Andrew Sullivan has become known for his use of the term “Christianist” to describe those who, claiming Christianity as their warrant, propagate and promote a distinctly conservative, quasi-theocratic political program. Thus it generally refers to the religious right, and other such conservative Christian groups and movements that seek, under the banner of their faith, to obtain and wield social and political power.
The rationale for the term is pretty straightforward. Basically Sully doesn’t want people of this political orientation to be perceived as the true or only representatives of Christianity. Just as many Muslims protest certian theocratic and radical political agendas being identified with “Islam” so Sully protests the Religious Right’s political agenda being identified with “Christianity.” Thus, just as it has become common to speak of “Islamism” as a particular political ideology which does not exhaust or define Islam as such, the argument is we should learn to speak of “Christianism” in a similar way.
Not all Muslims are Islamists. Likewise not all Christians are Christianists. The former terms name theological and doctrinal allegiances, while the latter speak of specific political agendas that dishonestly present themselves as pure iterations of the religion they adhere to.
I get all this, and it makes sense to me. My question though is if this is really a good idea, terminologically speaking, and what its really supposed to do. On one level, sure, I’d love an easy way for the world to understand, simply through terminology that I have nothing politically in common with the ideology of the Christian Right. But, is the coining of the term “Christianist” really worth the trouble? And doesn’t it smack of a sort of self-righteous distanciation?
“Well, I am a Christian, but so-and-so is a Christianist.” Does not this language do little more than absolve us Christians of our responsibility for those who propagate these ideologies? Aren’t we just distancing ourselves from them precisely for the purpose of making sure everyone knows that our hands are clean? Who does this language really serve? It seems to me that it only serves us, satiating our desire for no one to think that “we” are in any way connected to “them.”
I’m not saying I’ve totally made up my mind. Maybe it will prove to be a useful term. But for the moment I find it hard to find anything really helpful about it unless I’m in a mood to feel innocent, at a safe distance from the actions taken by the Christian Right. At worst, one could argue that this language is an attempt to dodge some very real repentance that we may need to undergo. If we’re the Christians and they’re the Christianists, we don’t need to repent and seek to redress the wrongs being done, we can just be content to lob rhetorical volleys of well-crafted descriptors.
What do you think?