T Nation

My Problem with Christianism


#1

A believer spells out the difference between faith and a political agenda
By ANDREW SULLIVAN

Are you a Christian who doesn't feel represented by the religious right? I know the feeling. When the discourse about faith is dominated by political fundamentalists and social conservatives, many others begin to feel as if their religion has been taken away from them.

The number of Christians misrepresented by the Christian right is many. There are evangelical Protestants who believe strongly that Christianity should not get too close to the corrupting allure of government power. There are lay Catholics who, while personally devout, are socially liberal on issues like contraception, gay rights, women's equality and a multi-faith society.

There are very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is. They have no problem living next to an atheist or a gay couple or a single mother or people whose views on the meaning of life are utterly alien to them--and respecting their neighbors' choices. That doesn't threaten their faith. Sometimes the contrast helps them understand their own faith better.

And there are those who simply believe that, by definition, God is unknowable to our limited, fallible human minds and souls. If God is ultimately unknowable, then how can we be so certain of what God's real position is on, say, the fate of Terri Schiavo? Or the morality of contraception? Or the role of women? Or the love of a gay couple?

Also, faith for many of us is interwoven with doubt, a doubt that can strengthen faith and give it perspective and shadow. That doubt means having great humility in the face of God and an enormous reluctance to impose one's beliefs, through civil law, on anyone else.

I would say a clear majority of Christians in the U.S. fall into one or many of those camps. Yet the term "people of faith" has been co-opted almost entirely in our discourse by those who see Christianity as compatible with only one political party, the Republicans, and believe that their religious doctrines should determine public policy for everyone. "Sides are being chosen," Tom DeLay recently told his supporters, "and the future of man hangs in the balance!

The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won, and if we put our trust in Christ, they never will." So Christ is a conservative Republican?

Rush Limbaugh recently called the Democrats the "party of death" because of many Democrats' view that some moral decisions, like the choice to have a first-trimester abortion, should be left to the individual, not the cops. Ann Coulter, with her usual subtlety, simply calls her political opponents "godless," the title of her new book. And the largely nonreligious media have taken the bait. The "Christian" vote has become shorthand in journalism for the Republican base.

What to do about it? The worst response, I think, would be to construct something called the religious left. Many of us who are Christians and not supportive of the religious right are not on the left either. In fact, we are opposed to any politicization of the Gospels by any party, Democratic or Republican, by partisan black churches or partisan white ones. "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus insisted. What part of that do we not understand?

So let me suggest that we 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.

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.

That's what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back.


#2

Jesus was a liberal.

He was railing against the conservative power structure of his time...

He taught kumba-ya peace and love for all mankind.

Funny how the right wing conservatives of today still insult anyone who does any of those things.


#3

Very nice article Irish, couldn't agree more.

I especially like this part: "Sometimes the contrast helps them understand their own faith better."


#4

My problem with Christianism and Andrew Sullivan's use (and I think invention) of the term is how you define it. I'm no fan of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, but there's nothing wrong with Christians being influenced by their faith in making their political decisions; to expect it to be otherwise is silly.

And Sullivan has even gone so far as to deride the Christianity of Paul, making me wonder what he considers his faith to mean.


#5

I agree that excepting a politian to be completely unbiased from his faith when making political decisions is foolish, but if you're a representative of the people in political office it is your responsibility to make you personal faith a marginal factor in your decision making at greatest.

This applies not only to faith but to any monetary or private interest involved.
Otherwise you're not staying true in your representation of th epeople.

The ability to separate personal from public matters is what makes a great representative.


#6

I have to agree almost completely. I am conservative: I believe in maintianing fiscal responsibility, limited government, and so and so on.....

I really take issue with that part of christianity that feels compelled to force everyone to submit to 'its' particular beliefs. That way of thinking reminds me so much of the Inquisition, the religious intolerance of the late Middle Ages, of the 14, 15, and 1600's. It reminds me of the time when people were put to death, not because they killed someone, but they denied the particular sentence of a reading of the Nicene Creed....

