Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Christianist" nonsense

Andrew Sullivan has posted some defenses of his offensive and ridiculous "Christianist" term for those he doesn't like.

To pick of the low-hanging fruit, let's start with this reader's defense of the term:

"Christianist" is a strictly neutral term - it describes a specific political position about the relationship between Christian faith and the state. If I actually believed that Christianity is the one true religion, and that the US government should be based on my understanding of the dictates of Christianity, I'd think that Christianist would correctly describe me, and I wouldn't take offense. If you had said something like "evil Christianists," then I'd take offense.


Sullivan meand the term to sting. And he means it to sting by bringing to mind "Islamist," which is a term that descibes people who, among other things, have killed large numbers of Americans and would like to kill more.

If "Christianist" is merely a neutral descriptive term without any perjorative connotation, like, say, "left-handed," then it should be easy to find a post on Sullivan's blog where he is complimentary of either the movement or someone he describes using the term.

You'llbe looking for a while, though, because no matter how much Sullivan tries to offer non-perjorative definitions of the term, he uses it as a smear, and to create in people's minds a moral equivalence between people who want to kill Americans, and people who don't see what the big deal is about a nativity scene in the town square.

Then there's this reader's defense, which I'm not sure I completely understand -- the gist seems to be that if Islamists don't mind being called Islamists, then Christianists shouldn't mind being called Christianists, and their objection to it proves they're no better (and in fact worse) than Islamists. I think I've already given this more time and attention than it deserves.

Finally, we've got Sullivan's own defense.

First he starts with the tired, it's-just-desriptive-not-a-smear stuff that is bullshit.

But here's the core:

realize, after reading countless emails on the matter, that the real source of offense is my equating Islam and Christianity as interchangeable religious beliefs, for the purposes of politics. I see them as potentially equally threatening to freedom. History suggests that both have been deployed in the service of terrifying dictatorships, mass murder and religious war. In some ways, Christianity's record in this is actually worse than Islam's. This is not a reflection on the utterly peaceful intent of Jesus of Nazareth, but, then, he was also adamant on separating religion from politics. It is a reflection on the profound danger of fusing faith and power. If I'm right, the offense is mainly taken by Christians who simply refuse to see their faith as equally valid as Islam. They are offended that a Christian could even be equated with a Muslim. Which means, I believe, that they have not begun to understand the meaning of toleration at the core of Christianity, let alone the central insight of liberal constitutionalism. Hence our political and religious crisis.

There is a kernel of truth here -- any religious follower obviously believes his is the true faith and, thus, others are incorrect and inferior.

But I don't see why this is no antithetical to Jesus's message. I don't remember Jesus ever saying anything like, "it really doesn't matter if you believe in me or not." He said some things that are pretty exclusionary -- "Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you shall not have life within you." So, I don't buy that Christian exceptionism is some malevolent innovation of the Religious Right.

Next, the offense isn't that Christians don't like being equated with Muslims -- it's that we don't like being conflated with a movement with which we are currently at war. And, it's baloney.

Go ahead, Andrew, pick your favorite "Christianist" bogeyman -- maybe some mix of John Ashcroft and Rick Santorum. As a gay man, would you rather live under his rule, or the rule of even the mildest Islamist regime. Would you rather be a Muslim living under Christianist rule or a Christian living under Islamist rule?

The answer is obvious, which is why your sloppiliy grouping them together is so offensive.

BTW, when he's not warning of the gathering Christianist storm resulting from people fusing religion and politics, Sullivan has been trying to drive a wedge between Christians and the Mormon Mitt Romney, and calling same sex marriage advocates who decline the opportunity to kick the pregnant Mary Cheney "closet tolerants."

The implication of the latter is that there can be no gap between what is condemned and what is socially normalized -- there is no grey area.

And there is no gap between private values and public policy. If you don't want to personally condemn Mary Cheney, then you must support same sex marriage.

But someone with a deeply held religious belief that life begins at conception should work for justice for them?

Hey - maybe conservatives aren't condemning Mary Cheney because they have a healthy sense of doubt about their views.


Elbo Ruum said...

John, this is remedial and I hope you are not sincerely offering this choice. For one who comes out in defense of the "gray area"...

Would you rather be a Muslim living under Christianist rule or a Christian living under Islamist rule?

I will take C. Not because I know what C actually is, but becasue false choices make me want to do it just to be contrarian.

JohnMcG said...

I am not saying that represents the spectrum of possible choices -- I am trying to expose how ridiculous Sullivan's drawing equivalence between "Christianists" and Islamists.

It is Sullivan who is crowding out the grey area. According to him, if your positins on socail policy are at a all informed by faith, then you're in league with the suicide bombers.

I suppose one could think that faith should not inform politics. That would be a modern innovation, since religion has influenced political movements through US history up to the civil rights movements. But it's not beyond the pale.

But what I will object to is this notion that those who integrate their faith into their political life are the moral equivalents of those we are at war with.

JohnMcG said...

Another way of saying this is that right now, Sullivan's rhetorical excesses of equating Christian conservatism with Islamicism are free -- the only price he pays is criticisms from people like me.

But what if it weren't so. Would Sullivan really be indifferent between "Christianist" rule and Islamist rule?

I suspect not, in fact I suspect that Sullivan would even prefer a "Christianist" rule to a 50/50 chance between his ideal leader (McCain? Giuliani? Edwards?) and Islamist rule.

Which makes the "Christianist" label, and the equivalency it implies, fundamentally dishonest.

Anonymous said...

Ever read "The Handmaid's Tale" John? Cause that's what Sullivan means by Christianist when he equates that movement with Isalmists. Point is that there are those actively espousing a government (and presumably legislation) which is expressly, positively Christian. Your defense reeks of him having hit a sore spot. Me, I'm a Christian, but not a Christianist, and the description does not bother me in the least. Peace on earth.

rundeep (who can't get the new Google beta blogger thing to recognize me here. Go figure.)

Keifus said...

You're protesting a bit much to my ear.

1. I agree that the commenter you site is a boob, but setting up that bozo as "representative" is using a straw man. Which, you know, is sort of what you're objecting too.

2. Okay, but Jesus' faith is individualist too. You gotta seek it, I recall. And he had a thing for outcasts. He understood sinners. And how many times am I supposed to forgive my brother again?

3. How unified is the Islamist movement? Are we at war with them? That term seems more like something our leaders made up to facilitate describing "people who hate us and fight us and are Muslims." It neglects a lot of other reasons, not all of which are based on religion. Calling it Islamism is a convenient glossing over of complex social, economic, and religious issues. Just like calling it Christianism does.

But the rest I basically agree with. Sullivan is a tool.