Religion Versus Rulers – A Brief History of Spirituality Against the State

religion versus rulers

Joshua Norton was a popular and eccentric figure who lived in San Francisco in the middle of the 19th century. He was well known and beloved by the locals, who even accepted his personal currency, and paid respect to his self-proclaimed (but unchallenged) position as the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. In the 1860’s a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment -MUH JOBS!- led to a number of not-so-peaceful confrontations instigated by European immigrants and descendants against migrant Asian workers. During one such occasion a group of angry nogoodniks were marching into Chinatown with their proverbial pitchforks and torches. Having come across the scene, Emperor Norton stepped in front of the angry mob and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The hateful intruders peacefully dispersed almost instantly.

Now what do you think would have happened if police armed with truncheons and pistols had shown up to ‘keep the peace’? Fire and blood, that’s what.

Protector Norton simply appealed to the values of the individuals in that angry mob, and in doing so turned them away from their destructive intentions.

The state is an instrument for enforcing a social order against the will of individuals through the omnipotent and omnipresent threat of aggression.

Religion is an instrument for suggesting voluntary social order between individuals through shared values created by symbols, archetypes and myths.

Modern critics of religion will tell you that behind every great tragedy there was a religion. What they forget to mention is that an uncountable number of religious incidents have occurred throughout history in which nobody was hurt, and in fact during which values supporting peace and harmony were being reinforced in the practitioners. Wherever we see the ugly side of religion it is always accompanied by the state. At every Inquisition, Holy Crusade and Righteous Genocide some state was either directly involved or had influenced events leading up to the phenomena. Wherever religion takes up Nationalism, the religion of the state, it becomes brutal and toxic, as is the case with radical fundamentalists in Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike.

Religion is competition for the state. If people were able to create social order from their belief systems and free will, the state would be unnecessary. This is why the state always seeks to co-opt religions and to destroy them from within. From Bible Bro Conservativism to Sharia Law, religion is used to manipulate the states agenda, while the state and its functionaries are above the values and moral codes of the religions they opportunistically co-opt.

At the same time, the media that favors the state and its narrative also assists it by attacking religion wholesale. Yet these attacks always point at religions and religious groups that have been co-opted and reconfigured in the image of the state. In doing so they create a new religion, a secular religion of the state itself. This new religion co-opts reason by transmogrifying science into scientism and atheism into militant nihilism, both of which make the adherents ripe for the holy proclamations of the statist narrative. Yet as a religion, it is empty. Its rituals are violent and its commandments condemn free will, individualism and critical thinking. It’s mythologies are self-referencing lies and fearmongering. It seeks not to free the individual from their own impulsiveness and weakness, but to constrain them through compulsiveness and dependency. The State is the only divine figure that constitutes its own congregation and worships itself.

This is why throughout history, religions have popped up all across the globe that not only eschew statism, but create religious narratives in opposition to it. Lets take a look at a few examples of anarchistic religion.


Oh, sure, modern Christianity has largely been co-opted and overrun by statism and nationalism, but this was not always the case. Even the teachings of Jesus in the state-canonized Bible show a strong predilection for the anarchistic principles of that religions central character. When Jesus whoops some money-changer ass in the temple, gives the Sermon on the Mount or performs miracles for those made destitute by imperialism, he is acting in accordance with anarchism. How about this line:

“Give unto Caesar what is Caesars.”

While widely interpreted to mean that you should respect the state, the interpretation that is more in line with the rest of the teachings of Jesus would be:

“Give unto Caesar what is Caesars, which is nothing, for this is not the Kingdom of Caesar but the Kingdom of God, who recognizes no earthly authority, so neither shall you.”

A tradition of Christian anarchism began thousands of years ago through the teachings of Jesus and his early Gnostic followers. It continues in modern times with Christian philosophers like Jacques Ellul, and Christian anarchism activists and advocates like the folks at While much of the Christian religion has been co-opted and turned inside out by the state, those most dedicated to its core values will continue to stand against the oppressive authority of nationalist paradigms.

