On Christians and Christianists

I just read a fascinating  interview from the Italian Magazine 30 Days with Remi Brague, who is touted as one of the next recipients of the Ratzinger Prize in Theology.  Here is the opening:

Professor, we’ll start from here. You define Christians as those who believe in Christ. “Christianists”, on the other hand, are those who exalt and defend Christianity, the Christian civilization …
RÉMI BRAGUE: The word “christianist” is not very nice perhaps. But I’m not sorry to have proposed it. First of all because it’s amusing. And then because it pushes people to reflect on what they really want. Those who defend the value of Christianity and its positive role in history I certainly find more likeable than those who deny it. I certainly don’t intend to discourage them. It would even please me if they were more numerous in France. And this is not because they may be “objective allies”. But only because what they say is true. So, thanks to the “christianists” therefore. Only I would like to remind them that Christianity is not interested in itself. It’s interested in Christ. And Christ also is not interested in His own self: He is interested in God, whom He calls in a unique way, «Father». And in man, to whom He proposes a new access to God.

There is more in the same vein.  I think his distinction between “christian” and “christianist” is a deep and fruitful one, and in reading this essay I got the sense that it might provide the grounds for illuminating my own discomfort with the rhetoric of many Catholic conservatives (who are my erstwhile allies against a secular culture).    Someone like George Weigel, for instance, comes to mind:  ignoring for the moment his conservative political stance, I find myself very uncomfortable with the way he frames the relationship between Catholicism and the broader culture.   But I cannot (in the limited time I have right now) make this more precise.

So to help me get my own thinking in order, let me turn this into a question:  what do you think of this distinction?  It is grounded in a particular European debate about the Christian roots of Europe; is it more generally applicable?  In particular, what can we take from it that will be of benefit in the American setting?

I realize that this is an invitation to polemic from all sides, but take a moment to reflect on the second  reading from last Sunday before responding:

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

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  • brettsalkeld

    I love the Church. She is my mother. But ecclesiolatry is at least as bad as any other idolatry. I think the distinction is helpful and necessary.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Brett, I agree with A Sinner below that christianist and ecclesiolatry are different. They are closely related, in that those who defend or argue for a Christian civilzation or “Christendom” (however defined) tend to exalt the Church as an institution in fostering and sustaining the broader culture, but I think two different things are in play. I think, for example, that many Protestant evangelicals who subscribe to the various Christian revisionist histories of the US are “christianists” in the sense of Brague, but with respect to them the sin of ecclesiolatry doesn’t make sense (unless you expand the meaning radically).

  • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

    The distinction in the abstract is very helpful. The blurring of the spiritual message and doctrines of Christianity with an (ultimately also secular) ideology or political program…has always been a huge (if inevitable?) problem, and is especially so in the interminable “culture wars” today.

    I’m loathe to apply the label to individuals rather than to stances, however, as if “Christianists” are not really Christians too. Most of them, I assume, ARE religiously Christian, but then have this political “Christianism” added in WITH that. I wouldn’t tell a “Christianist” that he’s not really a Christian, certainly.

    And, as he says, there’s something to be said for them. Obviously, religion isn’t just a “private matter” as modern liberalism trying to remove it from the public square would have. As individuals and communities, we enact our shared values socially. If a whole society were Christian (as happened once before)…it just seems inevitable that a political Christendom would naturally emerge from this. The danger is in believing this is the Kingdom of God on earth or something like that, rather than a temporal polity like any other.

    I don’t know about “ecclesiolatry”; the Church is divine (and even Her human element is united to the divine in a manner somewhat analogizable to the same relation in Christ.) However, when I hear “Christianism” I generally tend to think more of the State than the Church in itself. The Church is a community that is based on Love or Charity. The State is an institution based on Power (even if it is necessary for peace and order). Making their union in an “integrist” fashion ones emphasis or focus is very dangerous. The early Christians weren’t crusading for a Christendom. If and when it finally happened, they certainly weren’t opposed, but it was not their agenda.

    • Jimmy Mac

      The term “churchianity” springs to mind.

      • Rat-biter

        As defined, Churchianity/Christianism is the idolatry several Churches fall into. Including the CC.

        At least on YouTube, the word would be used for the so-called Christianity of the WBC and comparably obnoxious bodies or persons. Liars for Jesus, obscurantists for Jesus, characters of that kind.

      • Rat-biter

        Maybe Churchianity can keep its current semantic field, and Christianist can be reserved for the somewhat different set of meanings that denote manipulation of Christian values foran unworthy purpose.

  • Frank M.

    I didn’t find the word “Islamist” on either this page or the 30 Giorni page, but I sense it lurking in a shadow. It’s as if (finally!) we have a word that helps us gain a perspective of how this Christianist box might look from the outside.

    Some other similar words I’ve heard are: “religionist” used by atheists; “tribalist” as a sort of super-category to describe Islamist, Christianist, rationalist, atheist,…

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      The connection with Islamist is immediate once you said it, but I must confess I did not think of it until I read your comment. The difference, however, is that (to the best of my knowledge) Islamist is an external descriptor: it is applied by non-muslims to muslims. I am not aware of this term (or a comparable term) being used in Islamic discourse but it would be interesting if it did arise. On the other hand, “Christianist” as coined by Brague, is an internal term to describe an internal misdirection or loss of focus.

  • Mark Gordon

    David, I think this question gets at the heart of our present dilemma in the Church. “Christian” is and ought to be a radical stance in opposition to the secular culture, and especially the bourgeois spirit of this age, which has been the great graveyard of Christianity in the West. Christianist is the distillation of that spirit. It appropriates the things of God for disposal by secular ideologies and movements, including economic “systems” and nation-states. It is, in a word, idolatrous. This is why I find a figure like the Servant of God Dorothy Day so compelling. She strikes me as being the paragon of the contemporary Christian but the polar opposite of the contemporary Christianist.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Mark, I really wonder if the opposition is as stark as you make it, or if Christianists are the “sell outs” (for want of a better term) you paint them to be. As Brague himself says in his interview:

      “Christ did not come to construct a civilization, but to save the men of all civilizations. What is called “Christian civilization” is no other than the ensemble of collateral effects which the faith in Christ has produced on the civilizations it has encountered along the way.”

      Our call is to be Christian in all settings, and as a corollary, to take from each civilization (whether “Christian” or not) the best that it has to offer. For better or worse, “the dignity of the human person” as a Christian concept arose out of interaction with classical liberalism, but we as a Church are richer for having made this idea our own.

      • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

        “For better or worse, “the dignity of the human person” as a Christian concept arose out of interaction with classical liberalism, but we as a Church are richer for having made this idea our own.”

        Rather, didn’t the dignity of the human person arise in classical liberalism because the latter in turn arose from a Christian culture?

      • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

        ‘Our call is to be Christian in all settings, and as a corollary, to take from each civilization (whether “Christian” or not) the best that it has to offer.’

        What about giving to each civilization what the Christian faith has to offer? Which I think is what Brague is pointing out.

        I am very hard-pressed to understand what could be wrong, even in theory, with Christians desiring a society that is overtly Christian — being careful to distinguish the desired goal from the various possible ways of arriving at it — as if there is some indisputable benefit from living in a society that treats Christianity’s truth claims with indifference if not hostility.

        I understand the position that having a country be officially Catholic involves the danger of the Church becoming corrupted from its involvement in secular affairs. But there are dangers to the Church in any political system. Our current system has been averse to the Church’s well-being in many ways. As the Church herself has taught, no system of governing is intrinsically evil. But different systems will pose different challenges to the Church and to individual Christians trying to live the Christian life within it.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          I agree that Christianity has a lot to offer. The point I was trying to make was that it is a two-way street. The fathers of the Church were quite happy to rummage through a thousand years of Greek philosophy to find the language and concepts for framing fundamental truths. The scholastics did the same with Aristotle. Canon law is a direct descendent of Roman law.

        • Julia Smucker

          Agellius, the danger is the seduction of power, which leads to the replacement of a Kingdom not of this world, in which the first are last and the last are first, with a Christendom that mirrors the powers that be and commits the same evils – perhaps a “Christianist” parallel to an extreme version of “dar al Islam”, since someone else has dared to mention it.

          When the Church becomes enmeshed with state power, it’s a small and deadly step from there to the use of the mechanisms of the state to enforce Christian profession, sometimes violently, at which point the state/society is Christian only in name, certainly not in deed. The only way an overtly Christian society could possibly remain true to the faith it professes would be by honoring and protecting the alien in its midst. If by “overtly Christian society” you mean a society collectively committed to living out Christian principles, then maybe that’s possible in theory, but any society that gives Christians preferential treatment cannot be truly Christian.

