"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Calling Out Mr. Elliott: What Is a Christianist?

In a comment to a post below, Mr. James Elliott refers to me as a "Christianist." I would love to have the term defined so that I might know the full extent of my sinfulness as one not worthy to untie the sandals of John Dewey or some other great secular saint.

Please favor me with a definition and tie it to me since I am the one so labeled.

I thank you in advance.


Tlaloc said...

A christianist would be a person for whom christianity is a political movement rather than a faith. It cannot of course be both. Christianists choose Christ as a lever to gain and use temporal power.

Dobson, Reed, Baker, Falwell, Moore, and so on.

James Elliott said...

What is a Christianist? A Christianist is, at heart, someone incapable of separating their religion from politics - indeed, he or she sees them as one and the same, and is unafraid of using their politics to forward their religion, rather than using their religion to inform their politics. A Christianist demands primacy to their beliefs, to the point of enshrining them in law. Though the understandable parallel is “Islamist,” in reality, it’s the same kind of word as “socialist” as well. Just because there’s a religion involved as the prime mover, don’t get all bent out of shape by assuming I’m implying you’ll start cutting the heads off of infidels given the chance. Modern Christianity gives some indication of preparing to outgrow that. Rather, the person is given the suffix “-ist” because, like the Islamist or the socialist, he or she ascribes to a radical agenda seeking to pick apart the fabric of the current polity and weave it back together into something that fits their religious world view.

From abortion to homosexuality to marriage to even social welfare, a Christianist bases their reasoning on assumptions of Scripture and faith. They demand that such primacy be given to their Christian point of view that they would trample on the rights of others to get there. And make no mistake - when you write of banning gay marriage or abrogate another’s right to choose (as just two examples), you are also denying their right to dissent from your religious viewpoint. One needn’t be willing to foment violent overthrow or stone people in the streets to have a radical ideology.

Why would I say you’re a Christianist? For one, I recall that you’ve done work for at least one group associated with James Dobson’s Family Research Council, a decidedly Christianist group. For another, if memory serves, you’re an unabashed supporter of Judge Roy Moore. You have gone so far as to rewrite history on these very pages, even calling Deism “Christian-lite” in some strange attempt to promulgate a myth of Christian primacy in America. I’d say that a line of thought that denies the divinity of Christ is pretty much Not Christian. Kind of hard to get around that. As I have read what you write, my sense is that you ascribe to such an agenda as the one described above; a willingness to radically rewrite the traditions of our democratic institutions to fulfill your religiously-based world view. It’s possible that you merely occupy that strange crypto-fascist faux-conservatism that seems to be all the rage as the middle ground between Christianists, neoconservatives, and authoritarians and is the bulwark of today’s Republican Party. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish them.

Francis J. Beckwith said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Francis J. Beckwith said...

The problem with Mr. Elliot's definition is that it is purely self-serving. He claims that Hunter is denying people the right to dissent from his viewpoint. If anything, Hunter is in fact assuming that they have a right dissent by offering his adversaries arguments. On the other hand, Mr. Elliot is denying Hunter the right to dissent from his crypto-pagan liberal hegemony. For what Mr. Elliot is doing is concocting the rules of citizen participation in such a way that the views of Hunter and those who agree with him can never in principle trump the deliverances of secular "reason" no matter their quality. By sequestering their case to the realm of epistemological purgatory--that is, merely labeling it "religion"--Mr. Elliot now has a convenient mechanism by which to never actually address their arguments with seriousness and respect. But too many of us know how this bait and switch is played, and we just don't buy it.

Hunter offers arguments to defend his dogmas; Mr. Elliot offers dogmas to exclude Hunter's arguments. It seems like the pot is calling the kettle black.

Tlaloc said...

"Mr. Elliot now has a convenient mechanism by which to never actually address their arguments with seriousness and respect."

That's because those arguments have no place within the public sphere of a secular society. Christianity is only an authority in matters of spiritual matters and only then to actual christians.

