November 28, 2006
Taking Greenwaldistic Neo-Sullivanism seriously
The Red Queen shook her head, `You may call it "nonsense" if you like,' she said, ` but I've heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!'
I'm no etymologist, so I always have trouble defining words, especially when they've been so misused as to be unrecognizable. (Besides, via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Ann Althouse has already done a better job.)
Sometimes I like to look at the dictionary, and often an invaluable resource is C.T. Onions' Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. But in the case of recently made up or wholly manufactured words, forget about the regular dictionary, much less C.T. Onions.
Not that I like made-up words, but I guess Andrew Sullivan has as much right to make up a word as anyone else. In this case, the word is "Christianist," and his goal is admittedly political. At least I think it is, but it's hard to tell. I agree with Glenn that the "term draws an unfair equivalence between Islamist terror, and mere Christian social conservatism, which are hardly comparable," but as to the definition, I'll try to stick with Sullivan's "Original Intent" in the hope of divining the meaning.
...[L]et 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.The definition poses more questions than it answers. What is particularly hard to tell from the definition is exactly what this new word means. I think it's intended to do more than link those Christians whose politics Sullivan doesn't like with Islamists; it is also meant to be undefinable, which, by being unfair to everyone, does great mischief. Because, if only Andrew Sullivan knows what the word means (assuming he does), then he gets to behave as the Red Queen and label anyone he wishes as a Christianist. Or not.
For starters, there's the argument that "we" should "take back" the word "Christian." Has the word been hijacked? While I don't like the fact that some Christians try to speak for all Christians, unless some people (those he calls "the quiet majority") are more entitled to be called Christian than others, then who is thse "we" who are to be entrusted with the word once they "take it back"? Does this line between Christianists and Christians imply that the former are not the latter or should not be? How can Sullivan declare such a thing unless he has been put in charge of defining Christianity?
What I also find confusing is that the political aspect of Christianism is limited to right wing politics. Thus, only those Republican Christians whose right wing views Sullivan doesn't like are to be called Christianists. Evangelical Christians who vote Democrat are not Christianists -- not even if their "religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda,"-- which means that non-Republican Christian activists like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Catholic liberation theologists, or even Jim Jones and the People's Temple would not be Christianists. Never mind that they all share "the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike" -- only Republican Christians are to be called Christianists.
I think this is both overinclusive and underinclusive, and it's hard to take the definition seriously.
Then there's the statement that "I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor." Sullivan is a Catholic; is that his faith? Isn't the Catholic Church hierarchical, and isn't the Pope in charge?
Consider this statement from Sullivan:
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.Does this mean they dissent from having their faith co-opted? By whom? The Republican Party? Wouldn't it be more fair to recognize that the Pope is still in charge -- at least of the Catholic Church if not a city called the Vatican? Or would that be Catholicism instead of Christianism?
Why invent words that can only be divined by the inventor of the word? The way Sullivan is going, I half expect him to expand the definition of "Christianism" to include people who aren't even Christians. (Say, atheists who might support an alliance with Christians who agree with them on certain political issues.)
This post is very confusing. When I started this yesterday I hoped I'd be closer to a definition, but I'm feeling about as clueless now as I was then.
Since I saw the links Glenn provided yesterday, I've been trying to follow out the twists and turns of the confusing campaign against those who object to the "Christianist" label, which seems to have culminated in a new phase of the Andrew Sullivan anti-Christianist crusade. Sullivan now endorses Glenn Greenwald's embellishment of the "Christianist" meme (originally written in a post linked here), so that with this revision, those who object to the word become supporters of the "Christianists" themselves:
What seems to be guiding Althouse and Reynolds' hatred of the term "Christianist" is that it highlights a fact which they both are eager to ignore -- namely, that the political party to which they are so devoted is dominated by individuals who believe that their religious/Christian beliefs ought to dictate the American political process, shape secular law, and exploit coercive state power to constrain the choices of their fellow citizens.Later, Greenwald accuses Glenn Reynolds as "driven by a desire to hide the fact that "Christianists" (along with their odd partners, the neoconservatives) now control and define the Republican Party." (Um, but I thought the neoconservatives were Jews. Or should that be "Jewists"?)
I'm sorry, but this is getting really wacky.
Who's in charge? Should wackiness be met with further wackiness?
While I don't know exactly what she had in mind, Ann Althouse thought about taunting the taunters:
I feel I would be doing my regular readers a disservice if I posted what I just composed in my head, which is a response to a couple of very conspicuous taunts that are out there today.Her crime, of course, was to ask Andrew Sullivan why he couldn't be nicer in a post titled "Why not engage with me instead of trying to make me into your enemy?"
Considering Althouse's restraint, perhaps I was a bit harsh in likening Andrew Sullivan to the Red Queen. Perhaps it's actually Glenn Greenwald who should be likened to the Red Queen. Or perhaps a contest should be held.
Is there any way to make the taunters point their fingers at each other?
Each might be as sensible as the other.
Which compared with which would be as sensible as a dictionary?
UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link and the compliment!
I also see that I am not alone in thinking about Alice in Wonderland; Professor Bainbridge was reminded of Humpty Dumpty:
When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.He also has a very interesting discussion of neologisms in general.
And what about the "Althouse-Reynolds Axis" of which Sullivan now complains? Is there such a thing? Or is it just an axis of minions? Such lines of attack are about as logical as the WorldNetDaily approach of accusing someone of having a "gay agenda."
Somehow, I'm now reminded of the "happily married gay couples with closets full of assault weapons."
Be phobist. Be very phobist!
posted by Eric on 11.28.06 at 04:04 PM
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