      • Mark Gordon

        David, you seem to be saying that the Christian concept of the dignity of the human person traces its origin to classical liberalism. I can’t imagine a notion more absurd. Do you really believe that, absent the Christian “interaction with classical liberalism,” the dignity of the human person would be unknown to us? If anything, the constant (and fundamental) tension between Liberalism – which from the beginning sought to overthrow and supplant an explicitly Christian civilization – and Christianity is precisely because the latter stresses the dignity of human persons, while the former reduces man to appetites and economic utility.

        • Kurt

          Where things really that good under the Czar? Kaisereich? Sun King?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Mark, my understanding is that the whole concept of the dignity of the human person, with the accompanying notion of human rights and the underlying ideas about the autonomous individual, were not really present in in Catholic thought until the Enlightenment. I could be wrong, but I think this needs some input from our professional theologians to clarify.

        • Rat-biter

          That depends on what sort of Liberalism one has in mind. To call a Christian statesman such as Gladstone anti-Christian would be absurd. As absurd as giving the CC the credit for coming up with the idea of human dignity. Where was the Church when Jews, Mennonites, the Moors of the Iberian Peninsula, Italian Protestants, Jews under the Third Reich, Croatian Serbs, opponents of Franco, the desaparecidos of Argentina, Irish minors, and God knows how many others, had their human dignity denied, trampled, perverted, or otherwise defiled ? And please, please, please – no drivel about how we are all sinful, flawed, blah blah blah. That is true, but it does not even begin to account for the unbridgeable chasm between the CC’s excuses, and its claims about itself. As for what good it may have done, that requires no explanation as Divine, unless in the sense that all goodness does.

      • Rat-biter

        It is definitively that stark – the OP is completely correct: the attitude described is idolatrous, even blasphemous. And the CC does nothing to condemn it. It can deal with propositions, but it is very poor indeed at noticing any non-propositional evil. O

    • Kurt

      …the bourgeois spirit of this age, which has been the great graveyard of Christianity in the West.

      I would be interested in seeing that developed further on the demographic rather than philosophical level. In the West, the bourgeois element has been the backbone of Christianity, having lost the European working class in the 19th century, the Quebec working class in the 20th and the U.S. in the present day.

  • rwatson79

    If the distinction between Christian and Christianist is this: that the former is an identity had with and alongside others, and the latter an identity held over and against them – whether at group or individual level, then I’d say it has use only as a tool for historical analysis.

    Perhaps I’m overly idealistic here, but I don’t think it can be used in a contemporary situation simply because it belongs to a category of things that you can never say about yourself truthfully. As soon as you identify yourself (or your group) as Christian-rather-than-Christianist, Christianism has already taken root. You’re using language in the manner of the Father of lies. To be a true statement, it has to come from somewhere else. Preferably the Church, once you’re dead.

    • Rat-biter

      But – is the self-identification logically necessary ? Bryan Fischer is a Christianist, can be a true statement, and a just and informative use of language, w/o being self-referential.

      • rwatson79

        I’m no good with logic, but yes, I think self-reference is inescapable, if occluded. The effort to use language as a disengaged tool (ie. as correct description, but not personal condemnation) still involves the implicit assumption that I am good/right/reasonable/just to be using language like this in such a case. I think I’m suspicious of using language like this precisely because it isn’t what it appears to be and doesn’t do what it purports to do.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    I don’t like either label, frankly. What is a “Christian?” Who is a “Christian?” There are plenty of Catholics and sectarian Protestants who think that they are the only “Christians” worthy of the name. There is a simmering debate going on now as to whether the Mormon, Mitt Romney, is a “Christian.” He would say that he is, I’m sure.

    And I think we need the neologism “Christianist” like we need a hole in the head. Why look for ways to further divide us?

    What I personally believe is that one is either a disciple of Jesus, or one is not. And this is a self-designation–like “alcoholic,” if you will.

    Asserting oneself to be a Catholic, or a Lutheran, or a Seventh Day Adventist, says nothing to me about one’s status as a disciple of Jesus.

  • Thales

    “Christianist” is a term coined by a Christian thinker, an “internal term to describe an internal misdirection or loss of focus”? Interesting. I have no reason to doubt that, and though I have no prior knowledge of Brague, I see that he’s saying some thoughtful things in the interview.

    It’s just that my only exposure to the term “christianist” before now is as a slur by people who are acting like bigots and are baselessly insulting Christians or the Christian faith. So I’ve always viewed the term with suspicion, as an attempt to marginalize Christians or Christian beliefs in public debate and public life.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Interesting. This article was the first time I heard the expression.

    • Jordan

      Thales [August 1, 2012 3:24 pm]: It’s just that my only exposure to the term “christianist” before now is as a slur by people who are acting like bigots and are baselessly insulting Christians or the Christian faith. So I’ve always viewed the term with suspicion, as an attempt to marginalize Christians or Christian beliefs in public debate and public life.

      Yes, this is the way in which ‘christianist’ is often used by the American Left (inclusive of the Democratic Party). It’s important to also note that while the American Right (inclusive of the Republican Party) does not have a term quite as totalizing for American liberal political thought. ‘Secularist’ comes close, but it’s not quite as bigoted or pointed in my experience. There are other terms used on the Right which approach the pungency of ‘Christianist’, such as believing Catholics and Christians who call the Democratic Party the “party of death” solely on the issue of abortion.

      I still contend that the artificial compression of American politics into a duopoly accentuates acrimony. Since there is no way to develop nuanced POVs in American political discourse, inevitably insulting terms such as these will surface in a desperate attempt to show finer ideological gradations than are feasible in a two party system.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      For anyone who is interested, there is a short article about “Christianism” and “Christianist” on Wikipedia.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianism

      William Safire attributes the term in the US to Andrew Sullivan: he appears to have used it for fundamentalist with overtones of theocrat.

      • Thales

        I don’t read much of Sullivan but he’s one who I’ve seen, on several occasions, using the word differently from Brague and instead using it to improperly marginalize Christian beliefs in the public square. You can see it in his Time article at the wikipedia link.

        • Kurt

          Where in that article? I would agree with every word Andrew Sullivan wrote there.

        • Thales

          It’s Sullivan thinking that it is improper to have religious beliefs (in actuality, moral beliefs — Sullivan erroneously conflates religious beliefs with moral beliefs) dictating public policy. There is nothing improper about that. And calling someone who sees nothing improper “a Christianist” is a just a way to marginalize that participant in the public sphere.

        • Kurt

          It’s Sullivan thinking that it is improper to have religious beliefs (in actuality, moral beliefs — Sullivan erroneously conflates religious beliefs with moral beliefs) dictating public policy.

          Except he doesn’t say that. It says that an element of Christians, in the pursuit of dictating public policy based on their moral beliefs, have appropriated the title “Christian” exclusively for themselves.

          And calling someone who sees nothing improper “a Christianist” is a just a way to marginalize that participant in the public sphere.

          No, claiming the title “Christian” for a narrow, partisan agenda is a way of marginalizing Christians who do not share that agenda. Sullivan rightly points out that a new term is needed for this particular subgroup of Christians.

        • Thales

          First, his list of “religious beliefs” (euthanasia, contraception, homosexuality) shows that he’s erroneously conflating them with moral beliefs. And then Sullivan criticizes those who “believe that their religious doctrines should determine public policy for everyone” and those who think that “religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone.”

          That’s an incorrect belief. There is nothing improper with the general notion that religious/moral beliefs should determine public policy. Now he’s got a point that sometimes specific religious/moral belief X would be inappropriate for determining public policy. But his general proposition that religious/moral beliefs shouldn’t determine public policy is incorrect. It’s a restatement of the erroneous notion that religious/moral beliefs don’t have a place in the public square. And I’ve seen it used to marginalize religious participants in the public square.

        • Thales

          No, claiming the title “Christian” for a narrow, partisan agenda is a way of marginalizing Christians who do not share that agenda.

          Now you’re equivocating. It’s like you’re saying that Person X who calls his view “good for society” is marginalizing Person Y who does not share X’s view but thinks some other view is “good for society.” That’s nonsensical.

          Sullivan’s definition of “Christianist” essentially means “a person with a view that is inappropriate for a public policy debate.” Obviously, the label “Christian” doesn’t convey the same meaning.

        • Kurt

          Thales,

          You must be of the Mitt Romney school of editing others remarks. Here is Sullivan’s statement:

          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.