Among the Abrahamic religions, Christianity is not alone in its historical or modern anarchist factions. Both Islam and Judaism have their own philosophically and doctrine-supported anarchist groups, and have all throughout their existence, with the tendency towards more statism over time.


The entire spirit of Taoism is imbued with ideas of autonomy and non-interference. While it may not have been intended as a religion of statelessness and anarchism, its teachings parallel the philosophies of all varieties of anarchism all throughout time. The following three passages from the central doctrine of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, describes these philosophies with the linguistic skill and allure of poetry.

In loving the people and ruling the nation
Can one be without manipulation?
Take the world by constantly applying non-interference
The one who interferes is not qualified to take the world
When there are many restrictions in the world
The people become more impoverished
When people have many sharp weapons
The country becomes more chaotic
When people have many clever tricks
More strange things occur
The more laws are posted
The more robbers and thieves there are

Therefore the sage says:
I take unattached action, and the people transform themselves
I prefer quiet, and the people right themselves
I do not interfere, and the people enrich themselves
I have no desires, and the people simplify themselves


Anarchism has been woven throughout the great tapestry of the many Buddhist philosophies over the centuries.

The Kalama Sutta is an ancient text that teaches the central tenets of anarchism, that is, self-ownership and self-responsibility. It is a central teaching of many branches of Buddhism and it concerns a dialogue about how one can only avoid karmic pitfalls through non-interference of others and positive actions and thoughts in the self.

Zen has been called the ultimate philosophy of anarchism, as it asserts that the state arises out of our conscious states, and so can thus be smashed by a conscious revocation of the statist principles. Principles which violate the Zen notions of rejecting fear and desire, both of which are the principle justifications for the institutionalized ‘order’ of the state. The use of Zen teachings to promote anarchist ideologies has continued into the modern era through people like beat poet Gary Snyder and the Zenarchy of Kerry Thornley, who also founded another modern anarchist religion…


Discordianism is discounted by many as a satirical religion, yet within its scripture The Principia Discordia, there are some very powerful anarchist philosophies. The central tenet of Discordianism is known as the Eristic/Aneristic Principles:

The Aneristic Principle is that of APPARENT ORDER; the Eristic Principle is that of APPARENT DISORDER. Both order and disorder are man made concepts and are artificial divisions of PURE CHAOS, which is a level deeper that is the level of distinction making.

With our concept making apparatus called “mind” we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality which our cultures give us. The ideas-about- reality are mistakenly labeled “reality” and unenlightened people are forever perplexed by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see “reality” differently. It is only the ideas-about-reality which differ. Real (capital-T True) reality is a level deeper that is the level of concept.

We look at the world through windows on which have been drawn grids (concepts). Different philosophies use different grids.

A culture is a group of people with rather similar grids. Through a window we view chaos, and relate it to the points on our grid, and thereby understand it. The ORDER is in the GRID. That is the Aneristic Principle.

        Western philosophy is traditionally concerned with contrasting one grid with another grid, and amending grids in hopes of finding a perfect one that will account for all reality and will, hence, (say unenlightened westerners) be True. This is illusory; it is what we Erisians call the ANERISTIC ILLUSION. Some grids can be more useful than others, some more beautiful than others, some more pleasant than others, etc., but none can be more True than any other.

        DISORDER is simply unrelated information viewed through some particular grid. But, like “relation”, no-relation is a concept. Male, like female, is an idea about sex. To say that male-ness is “absence of female-ness”, or vice versa, is a matter of definition and metaphysically arbitrary. The artificial concept of no-relation is the ERISTIC PRINCIPLE.

        The belief that “order is true” and disorder is false or somehow wrong, is the Aneristic Illusion. To say the same of disorder, is the ERISTIC ILLUSION.

