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The Believer | 28.02.2002 11:46

A short piece of critical writing

There is no point in pretending that what you are about to read is anything other than criticism aimed toward many of the readers of this site. I think that whether criticism is constructive or destructive is not only determined by the content and form of the criticism itself but by the way people react to the criticism. What you are about to read could be taken as either constructive or destructive - it depends on the attitude the reader takes. You might say "Well if all you can do is knock us down then fuck off" - and it is true that the critique takes a somewhat negative form. But surely we can't have critique without at least some negativity? And perhaps after all it is possible to react to a negative comment by saying "Well that's negative, perhaps even too harsh, but it does set off a chain of thought..."

And so that's all I intend with this - to spark some thoughts.

One last point - in pre-emption of replies: please don't suggest that since I am offering criticism I have to come up with positive alternatives. The whole point is that you think independently enough to reach your own conclusions.

With those corollaries in place I will begin. *Clears throat*

As an adult in an early 21st century Western society I feel isolated from the many millions of people in the society around me. Most people feel this either consciously or unconsciously and they have different ways of dealing with it. Myself I go to a meeting once a week or so of people who have similiar beliefs to my own. Sometimes I go much more often. We usually meet for a couple of hours and then have a social time. We feel some sense of community in doing this and it prevents the alienation permeating society from wearing us down. It is good to have a place where I don't have to constantly defend my beliefs.
On first going to these weekly meetings one begins to learn the things that should and should not be said/done. Some of those taboos are things that should not be said between any decent people, and some of the 'shoulds' make good sense, but some of them - such as the selection of favourite enemies for example - are less obvious and on initial consideration seem to have more to do with embedded orthodoxy than actual principles. On joining such a group though one needs to feel a sense of 'belonging' - after all that is one of the reasons for going. Conformity to the norms of acceptable speech and behaviour is therefore necessary at first. As time goes on it feels more natural. In fact such norms can't equate to conformity anyway because the entire ethos of the group is counter to prevailing culture. Clearly then it is a group of non-conformers and so I am a non-conformer. It is nice to be able to view myself in such a way. It makes me feel like I am truly an individual and that I have chosen my own path in life.
Occasionally I feel I ought to act more on my beliefs than I do - I certainly ought to do more outside of meetings. Sometimes the group I meet with helps me to do this, but I do sometimes get a creeping sense of guilt when I realise that the group is a bit insular and self-indulgent. Other people in the group feel the same way because we often talk of the need to 'reach out' to people. We feel the world would be a much better place if more people believed (at least approximately) what we believe. Indeed, sometimes it seems like that getting the message to other people is one of the main reasons for our meeting and acting together.
At other times I am more pessimistic and suspect that (a) ours is too difficult a message to get across, and (b) we aren't very good at 'outreach' anyway. At such times I allow myself to simply enjoy the community in which I have placed myself. I know there is nothing wrong with us enjoying ourselves even if there is so much wrong with world - occasionally though I feel that such enjoyment is becoming too important to me. I am after all 'committed' to my beliefs. I know that others in my small community feel the same because sometimes people hint that we need to be 'serious' about certain things; that is, our personal pleasure should be placed a bit lower on the agenda. This might be slightly painful but it is good to get serious sometimes because it focuses our minds on the action and outreach we ought to be doing. I hear that some groups have moved on from this dilemma by making sure that all their meetings and action and outreach are fun while still dealing with the serious issues. This is good because now there is nothing to stop them doing what they ought to.

You may have guessed the question by now. Here it is:
Do I go to a christian church or an anarchist activist group?

Yours in hope

The Believer

[Note to Indymedia people - if discussion results from this and you don't want it all on the newswire could someone think of an online forum it could be transferred to? If discussion does start feel free to copy it over without my permission if that is what you think should happen.]

The Believer


Hide the following 14 comments

Oooooh a riddle!

28.02.2002 11:58

i guess its ..... an......... mmmmmmm.......... anarchist church!
because if it where christian you wouldnt even be considering personal pleasure.
am i right?
do i win a prize?
(but then again your piece is so banal you could be a christian)


important distinction...

28.02.2002 12:25

It depends - if "your beliefs" will lead to an amelioration in humankind's conditions of living (NB "living" - not "afterliving") and save the planet from environmental destruction then you're in an anarchist group.

If your beliefs will justify you living as a slave, watching billions suffer and the Earth being killed, but you'll have a great time when you die, then you're in a Christian group.



28.02.2002 13:11

I really don't see what the point is that you're trying to make. What you've shown is that both Church groups and Anarchist groups can provide a space where people can get together and comfort each other and feel less alienated due to the Capitalist system. So what?

There is no moral equivalence between the two. The function of Anarchist and political groups goes beyond people supporting each other in alienating times (though it may serve that function as well), it is supposed to be a place where people can get together to plan ways of making changes in society, so they don't feel alienated and have to get together in the first place!

As whoever just pointed out, Anarchist and other political groups actually try to change the material conditions that people find themselves in, in this word. Church groups at best contribute to charity or run soup kitchens and so on (thereby treating the symptoms, not the causes), at worst do nothing by clasp their hands together, close their eyes, and have an internal dialogue with their subconscious (otherwise known as 'praying').

There is no comparion between the two.



28.02.2002 13:47

There seems to be a repression problem here. Either that or people are purposely missing one of the main points I was making. I like to think it is the former. The point is that the social dynamic of these groups makes them inherently conservative.
Yes they perform a necessary function for some people, but they are about as radical or revolutionary as taking a crap. When there is no flexibility or open-mindedness it doesn't really matter how 'good' your core beliefs are - you are just another church.