          Sullivan’s complaint in this statement and consistently in the whole of his article is not that such people do not have the right to be part of the political process, but that he (rightly, in my view) believes they have co-opted for themselves exclusively the terms “people of faith” and “Christian.”

          Like Sullivan, I recognize there are people in this country who seek to make their moral beliefs public policy AND who have moral believes that do not deviate from the Republican Party. (Notice Sullivan and I use “AND” rather than “OR”). I don’t deny that group of people their rights as American citizens (although they oppose democratic rights for me). I do not support their political agenda and I do not accept that I am not a Christian because I don’t support them.

        • Thales

          I recognize that Sullivan is (legitimately) criticizing those who identify Christianity with only the GOP. But you don’t think that Sullivan also has a problem with those who use their religious beliefs to set public policy? I thought that was pretty clear from his words and allusions to contraception, gay rights, etc. [shrug] But it’s no matter. Even if you’re right and I’m reading Sullivan wrong, my point still remains: the term “Christianist” is often used to mean “a Christian who shouldn’t use his Christian religious/moral beliefs to determine public policy.”

        • Kurt

          I recognize that Sullivan is (legitimately) criticizing those who identify Christianity with only the GOP. But you don’t think that Sullivan also has a problem with those who use their religious beliefs to set public policy?

          No, Sullivan himself has religious beliefs that he supports reflected in public policy. He has a problem (as do I) with those who use their religious beliefs to set the public policy of the GOP because he does not generally support the public policies of the GOP.

          I thought that was pretty clear from his words and allusions to contraception, gay rights, etc.

          Christians have a variety of beliefs on contraception and gay rights. I think Sullivan is quite comfortable with Christians who have religious beliefs that he agrees with on matters of contraception and gay rights promoting their beliefs. However, to his credit, he does warn them as well as those he disagrees with not to appropriate an exclusive claim to Christianity.

          the term “Christianist” is often used to mean “a Christian who shouldn’t use his Christian religious/moral beliefs to determine public policy.”

          Again, Sullivan himself is a Christian who uses his Christian religious/moral beliefs to determine his public policy opinions. He doesn’t use the term for himself. He is quite clear that he applies it to a subset of Christians and because they have appropriated the term Christian exclusively for themselves. He has concluded (rightly) that a term is needed for this element which is a subset and not the entirety of Christians. The particular word he coined can be debated, but the need for such a term is clear to me. Do you have a better alternative?

        • Thales

          Kurt,

          1. You’ve lost me. You say that Sullivan is a Christian who uses his Christian religious/moral beliefs to determine public policy opinions. Okay. But then what is his definition of a Christianist? It sounds to me like you’re saying that in Sullivan’s mind, a Christianist is either:
          (a) “a Christian who uses his Christian religious/moral beliefs to determine his public policy opinions in a way that I, Sullivan, don’t like,” or
          (b) “a Christian who uses his Christian religious/moral beliefs to determine his public policy opinion, and who announces to the world that he is Christian or who explicitly states that his position is Christian and whoever disagrees is not Christian”, or
          (c) something else. Enlighten me. What is a Christianist for Sullivan and why isn’t he one himself?

          2. Again, this whole discussion is besides the point: Even if you’re right and Sullivan has a nuanced definition of “Christianist,” that’s not the way it’s most often used by others. It’s most often used by others to mean “a Christian who shouldn’t use his Christian religious/moral beliefs to determine public policy.”

        • Kurt

          (b). I could be further refined, but clearly (b).

          You introduced this topic saying you were speaking specifically to Sullivan’s comments in the Time article (and therefore I have tried to remain focused in my responses) , so I don’t know why you are now saying his comments are besides the point because of use outside of that article and his writings.

          And it has not been most often used that way. I’ve never seen it applied to Christians in general, only a particular subset of Christians. Have you ever known it to be used when evangelical, Catholic and mainline Protestants come together on any public policy cause, say relief of the poor?

          Has anyone ever called “Bread for the World,” a Christian organization working on hunger issues, a “Christianist” group? Since they don’t around saying they are the only Christians on hunger issues, I wouldn’t use the term for them nor has Sullivan.

          While an occassional misuse does not make the term verboten, it has generally been used towards those who claim to be the only Christians when they in fact are not.

          I recall your fellow Christian conservative Dr.Jerry Falwell once declaring that “Christians” opposed my right to vote. Want to take a wild guess I what I thought of that assertion?

        • Thales

          Kurt,
          No, my initial point was that I’ve seen the word used to marginalize some Christian beliefs in the public square. David then mentioned the Sullivan article, and I responded that I thought my point was illustrated by Sullivan in that same article (considering Sullivan’s reference to the moral beliefs of contraception, gay rights, etc.) — but you don’t think that was an instance of marginalization. That’s fine. We disagree about Sullivan’s position in the article. Okay. But my initial point remains: the term is used to marginalize some Christian beliefs. (I’ve done some more reading of Sullivan since, and he generally uses the term with a negative connotation, sometimes in instances where I question whether it is warranted.)

          I’ve never seen it applied to Christians in general, only a particular subset of Christians.

          Yes, obviously. I never said it applied to all Christians in general. Generally it gets applied (often unfairly) when a Christian is advocating for abortion restrictions or legal protection for traditional marriage, or some such thing.

          And I have no idea why you bring up Jerry Falwell.

        • Kurt

          I thought my point was illustrated by Sullivan in that same article (considering Sullivan’s reference to the moral beliefs of contraception, gay rights, etc.)

          In the article, Sullivan simply notes that not all Christians hold the views of the Christian Right on these issues. For daring to state that very obvious fact, you accuse him of marginalizing Christians. Thales, you are showing signs of being a Christianist yourself. Not that you are not free to agree with the political agenda of the Right on these issues, but anyone, no matter how deep their Christian faith, who disagrees with you (or in Sullivan’s case, just notes that there are those Christians who disagree with you) you attack by accusing them of marginalizing Christianity.

          Again, the Right Wing political movement does not own Christianity. Some Christians support legal contraception and legal homosexuality; some do not. Neither side has the right to exclusively claim the term nor claim opposition to their political agenda is opposition to Christianity. For those on the Right who do this, the term ‘Christianist’ has been coined to describe them. This is necessary because the term they (you) use in self-description (Christian) is not rightfully their movement’s.

          Let me be clear. I am a Christian. I do not support the Right-wing political movement some of my fellow Christians favor. I have a word for people who say because of that I am not a Christian. It is a less nice word than Sullivan’s “Christianist” and if you email me privately, I will be happy to tell you what it is. But I bet you can guess.

        • Thales

          Kurt,

          Ugh. “Christianist” is often used as a slur. Sullivan himself uses it often in negative connotations. And for saying this, I’m being a Christianist myself? Again, ugh. Now you’re approaching troll-land. I’m trying to have a pleasant conversation with you, so calm down.

          Neither side has the right to exclusively claim the term nor claim opposition to their political agenda is opposition to Christianity.

          You do realize that people here on Vox Nova and many other liberal Christians all the time claim the term “Christian” to describe, say, universal health care or social-network economic policies—- and that alternative plans, like the Ryan plan, are described as being antithetical to Christian principles? I don’t have a problem with such claims: some Christians are going to think that economic policy X is more in accord with Christian principles, while others will disagree and think that economic policy Y is more in accord with Christian principles. The same can be said with social policies. Let’s be Christians and have a thoughtful discussion about it, while respecting the different perspectives we’re coming from — and let’s not call each other names, okay?

        • Kurt

          Sullivan himself uses it often in negative connotations.

          Sullivan, like me, views this political agenda negatively. I’m willing to explore if it rises to the level of a slur, but even so, it is a slur against some people’s political views, not Christianity. I have a Jewish friend who refers negatively to those who support certain policies relating to Israel as Likudniks. It may or may not be a slur, but he is not a self-hating Jew using an anti-Semitic slur.

          You do realize that people here on Vox Nova and many other liberal Christians all the time claim the term “Christian” to describe, say…

          And Sullivan objects to this as well. Sullivan and you seem fairly close; that Christians with various views discuss these issues civilly. But for that to happen, both sides need to accept the Christianity of the other party.

        • Thales

          It’s one thing to view a political agenda negatively. It’s another thing to call someone a name. Maybe you don’t see a difference between the two, and maybe you don’t think the latter is incompatible with Christians having a civil discussion. I do.

        • Kurt

          Thales, I don’t think your point is without merit. I gotta think name calling others (“Christianist”) or name stealing (calling this particular political agenda “Christian”) are about equal sins.

