anarchist resistance. No, there was not. There were some individual anarchists reasoning along the lines "government is government, no matter who does it". And the others worked together with whomever they could work with. It simply just is not anarchist to claim action of any kind, even under less severe circumstances. You just do what you think is right. (Of course, this applies even more to those who identify with Christian anarchism).

It took us two issues of the anarchist journal of which I am one of the editors to explain this. It gave me the opportunity to make the sad discovery that Felix Ortt, namesake and son of the most influential Dutch Christian anarchist, was auf der Flucht erschossen in a concentration camp in Poland, where he had been detained as a member of the resistance. In which his ageing father played a modest role - according to his age - too. Never boasting, never even showing sadness.

Sadness I can feel about the comments on the Indymedia-article mentioned above.
When will they ever learn, indeed?

To brighten up this posting: tents of participants of the yearly anarchist gathering at Whitsun/-monday in the Netherlands.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Tripp York

Let's face it: were you in Burlington, Tennessee on Sunday June 7th 2009? Neither was I.

You might fairly describe Burlington native Tripp York as a Renaissance man.

He's known for his acting and has worked as assistant technical director at Burlington's Paramount Theater. He has taught religion at Elon University for five years.

York has written three books, co-authored another and and has more on the way.

His latest is called "Living on Hope While Living in Babylon: The Christian Anarchists of the 20th Century." York will sign the book from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Barnes & Noble in Alamance Crossing in Burlington. He'll also sign two other books he has written: "The Purple Crown -- the Politics of Martyrdom" and a novella called "Anesthesia." He has also co-authored a book called "Calculated Futures: Theology, Ethics and Economics." His newest book examines the lives and activities of people York describes as "Christian anarchists." York builds the book around opposition to what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the "triple axis of evil:" materialism, racism and militarism.

These are people York says adhered to the standards of scripture as they understood it -- including a "literal understanding of the Beatitudes," which are part of Christ's Sermon on the Mount teachings -- at the expense of obeying the government, church leadership or other influences in society.

York said the people he writes about often received "greater criticism from the church than from the government." That may not be surprising, he said, given the example of Christ and others in scripture.

While Christ was executed by the Romans, he was "utterly despised" by some of the religious leaders of his time.

His book includes the Catholic Worker Movement;

two priests who were listed on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted Lists due to their protests of what they believe was wrong with government and society; a Baptist farmer and Greek scholar kicked out of his church for working to integrate it racially; and the creator of a community that evolved into Habitat for Humanity.

York has been an instructor of religious studies at Elon for five years. He is about to move to Kentucky to pursue teaching, writing and theater opportunities.

He has more books in the works, including a children's book that tells stories from the perspective of animals in scripture.

York is a 1991 graduate of Williams High School. He earned an undergraduate degree from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville,Tenn., where he majored in religious studies and dramatic arts. He graduated with a master's degree in theological ethics from Duke University and earned a doctorate at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary on the campus of Northwestern University in Illinois.

A review of sorts. Price listings vary and it can be found online at a much lower price.

Waging nonviolence

It's early days still, but it looks like a site worth checking out on a daily basis:
Waging nonviolence.
h/t: Christian Radical.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Driveling in astonishment

At the washbasin I got confused: there were seven toothbrushes in the mug next to it. Knowing she was not sharing the house with anyone I still had to ask which one I could use (hers, I gathered, a kind of intimacy you can share as well.)
She laughed. "Don't worry, they are all mine. I do this just to confuse the inspectors of the benefit agency."
A few weeks later she had a job so she never really got in trouble for having too many toothbrushes. "They" might have asked whether any of her six regular lovers was willing to pay her way through life.

An encounter with the morality of the State. I never even bothered to worry about toothbrushes in my own house in the days I had to enjoy the pleasure of benefit myself. "They" did not have enough inspectors anyway - probably that has changed thanks to Labour's simulation-of-work-programmes.

