The notion that this kind of politics has no victims, has not led to evil, has not at times led to absolute insanity (like Prohibition), and is not still a constant threat – is preposterously complacent. ~Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan is replying to Ross, who obviously never said any of the things being attributed to him in this sentence and who adds his rebuttal here.  Ross also made the best point of this exchange so far in noting that the description of Mother Theresa’s original quote as “vulgar but legitimate” displays “snobbish overtones and arm’s-length distaste for Mother Teresa (!)”. 

Since Sam Brownback, Dangerous Christianist, started all of this, perhaps he can have something to say in making certain basic but necessary points:

The separation of church and state does not mean the removal of faith from the public square.  I think you should have a robust public square that celebrates faith, that draws faith into it.

For a leader of “Christianists,” Brownback says the strangest things in this video.  Indeed, if I were someone who believed that Christianists existed and that they were infiltrating and destroying our public life with insidious references to Jesus, I would still not spend a lot of time vilifying Sam Brownback.  The original context of the quote “All for Jesus” had Brownback making the point that it was “faith that powered her [Mother Theresa] to help millions.”  This is pretty banal and garden-variety “faith makes us better people” banter.  Presumably what Mother Theresa did falls under Sullivan’s arbitrary category of “good Christianism,” but Brownback’s reference to her statement about living for Christ is an example of the “bad Christianism.”  In Sullivan’s world, Mother Theresa could have said these words to a U.S. Senator and it was legitimate, but Brownback could not repeat them in an anecdote while running for President.  When Brownback repeats the “vulgar but legitimate” phrase, it becomes toxic.  This wouldn’t even make sense if Brownback were not one of the most reformist Catholic conservative politicians who has made prison reform, anti-poverty, “comprehensive immigration reform” and Darfur into his signature issues outside of his pro-life work.  I happen to think that his policy views and priorities here are mostly mistaken on the merits, but of all the politicians to attack with this line of criticism I can hardly think of one less appropriate than Brownback.  Sullivan seems to be channeling Marcotte.

Sullivan’s argument depends on simultaneously holding the view that introducing unduly “sectarian” religious language into political discourse (i.e., mentioning Jesus in a speech in a positive way) is a “toxin” while also holding that it is the purpose for which the Name of Christ is invoked that ultimately matters.  Thus he can speak about the “good” Christianism, which also happens to be the kind that is more in line with his general political views, and deplore the “bad” Christianism, which is not.  Sullivan does not deplore the latter because it is bringing Christianity or sectarianism or religion into politics, but because it does not interpret and practice Christianity in the way that Sullivan thinks that it should be practiced.  A liberal Christianity that does not bother itself too much with talking explicitly about Christ is acceptable in his scheme and can play a role in political reform, especially if it waters down the religious inspiration behind the reform drive and reduces it to platitudes about human rights, while any traditional Christianity that cannot conceive of speaking about moral or spiritual truths without referring to the Lord must keep out of politics.  Any attempt to rectify this arbitrary and one-sided arrangement by speaking forthrightly about Christ in a political context is supposedly an attempt to inaugurate sectarian bloodletting and to want to reenact the sack of Magdeburg.  That is Sullivan’s view, as his own words make clear.