          Protecting the good name of Christianity is a virtue, so Sullivan starts with good intentions. Is “Christianist” simply a negative term or a slur? I’m open to enlightenment on that. Is “Islamist” a slur or is it an attempt to protect the good name of Islam from certain political schools?

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            For what it’s worth: I don’t think Christianist is necessarily a slur against all Christians, but it is often used uncritically and pejoratively by people who fail to draw the kinds of distinctions you are carefully making. That is part of the problem with the word in its American usage.

        • Kurt

          David,

          That is also a fair point. But I was defending Sullivan in the essay he wrote in which he claimed to coin the term. If Sullivan did in fact coin it in that essay, it couldn’t have been misused before that event, could it?

        • Thales

          Kurt,
          Both “Islamist” and “Christianist” are negative terms, just like “terrorist” is a negative term. Now I’m unsure about your definitions of “Islamist” and “Christianist,” but presumably, they can be accurately applied to a person in a non-slur manner, just like we can do with “terrorist” (e.g., Bin Laden is a terrorist, and maybe he can be accurately described as an Islamist?) But it’s when these negative terms are used in non-warranted situations where they become slurs.

        • Kurt

          Thales,

          No disagreement. As I posted above, I was defending Sullivan in the essay he wrote in which he claimed to coin the term. If Sullivan did in fact coin it in that essay, it couldn’t have been misused before that event, could it?

          But heck, even the term “Kurt” has been used as a slur.

          Again, ONE of the things that can be done to avoid the use of this term, is for political movements not to appropriate the term Christian for themselves, thereby encouraging others to find terms as a substitute.

        • Thales

          Kurt,

          Heh. No, I think he could coin it and misuse in the same article. He could come up with the idea (eg, a Christian analogue to Islamism) and then misapply the idea to “Particular Situation X” which doesn’t warrant the “Christianist” label. Let me explain some more.

          Through our discussion, I’ve now realized that the crux of the matter is this: When is term “Christianism” warranted? When I read the article, I thought Sullivan was implying that the term was warranted when the “religious right” (Sullivan’s term on page 2) makes political arguments about the fate of Terri Schiavo, the morality of contraception, and gay marriage (see page 1). Now if that’s what Sullivan is implying, I couldn’t disagree more with that position, (and that’s what made me initially say that I thought Sullivan was marginalizing Christian arguments made in the public square). I don’t think those are particular instances where Christianity is being wielded “as a political force” and where there is a conflation of “state and [church]” (see page 2, which seems to be his definition of Christianism as analogous to Islamism). I suspect that Sullivan disagrees with me and thinks that the term “Christianism” is warranted in those situations. To be clear, I agree that the term “Christianist” could be warranted in some situations where people improperly appropriate the term “Christian” and act in an inappropriate political manner under that “Christian” banner — but I suspect that I disagree with Sullivan about whether particular instance X (like advocating against gay marriage) is an inappropriate instance of political advocacy that therefore warrants the label “Christianism.”

          I’ve probably uncovered a new topic and a new discussion that might be better left for another post (where we have more space and time, or we can start a new comment thread at the bottom of this post). Because in this new discussion, I think we’d have to get into the nitty-gritty of “particular instance X” and “y” and debate about whether “x” and “y” are instances of inappropriate, Christian-labeled, political advocacy. As for this current discussion, you can have the last word.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    ‘I am very hard-pressed to understand what could be wrong, even in theory, with Christians desiring a society that is overtly Christian”

    My take on the original article is that it is a matter of focus: ultimately Christians want to live in relation with the Triune God, and through God with other Christians. To move from these relationships to focus on the abstract setting of “Christian society” is to begin the transition from Christian to Christianist. It is not bad to want to live in a society in which the majority (or even all) of the members are Christian. I think Brague is arguing that to focus on the society at the expense of these prior relations is to put the cart before the horse.

    • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

      “I think Brague is arguing that to focus on the society at the expense of these prior relations is to put the cart before the horse.”

      Well, of course we don’t want to desire anything inordinately.

      I think a Christian can desire to live in a Christian society for the right reasons, namely, so that the ideas and practices he encounters in the public square help rather than hinder his relationship with God and with other Christians. Just one example off the top of my head, I think it’s a very good thing to have work and school closed during Holy Week, as in some Catholic countries, so that people can give their whole attention to meditating on the sacred mysteries and participating in the Church’s liturgy, rather than having to squeeze it in to their busy schedules.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      ” I think it’s a very good thing to have work and school closed during Holy Week, as in some Catholic countries, so that people can give their whole attention to meditating on the sacred mysteries and participating in the Church’s liturgy, rather than having to squeeze it in to their busy schedules.”

      If only this were the case in Catholic countries. Direct experience tells me that even active Catholics regard this primarily as a vacation from work. Moreover, though they are beautiful and moving, the inordinate attention which is paid in places like Sevilla to the elaborate processions during Semana Santa suggests to me that they have become more Christianist than Christian.

      • Kurt

        ” I think it’s a very good thing to have work and school closed during Holy Week, as in some Catholic countries, so that people can give their whole attention to meditating on the sacred mysteries and participating in the Church’s liturgy, rather than having to squeeze it in to their busy schedules.”

        I do too. And I think every boss in America who does not give his workers the week off with pay has put his soul in danger. As have Churchmen who have failed to take these bosses to task for their sin.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Kurt, did you mean to turn the sarcasm flag on? :-)

      • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

        You may have misconstrued my point. I’m not saying that if work and school were closed during Holy Week then everyone *would* give their whole attention to mediating on the sacred mysteries. Only that they *could*.

        • Kurt

          David,

          Nah, it would have been sarcastic if I added that those laypersons who support the policy positions of the bosses yet are silent on thier failure to give paid Holy Week leave also have their souls in danger! :)

    • Rat-biter

      The wrong in it is that that this Christian civilisation business inevitably, in the nature of the case, is an essay in de-eschatologising the Kingdom of God, by imprisoning it in time and space. One might as well try to freeze the Holy Spirit – it cant be done, without un-Godding God. So with the Kingdom of God – to freeze it in time and space, is to deprive of what makes it what it is, and in the way it is. It is changed in the process, from being Divine, to being demonic. One of the temptations of Jesus was exactly this – to hold the kingdoms of the world, and all their glamour, from the tempter, and on his terms, rather than from God, and on His. A non-eschatological, this-worldly kingdom is what a so-called Christian civilisation becomes – but this world is subject to the devil; it is a new world and a new age, not this old world and its old age, ruled by the so-called god of this age, that Jesus preached and comes to bring in. To put it another way, one cannot have as a human achievement what God Alone can bring about purely as a gift of His grace. But there is no way that a so-called Christian civilisation can be free of the taint of being a human achievement.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    ‘I am very hard-pressed to understand what could be wrong, even in theory, with Christians desiring a society that is overtly Christian”

    @ Agellius —

    To go back to my previous comment, how do you define “Christian?” If you define it so as to include under that umbrella every person belonging to any sect that calls itself “Christian,” then you’re pretty much there already. If, however, what you’re really talking about is a Catholic theocracy, then you’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

  • Julia Smucker

    Only I would like to remind them that Christianity is not interested in itself. It’s interested in Christ. And Christ also is not interested in His own self: He is interested in God, whom He calls in a unique way, «Father».

    I’m profoundly refreshed to see this kind of thinking, and especially the caution against a triumphalistic ecclesiology (maybe triumphalist would be a more understandable term than Christianist?), coming from such a reputed Catholic theologian, and not just me with my Mennonite sensitivities. Seeing some of my fellow Catholics immediately struggling to understand the problem does put a bit of a damper on it, but still, this is gratifying.

    • Rat-biter

      But the CC is hugely interested in itself – so where does that leave it ? As to why, ISTM this is left over from when it was more or less co-extensive with what is now called Western Europe – say, c.1050-1350. It preaches Christ, but never as though He were capable of acting w/o the Church – its attitude is that if we want Him, we must go through it. This the deification of the Perfect Society, & not in the sense meant by Leo XIII; in the pagan sense – Roma was a goddess, not just a city. Sancta Romana Ecclesia has succeeded her.

  • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

    Julia writes, “When the Church becomes enmeshed with state power, it’s a small and deadly step from there to the use of the mechanisms of the state to enforce Christian profession”, etc.

    I won’t argue every point I didn’t agree with in your comment. But as far as “the Church becom[ing] enmeshed in state power”, I’m not convinced that it would have to. There was always a “separation” between Church in state in European Christendom. Note that I’m not saying they never became enmeshed, but at the same time there was a clear division between state power and Church power; for example the Church would not put obstinate heretics to death but would turn them over to the state to execute.