The liberty the state takes to encroach itself on your private life, and especially the permanent state of insinuation this liberty engenders is taken for granted most of the time.
Grudgingly, sometimes, but it is a fact of life. The state is like any other parasite with the difference being that you cannot get rid of it by taking medicine or killing it. It is a moral, a religious and an aesthetic obligation - amongst others - to be rid of it, but, alas, the magic potion has not arrived yet.

They drivel about hard working families, tax payers' money, are always ready to insinuate and to cast stones, ever willing to count your toothbrushes - and hey! what a performance. From a distance, being at most quarter-English (have to ask about it) I watch with astonishment how lawmakers are exposed as petty thieves, hypocrites, liars, fraudsters - the popular sentiment turns out not to be just sentiment, but judgement, based on facts. The incredible pettiness of it all - we know we are robbed on a much larger scale by private finance initiatives, privatisations, Humanitarian War Efforts etcetera... And meanwhile those willing to have our toothbrushes counted are even claiming their tax consultants at the cost of taxpayers.

Never has the state, that modern human institution, developed in seventeenth century Europe, looked so illegitimate, especially in the country where it all started, England.
Unmissable John Pilger has some good words on the whole affair.

How to get rid of the state now and really start to live? Without throwing stones yet passing the judgement: your time has run out, goodbye...

Monday, 1 June 2009

Fr. Jean-Juste remembered

Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste gets a moving obituary in the SF Bay View [and he even makes me feel a bit happy because of his thank you-speech on Youtube at the bottom of the article, as I have written for the SF Bay View a few times myself].

The closing word of Bill Quigley's piece, ¡Presente! as it should have been written, refers to the days when the Chilean bourgeoisie led by general Pinochet showed its ugly face against the parliamentarian non-violent socialist transformation of Chile. ¡Presente! was a reference to those who had been tortured and killed in Chile and could only be present in spirit.

A shrill reminder of what has been going on for so long now in so many parts of the world, Haiti not being the least scourged nation. Fr. Jean-Juste apparently did not die from being tortured, but he knew what it was like in the dungeons of the mighty.
May he rest in the presence of the One he prayed to most.

Rantings of the Spirit

Whitsunday - in my neck of the woods this increasingly uncomprehended feast still is prolonged with a Whitmonday.
There is a yearly gathering of anarchists in NL at the anarchist camping site in Appelscha, Fryslân, an opportunity which as far as I know no other European country can offer.
Yet I have only been there once, as a particpating observer - in the cold of the night, in the hot pre-summer's day - like it is this year. Listless lilting about the connection between feminism and anarchism and the need for all to be feminist - yeah, sure, comrades - I have been around in the movement too long not to know that this is a kind of churchgoing - never practice on Monday what you are preaching or being taught on Sunday.

So I skipped the Whitweekend-mobilisations generally, visited the camping site once at some other time and did not feel very welcome there - until the moment the regular campers noticed I was a Real Anarchist myself - and then immediately my beloved was told about the blessings of anarca-feminism (she was a feminist, and she sympathised a bit with anarchism but she did not want to be annexed to anarca-feminism just because of her gender - cannot blame her for that).
I think this abstract obsession with feminism has died down nowadays, but I still do not bother to go, in fact have spent most of my Whitsundays for the past several years - unbelievable, innit - in church.

This year was different, for reasons I do not need to dwell upon here and now.
There is still the news, which for some Anglophones is homophonous to noose.
As a special Pentecostal treat a doctor performing late abortions is shot dead in church. The not-so postchristian US of A in the noose.

The BBC gave prevalence to the news about a city in the Swat Valley completely destroyed by the Pakistani army in the War Against Terror.
Tellingly, the story has already been moved to a place where you cannot find it, or it even has been removed. Yet there are other sources on Mingora.
And our everloving Auntie tells a story about hundreds of thousands of Tamils still on the run in Sri Lanka. Earlier in the past week we heard twenty thousand human beings had been killed in the final days of "the war" - again, a War on Terror.

No news in this news, altogether.
Time to ask for consolation to the Spirit which was sent to console.