Friday, December 19, 2014

Some Thoughts on Christian Privilege

My friend Kat featured an absolutely brilliant quote on her Facebook page:  "The true character of the religious is revealed when their assumptions of privilege are challenged."  This quote actually made me think about the subject of Christian privilege for the first time in a long time, and it surprised me that I hadn't written an essay about this particular stinky-cheese facet of our society.

There are signs present that, public perception to the contrary, the United States is actually becoming more secular while simultaneously more and more Americans are declaring themselves to be Christian.  I'm not sure how that works exactly, but I think it might have something to do with people covering their ass.  Sure, they'll say they're Christian, but they're not going to church, they don't rage against the gays and the Jews and the Muslims, they don't hate their fellow man and think they're better than everyone else.  They might own a copy of the Bible, but that doesn't mean anything.  I mean, hell, I own a copy of the Bible.  But they call themselves Christian more because they don't want to be hassled for not being Christian than they actually want to be Christian.

Make no mistake, Christianity has an enormous influence on our everyday lives, whether we want it to or not.  In a society that is supposed to be religion-neutral (says so in the First Amendment, remember?)  Christianity influences our culture, our economics, our popular entertainment, our politics... there is absolutely no facet of life wherein Christianity doesn't have a disproportionate effect.  The terms of debate when it comes to things like marriage equality or abortion are framed in terms of Christianity.  When people talk about the "Religious Right", they aren't talking about the fundamentalist members of the Jewish or Islamic communities, they're talking about Christians.  And you can count twenty Christians who get elected in this country for every Jew or Muslim who gets elected, and you can count a thousand of them before you get to an atheist.

Yet despite this overwhelming cultural influence, despite literally being the 500 pound gorilla in American society, Christians have somehow convinced themselves they are a beleaguered and persecuted minority who are facing extinction at the hands of us godless commie atheist bastards.  Let me fall back on the words of conservative journalist George Will (a self-proclaimed agnostic).

This persecution complex held by Christians is unbecoming, because it is unrealistic.  Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has become one of the ten highest-grossing movies in history.  Christian book sales are booming.  Religion is today banished from the public square?  Hardly.  John Kennedy finished his first report to the nation on the Soviet missiles in Cuba with these words:  "Thank you and good night."  It would be a rash president who today didn't conclude a major address by saying, as Ronald Reagan began the custom of doing, something very like "God bless America."

Christians in the United States aren't a persecuted minority at all.  They are, in fact, a privileged majority.  They enjoy certain blessings (if you'll excuse the use of the word) that non-Christians in this country simply don't.  And most Christians are utterly mystified when you point out how privileged they are.  I've discussed this with some Christian friends before, and they almost universally respond with how I must be mistaken and how I'm not seeing things right and how they aren't privileged at all and I'm just being silly.

To put it politely, these people are blind to the truth of their existence.  These people simply do not understand how much American society panders to them and their religious beliefs.  There are Christian churches on almost every street corner.  Most of our national holidays started out as religious holidays that have been secularized.  Politicians pander to them.  Our Constitution demands that we not have an established religion, but the government rather than avoiding any religious entanglements at all seems to follow a sort of bland deism based on a rather bland Christianity.  We have religious statements on our money and religious iconography in our courtrooms.  Unless specifically described otherwise, a generic Christianity is the default setting of characters in movies and on television.  Oh, here's one for you:  how can you tell the medics in our military forces?  That's right... they're the ones wearing the armbands with the big red crosses on them.

Consider our language for a minute.  Our language is filled chock to the brim with Christian vernacular.  I'm an atheist, and yet without thinking about it I'll say, "Bless you" when someone sneezes around me.  When I want to describe something that's really wonderful and sublime, I'll often describe it as "heavenly".  I've called people who helped me out suddenly and unexpectedly my "guardian angels".  And I do occasionally tell people who piss me off to "go to hell."

And remember, I'm an atheist.

Despite the fact that they are the primary controlling factor in our society, most Christians, especially the conservative Christians, are severely and emotionally invested in the idea that they, as Christians, are part of a persecuted minority.  This was driven home to me recently; I was reading a news article about Congresswoman and Professional Utterly Fucking Insane Person Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) in which it was said outright that Bachmann was being "persecuted, like all her fellow Christians, for her religious beliefs."  Now, this is stupid, to be honest.  Bachmann isn't criticized because she's a Christian, she's being criticized because what she says is crazy-talk and stupid.  (Oh, and by the way, criticism isn't persecution, folks).

I have no real, solid idea where this vastly inaccurate opinion comes from, but I have some guesses.  How can a group that is so influential and powerful in our society even begin to see themselves as a minority?  Well, I think its basically the Big Lie being put into use.  If you're not familiar with the Big Lie, this is a way to manipulate public opinion by stating a collossal untruth and sticking to it.  People will come to believe you not because what you are saying is true, but rather because the general public would never think that someone could have the brass balls to make such a ridiculous statement unless there was something to it.  As Adolf Hitler (the man who coined the term "Big Lie") said:

"It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.  Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.

Fundamentalists have become very good at using the Big Lie.  Its been used to oppose environmentalism, equal opportunity, raising the minimum wage, taking "In God We Trust" off of the money, and of course its being used to convince the religious majority in this country that not only aren't they the majority, but they're being persecuted.  Take a look at that "take the Christ out of Christmas" bullshit, when the Conservative talking heads start complain about how something as innocuous as saying "Happy Holidays" is actually a rage-fueled attack on the very bosom of Christianity itself.  It doesn't matter how ridiculous the Big Lie is, as long as it continues the narrative of the Christians being victimized by non-Christians.

When you merge this persecution complex with the overwhelming privilege Christians enjoy, is it any wonder why so many Christians in this country are such un-Christlike assholes?  They have this utterly paranoid "survive at any cost" mentality because they are convinced that the atheists and the devil-worshipers are coming for their children.  Normally, this would be something we could laugh off, but when you combine this paranoia with the incredible political and economic power these paranoids hold, it spells serious trouble for anyone who isn't on the same bus to Crazytown as these people.  Trouble like a 30,000+ person prayer rally to help launch the career of politicians who like to talk about things like "bringing America back to its white Christian roots", and outright stating that the only true religion is Christianity and how the other faiths don't belong here, and urging the crowd at these rallies to "go public regardless of the cost to yourself," as if Christians were somehow being stopped from expressing their political views.  As if they were still this minority community hiding in the catacombs beneath Rome because Emperor Nero has ordered them hunted down.

Folks, Nero's been dead for nearly two thousand years.  No one is coming to drag you away and force you to fight lions in the arena.  Get over yourselves.

If I could ask one thing of the Christian community in this country, it would be that they openly acknowledge that they are, in fact, the majority in this country.  That they possess a singular form of economic and political and cultural power that outweighs any other.  That this claim to being a "religious minority" in the United States is based on the Big Lie and bears no relationship to the truth.  I'd also like Christianity to acknowledge that the freedom of religion they like to crow about when they're making big "look at us, look how persecuted we are" speeches also applies to the Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and even atheists in this country.

And lastly, I'd like them to acknowledge that we are not and have never been a Christian nation, not because the Christians are persecuted, but rather because the First Amendment to the US Constitution says that people with all sorts of religious beliefs (even those of us who have no religious beliefs) have a place at the table. 

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