    My point is that, as I said, every form of government has its challenges for the Church. Just as the Church has been forced to work out its difficulties under various revolutionary and republican governments, it would also have difficulties to work out under an officially Catholic government (of whatever form). Given the troubles the Church has overcome in the past, I’m not convinced such difficulties would necessarily be insurmountable.

    It seems that whereas the Church does not condemn any particular form of government per se, some here do seem to be condemning one particular form, namely any one which is officially Christian or Catholic. : )

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “It seems that whereas the Church does not condemn any particular form of government per se, some here do seem to be condemning one particular form, namely any one which is officially Christian or Catholic. : )”

      I cannot speak for anyone else, but having seen the travesty of “Catholic” Spain under Franco, yes, I condemn any government that is officially Catholic.

    • Julia Smucker

      So, Agellius, your example of the “clear division between state power and Church power” is that “the Church would not put obstinate heretics to death but would turn them over to the state to execute.” What a convenient operation: use the state’s power to get the killing done, and alleviate responsibility by some technical dissociation. That sounds eerily reminiscent of Pilate washing his hands – or the Sanhedrin turning to Rome to sentence Nazareth. If Church officials thought this was avoiding being enmeshed with state power, they were deluding themselves.

      • Rat-biter

        Or the Argentine episcopate propping up the Videla regime. We need not go back to the past beyond the lifetimes of the living to find examples of this sort of thing. The result is the utter perversion of anything recognisably Christian. Dante objected to this kind of spiritual fornication 700 years ago.

  • Mark VA

    Here is that word, “Christianist”, again. Defined, refined, and ready for use, by none other than the premier philosophical journal of our time:

    http://pjmedia.com/richardfernandez/2012/08/02/the-chickens-hat/

    Makes one wonder if French philosophes like chikin…

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Since when has a right of center blog become “the premier” philosophical journal of our time? Moreover, “christianist” clearly has two meanings; I am interested in the sense used in the OP, not the pejorative sense as it is used in the US.

      • Thales

        From the post, it looks like it’s Time magazine that is sarcastically being called the premier philosophical journal of our time.

      • Mark VA

        Not pjmedia, but the magazine quoted by the pjmedia – “journal of our time”, as in “time” – come on, puns go flat when they have to be made explicit.

        At any rate, “Christinist” has already become, on the street level, another pejorative term hurled by the Left at those who dare to take their Christianity to the public square.

        Seems that this site may be trying to rehabilitate this word, so that Left leaning intellectuals can engage in that sport as well, but without soiling their petticoats. You even have found a French professor to give this word a patina of respectability – nice touch. NIce time(ing), too.

        As a poet once quipped – “What the French will invent, we’ll instantly like”.

        • Kurt

          …pejorative term hurled by the Left at those who dare to take their Christianity to the public square.

          Mark, you’ve confirmed Sullivan’s premise, that there are those who would hold that one cannot be a Christian if one is not a conservative. You may say that we who are not conservatives but think we are Christians daring to take our faith to the public square have no right to the term, and we think those of your political views have no exclusive right to the term leading to the need to find a new term.

          While we are not in agreement, the point of difference seems clear.

  • http://rosenzweigshmuesn.blogspot.com/ danielimburgia

    Must ‘christianists’ love their enemies?

  • http://undeetmemores.wordpress.com Jordan

    Agellius [August 2, 2012 5:21 pm]: Just as the Church has been forced to work out its difficulties under various revolutionary and republican governments, it would also have difficulties to work out under an officially Catholic government (of whatever form). Given the troubles the Church has overcome in the past, I’m not convinced such difficulties would necessarily be insurmountable.

    Since David just mentioned El Caudillo: it should be established that throughout recent and postmodern history no Catholic confessional state has been established by anything but dictatorial force. In recent history, there has never been Catholic confessionalism by fair democratic election. I cannot conceive of a time or place where Catholic confessionalism could arise through electoral consensus. I also cannot foresee a situation where a democratically-elected Catholic confessional state would need to explain the legal requirements of confessional Catholicism (e.g. criminalization of abortion procedures and procurement, absolute ban on contraceptives).

    However, even within non-confessional nominal democracies such as the United States, the Church’s confessionally-based legal positions must be explained. I’ve always found it difficult to explain to pro-choice persons that the Church’s insistence on the overturn of Roe and state abortion laws is not primarily concerned with the reduction of abortions. Rather, the Church insists that a just state proceeds in part from the criminalization of abortion. Only after criminalization can a state effectively confront the social problems which contribute to abortions. A state, though not baptized, must be an a figurative “state of grace” in order to effect the will and work of God.

    • Trellis Smith

      I think you are onto something there. As I believe in the recent controversies there is sometimes a misappreciation of the differences between American jurisprudence that originates out of case law and the Roman idealized understanding of law. The Anglican canon derives similarly from common law and while there is much cross fertization the ethical codes between the two religions have marked differences. This distiction has only become more pronounced under Benedict’s rejection of the contingent relativist stance in favor of the absoulte moral law.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        I just read a very good discussion about this point: John P. Beal, “Something There Is That Doesn’t Love a Law: Canon Law and its Discontents.” He makes the interesting sociological argument that modern law and canon law are based on different “Social Imaginaries” (i.e., commonly held assumptions about how society works and should be structured) and that canon law is based on an older vision of society and law that has no meaning for modern folk. He calls it a baroque imaginary, but in reference to a historical period (ancien regime) and not to a kind of art or style, or floridity of thought.

        • Trellis Smith

          Thank you,
          I’ll look forward to that read. I became very interested in this because of the constant barrage of criticism against the Episcopal Church “where anything goes”. While it has a comparatively sparsness in its theology It’s democratic polity and governance in an episcopal structure and the origins thereof have always intrigued me.

          The Church of England as it emerged at the Elizabethan Settlement had a distinctive polity. There was, and is, no powerful central authority, let alone an absolutist one like the Papacy since the First Vatican Council.
          Timothy F. Sedgwick writes (Our Selves, 38), “Anglican churches reflect the English tradition of common law. In this tradition the rule of law is not, as in Roman law, a matter of principles that are understood to be based on the nature of things, and are applied to individual cases. Instead, the law arises from individual cases themselves and as such represents the accumulation of a people’s practical wisdom … Authority – the legitimate voice to speak and decide upon an issue – is in this sense borne by the community and dispersed through its life”.

          In that the American jurisprudence of case or precednt law derives from common law, this may have implications for the difficulty in applying”first principles” where no practical utilitarian value can be recognized. In other words the Catholic Church may need to recognize that it is one voice in a pluralistic culture and adapt pragmatic measures and compromises to better achieve its goals.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Agellius,

    Let me try to flesh out my comments and my reference to Franco. In my mind it is a sad but instructive paradox that the only states that identified themselves as “Catholic” or “Christian” were not, whether they were France under the Sun King or Spain under Franco. The Medieval period saw a number of “Christian” kingdoms, but I think that the critical difference is that they were not self-referentially Christian: rather they were kingdoms ruled by Catholics in an age in which the vast majority of their subjects were Catholic. They did not set out to “be” Catholic states; they were simply states that existed in a framework that was Catholic. Do you see the difference? Once a state began to worry about its Catholic identity, it became less Catholic in its nature. Think of the treatment of Jews in the later Middle Ages and early modern period: only when a state (or princedom or municipality) was concerned about being “Catholic” did it persecute or expel Jews. I am sure there are exceptions in both directions, but I think the correlation is strong enough to make my point: I am thinking particularly about Spain under the “Catholic Monarchs” Ferdinand and Isabella.

    You are correct that the Church has had to learn to live with all manner of regimes, but a self-identified Catholic state poses unique dangers. The City of God is not the City of Man, and a state which is concerned with strictly temporal matters helps keep this division clear and allows (forces?) the Church to exercise its prophetic role. A Catholic state, on the other hand, by definition blurs that distinction and appeals to the (institutional) Church at its weakest point:

    “Then the devil took Jesus to the top of a high mountain and in a glance showed him all the kingdoms of the world. ‘I will give you these if you will only bow down and worship me.'”

    Returning to the original post I think I would articulate the difference between a Christian and a Christianist in this way: a Christian looks at the world/history, etc. and sees temporal affairs enriched by the presence of Christians and who see their own role in history as being like the leaven that is mixed into the dough. The Christianist, on the other hand, looks at the same events and concludes that the good they see is because the institutions were “Christian” (ignoring that an object cannot be in relationship with the Redeemer) and conclude that their role is to create similar Christian institutions. Or, to over extend the gospel image: they want to skip the process of mixing and leavening, and create the finished loaf.

