Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vagaries of "Christianism"

At one time, the term “Christianism” was synonymous with “Christianity” and “Christendom.” In recent times it has fallen out of use. After 9/11, however, Christianism was redefined in parallel to “Islamism,” standing over against Islam in the proper sense. The latter term, we are told, serves to differentiate “good,” mainstream Muslims from “bad” fanatical extremists.

Along similar lines, Christianism is supposed to be the dangerous side of Christianity--a distortion really--that ostensibly contrasts with the more authentic version found in the Gospels. It is significant that the journalist Andrew Sullivan, a practicing Catholic, has been one of the main proponents of the distinction between C1 and C2. On June 1, 2003 he wrote: “I have a new term for those on the fringes of the religious right 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." Subsequently, the term was picked up by several liberal bloggers. Sullivan expanded on his concept in a Time Magazine piece “My Problem with Christianism” (May 7, 2006).

For me, by the way, the adjective “true” always sends up a red flag. Somehow, it is always one’s own party (in Sullivan’s case, liberal Christianity) that is true, that of its opponents false.

At all events, Sullivan’s original definition emphasizes striving for power over others. In practice, however, the label also seems to connote doctrinal rigidity--religious fundamentalism in short.

Be this as it may, the original Sullivanian concept would be better described as “Dominionism.” This is the tendency is the tendency among some politically active conservative Christians to seek influence or control over the civil government through political action, especially in the United States. The trend is also known as subjectionism. The aim is either a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.

In his recent Dish postings, Sullivan has sought to apply the Christianism label to Anders Breivik. This does not seem helpful, as Breivik shows no particular devotion to conservative Christian theology or the behavioral restrictivism associated with it. Instead, the Norwegian killer seems to see Christianity as a bulwark of white nationalism. The overall context is his perception of the clash of civilizations. There is also a certain romantic neo-medievalism in his idealization of the Templar Order.



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