"Isms" were not in good odor for much of the last century. American political writers of a centrist-to-conservative cast used to rail against an evil triumvirate of "socialism, communism, and fascism" and contrast them with the only "ism" they liked: "Americanism."
Goodness, this kind of rhetoric sounds quaint: a relic of the days when journalists were called newsmen, and they clapped their fedoras onto their heads when they bolted out of the office in search of a scoop.
When these worthies said "Americanism," they meant the American constitutional system, as it translated into a political culture and a free, open society. In that sense, the term seems harmless.
But see it as American + ism, the ideology of being "American," and it seems less innocent. Does the term have counterparts in other nations, and if so, how would we feel about them? How would we feel about "Indonesianism," say, or "Dutchism"? "Peruvianism"?
I've recently run across another "ism" that might end up making trouble in our own time: Christianism.
Google has rounded up 631 hits for me for "Christianist," along with the query, "Did you mean to search for 'Christiano'?" Hmm, no, thank you.
I figure 631 hits is the Internet equivalent of seeing the first sliver of the sun coming up over the mountain in the morning.
"Christianist" is evidently formed on the analogy of "Islamist." Islamist is in the dictionaries meaning either an Islamic studies specialist or simply an adherent of Islam - a Muslim.
Here's what Wikipedia says about "Islamism": "a political ideology derived from the conservative religious views of Muslim fundamentalism. It holds Islam is not only a religion, but also a political system that governs the legal, economic, and social imperatives of the state."
"Islamist" is a term many Western journalists and scholars came to after deciding that "fundamentalism," which they'd been using, wasn't quite right - in part because it seemed to be an improper borrowing from Christianity.
And so now, after the borrowed "fundamentalist" has been returned, perhaps with polite thanks, to Protestantism, the "ism" of Islamism is being applied to some Christians - the ones seen to be adherents of "Christianism," of what we might call "political Christianity." Still with me?
Specifically, Christianists are linked with another "ism" - "dominionism" - a political ideology that interprets a passage from Genesis (1:26) as commanding Christians to bring societies under the rule of the Word of God.
It's not exactly a compliment to be called a "Christianist." The Portland (Ore.) Indymedia website posted a rant a while back against "Christianist ayatollahs." But the term looks like a useful way to denote the political Christians of the right. And it has a certain symmetry with "Islamist": If Muslims of a political slant are "Islamist," then perhaps it makes sense to call Christians of a certain political slant "Christianists."
Both "Islamists" and "Christianists" have been associated with "hijacking" - the former literally, but both metaphorically. "Hijacking" has been so often used as a metaphor with reference to Islam that even President Bush has gotten into the act - and Pat Robertson has given him grief about it, too.
But now it's happening to Christianity. "I am dismayed at the way the Christian faith is being more and more hijacked by the right," one author appearing in the blog archive "Things I've Seen" has written.
Onward, Christianist soldiers? Oh, let's not.
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