    This is a first pass, and I am sure that it is open to criticism. But I think I am on the right track. This also casts some light on the polemical use of Christianist by Sullivan and others. Though it has become pejorative, part of its usage is grounded in attacking those portions of the political/religious right that appeal to the myth of America as a “Christian nation”: not a nation which has been overwhelmingly Christian since it was founded, and has had its political and cultural ways deeply influenced by Christianity (which no one, beyond a few ideologues on the left would deny) but rather as a nation which self-consciously has (and should have) Christian laws and structures.

  • Thales

    a nation which self-consciously has (and should have) Christian laws and structures.

    Wait, don’t we want to have a nation with Christian laws and structures?

    David, I think I basically agree with what you’re trying to articulate, but half the time I feel like there is “talking past each other” going on. I recognize and agree with your caution about “Catholic” states and the problems with institutionalizing the Church into a state governing structure. You say, “A Catholic state, on the other hand, by definition blurs that distinction and appeals to the (institutional) Church at its weakest point.” I understand that definition of “Catholic state”. But I guess I would say that these “Catholic states” aren’t truly “Catholic” or they’re “Catholic in name only” or something like that. A truly Catholic or Christian state isn’t one that persecutes Jews, for example — it’s one that recognizes the freedom and dignity of every human person regardless of religion. That’s a truly Catholic belief; persecution isn’t.

    Anyways, I think I basically agree, but half the time, what is being said sounds odd to me because of the talking past each other.

    • Rat-biter

      @Thales:

      The problem with Christianism, is that it tries to use Divine grace, a super-natural gift, as a means to purely natural ends. It is quite possible that Christians filled with grace would be admirable citizens, but the problem goes beyond that. For grace is given that the Will of God may be done; there is no reason why that should be according to the will of this politicised Christianity. It is sacrilege to use what is supernatural, for an end that is natural, not supernatural. But that is what use of God for the good of the state is. It is very close to the attitude to religion in Starship Troopers – God is allowable, because it turns out that belief in Him (in some form at least) can be useful to the State.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thales, your point is well taken. Let me try to make a general statement to clear things up: in this context, when I say “Catholic state” etc. I do not mean solely a state in which citizens are motivated by the love of God and neighbor. Rather, I mean a state which self-consciously sets out to be “Catholic” not in the proper sense in which you are using it, but rather as a label to set themselves apart and above by virtue of their Catholicism. I guess my point is that a truly Catholic or Christian state would not be concerned with labeling the state as such: the members would simply be Catholic and go about living and being such as they exercised their civic duties. As such, the laws would be influenced deeply by Christian principles, but no one would push for a specific law by saying “this is Christian.”

      Conversely, a state which labels itself a “Catholic” state would be more pharisaical, more concerned with form and show and self-assumed identity than with a right relationship with God.

      I hope this helps clear things up.

      • Thales

        David,
        Yep, thanks! I pretty much agree with what you’ve said.

  • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

    David:

    Thanks for taking the time to explain your position.

    I agree that a self-identified Catholic state poses unique dangers. I think a secular democracy does likewise.

    If there are dangers of an officially Catholic state, what are they, specifically? That such a state might persecute some religious minority is one that you cite. Clearly that’s a bad thing. However I would suggest that it’s not a necessary consequence of having a Catholic state, any more than an abortion holocaust is a necessary consequence of having a secular democracy. Because government of the people by the people has led to widespread approval of the legal killing of innocent children in their mothers’ wombs, shall we conclude that secular democracy must always be unacceptably dangerous to the material and spiritual well-being of its citizens? (Some have drawn that conclusion, just as others have concluded that an officially Catholic government can never be a good thing.)

    I understand, as you have explained before, that a Christianist is someone who has an inordinate attachment or faith in officially Christian institutions, at the expense of encouraging and helping people to actually live the Christian faith. But again I would suggest that they’re not mutually exclusive, since an officially Christian institution can be a thing that encourages and helps people to actually live the Christian faith. The fact that they have not always been such in the past, doesn’t mean they can’t be in the future. And again I am hard-pressed to understand how institutions which are indifferent or hostile to the Christian faith could do a better job in that regard.

    Or to put it another way, at least there is nothing in their inner logic that undermines the morality that they profess; whereas secular or atheistic governments have expressly disavowed Christian morality.

    It seems as though you are saying that because Catholic governments in the past have abused their power, from now on we must never trust Catholic governments. As if to say to our teenage son, I trusted you with the car and you wrecked it, so I’m taking away the keys permanently. Meanwhile, governments hostile or indifferent to the Catholic faith have committed evil on a much grander scale than any officially Catholic government has done, yet we have no problem with avowedly secular governments.

    That being said, I think part of our problem is that we are using undefined terms, especially what exactly each of us means by a “Catholic state”. Which may be beyond the scope of this post.

    • http://undeetmemores.wordpress.com Jordan

      Agellius [August 3, 2012 1:16 pm]: That such a state might persecute some religious minority is one that you cite. Clearly that’s a bad thing. However I would suggest that it’s not a necessary consequence of having a Catholic state, any more than an abortion holocaust is a necessary consequence of having a secular democracy.

      A secular democracy which criminalizes abortion is, in some way, a confessional Catholic state even if the Church does not hold final power over government. Any state which governs according to the natural law, even if not confesssionally Catholic, is Catholic so far as it adheres to at least part of the revealed truth of Christ’s Church. The persecution of non-Catholics would not be a necessary part of this state even if non-Catholics would be bound in deed to Catholic moral precepts. Adherence to morality is not persecution.

      I would argue that a Francoist-like state is not the only way to fulfill Catholic confessionalism-in-act-but-not-name. A state could criminalize abortion, forbid the sale of contraception, and forbid reproductive technologies without ceding formal control to clerics and prelates. However, I cannot see how a nation could credibly maintain the title “secular” and explicitly conform itself to Catholic teaching, especially if these laws are enacted outside of the democratic process. When does a state cease being secular or democratic?

      • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

        Jordan write, “When does a state cease being secular or democratic?”

        It could cease being secular by acknowledging the obligation to defer to the Church’s teachings in “Whatever … in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God.” (Immortale Dei 14.)

        This of course would include morality, as well as things like prayer in schools. It would also enable the government to enforce Catholic social teaching on corporations and the healthcare system, which should please Vox Novans to no end. : )

        • http://undeetmemores.wordpress.com Jordan

          I agree fully, Agellius, that Immortale Dei [ID] 14 is the epitome of confessionalism and also the point where the secular state ceases. That’s only one half of the question, though. Is Catholic confessionalism compatible with democracy?

          I would say that a Catholic confessional state per ID could well be entirely lay-administered. After all, Franco and his junta were all laymen, even if Franco granted significant de facto civil power to the Catholic hierarchy. Even so, a functional democracy presumes political representation and rule of law predicated on, and definitely obedient to, the will of an electorate. A true Catholic confessional state could not risk the possibility of the Church losing its mandate through the defeat of moral laws at ballot boxes. The perils of democracy for confessionalism are especially acute when the Catholic confessional state contains a non-Catholic minority which could, in a fair, free, and consequential democratic election, vote for laws which restrict or impede morality per Catholicism. For this reason alone, “true” Catholic confessionalism can only take place under a dictatorship or in a contrary-to-reality resuscitation of something akin to the French ancien regime.

        • http://renagadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

          I think that plenty of examples around the world prove that “elections” are hardly a standard of “democracy” (understood properly as a political ideal; though I’d argue that we should call the ideal by some other name).

          By which I mean, the real standard of “democracy” (or of whatever label we give to ideal government) is that power should be diffuse, that it should be structured in an efficient and yet also controlled and dissipated way, like an energy-producing controlled nuclear reaction or something.

          Giving the masses “the vote” is not necessarily the only way to ensure this structurally, however.

          Indeed, I’m pretty sure it’s only a sort of a dog and pony show that, at best, REFLECTS the fact that a “democratic” (or whatever label we use, I wish there was one without so much Liberal baggage) structuring/diffusion of power exists, and at worst serves to perpetuate the enforced ILLUSION that such a structure actually exists.