        The point is that (little-t) truth is a matter of definition relative to the grid one is using at the moment, and that (capital-T) Truth, metaphysical reality, is irrelevant to grids entirely. Pick a grid, and through it some chaos appears ordered and some appears disordered. Pick another grid, and the same chaos will appear differently ordered and disordered.

        Reality is the original Rorschach.

Taken alone, that passage may appear a bit vague and confusing. In fact, many people who have read the Principia Discordia multiple times still are unable to grasp the underlying philosophical message of Discordianism. Simply put, the universe seeks a balance between chaos and order. When we deny the existence of chaos or try to block it out with massive shields of order, chaos digs in and rises to the challenge. Therefore it is only by accepting order and chaos through their creative (rather than destructive) aspects that we can avoid the kind of excessive chaos that becomes excessively dangerous to individuals and societies.

Discordian philosophy can best be summed up with the nursery rhyme ‘There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly’. Sometimes you swallow a fly. Deal with it. If you continue to escalate the situation with increasingly excessive responses, the outcome is sure to be disastrous, Statism is swallowing the horse.

Other Anarchist Religions

Nearly every religious tradition worldwide gives some credence to anarchist ideologies, and many of them have specific sects or schisms that trailed off directly into anarchistic visions of society. Besides these, however, the modern era continues to offer many entirely new ones.

The Church of the SubGenius is a cousin of Discordianism. Using anti-authoritarian ideologies filtered through mounts of absurdism, it is the religion promoting the quest for Slack in the individual. Jam packed with aliens, yeti and conspiracy theories, the SubGenius religion is even more difficult than its relative as far as getting any straight answers goes. But if you keep their literature on your toilet long enough, ‘Bob’ will show you the way.

Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan is a religion of the individual, and so many of its principles sync perfectly with anarchism, even though the church’s literature claims that is not its intent. However, when its principles are taken to their logical conclusions, there is not much room for the existence of the state.

The Neo-Pagan movement has spawned a number of anarchist ideologies. Many of them are responses to the intrinsic destruction of nature in centralized societies. Neo-Pagan anarchism ranges from Primitivism on the far right to anarcho-communism on the far left. This spiritual movement was largely inspired by the work of the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley, who was himself an anarchist, Magician, poet, mountain climber, philosopher, prankster, public scandal and all around lovable sociopathic genius. The religion based on his works is known as Thelema, who fervently deny any suggestion that Crowley endorsed anarchism. Which is likely true, like many geniuses, he was often narcissistic and had pretensions of his own potential political greatness which led him to flirt with an alliance with Hitler and the Nazis. And yet, after summoning a supernatural entity, Crowley acted as its cipher and wrote The Book of the Law; which contains the most condensed yet poetic version of anarchism ever written:

Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law

Love Is The Law, Love Under Will

Every Man And Every Woman Is A Star

Since the late nineteenth century there has been a tendency to discount religion. The slogan ‘No Gods, No Masters‘ became synonymous with mostly-socialist anarchist labor movements of the time. It has influenced much of the ideologies of anarchism since, which is unfortunate. Religion itself is a powerful tool for creating spontaneous social order through voluntary associations held together by shared morals, values and goals. It provides an ideological structure which makes autonomy possible in organized societies. Religion is not about God’s or Goddesses. It is about creating central narratives that act as the organizing principles of social groups, so that those principles do not get organized by a select elite within those groups.

There is every reason to be dubious of organized religion. An organized religion is any religion that acts as a state, or has been co-opted by one or by statist principles. Yet this is not a indictment of religion. It is one of the state, which is so inhumane, that it is willing to manipulate humans by controlling their most sacred beliefs. That the state has done so all throughout history is a powerful clue that it sees religion as its greatest threat.

Anarchists should busy themselves with their own spiritual pursuits and religious creativity. If bad religion is the problem, then good religion is the cure. If every religion you have ever encountered seems patently ludicrous to you, do not reject religion wholesale, but create one worth believing in. Then become your religions own prophet or evangelist, and spread its word far and wide. The more anarchy, the better.

Hail Eris! All Praise Discordia!

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