There is good reason for accepting a seperation of church and state...the power of the state can be absolute and when it is coupled with a 'fanatic' belief in certitude of faith, the result can be horrendous. The Pat Roberstons, Oral Roberts, and associated thinkers are truly scarry. They have the same type of thinking as the Ayatollah Khomehni (sp) of a decade ago.

While I am not propounding a return to the Age of Enlightenment, it would do many good to ponder why it came about.


#7

Good post. I agree completely and have said similar several times before.


#8

My feeling is that faith and spiritual beliefs are pure, uncorrupted entities and the political arena is an impure, corrupt entity. You cannot mix the two and expect the result to be a pure, uncorrupt entity. It will be a foul thing. Combining any secular political party with Christianity will breed an evil hybrid that will use Christianity as justification for atrocities.


#9

too late.


#10

Sad, but true.


#11

Yeah vroom, It's the right that throw's all of the insults.

I don't think they even sang Kumbaya back in Jesus' time. He taught love and acceptance, I'll agree. But that is not the same thing as the Kumbaya, tree hugging sandal wearing bullshit the left likes to deify today. Don't flatter yourself.


#12

I think you are being a tad myopic. This country was founded on christian principles. Ever read the Constitution? How about the Declaration of Independence? Maybe George Washinton's inaugural address?

But I do think that you have a very valid point - just look at the middle-east for proof.


#13

Nice post Irish. I must say that I am surprised at the start of another thread with even the mention of Religion.

I agree with most of it. Christianity should not be a tool used by a party just to accomplish it?s political agenda. Christian?s should not use political power to force the Christian faith. As an American I believe that it is every Christian?s responsibility to influence the laws that are passed.

Me Solomon Grundy


#14

I'm pretty sure neither Christ nor Jesus are mentioned in any of those documents. Pretty presumptuous to assume it was JC who guided them.

Five different terms, none even remotely unique to christianity:

Almighty Being
Great Author
Invisible Hand
the benign Parent of the Human Race
Laws of Nature and of Nature's God
their Creator


#15

Nice try, but God is the foundation of the christian faith. Maybe not a direct reference to a specific faith, but one could hardly consider any of those documents secular.


#16

Many of the signers of the Constitution are believed to have been Masons. Masonry requires belief in a higher power. It does not require the participant to be Christian.


#17

Evangelism. This does not exist in any other religion. Christians are spreading the good news about Jesus like I have never been exposed to it before. How many Latter Day Saints do I have to open my door to before they get that I don't want to be 'saved' by them or any other dogmas? Though, Mormons are quite docile by the evangelical, "fire and brimstone" standards of Christianity. Of course, I have many devout Christian friends who are not as pushy about their religion but still think that it is their duty to save people like me. My message to Christians is that you need to ease up on this aspect of your faith.

If I may make an analogy to parenting: Which parent do you think will have better success raising their children, those parents that nurture and care for their children by providing an environment where they are accepted for who they are and are encouraged with positive reinforcement or parents that rule by the "whip"? Sure the whip is quite effective but only if the goal is to cause fear and distrust with their children and allow them to grow into rebellious louts.


#18

The Masons have always been famous for being in nearly direct opposition to the Church, and their elevation of science and reason over leaps of faith (which could be seen as "irrational").

I liked this article a lot, mostly for the way he says it. It seems like in order for any politician to get the "Christian vote" he must be a complete born again who lives life according only to the Bible.

Well, as someone who mostly believes that there is a God, and who still semi-accepts the Catholic framework for said God, I don't like that being a lefty means that I have to renounce either my religion or my political philosophies in order to be considered a good person, or to win the vote of other good people.

It was truly a smooth move by the neo-cons to assimilate religion and piety into the message of the Republican party, although lately we have discovered that all men are fallible, even those we trust.

This needs to change.


#19

As far as I know most of these people were Deists, which is definitely non-Christian.

In real life Deists are practically some sort of agnostic, it would be enough to believe in a prime mover of some sorts.


#20

Very true. Look no further than Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have to be a little skeptical with Sullivan - while I agree in principle with most of the article, Sullivan views everything through the lens of gay rights. Anything that remotely smacks of not endorsing absolute gay acceptance is considered Dark Age fundamentalism to him.