Explain the anarchist relationship with religion

Anarchism has tended to reject religion, however religious tendencies can still be seen.

Anarchism has tended to reject religion, however religious tendencies can still be seen.

Religion is seen by anarchists as being a source of authority. Anarchists are against authority because it restricts individual freedom and oppresses and enslaves the individual. Authority also corrupts people who would otherwise be sociable and gregarious creatures individuals, by being raised up by greed and wealth. Religion propagates authority because of its notion of a supreme being who commands ultimate and unquestionable authority. Religion is seen as one of the pillars of the state, as it propagates an ideology of obedience and submission to both spiritual leaders and earthly rulers. Those earthly rulers have looked to religion as a way to legitimise their power. This can be seen in the way in which the later Russian Tsars propagated the theory of ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality’. Therefore, as Mikhail Bukanin said, ‘the abolition of the church and state must be the first and indispensable condition of the true liberation of society’. Only once religion is rejected will individuals be regarded as free and independent.

Anarchists have also rejected religion because it seeks to impose a set of moral principles on the individual, attempting to establish a code of acceptable behaviour. Religious beliefs require conformity to standards of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, which are defined and policed by figures of religious authority such as priests. Therefore the individual is robbed of the moral autonomy and capacity to make their own ethical judgements.

However, it can be said that anarchists don’t altogether reject the religious impulse. There is a clear mystical strain within anarchism, most clearly seen in the conception of human nature, which has a utopian view of the virtually unlimited possibilities of human self-development and in the bonds that unite humanity. This is influenced by millenarianism (a belief in a future 1000 year period of divine rule, which is commonly associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses). Furthermore, anarchists have been attracted to religions such as Taoism and Zen Buddhism that offer the prospect of personal insight and preach the values of toleration, respect and natural harmony.

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