          In other words, I’m pretty sure a place like Denmark could stop having elections and just have a government run by unelected hereditary kings and nobles…and justice and freedom would STILL be served, because real power isn’t, in the end, found in this or that constitutional process, but in a spirit of “rule of law” in the people generally (and most especially, probably, in their economic inter-relations). Even if the Queen of Denmark, in such a situation, went crazy and ordered a genocide…I doubt the army or anyone would follow through on such an order. Because they have other loyalties anchored in civil society and civic values.

          Likewise, in many third world countries…it doesn’t matter HOW many “elections” you have or who “officially” has the power according to the constitutional theory. In those places, might makes right, and the distribution of power is such a precarious balance (due to economic hardship especially) and civil society so weak…that even if the “official” organs of power legislated against it, it wouldn’t matter if some generals wanting to have a coup (and able to offer their soldiers the spoils) decided to do so.

        • Kurt

          It would also enable the government to enforce Catholic social teaching on corporations and the healthcare system, which should please Vox Novans to no end

          Not this Vox Novan.

          Those of us of the anti-Communist Left never condoned totalitarian means to impose social welfare programs by the Commies and we are not about to condone it being done by a theocracy.

          Like Max Shachtman and John Paul II (what a couple!), I have no use for “collectivization without socialization” or for “bureaucratic collectivism.”

  • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

    Thales writes (quoting David), ‘I recognize and agree with your caution about “Catholic” states and the problems with institutionalizing the Church into a state governing structure. You [David] say, “A Catholic state, on the other hand, by definition blurs that distinction and appeals to the (institutional) Church at its weakest point.”’

    Regarding confounding of the distinction between the sphere of civil and spiritual government, I suggest reading Leo XIII’s “Immortale Dei” (there are several Vox Novans who strongly avow Catholic social teaching — do they as strongly avow Catholic political teaching?):

    13. The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. But, inasmuch as each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing-related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing-might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, who foresees all things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other. “For the powers that are, are ordained of God.”!(17) Were this not so, deplorable contentions and conflicts would often arise, and, not infrequently, men, like travellers at the meeting of two roads, would hesitate in anxiety and doubt, not knowing what course to follow. Two powers would be commanding contrary things, and it would be a dereliction of duty to disobey either of the two.

    14. But it would be most repugnant to them to think thus of the wisdom and goodness of God. Even in physical things, albeit of a lower order, the Almighty has so combined the forces and springs of nature with tempered action and wondrous harmony that no one of them clashes with any other, and all of them most fitly and aptly work together for the great purpose of the universe. There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as We have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of heaven. Whatever, therefore in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. Whatever is to be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the civil authority. Jesus Christ has Himself given command that what is Caesar’s is to be rendered to Caesar, and that what belongs to God is to be rendered to God.

  • Julia Smucker

    Thales writes:
    But I guess I would say that these “Catholic states” aren’t truly “Catholic” or they’re “Catholic in name only” or something like that. A truly Catholic or Christian state isn’t one that persecutes Jews, for example — it’s one that recognizes the freedom and dignity of every human person regardless of religion. That’s a truly Catholic belief; persecution isn’t.

    That’s exactly the point I keep trying to make. A truly Christian state is only theoretically possible with this criterion firmly in place, and probably is practically impossible. At the very least, it hasn’t happened yet in history. To borrow Agellius’ metaphor, the Church is done with allowing anyone to be killed or endangered by her children’s reckless driving.

    Agellius, it’s not that “we have no problem with avowedly secular governments” and the evils they commit, which often have rightly been condemed by Christians and by the Church institutionally. But for the same evils to be committed by confessing Christians, who ought to know better, is all the more appalling.

    • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

      Julia writes, “But for the same evils to be committed by confessing Christians, who ought to know better, is all the more appalling.”

      No one’s denying that, for heaven’s sake. : )

      • Julia Smucker

        Good, then that should explain why some of us appear more critical of confessionalist regimes than atheistic ones.

    • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

      But people, including Christians, will always “drive recklessly.” Should the Church not try to at least mitigate it?

      I mean, the State will always be problematic because Power is dangerous, and yet someone needs to wield it (yet humans are imperfect and fallen!) So, given that politics is always going to suck…the question becomes more like…do we want a State that at least helps the Church (through funding, propoganda value, etc)??

      And I’m not sure how a Christian could be actively AGAINST that. Things are going to be bad in the realm of temporal power either way. Might as well have some good alongside the bad, though, no?

      • Kurt

        do we want a State that at least helps the Church (through funding, propoganda value, etc)??
        ..

        I think it is an debatable question as to if it “helps” the Church to have the State attempt to proprogate and fund it.

      • Julia Smucker

        Funny, this sounds a lot like an argument a college classmate of mine once made, which the professor called a good articulation of “the classic Reformed perspective”.

        But in answer to your question, I’d say it depends on what we mean by the State helping the Church. If we mean listening to the Church’s witness on matters of social morality, the common good, human life and dignity and all that, then yes. But if the Church is asking the State for some sort of elite, privileged social status, then we have lost sight of the Kingdom of God that our Lord preached.

        • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

          Well, I don’t know what you mean by “elite, privileged social status.”

          I think of something like putting the Church (and only the Church) in charge of Public Education in the country, or having Catholicism be officially taught in the schools (and not any other faith).

          I’m not saying stop other faiths from having private schools if they want, it’s just a question of what constitutes the “default” in the country.

          The State will always favor an ideology, and public education will always inculcate one. Wouldn’t it be better to have it be Christianity rather than Secularism?

  • Mark VA

    I think it is unfortunate that a very important subject, the search for the proper relation between the Church and State, is being discussed thru the prism of the word “Christianist” – an “amusing” word, according to its inventor. The multiple meanings of this word, its common street use as an insult, can only add to the meandering of this discussion.

    As I see it, this conversation revolves around the critique of the concept of the “social kingship of Christ”, but unfortunately without explicitly focusing on its arguments, either pro or con.

    Secondly, the historical perspective is rather limited – it seems to boil down to the experience of just two nations, France and Spain. Neither of which, may I dare to propose, have much history of continuous living with large, growing, and vibrant religious minorities (current time excepted). Yet there exists a wealth of historical data which shows how Catholics, Jews, and the Orthodox lived together, for centuries, within common boundaries. Norman Davies, especially the Introduction to his book “Europe”, may be helpful here.

    I concede that this second point all too often applies equally to the Left, as to the Right leaning Catholics, who would also describe themselves as “Western”.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “Yet there exists a wealth of historical data which shows how Catholics, Jews, and the Orthodox lived together, for centuries, within common boundaries.”

      I am aware of many examples, such as Norman Sicily. None that I can think of identified themselves as Catholic or Christian states.

      • Mark VA

        “None that I can think of …”

        That’s why I recommend reading Norman Davies. The historical perspectives expressed here are, quite understandably, Western, as that term is commonly understood.

        While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that mode of thinking, a Catholic, when confronted with difficult questions that have a historical dimension, should be able to draw on the entire historical experience of the Church. And a vice versa ditto for those Catholics who are not Western.

        While Norman Davies is not a historian of the Catholic Church, nevertheless, his insights and approach to history may help to overcome such limitations, for all of us.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          I will look him up. In the mean time, can you give specific examples to go with your bromides?

  • http://undeetmemores.wordpress.com Jordan

    A Sinner [August 3, 2012 10:58 pm; moved]: Even if the Queen of Denmark, in such a situation, went crazy and ordered a genocide…I doubt the army or anyone would follow through on such an order. Because they have other loyalties anchored in civil society and civic values.

    Thank you A Sinner for these excellent points. Your hypothetical situation of a rotten Denmark 😉 might hold true in other places where a “mono-party democracy” or nearly so has dominated postwar politics. Examples would include Sweden and Japan. The citizens of both nations have voted the same party into power in almost every election in the second half of the twentieth century. In a hypothetical case the abrogation of democracy might not result in a collapse of rule-of-law designed by and for citizens of these countries. This is especially true if the “dictatorship” consistently respects without modification the political program which had been previously affirmed through a fair and truly representative democratic process. In this way citizens would maintain a nation that they have legally shaped over decades even if votes are no longer cast.

