Skip to content

Christian communitarian anarchists

3 November 2011

JackAcid1In an earlier post, on Christian Anarchism meets Occupy Wall Street, Carl Brook asked in a comment if there were any communitarian empressions of Christian anarchy that I was aware of, and I replied, like Pogo and the cowbirds, “Just me.” Carl then asked if I was serious, and this post is my answer.

The reference to Pogo and the cowbirds is from The Jack Acid Society Black Book, which was published by Simon and Schuster in the USA in the 1960s. It is a satire on the John Birch Society, a right-wing group that was founded in the USA about the mid-1960s.

In the book two dwellers in the Okefenokee Swamp, Deacon Mushrat and Molester Mole, form the Jack Acid Society, one of whose aims is to compile a black list of  those they suspect of being anywhere left of the far right.

Here Deacon Mushrat meets Pogo Possom, and they discuss the state of the media.


Deacon Mushrat then asks Pogo if he knows anyone who ought to be on the black list:


Pogo_on_the_listSo when Carl asks if I was aware of any Christian communtarian anarchists who were around in the old apartheid era, I have to answer like Pogo: the only one I’m sure of was me. And I wasn’t even that sure of me.

On 13 May 1963 I received in the post a newspaper called The Catholic Worker. It was sent to me by Brother Roger, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection. He had been in South Africa for several years, and was one of my gurus. At the beginning of 1963 he was recalled to the UK by his order, and was at the mother house at Mirfield in Yorkshire. He had found a copy of the Catholic Worker, thought it might interest me, and sent it to me. I read it with growing excitement. Here were some people who were actually doing what I was only talking about.

The next day I wrote a letter to Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker, and sent it off with a year’s subscription to the paper. During that year I and a friend, John Aitchison, edited the magazine of the Anglican Society of the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, the Anglican Witness. We nicked quite a lot of articles from the Catholic Worker, and republished them locally in the Anglican Witness. But there was no one, not even John Aitchison, who shared my enthusiasm for the anarcho-communitarian ideas espoused by the Catholic Worker.

And I never did find anyone who shared that enthusiasm, not even to humour me and be willing at least to talk about it. They all thought it was impractical visionary dreaming and a waste off time. Even when I was living in a sort of Christian commune, trying to express some kind of community (what is nowadays called “the new monasticism”), no one was willing to take those kinds of ideas seriously or thought them worth discussing.



6 Comments leave one →
  1. Irulan permalink
    3 November 2011 12:13 pm

    So, did the Community of the Resurrection subscribe to Christian anarchy? “Nought for Your Comfort” doesn’t seem to reference a communitarian effort, but rather an individual approach.

  2. 3 November 2011 10:39 pm

    Steve, this post is wonderful. Wonderful!

    Joining the fight against apartheid here in Australia brought me to knowledge of the Catholic Worker movement. I became an activist because of Father Dick Buchhorn, then the national chaplain of the Catholic Church’s Young Christian Worker Movement. He was put in touch with my husband and I and some friends through a mutual friend because he wanted to come to Toowoomba in Qld to speak there. Toowoomba was one of the two country matches to be played in Australia by the Springboks. The far-right premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, had enacted a state of emergency for the duration.

    I was a young Mum with two children at the time and became the prime organiser of Toowoomba’s campaign, Citizens Against Apartheid. Our activities against the Springbok tour were organising a debate between Dick Buchhorn and the President of the local Rugby Union organisation – who had gone to school with my husband! – and me turning up outside the match as reported in the link to the page from Stewart Harris’s book with my placard (and permit as required by Qld’s draconian laws and a policeman did ask to see it) and leaflets and my then ten month old baby, Kieran, in the pram. I think Shelley (then 7) was at school but she may have been with me. My husband had set off earlier that morning to Darwin for work fearing that me and the kids would end up in jail. But I am a polite, even if persistent, protester!

    Dick introduced me to The Catholic Worker. And there was an Australian version to which I became a subscriber. I recall two major writers were Niall Brennan and Max Charlesworth

    Neither of these would I consider to be anarchists, and I am not sure the now-married and living in retirement Richard Buchhorn would either.

    Probably Australia’s best know Catholic Worker person is Ciaron O’Reilly who does call himself an anarchist.'Reilly Can’t imagine a Pope will ever want to canonise Ciaron but Dorothy Day will probably make it.

    • 4 November 2011 9:29 am

      Thanks very much for the comment, and for the links to the lives of fascinating people.

  3. 4 November 2011 7:57 am

    The Community of the Resurrection, though they lived in community, was mainly composed of middle-class Englishmen, and the few South Africans (and one Bermudan whom I met) who joined generally conformed to the expected behaviour patterns.

    Brother Roger was perhaps exceptional, because, though he came from a similar class background, he had much more varied life experience. You can read more at Pilgrims of the Absolute, which is a paper he read to the Anglican Students Federation conference in 1960/61, and also gives some information about his life. He encouraged me to read things that made me sympathetic to anarchism, but said he had seen the actual results of anarchist bombs in the Spanish Civil War, so he wasn’t too keen on it himself.

    • Irulan permalink
      4 November 2011 12:19 pm

      What a paper! Thank you. I believe Bonhoeffer reached the same conclusion in his final theological transition, embracing the world:

      “We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remoreseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

      Unfortunately, my question remains unanswered regarding other local expressions of Christian anarchy.

      • 4 November 2011 1:08 pm

        Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remoreseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

        I’ve been reading, together with some others, All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams, and had just finished reading chapter 7 when I read your comment. In that chapter an evil magician tries to kill his own daughter by a magic spell, in order to send her into the world of the dead to bring back information to him so that he can proceed with his plan to rule the world. She is saved, however, not by legions of angels, but by the simplicity and straightforwardness of a rather fragile human friendship.

        Interesting, too, that All Hallows Eve is set in 1945, the year that Bonhoeffer died at the hands of evil men.

        Concerning other local expressions of Christian anarchy — one of the reasons I made this a separate post was the hope that it might bring a few others out of the woodwork.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: