May 19, 2005


Onward, Christianist soldiers? (Ruth Walker, 5/20/05, CS Monitor)

"Christianist" is evidently formed on the analogy of "Islamist." Islamist is in the dictionaries meaning either an Islamic studies specialist or simply an adherent of Islam - a Muslim.

Here's what Wikipedia says about "Islamism": "a political ideology derived from the conservative religious views of Muslim fundamentalism. It holds Islam is not only a religion, but also a political system that governs the legal, economic, and social imperatives of the state."

"Islamist" is a term many Western journalists and scholars came to after deciding that "fundamentalism," which they'd been using, wasn't quite right - in part because it seemed to be an improper borrowing from Christianity.

And so now, after the borrowed "fundamentalist" has been returned, perhaps with polite thanks, to Protestantism, the "ism" of Islamism is being applied to some Christians - the ones seen to be adherents of "Christianism," of what we might call "political Christianity." Still with me?

Specifically, Christianists are linked with another "ism" - "dominionism" - a political ideology that interprets a passage from Genesis (1:26) as commanding Christians to bring societies under the rule of the Word of God.

It's not exactly a compliment to be called a "Christianist." The Portland (Ore.) Indymedia website posted a rant a while back against "Christianist ayatollahs." But the term looks like a useful way to denote the political Christians of the right. And it has a certain symmetry with "Islamist": If Muslims of a political slant are "Islamist," then perhaps it makes sense to call Christians of a certain political slant "Christianists."

Both "Islamists" and "Christianists" have been associated with "hijacking" - the former literally, but both metaphorically

The problem with this argument is that while the Islamists (we prefer Islamicists, since the idea that society should come under the rule of Allah would seem perfectly reasonable) to whom she refers are a marginal few, Christianists are the supermajority in America, though dominionists are a marginal few.

Consider only this idea--suppose that the Iraqi people were to draw up a Declaration of Independence that stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by Allah with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

and then drew up a Constitution specifically designed to secure these Blessings of Liberty. Such would obviously be Islamist. Would it be objectionable to the Left?

Isms and Phobias (WILLIAM SAFIRE, 5/15/05, NY Times)

Two weeks after writing about the fervor of the late Terri Schiavo's ''Christianist 'supporters,''' Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker last month described Representative Tom Delay as a ''hard-right Christianist crusader.'' A few months before, soon after President Bush was re-elected, the conservative Weekly Standard reported that an Ohio cartoonist had sent out a communication deploring ''militant Christianist Republicans.''

Obviously there is a difference in meaning between the adjectives Christian and Christianist. Thanks to Jon Goldman, an editor at Webster's New World Dictionaries, I have the modern coinage of the latter with its pejorative connotation. ''I have a new term for those on the fringes of the religious right,'' wrote the blogging Andrew Sullivan on June 1, 2003, ''who have used the Gospels to perpetuate their own aspirations for power, control and oppression: Christianists. They are as anathema to true Christians as the Islamists are to true Islam.''

Not such a new term. You have to be careful about claiming coinage, as I learned to my rue (my 1970's baby, workfare, turned out to have been coined earlier; same with neuroethics). In 1883, W.H. Wynn wrote a homily that said ''Christianism -- if I may invent that term -- is but making a sun-picture of the love of God.'' He didn't invent the term, either. In the early 1800's, the painter Henry Fuseli wrote scornfully that ''Christianism was inimical to the progress of arts.'' And John Milton used it in 1649.

Adding ist or ism to a word usually colors it negatively, as can be seen in secularist. In ''One Nation Under Therapy,'' Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel coined therapism to mean ''the revolutionary idea that psychology can take the place of ethics and religion,'' which they believe undermines the American creed of ''self-reliance, stoicism, courage in the face of adversity and the valorization of excellence.'' Therapists (a neutral term -- indeed, masseurs like to upgrade their job description to massage therapist) won't like therapism, which is intended to be disparaging.

As Christianist, with its evocation of Islamist, gains wider usage as an attack word on what used to be called the religious right, another suffix is being used in counterattack to derogate those who denounce church influence in politics. ''The Catholic scholar George Weigel calls this phenomenon 'Christophobia,''' the columnist Anne Applebaum wrote in The Washington Post.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 19, 2005 9:05 PM

Allah is not Jehovah.

No Muslim believes that Allah's son was made man, died on the cross for anybody's sins and was resurrected.

The idea that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are connected and 'Abrahamic' won't fly. They are connected historically, but it is not possible to make them connected doctrinally.

I do not know of any Muslim who believes that the religion is not supremacist. Some are more violent in that belief than others.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 19, 2005 9:10 PM

Christianity's main sin in the eyes of the left is that it's an underpinning of both Western democracy and the capitalist system. Othern religions then gain the de facto support of the "Christophobes" based on their ability to challenge Christianity's dominance. That can range anywhere from liberal Hollywood stars seeking out alternative religions like Buddhism or Kabbala, because the sheep out in the heartlands don't follow those paths, to openly rooting for victories by radical Islamists against the United States in the war on terror simply because they want to see the U.S. and the Western capitalist system in general dismembered.

Posted by: John at May 19, 2005 9:28 PM

Does that make Excitable Andy a Homosexualist?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 19, 2005 10:03 PM


That sounds too glamorous. He's just a butt pirate.

Posted by: ratbert at May 19, 2005 11:53 PM

As I understand even mainstream Islamic theology (and thus I speak subject to correction), Muslims can not make the statement OJ posits. Judaism and Christianity allow for a human sphere that Islam, which holds that all things are willed by Allah, does not allow.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 20, 2005 9:33 AM

how do they form governments?

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 10:41 AM

Look at the governments they've formed.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 20, 2005 10:50 AM

They seem to range rather widely from monarchy to military dictatorship to mullahcracy to democracy. There's plenty of room for humans.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 10:54 AM

Actually, I'll expand on that a little bit. As you've noted, Islam is different from Judaism and Christianity in that it went from new to triumphant without any intervening oppression. Both Judaism and Christianity were required to experience (and as both sects posit a G-d who is not subject to time, were designed to experience) oppression. Thus, both see the realm of the secular government as not necessarily connected to the realm of religion and are willing to tolerate a secular sphere. As so many people have noted, the seperation of church and state is not a one-way street. It also protects the church/temple from the corrupting influence of government.

This brings us to the American founding (and dovetails nicely with where the "Ring out the Old" comments have gone). The colonies had vastly different religious populations. Some had established churches, some didn't. Maryland was majority Catholic, Pennsylvania was trying to stay Quaker. Massachusetts was congregationalist and a member of an established Anglican church from another colony would not have been able to hold political office in the Commonwealth. The attempt of the British crown, after years of benign neglect, to impose the established Anglican church was one of the causes for the revolution, so a powerful general national government wasn't going to fly. The national government could have broken over religion as easily as over slavery if national religious rule had been imposed. Fortunately, American Christians were able, because of their history, to imagine a secular, limited federal government that wouldn't interfere in the state's religious preferences (and 150 years was a pretty good run).

The Declaration, likewise, is very specific in time and place. It almost certainly could not have been written at any other time or for any other nation. One necessary component was the tolerance, properly understood, that history had forced upon American culture, that odd amalgamation of dissenters, high church Anglicans, Catholics, pre-civil war Britain and the British enlightenment. Islam, as currently understood, can't incorporate that sort of tolerance or impurity.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 20, 2005 11:09 AM

I may be missing something obvious, but which democracy have Muslims formed?

Posted by: David Cohen at May 20, 2005 11:12 AM

Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Palestine, Pakistan at times, Iran to a considerable degree, Iraq. Millions of Muslims live quite happily in India, America, etc., as well

The political dominance of Islam from its birth does seem to predispose Sunni Islam--though obviously not Shi'ism or Sufism--towards a rather totalitarian system, but there's nothing theological that requires it and we're reforming them fairly rapidly at any rate.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 11:53 AM

Some of the countries you named were had their democracy designed by the Christian West (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Palestine, Pakistan) Imperfectly formed I might add.

Iraq? yeah right. The other two Turkey and Iran I suppose you could call Democracies as long as you are not a Kurd or Armenian or you don't have a death warrant out on you for writing an offensive book.

Posted by: h-man at May 20, 2005 12:15 PM



Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 12:20 PM

Mr. Judd;

First, I still prefer "Caliphascist" for those wanting to recreate the dominating theocratic state of the Caliphate. Your example above nicely illustrates something an Islamist could write but a Caliphascist couldn't.

On the other hand, considering your examples of Islamic democracies, I am less than impressed.

  • Turkey: Democracy imposed by explicit secularism.
  • Indonesia: Colonial legacy
  • Bangladesh: Colonial legacy.
  • Palestian: Not even remotely a democracy. The very suggestion is laughable. When the political "parties" stop executing their political opponents as "collaborators", I would be willing to reconsider.
  • Pakistan: Colonial legacy.
  • Iran: Colonial legacy.

My reading of Islam, its history and its theology is in agreement with Mr. Cohen, that Islam requires the unity of theology and government. I will grant that the Shia heresy (and it is a heresy) permits non-theocratic government.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at May 20, 2005 12:31 PM


American democracy is a colonial legacy. Your point eludes me.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 12:36 PM

American democracy is not a colonial legacy. It was an organic growth.

The revolution was conservative of a system that had, willynilly, grown into something that looked (and was) radically innovative from everywhere else.

There has never been the slightest sign of an organic growth toward democracy in any Muslim society. Sufis are mostly indifferent, and Shia are resentful.

Neither provides the engine required for self-government.

Whether western political ideas can be successfully grafted onto Islamic social ideas is as open to question as whether western scientific ideas can be successfully grafted onto Islamic social ideas.

The complete lack of scientific achievement in the Islamic world suggests an answer.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 20, 2005 1:52 PM

In addition to what everyone else has said, in Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan the armed forces are the limiting factor on civilian government, not the people. Iran is no more a democracy than the USSR was. Real power lies with institutions parallel but superior to the state and anyone can run, so long as they all believe if the same things.

I assume that AOG's point is that those are not democracies "formed" by an Islamic people, in the sense that United States was formed by a Christian people. Seems right to me.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 20, 2005 1:59 PM


You got the "conservative" part right.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 2:27 PM


They're Muslims, no? And democracies? Your resort to qualifiers amply disproves your point.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 2:29 PM

I didn't say, and wouldn't say, that Muslims can't live peacefully in a democracy. Clearly they can. I doubt that Islam allows for a democracy to form organically, but that doesn't distinguish Islam from 99% of world historical cultures.

I do believe that Islam does not permit Muslims to say that all men were created equal, or that all men were endowed by Allah with certain inalienable rights, or that all men have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nor that Islam would allow "men" to mean "men and women." But reformation is coming and the Caliph is in Washington.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 20, 2005 2:48 PM

Men doesn't.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 4:27 PM

I got all of it right, Orrin.

The reaction of the rest of the Christian world to the American Revolution offers enough proof for anybody but you that the USA was not a Christian nation, though it was a nation for Christians (and Jews and Hindus and voodoos etc.)

As pj remarked, we Americans rejected 7 out of 10 Commandments along the way.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 20, 2005 4:42 PM


As you rightly say, it was conservative, all we did was tweak the British system. They objected because they thought the current iteration sufficient. It would have been had they just given us parliamentary representation.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 5:01 PM

Which one of you wants to be Scylla and which Charybdis?

Harry: Of course it's a Christian nation, though it's not just for Christians. And I doubt that PJ thinks that that is what he said.

OJ: Charles Beard and Howard Zinn understand the revolution better than you do.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 20, 2005 5:34 PM

The modern understanding, yes.

Posted by: oj at May 20, 2005 5:38 PM

Harry - Refusing to establish 7 commandments in law is not the same as rejecting them. Those 7 commandments are moral and spiritual (Love ... do not covet) rather than justicial.

Posted by: pj at May 20, 2005 6:11 PM

We rejected 'em, pj.

It's been a while since anyone was stoned for blasphemy around here.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 22, 2005 4:38 PM


In that too we merely aped Britain.

Posted by: oj at May 22, 2005 4:46 PM
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