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Christian Privilege & Religious Privilege: Christian Claims to Privilege


Culture Wars and Christian Privilege:

Most “battles” in the Christian Right’s so-called Culture Wars can be best understood if seen, at least in part, as attempts to reassert and enforce Christian privilege in modern society. One of the hallmarks of modernity has been the rooting out of various forms of illegitimate privilege, with Christian and religious privilege being among the last. Thus, it is hoped that reasserting special privileges and deference for Christianity and Christians will help hold the line against modernity.

Christian Privilege, Religious Symbols, and the Law:

Defenders of Christian privilege in the law commonly argue or assume that the absence of explicit endorsements of religion generally and/or their religion in particular (like in Ten Commandments monuments) is unconstitutional hostility towards their religion. This assumes the justification of privileges for Christianity because there are no endorsements of other religions, such as Hinduism, yet no one claims this as an example of hostility towards them.

Christian Privilege and Public Schools:

There are many ways in which Christians have fought for Christian privilege in schools: organized prayers, using schools as permanent churches, Christian-specific prayers and speeches at graduations, holding graduations at churches, etc. It is argued that the religious preferences of the majority count for more than the religious equality of the minority. Non-Christians are told that they must be “tolerant” of Christians using the state to further their own religious interests.

Christian Privilege and Politics:

The most visible example of attempts to assert Christian privilege in the political realm may be the efforts to insert sectarian prayers into political events, like town council or school board meetings. Rather than stick with generic prayers or even permit prayers from multiple religions, Christians insist that Christian-specific prayers are both appropriate and preferable. If the majority is Christian, then their religious beliefs should be accorded a privileged status by government bodies.

Christian Privilege and Entertainment:

The idea that Christians should be privileged in entertainment comes up when there are complaints about negative portrayals of Christians and Christianity. It would be a problem if only negative portrayals existed (imagine if Jews were always depicted negatively), but the existence of any negative images can receive a harsh reaction. There are also complaints about the lack of Christian-specific entertainment in the mainstream media, as if they shouldn’t cater to the widest possible audience.

Christian Privilege and Culture:

Cultural privileges for Christianity come up when Christians insist that their religion deserves special recognition, extra deference, and more respect. Sometimes, Christians act as though other religions are inferior and don’t merit equal consideration. Examples of this include the claim that only “Merry Christmas” is acceptable while “Happy Holidays” is not, or the idea that Christian holidays, but not non-Christian ones, can be recognized as government holidays.

Christian Privilege as Majority Rule:

A common defense of Christian privilege is the idea that Christians are a majority, and in a democracy, the majority rules. If Christians want to shape legal, political, and cultural institutions to express their religious values and to privilege both Christianity, that’s what being a Christian Nation is all about. In a liberal democracy, however, the rights and equality of all are protected. Christians can no more vote to privilege Christianity than whites can vote to privilege their race.

Christian Privilege as Surrogate for Other Privileges:

Is it possible that efforts to assert Christian privilege is a mask, conscious or unconscious, for other sorts of lost privilege that can’t be publicly asserted? Those who most often assert Christian privilege are also those who would benefit most from white privilege or male privilege. Some of the areas where Christian privilege is being asserted, like the context of equal rights for gays, are areas where male or white privilege would also make gains by implication.

De-Christianization vs. Secularization:

Defense of Christian privilege often occurs in the context of complaints about the secularization of society. In reality, people are complaining about the loss of Christian hegemony and unjustified social privilege, not secularization. They are lamenting the de-Christianization of American society rather than its secularization. Both are occurring, but Christians try to create illusory solidarity with other religions by pretending that the losses to Christianity are losses to all religions.

Future of Christian Privilege and Religious Privilege:

What is it about some people that they have such a pressing psychological need to feel superior to someone - anyone - in society? There are men who need women to be inferior, Christians who need non-Christians to be inferior, religious believers who need nonbelievers and atheists to be inferior, citizens who need foreigners to be inferior, and heterosexuals who need gays to be inferior. Why can't those who are different be equal in their differences?

If we were dealing with actual rights, like the right to speech, then claims about discrimination and persecution would be justified. As it is, though, the truth is that Christians are losing privileges - they are losing the ways in which they have been treated better than everyone else. Because of this, they are not actually being discriminated against; instead, traditional discrimination against others is ending. It's not unlike how the elimination of "white privilege" was perceived by whites during the Civil Rights era.

Religious privilege - and especially Christian privilege - is one of the few traditional privileges that continues to be openly defended in modern society. Other forms of privilege, like white privilege and male privilege, may continue to exist but it's regarded as impolite to actually argue in defense of them anymore. Perhaps one day religious privilege will go the way that white and male privilege are going, but it won't happen without much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of some conservative Christians.

We should expect to see assertions of Christian privilege continuing to play an important role in social and political debates in the coming decades. Look for it behind the scenes in other issues - you can already find it, for example, in the so-called Christmas wars and arguments over gay marriage. In these debates people talk about the importance of religious values, but many are simply seeking to have the state endorse their vision of Christianity over all other possible positions.

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