For matter so public policy it holds precisely zero value. The arguments are not addressed because they need not be they are- a priori- valueless.

James Elliott said...

Thank you, Tlaloc.

Allow me to demonstrate with some quotes from the House "gay marriage ban" debate:

"It's part of God's plan for the future of mankind.” - Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.)

"We best not be messing with His plan." - Rep. Bob Beauprez (R- Colo.)

"...it wasn't our idea, it was God's." - Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)

"I think God has spoken very clearly on this issue... I refer the gentleman to the Holy Scriptures... This is probably the best message we can give to the Middle East in regards to the trouble we are having over there right now.” - Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.)

Who wants to bet those four gentlemen represent far more than “about a thousand” individual voters? I’ll go out on a limb and guess it’s a whole heck of a lot more. So, we have contained therein a basis for public policy in both domestic and foreign affairs based on interpretation of religious dogma. That’s religionism. Given the particular religion of those public representatives, it’s Christianism. Making them... wait for it... Christianists.

"It seems like the pot is calling the kettle black."

Professor Beckwith, you'll have to forgive me if I fail to see how pointing out the distinction between "religion as politics" and "politics informed by religion," as I do above, is creating an exclusionary dogma. I fear you're playing your semantic games again.

Hunter Baker said...

James, all that I can see from reading your commentary is that you haven't been paying attention to me at all.

In fact, I hate to explain myself to someone who seems to have willfully misunderstood anything and everything I've had to say.

In the interest of clarity, I will take on a few of these items.

When it comes to abortion and marriage, I do not reason from Scripture or revelation at all.

When I worked for the Georgia group loosely affiliated with Dobson, I regularly argued for divorce reform and pro-marriage policies based on empirical evidence from established sociologists. I posted a large chunk of those numbers several months ago and if I recall you agreed with some of it.

I have written a law review article attacking Roe v. Wade. In the course of the review I adverted to Christian beliefs as normative for the question a total of zero times.

When it comes to homosexual marriage, I have written on this site my own difficulties in dealing with the question publicly because the argument there does seem to depend largely on revelation. I have never written anything substantive on the question other than on the point that I think it would be incorrect for churches to change their doctrine on the matter.

I certainly never sided with Roy Moore. I argued in a different manner than he does for keeping the Ten Commandments, but I sided with William Pryor in the dispute, not with James Dobson.

I definitely do not favor imposing Christianity on the population via any non-voluntary action. I think establishment nearly destroyed the faith in Europe.

You haven't understood me at all.

S. T. Karnick said...

To characterize Hunter Baker as someone who argues his politics from the Bible is utterly wrong and evidence either of huge ignorance or malevolence or both. Hunter always argues political questions in secuar terms. He may mention the religious angle of something as a sidelight or as an additional reason for Christians to support a particular position, but his arguments for policy positions are based on empirical observations. One may disagree with his assessments of the evidence, but not with his thought process. To call Hunter Baker a Christianist is merely an obvious attempt, as Francis Beckwith observed, to get people to dismiss his arguments without having to confront them. That's another reason why the use of the term was particularly reprehensible in this instance.

As far as I am concerned, use of the term Christianist to describe anyone is sufficient reason for deletion of a comment hereafter.

James Elliott said...

In terms of Hunter Baker specifically, I apologize and retract my statement fully and publicly. Taking his statements at face value, his practice is in line with the traditions of American politics - using his religion to inform them, not dominate them. I was wrong.

As per Professor Beckwith: Bottom line assuming that the term "Christianist" is merely designed as a dismissive is, in itself, dismissive of thought he may not want to address.

I stand by the term Christianist to describe adherents to a very identifiable ideology. I can't help it if people want to make up negative connotations in order to dismiss it. But doing so is as dishonest as anything I've been accused of.

Francis J. Beckwith said...


None of the individuals you cite are actually offering arguments. I recall similar assertions being made about the abolition of slavery, civil rights, and against the war in Iraq. All perfectly legitimate, but they are not the arguments on which people base their cases.

