Christianist or Dominionist: What’s in a name?
A handful of terms are in use to describe Christians who want to control society. Other than consistency, does it matter which one is used? Are they interchangeable?
Most common is “Dominionist”. This term stems from “Dominion theology”, a Christian system of belief which states that Christians should exercise control over society in general and government in particular. Michelle Goldberg at the Daily Beast sums it up nicely:
Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult. Most writers, myself included, who explore it have been called paranoid . . .
Now, however, we have the most theocratic Republican field in American history, and suddenly, the concept of Dominionism is reaching mainstream audiences.
Two of the three current GOP Presidential front-runners (Perry and Bachmann), along with Cain, Santorum, and Gingrich, may be safely described as Dominionist.
Many Christians are happy to speak of “taking dominion”, but recognize that “Dominionist” is a pejorative term. They tend to prefer “Christian Reconstructionist”; this Dominionism synonym refers to “reconstructing” society to be in line with Biblical law.
Maybe they like thinking of themselves as “reconstructing” — that is, rebuilding, exercising the natural human creative impulse. Doesn’t that sound better than “taking dominion” or “dominating”, destroying anything they don’t like? It’s a more positive self-image, and a more positive political image. And it’s generally only used within a limited Reconstructionist circle.
In 2003, Andrew Sullivan introduced the term “Christianist”. We can all figure out where this comes from; it’s the counterpoint to “Islamist”. Wrote Sullivan (quoted in 2005 by William Safire):
I have a new term for those on the fringes of the religious right who have used the Gospels to perpetuate their own aspirations for power, control and oppression: Christianists. They are as anathema to true Christians as the Islamists are to true Islam.
The term itself wasn’t new — it used to simply mean “Christianity” or “Christendom” — but its use as a synonym for “Dominionist” is.
In 2006, Sullivan broadened the audience for the term with a Time Magazine article, “My Problem with Christianism“:
Are you a Christian who doesn’t feel represented by the religious right? I know the feeling. When the discourse about faith is dominated by political fundamentalists and social conservatives, many others begin to feel as if their religion has been taken away from them.
Sullivan and I both have a problem with “Christianism”. I agree fully with his opposition to the political movement . . . but my difficulty extends beyond what it means and includes the word itself.
Sullivan wants to use “Christianism” to distinguish between “true” Christians like himself — people who are open minded, who embrace Humanist values, and who are tolerant of those of other (or no) faiths — and “false” Christians, the Dominionists who want to establish a Christian theocracy. Because they’re not “true” Christians like Sullivan.
No True Scotsman fallacy, anyone?
How effective is “Christianist”?
Sullivan uses “Christianist” just as Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch uses “Islamist”. Since “Christianist” is a newer term, with similar connotations, it’s fair to look to the track record of “Islamist” to predict how well “Christianist” will differentiate between “True Christians” and “False Political Christian Ideologues”.
It didn’t take long for “Islamist” to be applied to all Muslims, with the implication that every Muslim was an Islamist.
We then were blessed with another pejorative, flung at anyone who opposes anything tangentially involving Islam or Muslims in any way, shape, or form: Islamophobe.
Islamophobia is hate speech
These days, speaking out against attempts to impose Sharia law in the UK, perhaps by supporting the One Law for All initiative, gets one labeled an Islamophobe. The accused is thus tarred a religious bigot, and her often legitimate concerns brushed aside as ignorant hate-mongering. The word is intended to silence dissenters, and is remarkably effective.
Right-wing Christians deride the use of “Islamophobe” as appealing to liberal guilt, declaring it a demand by Muslims that we all bow down to the idol of Political Correctness. I can’t imagine they’d be so hypocritical and pathetic as to use the same tactic! Or would they?
Christophobia isn’t hate speech . . . yet
As of this writing, there are 79,200 hits for “Christophobia” on Google. And it’s not just the extreme right wing using it, but more mainstream-leaning complainers of “persecuted Christian majority syndrome”. Catholic scholar George Weigel declared the EU “Christophobic” for not wanting to reference Christianity in its secular constitution. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren — the preacher at Obama’s inauguration — accused gay people of “Christophobia”.
Meanwhile, the average Joe hearing “Christianist” reacts much as those hearing “Islamist”: It must apply to most, if not all, Christians. Except the “true” ones like the listener, of course. And the listener, with a 78% chance in the US of identifying as Christian, is likely to be offended.
The offended listener will tune out the message — “look, a real threat to American liberty” — and instead accuse the speaker of “Christophobia”.
Is this really about religion?
Frankly, neither the “Christianist” nor the “Islamist” label is useful or accurate. By adding “ism” to the name of a religion, the implication is that this “ism” is what Christianity or Islam is about, as though all Christians or all Muslims believe the same things on every issue.
If I put ten Christians from different churches in a room and ask for their positions on various social issues, I’ll get eight or ten different answers for each question . . . quite possibly, even more than ten!
It’s not about a leader having a faith (or no faith) different from yours or mine. It’s about a leader or group seeking to enforce their religion’s dictates upon the entire population, whether you or I agree with those dictates or not.
A semantic proposal
Just like “Islamist”, “Christianist” is far too close to “Christian”. It confuses the political ideology with the religion; not all Christians are “Christianists” just like not all Muslims are “Islamists”.
“Dominionist”, though having roots in Christian Dominion theology, accurately describes both “Christianism” and “Islamism”. It really can apply to both, since they are different, equally bitter flavors of the same vile intent. “Dominionist” just needs a modifier.
Christian Dominionist. Islamic Dominionist.
Person X is a Dominionist (wants to establish a theocracy or theocratically-informed laws) of a particular religious flavor (Christian, Islamic). Examples: Michele Bachmann is a Christian Dominionist. Rick Perry is a Christian Dominionist.
Person X is in Sri Lanka? Might be a Buddhist Dominionist.
What makes sense to you?