On Christianists and Christianism
Christianism, in my definition, is the fusion of politics and religion for the advancement of political goals. And in that core sense, yes, King was a left-wing Christianist. He used the Bible to make his case, and fought to remove liberties from his fellow citizens in order to expand liberty for all in the name of God. I think it’s possible that Christianism can lead to good results. How can one appreciate a man like Wilberforce without it? But it can equally lead to bad results: slavery, Prohibition, the subjugation of women, the persecution of gays, etc. All these were buttressed and perpetuated by Christianist power-politics for centuries. The question is: does this fusion of politics and religion, overall, help or hurt our polity?
Beth Haile at Catholic Moral Theology asks if Sullivan would consider some official statements made by Catholic bishops as examples of Christianism. She then surmises:
Maybe what Sullivan meant to say was that the social mission of the Church should trump political ideology, and there I think he would be right. When labels like “Republican” or “Democrat” or “conservative” or “liberal” are more important than the words of scripture or the tradition of the Church, we clearly have a problem. Maybe what Sullivan really has a problem with is not the fusion of religion and politics to advance the goals of politics, but rather the fusion of religion and politics to advance the narrow goals of a particular political party. If this is what Sullivan means by “Christianism,” he has identified a real problem indeed.
I don’t think that’s it. The fusion of Christianism, if I understand the term correctly, is a fusion in which the only things fused together are politics and religion. A fusion of politics, religion, and philosophy, in which the advancement of political goals had both religious and philosophical support, would not, strictly speaking, result in Christianism. I’m a Christianist if my only basis for opposing torture and working to outlaw it is my Christianity. However, if I also have a non-religious moral basis in support of my attempts to outlaw torture, then I am not acting as a Christianist.