The problem is that you can't get your head out of your deeply held and not-thought-about prejudice: religious claims are simply not rational. Now, if your standard of rationality is univeral agreement, then very little is rational including liberal democracy, which does not have universal agreement.

Here's the problem: if my religious beliefs are rational, and it is permissible to bring all I know to bear in all my judgments in life, why can't I employ the resources of my theology in my politics? If I can use history, math, or science, why not my religious beliefs, especially if I have been a dilligent and rational agent and have carefully scrutinized and reflected upon them in a lifetime of study? Why should I take the advice of Madilyn Murray O'Hare, Robert Reich, George Soros, or James Elliot? Why are they better guides than Augustine, Aquinas, Jesus, or James Dobson? I don't see any reason why the latter group is less smart or less informed than the former? It's not clear why I should play by rules made by people who hold my faith in contempt. They may, of coure, have something to teach me. But since they are hell-bent on destroying me and my culture, I will, if you don't mind, take their advice with a grain, I mean a pound, of salt.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"I stand by the term Christianist to describe adherents to a very identifiable ideology. I can't help it if people want to make up negative connotations in order to dismiss it. But doing so is as dishonest as anything I've been accused of."

Ironically, this was precisely the same reaction received by the guy who coined the name "nigger." Small world.

James Elliott said...

Wow. I don't think I've ever seen someone be so incredibly intellectually dishonest in two posts in a row, ever. Congratulations, professor.

"...religious claims are simply not rational..."

This isn't prejudice. It's fact. How can a base ideological assumption, founded on axioms for which there can NEVER be empirical evidence, be rational? Sure, I agree that all ideologies rest on axioms at some point; assumptions are made given the limits of human perception. But some assumptions can be associated with empirical evidence; they are reasonable inferences. Religion is based on faith. It cannot ever be remotely empirical or rational. It's inferences remain leaps of belief, not deduction. You're simply playing the semantic game that uses "natural law" and "reason" as replacements for "God." It's vapid.

I really don't understand why you have such a hard time grasping the difference between religion being a component of one's thought and being the sole basis of one's politics. It's not like I'm talking rocket science or quantum physics. Even a philosopher should be able to grasp the distinction. That you seem utterly incapable of doing so seems to prove my point.

Your oh so clever conflation of "prejudice" and then "nigger" is outright offensive. Don't go start playing the martyr - it's unseemly and misplaced. Conflating the myth of Christian repression with racism is intellectually juvenile. A college professor should be above it.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

James, your reasoning is mistaken on so many levels. First, you mistakenly equate rationality with empiricism. But that can't be right, since the claim that "claims must be empirically verificable in order to be rational" is itself not an empirical claim and thus on its own grounds not rational. It is, self-refuting, which is not a good thing. Second, if empirical verification is the standard of rationality you offer, then a whole host of perfectly rational beliefs are "irrational." Take these, for example: (1) constitutional democracy is morally better than tyranny, (2) theocracy is an immoral political system, (3) it is wrong always and in every place to torture babies for fun, (4) do good, avoid evil, (5) science is a way of knowing, (6) One ought to do what is rational, (7) I am person with intrinsic dignity who ought not to be treated as means to an end, and (8) the Holocaust was wrong, even if the Nazis had won World War II.

Third, it seems to me that there are a wide variety of plausible arguments that a theist may hold. They may not convince you, but they are not obviously irrational.

Fourth, you employ natural law in your criticism of your critics, though I don't think you think you do so. Let me explain. You claim that your critics do not read you right. That may be true or not true. But you are holding them accountable to a moral principle that they ought to follow, one that is not empirically verifiable (since it is immaterial, unchanging, and universal): one ought to interpret texts fairly. In fact, when that principle is violated when it comes to your words, you feel violated. And rightly so. That is because you know that you are an intrinsically valuable person who ought to be treated in a certain way. Now, you could say that you are irrational in holding that belief since it is not empircally verifiable. But if you do that, then you've abandoned the ground by which you can correct your critics.