    I am still unconvinced that Catholic confessionalism and an accountable and transparent democratic system can coexist. Let’s say that the citizens of a majority Catholic country were to fairly and transparently elect a Catholic confessional party with a full mandate to govern (i.e. with enough seats to rule without coalition). The voters have not only elected a confessionalist party, but have also ratified a confessionalist platform as it stood at the time of the party’s first government. In a “true” democracy, the confessionalist party would have to submit to regular elections to maintain their political mandate. This might require “policy tweaks” to appeal to a broader range of voters. However, Catholic confessionalism demands that certain laws can never be changed as they are divine in origin and not subject to (human, fallen) reasoning. Even if illegal abortions and abortion-related fatalities were to increase dramatically after absolute abortion criminalization, a confessionalist party could not legalize some abortions as a concession to an electorate. A moral state cannot have legalized evil despite human suffering because of evil actions committed by individuals in a fallen world. For this reason alone, I would strongly suspect that Catholic confessionalists would rather dissolve transparent democracy to preserve the moral integrity of the state from the vagaries of elections.

    For the reason stated, I am still convinced that a lasting Catholic confessionalism is only possible within a non-constitutional dictatorial state. The grand question: American Catholics are commanded to support the legal realization of the absolute criminalization of abortion through constitutional republicanism. And yet, would constitutional republicanism survive if abortion criminalization were realized? Criminalization could only be realized as long as enough Catholic voters “propped up” an abortion ban. Wouldn’t it be ideal to dissolve nominal democracy to preserve a moral state? Indeed, is not the stability of a moral state more important than a citizen’s right and responsibility to vote?

    I struggle with this question every day of my life. Indeed, I am driven to the precipice of agnosticism because of it.

    • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

      “In a hypothetical case the abrogation of democracy might not result in a collapse of rule-of-law designed by and for citizens of these countries. This is especially true if the ‘dictatorship’ consistently respects without modification the political program which had been previously affirmed through a fair and truly representative democratic process. In this way citizens would maintain a nation that they have legally shaped over decades even if votes are no longer cast.”

      But see, this is why I don’t like using “democracy” to describe it. You’re acting as if giving up the vote would mean the abrogation of “democracy.” But that’s silly, because the democracy (or whatever we want to call it) is IN the very rule of law and diffusion of power…NOT in the voting (which is just a ritual, almost).

      The “managers” of the State after that (however they were initially chosen; either through a self-perpetuating meritocratic bureaucracy, or through heredity, etc)…would not be “dictators” because “dictator” implies a non-“democratic” (again, I wish there was another way to describe it) concentration of power in the social network. But that’s not what we’re talking about in these cases.

      “However, Catholic confessionalism demands that certain laws can never be changed as they are divine in origin and not subject to (human, fallen) reasoning.”

      Not true, really. The State is always allowed to be “pragmatic” as long as justice is not violated.

      “Even if illegal abortions and abortion-related fatalities were to increase dramatically after absolute abortion criminalization, a confessionalist party could not legalize some abortions as a concession to an electorate.”

      Depends what you mean by “legalized.”

      Every human being has a right to be protected by the State, and the State has a duty to defend every human being with its policing power.

      This DOES mean that police should be able (and, in fact, be bound to) stop any imminent abortion they learn is going to occur, to restrain the potential aggressors from going through with the harm.

      It DOESN’T necessarily mean that any particular punishment, after the fact, needs to be attached to abortions, for either the mother or the abortionist.

      The State may, indeed, make the pragmatic judgment that pursuing prosecution in the latter case is NOT in fact an effective deterrent of these murders, and therefore refrain from such prosecution.

      • http://undeetmemores.wordpress.com Jordan

        A Sinner, your distinction between the democratic ritual and the process of representative government is very well taken. Thank you.

        A Sinner [August 4, 2012 10:13 pm]: It DOESN’T necessarily mean that any particular punishment, after the fact, needs to be attached to abortions, for either the mother or the abortionist.

        This is quite true. Still, consider the following definition of decriminalization:

        […] “First, it implies that although the new sanction can be legally applied only if a criminal offence has been committed, the treatment is selected and administered not in relation to the gravity of the offence, but to the prospects and needs of the individual… Decriminalization means, secondly, the substitution for punishment of another type of sanction, either reformative or protective.” (original author ellipsis in quotations, my ellipsis in brackets) OED sv. “decriminalization”, citing Max Grünhut, Penal Reform xvii. 451 (1948) [British Library record]

        Illegality and decriminalization can, and in this case should, coexist. Irish constitutional law provides perhaps the most compassionate means to enact Catholic confessionalism within a rule-of-law republican “democracy”. All abortion procedures are prohibited within Ireland. Irish women who travel to Britain for an abortion are not criminally prosecuted. Irish doctors who perform abortions on Irish soil could be disbarred, however. I am not sure if Irish women who have had abortions are protected from prosecution should they disclose that they had an abortion during legal discovery. I would strongly contend that in a hypothetical confessional state no woman should ever face prosecution for having an abortion, and that this should be explicitly stated in any law.

        Ireland protects the legal and personal dignity women who have had abortions and respects the will of the electorate, which voted for a pro-life constitutional amendment in referendum.

        This, I believe, is the most just and compassionate means of regnum Christi. I suspect that some American Catholics wish for vengeance and not justice, scarily.

        • http://renegadetrad.blogspot.com A Sinner

          “I would strongly contend that in a hypothetical confessional state no woman should ever face prosecution for having an abortion, and that this should be explicitly stated in any law.”

          In current circumstances, obviously. This would be necessary for the success of any law.

          I’m less certain about your phrasing “ever.” This makes sense in our society where millions of women abort. It doesn’t necessarily make sense in every society. If we reached a day where society considered abortion heinous and very few women were doing it at all, society might then come to view it as the same as any other murder, as the act of someone antisocial, and in THAT cultural setting, prosecution might then become appropriate.

          That tends to be my thought about prosecuting sexual immorality too. Obviously, we wouldn’t do that in our culture today. And we shouldn’t. And not just in the Western First World, but anywhere, because the culture is global and there are structural factors at play that would make attempting this wrong. I have a high regard (under the current socio-economic structure of the world) for privacy; if we are going to have to tolerate a world where the individual is atomized for the sake of the capitalist regime, we have to apply that logic consistently and not, say, meddle in people’s private actions, even private sin.

          But, absolutely speaking, there is no “right” to it. In a global society that was truly more communitarian again, where the “individual” was NOT constructed in the “capitalist” fashion, where sexual immorality had the anti-social sense that it had in most pre-modern cultures…I do not think we can say that it would be absolutely wrong to prosecute it under such circumstances.

  • Rat-biter

    For a very good example of Churchian Christianism, the review at

    http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/things-fall-apart

    can hardly be bettered. The book is reviewed in the all too familiar way: all glory be to the CC, and boo to the silly Protties for not having real Church authority. I am no adorer of ecumenism, but really, perpetuating self-serving & unselfcritical pap is not going to impress any Christian who is under the impression that Jesus Christ, not the Church, is the main subject of the NT. That kind of ecclesiolatrous pap was understandable when the CC officially lumped other Christians with non-Christians and pagans, but it is completely out of place now.

    As for agnosticism, I would have been one long ago, if I had not been convinced that Jesus Christ is better than anything any Church can provide. A non-constitutional dictatorial state sounds like a compromise between the devil and Christ. Something which is impossible, as there can be no communion between Christ and Belial. It would be a devil’s bargain. Christ is a King, not a dictator, and His Kingdom is not from this world or age; it is not founded by evil and power-hungry men, but by and Him, and by no-one else. To make His holy and God-given Kingship a thing of this world, is to make it devilish. And is a superb example of perverting what belongs to God, into a means of promoting human egotism. There is nothing whatever to be said for it.

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  • Mark VA

    David Cruz-Uribe:

    One of Norman Davies’s specialties is the history and culture of the terra incognita between Germany and Russia (“a far country … far” as Pope John Paul II once put it). To his credit, he also avoids being a mere cheerleader for these lands.

    As far as the modes of historical thinking go, the Introduction to his book “Europe” contains an incisive and sobering list of such exercises. It goes above “debunking” – it shows how historical truths can easliy be transmuted into half-truths, or worse, to serve political, economic, or cultural ends.

    While his work is not about the history of the Catholic Church (I don’t think he is Catholic), nevertheless, many of the happy byproducts of his research would definitely help organize and deepen our thinking about Church history.

  • http://agellius.wordpress.com Agellius

    Jordan writes, “A true Catholic confessional state could not risk the possibility of the Church losing its mandate through the defeat of moral laws at ballot boxes … For this reason alone, “true” Catholic confessionalism can only take place under a dictatorship or in a contrary-to-reality resuscitation of something akin to the French ancien regime.”

    As ID says, there is a sphere in which the civil government is supreme, and one in which the Church is supreme. As respects matters of civil government, the will of the people can rule. It’s only in the sphere affecting faith and morals that the Church’s unchangeable teachings would have to govern and not be subject to the will of the people.