Andrew Sullivan, quoted by Hugh Hewitt, explaining why he is peddling the term “Christianist” to refer to those generally termed “the Religious Right” or “Christian Conservatives”:
He says his goal is to “take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist.”
He explains further, “Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.”[emphases OTB’s]
This is followed by this analysis:
Most pundits have rejected “Christianist” because it obviously tries to link Islamists and those evangelicals Mr. Sullivan loathes. He is attempting to dress up hate speech as simple precision, but given the vast spectrum of political opinions among believers on the center-right, “Christianist” is a howler. Still, no one should be laughing when a once-respected newsweekly defines a huge portion of the American mainstream as the equivalent of the Islamists who attacked the country on 9/11. Be prepared as others pick up Time’s term.
Did Hewitt write the conclusion before writing the part where he quotes Sullivan and then forget to rewrite the conclusion? Otherwise, this makes no sense. Sullivan could not be clearer in saying that “only a tiny few” Islamists are terrorists and that he imputes no violent motives whatsoever to those he dubs “Christianists.”
Still, Sullivan’s coinage here is clumsy and bound to lead to such confusion. Borrowing a convention used to differentiate ordinary Muslims from radical ones is clever but problematic. (Someone once coined “Shiite Baptists” for conservative Christians, which at least has the virtue of being amusing.) The problem is that there is very little similarity between even non-jihadist Islamists and American religious conservatives this side of Tim McVeigh. As Sullivan himself notes, the former seek a fusion of state and mosque–a theocracy; the latter seek to influence the moral code of the nation through secular politics. This is roughly the difference between the moon and moon pie.
Leaving aside any relation between Islamism and Sullivan’s “Christianism,” however, his argument is still quite bizarre:
It is the belief that religion dictates politics . . .
Doesn’t it? I mean, if one holds certain moral values as a result of one’s religious beliefs (or, for that matter, for any other reason) does it not follow that this would dictate one’s voting behavior? After all, it’s not just Republican Christian Conservatives who do this but Liberation Theology Catholics and Reform Jews. That values, of whatever provenance, guide one’s voting behavior should be axiomatic.
. . . and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.
This is the essence of government. Should politics not dictate the laws for everyone?! Who should we exclude from the laws of society?
Sullivan presumably means something different: That “Christianists” believe their religiously-inspired values should be imposed on others through the political process. But, presumably, everyone who seeks to influence the political system believes something similar. Are, say, values learned at Oxford and Harvard fit for imposing on society through government? Which value systems are permissible motives for political organization and which are banned?
Sullivan, a self-professed Roman Catholic, wants gay men such as himself to be free to marry other men. Since marriage is an act of the state as well as a sacrament in his church, the only way that can come to fruition is if people like himself can impose their will on the polity, whether by legislation or lawsuit. Are such people “homoists”? [Update: Perhaps, “homosexualists”?]
Sullivan’s cause would be far better served by making the broader libertarian argument about the res publica rather than coming up with creative names for his opponents. There is certainly a case to be made for maximal freedom and limited government. Attempting to delegitimate a sizable plurality of Americans is considerably less effective.
Update: Sully tweaks his formulation here, although not in a way that addresses any of my concerns. His original piece, from which Hewitt quotes, is worth a look as well. Its long prologue reminds readers that Sullivan is not coming from the perspective of a non-believer but rather a devoted Christian who is troubled by faith being used as a political bludgeon.
Also, Randy Piper, a self-described “fundamentalist” Christian, has emailed Sullivan, Hewitt, myself and others with “An Immodest Proposal”:
Let’s have Heritage and/or Cato rise to the challenge and co-sponsor an event on “Religion & Politics: Of Christians & ChristianISTS” … and explore the “right” roles/relationships and limits of religion in government.
Let’s debate it intelligently, rationally, empiricially and faithfully. Let us put the Sullivan thesis to the analytical, historical and empirical test in a think-do tank sponsored event.
And…let’s give an invite to Sojourners Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics: Why The Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (2005).
I’d certainly try to attend. Sully and Hewitt are professional debators and would be excellent panelists in such a discussion.