Sunday, April 09, 2006

Christianity vs. "Christianism"

Andrew Sullivan wants to draw a distinction between Christianity and what he calls "Christianism." Although he is clear that he doesn't intend to impute to politicized Christians an endorsement of terror or violence, he believes that the analogy to Islamism is otherwise correct:

The distinction made is between those who sincerely hold to an ancient faith, and those who are deploying that faith as a political weapon, who see no distinction between state and mosque, and who aggressively foist their religious doctrines onto civil law.

...

People who believe in the Gospels of Jesus Christ are Christians. People who use the Gospels of Jesus Christ for political gain, and for a political program of right or left, are Christianists. And Christianism, like many "isms", is an ideology that will corrupt faith and poison politics. It has already done both, under the auspices of this president and his acolytes. It is long past time that real Christians took their faith back from these political charlatans. One first step is to deny them the name that they have so artfully coopted. It starts with language. It always does.

17 comments:

Random said...

Have to say my first thought is that Sullivan doth protest too much - that's exactly the sort of implication he wants people to draw (or at the very least he will shed no tears if his choice of language helps people put Pat Robertson in the same basket as Osama bin Laden), but just isn't prepared to say so out loud. I know nothing of the man's mind however so will hesitate to judge.

That said, he does identify a real problem, but misidentifies the correct response, something which the NYT article he links to here (Yay! managed to work out how to post a link in a blog comment!:-)) actually does a much better job of doing, namely saying that people who preach a message of hate and suspicion are not preaching a Christian message and we should say that firmly and clearly. It's not as if traditional Christianity is short of a vocabulary for describing people who misuse the Word to preach a false message after all. And I suspect for the target audience terms like "heretic", "blasphemer" or "false prophet" would have far more power to shock than clumsy neologisms that will only resonate with the already persuaded.

asher said...

This is the problem when you have this very influential group called "The Religious Right" who are opposed by the Secular Left.
Years ago they were called "The Moral Majority" as opposed to the Immature Minority. Before that it was the Silent Majority vs. very Loud Minority.

Talk talk talk.

When we have mail service on December 25 and alternatate side of the street parking on Yom Kippur I'll believe it.

oracle25 said...

"People who believe in the Gospels of Jesus Christ are Christians. People who use the Gospels of Jesus Christ for political gain, and for a political program of right or left, are Christianists"

In other words: believe the gospel of Jesus Christ but whatever you do don't actually do what it says

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Christianism, like many "isms", is an ideology that will corrupt faith and poison politics.

I agree with that statement. It's easy to point to the Roman Catholic Church, during eras when the Pope also wielded vast political power, to demonstrate that both civil society and the Church suffer tremendous harm under such an arrangement.

That said, I will always maintain that Christians should be able to speak, from their faith, to issues in civil society. I suppose that's what Oracle25 is driving at … that sometimes one's faith demands that one speak out.

Canada and the USA are profoundly different in this respect. OK, Canada observes Christian holidays, just like the USA. But in general, Canadians are very suspicious of any "taint" of religion attaching to a politician. Politicians are expected to practise their faith in private, and maintain a clear separation when it comes to political life.

JustinOther said...

In other words: believe the gospel of Jesus Christ but whatever you do don't actually do what it says

At least don't do those parts that say stone people to death, etc.

I think the point is that some who call themselves Christians use this title to justify all sorts of things. Whether they actually believe in the trinity, resurection, etc. is the question, since it is imposible for anyone in this country to gain any higher political post without claiming to be a Christian.

Random said...

"At least don't do those parts that say stone people to death,"

Please, can you point to those parts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that actually call for such things? Chapter and verse would be nice. As I recall, the only time Jesus ever got involved in a stoning it was to intervene to stop it. If you know better please say so.

CyberKitten said...

Q said: But in general, Canadians are very suspicious of any "taint" of religion attaching to a politician. Politicians are expected to practise their faith in private, and maintain a clear separation when it comes to political life.

Very much the same in the UK too... and rightly so IMO.

oracle25 said...

"I think the point is that some who call themselves Christians use this title to justify all sorts of things. Whether they actually believe in the trinity, resurection, etc. is the question, since it is imposible for anyone in this country to gain any higher political post without claiming to be a Christian."

I suppose it can be used that way, like John Kerry using it to try to get the christian crowd, but I don't think that is what he was referring to.

Sadie Lou said...

Great post and an awesome distinction--one I have been trying to put into words but this little snippet you posted in the original post, is just fine.
Me, I speak with a vote.
I do not raise my fist in rebellion towards authority (unless they ask me to do something against my faith). Being unsatisfied with the current president is covered under Christian liberty but joining the left in their horrible crusade against Bush's character, is wrong.

Jewish Atheist said...

