What makes our praxis specifically AnarchoCynic concerns how we take on none of the authority to be gained from established hierarchies, seek to take no privileged position for ourselves, and specifically engage folks about the customs that hold most currency in our community. An AnarchoCynic cannot afford to be non-praxical. Through praxis, the powers of judgment and playfulness combine in how we connect with others for reforming our community.*
Even when experiences derive primarily from a traditionally religious viewpoint, thinkering must engage with folks living life where they find themselves in the dominating superstructure. Considering the relationship most Americans have to religion–we are more religious or spiritual than most folks in industrial societies–an AnarchoCynic must seriously consider the sacred and its place in everyday life.
This first requires reconsidering the narrow definition of faith as an “irrational belief in something for which there is no proof.” As Ortega y Gasset says, “We hold our ideas, but we inhabit our beliefs.” Faith is fundamental to all thinking; the act of faith–seen as a key ability of reason rather than an irrational act–tells us a great deal about both the community and those acting in the community.** We look at where faith directs a person or to what a culture gives the most credit because faith maintains the currency of any superstructure.
For instance: Reducing all happenings to the Will of God turns away from nature–replete with accident–and takes up a steadfast belief in the overflowing power of divine purpose (e.g. creationism or Calvinism). Or portraying all of life as evolutionary progress abjures static tradition for sure faith in the power of technological transformation (i.e. Social Darwinism or trans humanism).†
We see this as much among the intellectual elites as anywhere else. Many who challenge the status quo reduce the entirety of human conditions to just one kind of socio-cultural interaction. For instance, among many “leftists,” explanations of behavior regard humankind as homo economicus. This becomes its own article of belief establishing its own currency for us to challenge when we are talking with confirmed Marxists, for example.
When considering what makes a person a person or a community a community, we should avoid such reductionism because it narrows the breadth of our material conditions. We should be careful not to think of the sacred as being without any material substance whatsoever. True, many of the notions of the divine never rise above superstition. And indeed, most religions involve belief in non-corporeal entities. If organizational schema evidence influence in the structuring of everyday life, this should be true of religious systems no less than of secular ones.†† Sacred traditions happen in the world of matter, direct the use of materials for religious purposes, and accumulate physical artifacts. We must explore everything that matters.
When an AnarchoCynic encounters anyone willing to question the extent of domination in our lives, remember: We hold ideas; we inhabit beliefs. Our dialog partner grasps the new idea of being oppressed while inhabiting a series of completely hidden presuppositions. Real praxis is not simple conversion. And often what we witness in backsliding from conversion–whether to Catholicism or to Maoism–actually concerns someone enthusiastic about a new possibility who over time becomes lukewarm and returns to their familiar habitat
But right now, we consider sharing true words with others who have a dogmatic worldview. Open engagement with someone who has faith that “God is Love” does not need to begin with the retort that “God is Dead” or by pointing to the horrors perpetrated in the name of God. Rather, ask what it means to say God is Love. Ask, “What is love?” Can love dominate? Can love be oppressive? How so? Why not? If God is Love, then why do so many groups use that same God to approve the oppression of other groups? For instance, Jesus uses God with a liberating rhetoric of love. Yet many Christian churches preach doctrines that use that same God to justify covert violence if not outright war. Why would Love seek so much strife?
We also should keep in mind that most atheists we will meet in our everyday encounters themselves inhabit a tradition. Those who deny the existence of God often stand in contraposition to how their neighbors may inhabit one of the Abrahamic religions. In fact, many times atheists are folks who have rebuilt their lives and are in recovery from the oppression imposed upon them by an extremely religious family. Atheism in this sense must be handled as a part of Western sacred tradition. And as has been demonstrated by many in the “new atheist” movement, their responses to religiously inspired violence often further promote oppression in the society of control. To be free of a God-belief is not necessarily to be free of dominating practices. Therefore, we follow a similar tact with the young woman who says, “God is Dead” or Christianity is the reason everything is fucked up. Can a tradition be overcome with a simple denial? If we use religious belief to target those with disagree with, are we giving up one system of domination for another?
Is it possible for theists and atheists to ally themselves for a better world? What you are asking our fellows to do is review their own experiences, engage their own sense of justice, share their sense of freedom, and imagine how traditions might be remodeled. You should be sharing what you think from your experience. The point revolves around opening up to dialog and learning from each other.
Like anything so socio-culturally prevalent, this is not easy to explore, especially since so many of us hold justifiable suspicions of sacred teachings based on our own experiences of oppressive religious practices.
Nonetheless, if our praxis concerns engaging others to explore how we can improvise a better life, we cannot simply deny outright the validity of sacred tradition or religion. To do that forces our authority onto those whose life-knowledge includes religious structures. We must not discount the devastation accomplished by hierarchal religious institutions; we must not overlook the damage wrought by religious zealots in the name of their God. But many of our allies have come to a radical view of the sacred which rejects the worst aspects of the society of control. Dorothy Day, Leo Tolstoy, Malcolm X, Gandhi, MLK… these are all thinkers who to this day continue to lead youth toward radical reconsiderations of how sacred traditions stand up against domination.
We must avoid closing ourselves off to real accomplices simply because we hold a belief too ardently ourselves. We must listen to our self-critiques if we are to be good friends. We must engage our imaginations if we are to test the feasibility of freedom.
* Following Paulo Freire, praxis is where reflection meets action and vice versa: we bring theoretical ideas into the field, put them to the test, and use what we learn in our activity to reform thinkering. We cannot act for the sake of action without any reflection; that would be reactivism. We cannot reflect for the sake of reflection without any action; that would be verbalism.
** I am not saying that we should reduce everything to faith so that I encourage yet another dogma. I am talking about the decision to credit (lit. Believe) some thing–person, place, activity–with power. Power flows through, from, and to whatever gets credit: what obtains as deserving of faith.
† Most reductionisms carry at least a slight coloring of determinism in the favor of the believer.
†† In not discounting religious customs as material conditions, I follow Gramsci in broadening the scope of what matters to the wider arena of historic conditions. Cf. Prison Notebooks, Vol. 11.