What is “Christianism”?

One of the more tedious memes that Andrew Sullivan insists upon pressing (now that the burning issue of Trig Trutherism and his bizarre fascination with Palin’s femininity is–finally–receding from his consciousness) is something called “Christianism”. It’s a sort of tu quoque term that was coined to say, “IknowyouarebutwhatamI?” to toss sundry Christians into the same bin as lunatic Islamists who fly planes into buildings and blow up busses with children. It’s part of the general attempt by the left to say “If you’ve seen one Abrahamic religion, you’ve seen ‘em all.”

Sullivan tries to say that “Christianism” is about the politicization of Christianity: the attempt to turn the gospel into a secular messianic program of ideological conformity imposed on the culture by force. In short, he wants to say it is the mirror of radical Islam. And, to be sure, there are elements in the Christian Right who do have a secular messianic tendency to conflate the Kingdom of God with the American Way (much as there are Christians on the Left who seem to have the impression that Margaret Sanger and Karl Marx were apostles and who had a rather creepy messianic vibe about Obama going a few years ago). But as used by Sullivan, “Christianist” is a term so malleable that it’s not surprising many people have a difficult time pinning down what it actually means.

So, for instance, Sullivan regards Tim Tebow as a Christianist. Why?

Is he somehow

  • Conflating American imperialism with the Christian missionary imperative? No.
  • Calling for gays to be jailed? No.
  • Confusing whoever is this week’s NotRomney candidate with a prophet of God? No.
  • Demanding imperial wars, torture, the death penalty and electrocution fences on the border in the name of Jesus? No.
  • Declaring Obama the Antichrist? No.
  • Urging us all to support whatever Israel does as the will of God? No.
  • Convinced that a capital gains tax is the will of Satan? No.
  • Saying, “There is no God but Jesus and Rush Limbaugh is his prophet”? No.
  • Begging for America to recognize the anointing on Sarah Palin and draft her as President before God’s favor passes us by? No.
  • Longing for the day America becomes a Bible-based state with a Constitution modeled on the Law of Moses? No.

Those sorts of things (and similarly politicized stuff) could arguably be called “Christianism”: the conflation of a peculiar political agenda with the gospel. But Sullivan’s reason for seeing the telltale traits of Christianism in Tebow? He prays publicly. He’s overt about his faith. This discomfits Sullivan, whose own Irish Catholic pieties see this as Not the Done Thing. So Tebow is consigned to the circle of the Christianists.

What then, is “Christianism”? Whatever a conservative Christian does, says, or thinks that Andrew Sullivan doesn’t like. Mystery solved.

  • Annette

    Long time reader, first time commenter =P.

    I find the entire movement that can be labeled “christianist” very interesting to see how it evolves in American culture. Being someone who also follows the Daily Dish, i think it’s also fair to point out that Sullivan did point out in the latest continuation of that discussion that he mislabeled and realizes he was wrong – and that he usually does point out when he feels he erred or reader’s correct him. It’s something I find very refreshing in the ‘political coverage’ sphere

    It’s something I really like about the Dish, it’s an ongoing discussion that grows where both sides can be moved from their original position – whether it’s for the better or worse. In this case Sullivan honestly said his overt showing of faith made him uncomfortable and that’s why he brought it up, I think not so much to condemn it but to start a discussion about it.

    Anyways I just wanted to be sure that wasn’t missed, since it is something I’ve been following with interest and like to see how this develops.

  • Confederate Papist

    I like Tebow for his open Christianity. We should all take a page from his book.

    My question is why is this news or a subject of conversation? For decades, sports athletes, many of whom you don’t know or remember their names, have thanked the Lord for accomplishments in post game interviews, press conferences and on the field or court of play. How many baseball players (many Latin, but some not) have made the Sign of the Cross before stepping into the batters box or I have seen them make the Sign of the Cross after they got a hit? Tebow is not the first one to go to his knee after a touchdown or great play, I, as an avid sports fan, have seen this since my childhood.
    I am sorry Mr. Sullivan is uncomfortable with public displays of affection towards God and our Lord and Saviour Jesus, but as I said in the beginning of my screed, we should all do a better job of this when we’re out in public. I am starting with me.
    Happy Advent and Merry Christmas to all you “Shea-vites”!

    • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

      It’s because of The Commercial. Up until then, Tebow was the darling child of the sports media. As an Ohio State fan (I know), the thought of going up against Tebow sent shivers down our spines. They were saying he could be one of the greats. And he was known to be religious then. That was fine. As you say, it’s not uncommon.

      But then he did The Commercial for the Superbowl, and that’s when it all hit the fan. Almost overnight he was a has been, an overrated player, someone who couldn’t cut it in the pros. When he got drafted, and had some issues early on, the press pounced. Lots of ‘we told you he was a flop!’ Then, of course, we have his mind numbing come back and his 7 and 1 record, including the recent last minute comeback against the Bears. He has one of the strongest starting records of any of the greats, and that has made the press and his critics enraged that, at least for now, he just won’t fail.

      That’s why it’s all of a sudden an issue. When he did The Commercial, he became a target, and since as of now he has defied hope that he would unravel, it’s become the talk of the town.

      • http://www.communionantiphons.org Andy, Bad Person

        Yes! I thought I was the only one who remembered The Commercial, and that every conversation about his faith had that elephant in the room. Thank you for proving me non-crazy (about The Commercial, anyway).

        • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

          How can we forget? It was night/day, up/down, and probably a bunch of other comparisons a writer better than I cam could come up with. I wondered if Mark was aware of the context of the great Tebow scandal of our time. I wonder if Sullivan is aware of it.

          • Mark Shea

            I’m only dimly aware of Tebow since I lack the sports gene. I appears he annoys people by being a vocal Christian they can’t pin any sin on. Good for him.

            • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

              He’s always been that way. Was that way in college. No big deal, it’s not unusual. But then he did a pro-life commercial that aired during the Superbowl, and that’s when all hell broke loose. Since then, he’s been a major target for those who don’t mind the religous stuff, but went crazy because of the anti-abortion stuff.

              • Confederate Papist

                Ah yes, the commercial. Funny I did not get to see the whole thing…the one thing I hate about SB parties and half time.

                Do not forget…this past weekend included…he said he’s not that good….he gives credit to God and his team mates. Who could ask for more?

    • http://www.likelierthings.com Jon W

      Although, to give Sullivan his due, I, too, find public expressions of faith by Evangelicals to be uber-cheezy and embarrassing. It’s different, somehow, from making the sign of the cross. I’m a former Evangelical and I find it pretty wince-inducing.

      Perhaps the difference lies in the suspected root of the expression. Since Evangelicals come from a branch of Protestantism that professedly denies any special sacramental character to acts like kneeling or making the sign of the cross, any outward, physical, and public expression of faith can only come from a desire to “witness”. They’re not kneeling because they believe that kneeling imparts a special character to their prayer, they’re kneeling because you need to see someone being religious because you’re a godless reprobate who needs to get saved. Amen, brother.

      • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

        You might want to rethink that. There’s nothing wrong with Protestants expressing their faith in the Protestant way. Any more than there is with Catholics the Catholic way, Jews the Jewish way, Muslims the Muslim way, etc. And since the real reason he’s taking the slings and arrows is because of his prolife commercial for the Superbowl, instead of piling on with all those who are hating on him for that reason, perhaps standing next to him in solidarity might be the better approach.

    • Dr. Eric

      Troy Polamalu crosses himself all the time (like a good Greek Orthodox boy should) yet no one complains about him. I mean he does it ALL THE TIME.

      • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

        Again, it was The Commercial. Until then, everyone knew Tebow was religious. Everyone knew he spoke openly about it. Nobody really cared. They still loved him and thought he could go places. It was when he did that pro-life commercial with his Mom that it all hit the fan. That he keeps winning games and doesn’t seem to do anything wrong in the area of public sin, just compounds the problem.

        • Veronica

          You hit the nail on the head, Dave. The fact that Tebow and his mom made a pro-life commercial was an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the media. What bugs them the most is knowing that Tebow is an abortion survivor. Before his mom told the story of her life-threatening pregnancy, and how she chose life for her baby, the media hailed Tim as a hero. Now, they scramble trying to find reasons to explain why he’s the worst player the NFL has ever seen. Every time he wins, sports writers go crazy explaining how he’s actually NOT that good after all. It’s almost funny.

          In the eyes of the media, Tim is nothing but a baby that should have been aborted. That’s all it comes down to.

  • Will

    “One impudent piece of pedantry I have noticed as very much on the increase — it is the habit of arbitrarily changing the ends of abstract words (which are bad enough already) so as to make them sound more learned. I heard a young man, with thin, pale hair, speak some time ago at some Ethical Society; and words cannot convey the degree to which he drooped his eyelids whenever he said “Christianism,” instead of Christianity. I was tempted to get up and tell him that what was the matter with him was Tomfoolerism, called by some Tomfoolerity, and that I felt an impulsion to bash his physiognomics out of all semblity of humanitude. “–
    Chesterton –– The Illustrated London News, 12 June 1909.

    I was once dragged into controversy with a commenter who (I am not making this up) insisted that refusal to use the One True Suffix was a conspiracy to elevate “Christianity” above other religions. I asked if he referred to “Mohammedanism” and “Gautamaism”. Or indeed, talked about people speaking “Franceian” and “Japanian”.

  • Mark R

    I first saw the word “Christianism” about twenty years ago in a Seattle bookstore. I attributed the term to the now snooty upper middle-brow bluestocking hegemony on reading.

    To give Sullivan and John W. their due, it used to be bad form to be vocal about religion for all but the lowest rungs on the social ladder…and for good reason: Look at all the acrimony constantly aggravated on blogs dealing with religion.

    • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

      Those days are gone. Given the outward hostility toward religion, there’s no reason in the world for people of faith to keep it under a basket.

  • Gabriel Austin

    You forget that Mr. Sullivan is an Englishman; like his fellows he is embarrassed by [ashamed of ?] any display of real feeling.

    • The Deuce

      Are you talking about a different Andrew Sullivan from the histrionic weirdo I’m familiar with or something?

  • Observer

    “Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect.” (Gilbert Keith Chesterton – The Well and The Shallows.)

    With regard to Tebow’s commercial and someone saying “…denies any special sacramental character…”, I think Chesterton is proclaiming the basis and observation of man’s faith not necessarily following certain vows and convictions.

    My observation comes from witnessing a cousin who is father. Although he doesn’t go to the House of the Lord and goes about proclaiming the gospel, he does so by that personal sign and sacrament of freedom in which Chesterton made very clear and obvious in the case of “Babies and Distributism.” Most interestingly, the sower of the seed parable is a slap in the face for me with regard to the above quote from Chesterton. My cousin is a father by the personal sacrament which God has given for him to father a child and with his wife to do anything to protect their daughter. In Tebow’s case, the question isn’t what convictions he has and what is lacking with Evangelical tradition. Rather, the question is: “Is a man, for his faith, being persecuted?” And yes, he is being routinely criticized for living out his faith in a culture that wants to do away with the family, home, cell, and unit of society. He supports the institution necessary for life; and, he gets ridiculed for it. So, it’s not a matter of his faith. It’s a matter of whether or not you or I are willing to go to the public square (as St. Perpetua – which Mr. Shea mentions her in another article – did.)

  • Confederate Papist

    Bottom line – if it ticks off the media, I hope he wins the rest of the games this season….’cause you know it will be Celebration Time when he finally loses (well, when Denver loses)…

    “Where the hell is your God now”? – Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) to Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks – is what you will hear from the crappy sports-jerks in the media.

    On another note, what is the irony of Sinise’s character saying that to Hanks’ character, given what we know about Hanks and the Dan Brown crap he’s been in??

  • VAGreen

    Loved watching Tebow in the game against the Bears, but as a Bills fan, I’m dreading the game on Christmas weekend. Tebow often gets off to a slow start, but against our defense,I don’t see that being a problem. He probably won’t even need to pull the Tebow Magic out of his hat in the fourth quarter.

  • Dan

    Andrew Sullivan uses the term “Christianism” to demonize, and dehumanize, devout Christians. It is the type of frightening behavior that one associates with the prelude to a persecution.

  • Matt B

    Names are something people call you when you’re being particularly effective.


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