Random:

Have to say my first thought is that Sullivan doth protest too much - that's exactly the sort of implication he wants people to draw (or at the very least he will shed no tears if his choice of language helps people put Pat Robertson in the same basket as Osama bin Laden), but just isn't prepared to say so out loud. I know nothing of the man's mind however so will hesitate to judge.

Could be. Don't know. If you don't know who he is, Sullivan is a rare gay, Catholic Republican (former editor of The New Republic!) who's been increasingly critical of the Bush administration.

namely saying that people who preach a message of hate and suspicion are not preaching a Christian message and we should say that firmly and clearly.

Yes. Please! :-)

oracle:

In other words: believe the gospel of Jesus Christ but whatever you do don't actually do what it says

If you read the article Sullivan links to, the author points out that Jesus went out of his way to NOT take political positions. Moreover, some of his sayings (Sermon on the Mount, "do not pray on the street corner as the hypocrites do," etc.) clearly support progressive positions while others support conservative ones.

Q:

That said, I will always maintain that Christians should be able to speak, from their faith, to issues in civil society. I suppose that's what Oracle25 is driving at … that sometimes one's faith demands that one speak out.

Of course! Nobody's saying that Christians shouldn't be able to speak from their faith.

Being unsatisfied with the current president is covered under Christian liberty but joining the left in their horrible crusade against Bush's character, is wrong.

Wasn't there a crusade against Clinton's character from the "Christian" right? (Not that I'm for a second defending his character -- let's not get into that argument.)

Sadie Lou said...

Wait, first you agreed to this:

namely saying that people who preach a message of hate and suspicion are not preaching a Christian message and we should say that firmly and clearly.

Yes. Please! :-)

Then you asked this:
Wasn't there a crusade against Clinton's character from the "Christian" right? (Not that I'm for a second defending his character -- let's not get into that argument.)

Can't we agree that those who preach a message of hate and suspicion are not preaching a Christian message?

The answer is, YES, there were people attacking Clinton's character and it's wrong to throw stones when you live in a glass house.
We have all been guilty of less than moral behavior and so we should show grace towards each other when other people's sins are brought to light.
This goes for the Bush-Haters too but they don't see things this way.
:)

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie Lou:

Agreed. As the saying goes, the "Christian Right" is neither. ;-)

I don't count myself among the Bush-haters. I strongly disagree with basically everything he's done and I do believe he has some serious character flaws (arrogance, closed-mindedness, stubbornness, callousness, etc.) but I don't "hate" him as a person. Mostly I think he's an average guy who's in way over his head.

oracle25 said...

"If you read the article Sullivan links to, the author points out that Jesus went out of his way to NOT take political positions. Moreover, some of his sayings (Sermon on the Mount, "do not pray on the street corner as the hypocrites do," etc.) clearly support progressive positions while others support conservative ones."

I suppose it depends on what you mean by "political position". Jesus did support submitting to those who rule over you (e.g. "give to Caesar the things that are Caesars, but give to God the things that are God's") on most occasions. But he and hose who served him did not support letting sin (homosexuality, idolatry, murder, etc) go unchallenged.

Jewish Atheist said...

But he and hose who served him did not support letting sin (homosexuality, idolatry, murder, etc) go unchallenged.

You forgot divorce. Funny how often Christians forget that one.

I don't have a problem with Christians "challenging" what they perceive as sin if "challenging" is limited to speaking freely. When they try to enshrine their idea of sin in law is when I have a problem.

dan said...

The problem with Sullivan is that his argument does not sufficiently recognise the radical politics espoused by Jesus, Paul, and the early Church.

Western Christians get into political trouble exactly because they lack the imagination to see beyond the right/left divide, or the divide between Church and State.

Such categories do not reflect the context of Second Temple Judaism, or early Christianity, and to read those categories back into the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament Canon is a grave mistake.

The New Testament (including the Jesus reflected therein) is unavoidably political, but it takes some careful study to know exactly what kind of politics it espouses. For example, statements like "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" may well mean something very different than support for the State's authorities. After all, Roman coins had the image of Caesar on them, and any faithful Jew during the first century would know that it was idolatrous to own such an image. Knowing that puts a rather different spin on Jesus' words. Knowing that his questioners were seeking to entrap him, Jesus provides a carefully worded message of political subversion.

Indeed, radical subversion probably best describes the politics of the New Testament.

Grace and peace.

Sadie Lou said...

I don't have a problem with Christians "challenging" what they perceive as sin if "challenging" is limited to speaking freely. When they try to enshrine their idea of sin in law is when I have a problem.

It seems plenty of people have a problem everytime some controversial bill comes up for approval and the public votes it down.
Who gets blamed when gay marriage bills fail? Who gets blamed when abortion rights are "challenged". Apparently, Christians can speak their minds but not back it with a vote.

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