The Believer


28.02.2002 14:56

You could just go and find some FRIENDS.


you must make that decision for yourself

28.02.2002 16:28

As a committed atheist, i feel the pressure of christian conformity in thinking is rife in britain, especially since blair took power.
just decide which is more important to you, and try not to 'fudge' the matter, by joining 'christian socialist ' groups or so on . jesus was NOT the first socialist, and indeed his anti-mercantilism (there was no capitalism in roman times!) may form the basis for modern day christian anti-semitism.

Acorn Tributor

Righty ho then

28.02.2002 18:04

Forgive me gentle readers while I become terse and irritated. I thought that people might be capable of engaging in quality discussion. My mistake.

I'd just like to quote the last sentence of the piece:
"This is good because now there is nothing to stop them doing what they ought to." Judging by the responses here I'm not convinced people even saw the intentional irony.
But go right ahead everybody. You are doing exactly what you *ought* to. You're good at it. You rebels.

The Believer


28.02.2002 19:34

Isn't there a saying(?) which says you take the church everywhere you go? If you have enough faith in your religion, what's stopping you from doing anything else?
Does this situation present a moral dilema to you?

agony aunt


28.02.2002 20:38

Hey believer, what you describe might be a fascist group as well... The facts that you need to belong somewhere and that you have the need to reach other people and spread your ideas makes just part of the group... Now so as to put a trait on this group you 'll have to go a step further and explain your discussions, your aims... And if anything from what you want to do is really done... Or you might just be some guys who play AD&D... or such a fictious game, and you need more players :) ...

As about having fun and in the same time being serious in what you do... whatever this might be....... someone else has already answered that question:

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

I hope that I answered to some of your thoughts and to why there is no connection between the two groups which you describe...


Closed belief systems

28.02.2002 23:17

Having experienced both these social structures I would say that the common factor is closed belief systems - this may not apply to all Christian Churches or all anarchist groups - but did to most in my experience. Unfortunately it seems to be a basic trait (perhaps deliberately encouraged by our current society) for groups of people to seek a ready made, "off the shelf" explanation for everything. Once outside the closed network you can ask "what is the chance that what I have been told is true?" and "however could the majority (or even a significant minority) of people in my street/town be moved nearer to the idealistic goals of our group?" But whilst inside you cannot ask these - there is no questioning of the logic of the underlying concepts of the belief system, and there is no question of people "moving towards" a better understanding- you either accept the ideology/belief system more or less in full or are criticised as willing or potential collaborators with the enemy. Along with this is the self-delusion that given the chance the majority of people are closet believers, ready to convert in a flash. This does not mean that both the (liberal)churches and anarchist groups do not have ideas valuable to ethics and political/social strategy, but that those interested in FREEDOM must feel free to criticise both.

Old Nick

Tum te tum te tum...

01.03.2002 09:29

"what you describe might be a fascist group as well"
I can't believe that someone could write this and not realise that this was EXACTLY my point.

Also, I don't know why people got the impression I have christian beliefs - ?????? My criticism was even more valid for churches than for anarchists - there's just far less excuse for anarchists cos they claim to be individualistic and radical.

And thanks Old Nick for making me feel not quite so alone and insane. (and there's a sentence you don't hear in a church very often...)

The Believer

You ignorant peasants

01.03.2002 16:55

How DARE you all not respond to the final sentence of this fascinating tract exactly as the author wanted you to? You are intellectual pygmies, unfit to lick Believers boots. Fools! Not ONE of you has responded to his point. Whatever THAT is...


well said...

01.03.2002 20:38

does it really matter if you 'belong' to any particular group or ideology?, It helps to be part of a group to highlight issues that you all feel are important...but surely you can be an individual in your own right and reach out to people because you 'believe' that is the right thing to do?. If every member in your group done their own 'outreach', then perhaps the group will not appear to be so insular and self-indulgent. As you say "there is nothing wrong with them doing what they ought to". hope l'm not being to critical... but individualism and the right to be critical is part of the freedom i would like to keep....




More funds for public education NOW!

02.03.2002 01:30

Oh Grud.
Poor Believer, I feel your pain. Beaudelaire and Socrates would feel it too. And the Marx Brothers.

You dumb bunch of earnest saps! I've avoided using the word god even as an expletive on Indymedia posts in the past, because I'm afraid of precisely this kind of knee-jerk, unthinking reaction from all the anti-christian ranters looking for someone to flame while ignoring any other issues raised. And as your responses nicely illustrate, so many people wishing to criticise and change things are so blind to the validity of their claims when applied to themselves.

My first principle for engagement with the world: QUESTION EVERYTHING, BEGINNING WITH YOURSELF.

Don't let others tell you how to think, for that is the last bastion of humanity (and the one most assailed in Orwell's 1984.). Beware anyone who tries. Even me. I mean it.

Groups of people are not inherently bad. A lot of the time they are very useful, and are the only way to realise projects and ambitions of a large scale. What seems to be missing is the ability to communicate and shift ideas and capital between these groups as is possible on an individual scale. Groups are by nature usually conservative (literally) in that they aim to conserve a set of ideas and structures deemed necessary by the members of the group for its continued presence. This is what causes their rigidity, along with the selfish motivations of many group members, either because the group provides an easy way to "belong" and not feel lonely and disoriented, or because the group provides them with a place of power over others which they enjoy.

My prescription? (to be taken with a grain of salt): If you need the help of others to acheive what you want, by all means cooperate with others in a group. But if that group then prevents you from doing other things, or compromises you to an uncomfortable degree, don't fret! You are still an individual with some freedoms. Exercise them. If you can find no groups that allow this, follow the advice of Andy, above (even though he seems to have missed the tone of Believer's article) : find some friends. A few good friends are worth a thousand comrades or brethren.

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