When you, the reader, read the word "Christianity" your mind could go in many possible directions. You may know something about its history and diverse theologies, or perhaps you know little except that it was and in some ways still is the dominant religion of the West. Based on your experience, you may have strong feelings about it, positive or negative.

I was raised in an evangelical Protestant sect of Christianity in the United States. Looking back, I can't underestimate the influence that American ideological assumptions had on my church and what it meant to be a Christian.

Those assumptions included the romanticization of war. The War of Independence ("Revolutionary War"), the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War created the narrative that America first saved itself from tyranny and slavery, and then saved the world from fascism and communism.

I have subsequently concluded that this narrative is mostly false and that war is a racket, but that's not what most American Christians are taught. They're taught to be "good citizens" by supporting the institutions of republican democracy. We're told, "It might not be perfect, but it's better than the alternatives."

Christianity in America may be overly politicized, but that's nothing new. Europe is filled with battlefield graves of those who answered the "Christian" duty to be good citizens (or loyal subjects) and were killed by other Christian soldiers from other countries who answered the same call of duty.

One could argue that World War I and II proved that Christendom, or the "Christian culture" that prevailed in Europe, utterly failed. But one thing must be made clear: churches did not start those wars, states did.

Soldiers are agents of the State, not the Church. Jailers and executioners are agents of the State, not the Church. The police, who may single out, harass, and arrest racial, ethnic, sexual, or religious minorities, are agents of the State, not the Church.

The girls on the sidelines with pompoms may lead cheers for their team, but they can't decide the outcome of the game. Likewise, The Church might be a cheerleader for the State or specific State policies, and the Church should be criticized when it plays this role. But the responsibility for mass murder and all the other evils the State commits lies in the State's leaders and those who follow their orders.

The problem is the State. Its tools are the tools of violence; it can do nothing but by force or the threat of force. The State is the primary cause of war and injustice. But nearly all people, including Christians, have been indoctrinated since early childhood that "our government" is essential to our survival and well-being. The State might not be able to stamp out sin, but it can at least keep us safe.

Gary Chartier's Christianity and the Nation-State (Cambridge University Press, 2023) questions that assumption. Chartier is Distinguished Professor of Law and Business Ethics at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. His theology is based on the understanding that God is love:

To believe that God is love is to suppose that God is constantly active throughout all aspects of the world to foster creation’s flourishing.

Which is to say that love fosters creation's flourishing.

Also, "attributing predatory violence to God rather than to the people themselves hardly appears consistent with the Christian conviction that God is love."

In other words, God can't be violent because love, by definition, isn't violent. Love fosters growth and well-being; it doesn't inflict harm and suffering.

That's why Chartier quotes David Bentley Hart: “[I]t is impossible for the infinite God of love directly or positively to will evil (physical or moral), even in a provisional or transitory way.”

The State, in contrast, is inherently violent. Chartier:

States are rooted in violence. Particular sinful acts – of robbery, murder, or conquest – arguably lie at the historical roots of actual states.

Whatever the precise origins of particular state structures, states consolidated their power and grew using oppressive violence.

Even as ideologies of legitimation enable states to maintain power without constant recourse to explicit violence, the threat of violence lurks beneath the surface.

Chartier points out that the State attracts those who are already inclined to venality, hubris, or self-righteousness, those who want to get rich through cronyism, who seek great reputations without regard to the costs inflicted on others, or who want absolute power to eradicate what they see as "evil."

Chartier claims, in short, that the State has no moral legitimacy and that Christians should seek alternatives. He proposes a "radical consociationalism" of overlapping, non-territorial associations: "the possibility of a model of jurisdiction as attached to particular people rather than to a contiguous territory. On this model, two states could coexist in the same geographic location, interspersed and overlapping, existing just where their subjects happen to be."

Chartier continues:

On this approach, society would be crosscut by a range of networked associations – 'not a hierarchy of superior and subordinate authorities but an archipelago of competing and overlapping jurisdictions.' These associations – universities, trade associations, religious denominations, hobbyists’ groups – would link people in a variety of ways, with none dominating any of the others and with the entire array interacting in multiple modes to foster flourishing locally, regionally, and globally.

But can we somehow move beyond The State?

As Chartier reminds us, "Respect for human rights is acknowledged as a touchstone of a decent society in ways that our predecessors would have found startling. While monarchy once seemed like the most natural way to govern a society, it would surely strike most people as inconceivable to propose that a contemporary queen or empress, emperor or king, exercise a significantly more than symbolic and ceremonial role."

We accept The State because it's always been this way. But societies and their organizational structures can and do change, and can change for the better.

Beyond Christianity, I believe Chartier's message can apply to nearly every spiritual path. Everyone around the world who believes that the power of love is the power of God may one day realize that the State is inherently violent and incompatible with love, justice, peace, and global unity.

I might not be able to do much to "change the system" in my lifetime, but I can withdraw active support for the State. The greatest revolutionary act is to love my neighbor as myself.