Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Christianism" Has Already Been Used, And Used Better

Time columnist Andrew Sullivan recently tried to start a taxonomic fad by labeling politically active Christian traditionalists "Christianists" in an awkward parallel to "Islamist." Unfortunately for this would-be neologizing pundit, the word has already been used by prominent French thinker Remi Brague. He uses the term for those who promote the cultural trappings of Christianity, but not Christ himself.

One of Brague's inspirations for the term is Action Francaise, whose atheist founder Charles Maurras tried to fuse neo-monarchism and religious nationalism. Likewise, Brague is concerned that the "Christian roots of Europe" controversy over the wording of the EU's constitution represents a confusion about both Christ and culture. He was interviewed by the Italian journal 30 Days, under the title Christians and "christianists"�

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 likable 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.


It's true that we are sick. And the most alarming symptoms can be called "relativism" and "nihilism" which certainly have something good about them: they make intolerance impossible. You can neither die nor kill in the name of something you only believe in relatively, or you don't believe in at all. The trouble is that nihilism doesn't let you live either. Rousseau had already seen it clearly: atheism doesn't kill human beings, but it does prevent them from being born. But there's no need of Christianity to combat relativism and nihilism. Basically there's no need to combat them: they cancel themselves out, as a parasitic growth ends by strangling the tree it lives off, following it into death. Is Christianity the antidote to these poisons? I'd have two reservations. One of principle. The other purely pragmatic.

...has one the right to turn faith into an instrument? I also ask myself whether it's always correct to speak of Christianity. The suffix can be perceived, wrongly, as indicating a theory, on a par with other "isms", liberalism, Marxism, etcetera. Saint Augustine says somewhere: what there is of Christian among Christians is Christ. To be Christians is to be in contact with a person. Now you can't turn a person into an instrument."

Brague's "christianism" would not include right-wing American Christians. Rather, the term encompasses the secular bourgeois in the GOP leadership or the Straussian school; having little interest in Christ Himself, they nonetheless regard the Christian religion as a salutary influence or at worst a safeguard against nihilism and relativism. While perhaps better than outright anti-Christian ideologies, Christianity reduced to a cultural patina helps generates secular Holden Caulfields who recognize the phoniness of such facades but forget the reality of the Person who is Truth.

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