Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by OPTIONAL777, Feb 27, 2011.

  1. Islamism and Christianism

    There's a fascinating and subtle emerging debate among the higher-wattage blogs right now about how to assess the rising power of evangelical Christians in American politics: see Mark Schmitt, Kieran Healy, Russell Arben Fox,
    Tim Burke, Jim Henley, Jeanne D'Arc(who points back to this old post by Tristero), and Matt Yglesias are good places to start. For what it's worth, I think that there could be a lot of mileage in conceptualizing this new Christian politics as "Christianism" - just as we distinguish between Islam and Islamism.

    Christianism suggests a social movement aimed at reconfiguring both political and personal identity around religion, which works at both the social level (proselytizing, fighting the culture wars, building churches and religious communities) and the political level (elections, lobbying, organizing) to shape society in their image. Hassan al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Christianists would agree on the basic principle of social and political action: change the country, and change the world, "one soul at a time."

    So much of the post-9/11 debate has focused on the specific pathologies and problems of the Middle East and the Islamic world, while ignoring the parallel rise of Christianist identity and activism in America. But, as an earlier generation of scholarship on religious fundamentalism pointed out, most world religions experienced a dramatic transformation and upsurge in the 1970s and 1980s. While Christianism has not produced a bin Laden, much of its development parallels the experience of Islamism. A re-emphasis on faith, conservative social values, and populist politics; the institutional development of a parallel religious sector; the formation of political movements aimed at realizing the goals of increasing religion's role in legislation and politics.... these describe America just as well as Egypt.

    With only some exaggeration, you could argue that Americans today face the same dilemma as do democratizers in the Middle East: how do you feel about democracy when elections might well produce victories for Christianists/Islamists?

    I'm not saying this to demonize Christian activists. Quite the opposite. I have often argued here about the need for a more sophisticated appreciation of the impact of Islamism in the Middle East and the possibilities for constructive dialogue with Islamist moderates. I would argue that the same opportunities and problems present themselves for liberals facing Christianists as when facing Islamists: how to negotiate mutual co-existence between secular and religious worldviews; how to conceive of political institutions which can guarantee such co-existence; how to grapple with the reality of an increasingly religious society in which democratic procedures might well produce a religious-inflected outcome.

    If I could have one New Year's wish, it would be that these public discussions of Christianist activism and identity in the United States could begin to intersect in constructive ways with public discussions about Islamism and Islam in the Middle East. I'd like this to lead us not only to a new understanding of American politics, one in which religious activists (Christianists) are neither demonized nor underestimated nor misunderstood, but also to a new understanding of how to wage the "war on terror."

    Conservatives - whose electoral base rests ever more on this Christianist movement - should ask how this sits with their rather undifferentiated condemnation of Islamist politics. And liberals - who are often more open to dialogue with Islamist moderates - should ask how this sits with their visceral distaste for Christianists in the United States.

    In both cases, we might submit any of the various proposed "remedies" for Islamism to a comparative test: how do we think it would play out in terms of "combatting" Christianism? Would economic development, for example - modernization, better schools, opening to the international economy - likely shrink the appeal of Christianism? If not, why would it affect Islamism? Will democracy reduce the appeal of Islamism? Not judging by the performance of Christianists in the US - why would it be different in the Arab or Muslim world? What about a "reformation" or an "Islamic enlightenment" led by intellectual elites? Hmph.

    Again, to be clear, none of these is offered as an answer. They are posed as questions, around which a fruitful theoretical and political dialogue might be framed. Is such a dialogue possible in today's America, or in today's world?

  2. Sunday, May. 07, 2006
    My Problem with Christianism
    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.
  3. Hello