Andrew Sullivan tries to defend his sloppy neologism of “Christianist” and in so doing demonstrates his inability to understand the difference between Christianity and Islam. As Sullivan states:
I’m struck by how my neologism still offends so many. The term “Islamist” was coined to describe political regimes or political movements that have the source of their legitimacy in the Muslim God. It wa[s] coined in part to exclude secularized Muslims from their politicized counterparts.
All of that is true, but still sloppy. “Islamism” is a term used to describe radical Islam which holds that shar’ia is the only acceptable basis of law. There’s a huge and massive difference in what Sullivan is saying and what Islamism actually is. It’s that difference which shows why Sullivan’s argument is so sloppy. Sullivan further argues:
My use of the term Christianist similarly and simply describes those who believe that the source of any political system should be Christian revelation, rather than the secular principles of the Enlightenment and the American constitution. A reader recently described my use of “Christianist” as a
“misguided term for people who believe in universal justice and standards that come from a universal source.”
Well, yes, that is my definition. In the reader’s case, the universal source is the Bible. For Muslims, however, it is the Koran. And, of course, since both insist on the universal quality of their revelation, they are mutually incompatible, and democratic politics becomes impossible. Furthermore, since revelation of this kind is indeed the source of politics for Islamists and Christianists, I see no essential political difference between the two. The counterpoint to both is secular constitutional democracy, premised on a non-denominational achievement of individual freedom. When that freedom collides with religious truth, an Islamist or a Christianist has few qualms in squelching freedom. I differ. That’s the core of our “culture war”. There is no freedom I would not grant a Christianist or Islamist in the exercize of his religious faith; but there are plenty of freedoms that he would seek to deny me in the simple living of my life.
Sullivan forgets that the “secular” traditions of the Enlightenment don’t exist as he would have them. Our nation was expressly founded upon Judeo-Christian values. The Enlightenment philosophies of John Locke are all over Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and Locke’s political philosophies were based on Christian ethics.
For instance, why does the Bill of Rights exist? The Bill of Rights does not grant any rights to anyone. They are assumed to be inherent and beyond the reach of government to destroy. From whence do those rights come? From God. If Sullivan wants to argue that it is inappropriate for a political movement to have the source of its legitimacy coming from God, then he’s got a deeper issue with American democracy itself. Jefferson wrote that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” So, was Jefferson a “Christianist” then? By Sullivan’s logic, he must have been.
The reason why American democracy has been so uniquely successful is because of that concept of negative liberty. There are things to which the state calls upon for legitimacy, one of which is the consent of the people, and the reason why the consent of the people is required is because the people are all imbued with God-given political rights which no state can take away. Absent that, the entire doctrine of American democracy loses its philosophical base.
Furthermore, Sullivan wants to argue that the Bible is the only source of universal revelation. For Muslims, the Qu’ran is the direct word of Allah and direct revelation. It must be strictly and absolutely followed. Not all Christians believe the same, only true Fundamentalists do. Certainly Roman Catholics don’t hold that view, nor necessarily do mainline Evangelical groups. Sullivan’s argument would only be right if his self-described “Christianist” “theocons” advocated replacing the laws of this country with Biblical laws. Yet they don’t — most “theocons” tend also to treat the Constitution with a level of respect that is significantly greater than those on the left who see it as a malleable document that can be used to shape social policy. In fact, that makes sense: someone who believes in the sanctity of Scripture is going to take our founding principles as sacrosanct as well.
What is the difference between “religious truth” and “moral reasoning” then? Is opposition to gay marriage expressly based on Biblical exhortations or the fact that politicized homosexuality has only existed in society for a few decades, and many homosexual groups wish to radically alter our culture in a way that threatens traditional values? Sullivan doesn’t want to seem to press into those issues. Likewise for abortion — can only “theocons” argue for the sanctity of human life? Sullivan utterly dismisses the very subtle argumentation in Ramesh Ponnuru’s (unfortunately titled) Party of Death and instead constructs a straw-man argument that he bashes over and over again.
The fact is that there is a manifest difference in fundamental theology between Islam and Christianity that no honest observer of the two can deny. Muhammad was expressly and openly a conqueror. He brought Islam to the Arabian Peninsula by the sword, and the Qu’ran is filled with military imagery. In contrast, Jesus was an ascetic and a pacifist. Sullivan wants to argue that Christianity has been far more bloody than Islam – which ignores the fact that the spread of radical Islam is the single greatest international problem that exists today, and has destabilized nearly every area it has touched. At the same time, the spread of Christianity throughout Asia and Africa has been peaceful, even beneficial. When Catholics are persecuted by the Chinese, you don’t see Catholics detonating car bombs in Beijing. Yet right now, Islam kills more people than any other faith, including their own. What we are seeing in the Middle East right now is less a clash of civilization than it is a Muslim civil war between Sunni and Shi’ite, even between radical Salafist Sunni and moderate Sunni.
Sullivan argues that there is “no freedom” that he would not grant a Muslim in the exercise of their faith — yet back when Sullivan’s ire was focused on the true enemy, he routinely decried the abuses done in the name of Islam. The fact remains that shar’ia and democracy cannot coincide. Any group that treats shar’ia as the only valid system of law cannot reconcile itself with a doctrine that treats all human beings as equals in the eye of God. Sullivan seems to want to equate Christianity and Islam as being equal in terms of their political philosophy — which ignores the respective theologies of the two. Christianity is expressly an apolitical religion, while Islam is expressly political in nature. The comparison Sullivan wants to make hold true to the nature of either Christianity or Islam.
Sullivan is not a dumb person, not by any stretch of the term. However, this line of logic continues to be sloppy. The neologism of “Christianist” is a convenient shorthand for a straw-man argument that Sullivan likes to raise again and again to bludgeon those who do not share his particular social views. It’s an easy way to dismiss arguments rather than engage them, and his constant use of terms like “theocon” remain infantile and utterly beneath someone who used to be one of America’s brightest public intellectuals. A true believer in the conservatism of doubt would be much less sloppy in applying a term that ignores the philosophical foundations upon which this country was founded.