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[culture|religion] The wonders of religious privilege - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2013-12-23 10:09
Subject: [culture|religion] The wonders of religious privilege
Security: Public
Tags:culture, history, politics, religion
I broke one of my own rules and got involved in a lengthy back-and-forth on Facebook with some folks over religious questions. (No link, because I don't want anyone to feel called out or embarrassed — they are welcome to come link themselves in comments if they so choose.)

In all fairness to everyone involved, including the friend whose Facebook page this all unfolded on, for the most part it's been fairly civil and interesting, rather than degenerating into a swamp of name calling or accusation. However, I was very struck by something one commenter said to me in challenging my assertion that freedom of religion necessarily means freedom from religion.

To me, this statement is so self-evident as to be axiomatic. Without freedom from other people's expression of their religion, how is any citizen going to able to find and express their own faith? Protecting everyone from anyone's individual form of religious expression is precisely how everyone's freedom of religion is protected.

I don't mean you can't have a Nativity scene on your lawn, or a parade on your favorite saint's day, or whatever. Freedom from religion means freedom from state-sponsored or state-sanctioned religious expression. Which does mean you cannot have a Nativity scene at City Hall, or teacher-led prayer in school. Because those things lessen the status of people who are not Christian, and force them to conform to something they do not believe.

For any Christian who is now thinking I'm a full-of-shit atheist, consider this: How would you feel about teacher-led Islamic prayer in schools? Or all school cafeterias keeping kosher and halal? Or a Menorah on the lawn at your City Hall? If you're not fully comfortable with that, then you now completely understand why other folks are not comfortable with officially-sponsored Christian piety.

So in the flow of this discussion, another commenter pointed to the Mt. Soledad Cross in California, saying:
"The man who filed the suit did so because he felt "oppressed" whenever he saw that cross. That's it."

It's very clear from the wording that to this commenter, it's inconceivable that any reasonable person could be offended by a memorial cross. They view the cross as a benign symbol, value-neutral at worst in the larger scheme of things, and cannot understand why anyone else might feel differently. That someone else does feel differently is threatening and enraging.

That is religious privilege in a nutshell, right there.

For the past two thousand years, the cross has been a symbol of bigotry, oppression and pogrom to Jews. Why shouldn't the cross be offensive to some of their modern descendants?

In both the Middle Ages and the modern era, the cross has been a symbol of wholesale slaughter and the destruction of entire nations to many in the Muslim world. Why shouldn't the cross be offensive to some Muslims today?

For nearly the first century of the history of this nation, some Christians stood firmly on the Bible to justify the chattel slavery of millions. Why shouldn't the cross be offensive to some of those slaves' descendants?

For most of the history of this nation, some Christians have treated unwed mothers and single mothers with a profound cruelty, punishing them and their bastard children in ways large and small. Why shouldn't the cross be offensive to some of those women and their descendants?

In contemporary America, as well as throughout history, some Christians have treated their LGBTQ relatives and neighbors with unspeakable cruelty, persecuting them, severing family ties, denying deathbed visitation and inheritance rights. Why shouldn't the cross be offensive to some LGBTQ people?

In other words, angrily assuming only a trouble-making nut could object to the erection of a cross on public land, with all the official endorsement that implies of the cross and everything it symbolizes, is a profound and unthinking act of religious privilege. It's the same religious privilege that leads contemporary Christians to make self-valorizing claims of persecution because their absolute cultural supremacy has eroded to merely overwhelming cultural dominance.

If you stand outside that frame, this is both a sad and frightening attitude. Sad, because of the profound lack of self-awareness it betrays. Frightening, because the power of religious conservatives to harm everyone in the nation in their panic at their sense of decline is demonstrated over and over again every day in the media and at every election cycle.

The wonders of religious privilege, indeed. This is the anger of the mighty at being called in the smallest measure to account for their words and deeds.

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Submarine Bells: backlit
User: submarine_bells
Date: 2013-12-23 18:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:backlit
Yes, this. Thank you.

- LGBT poly atheist whose religious family disowned me
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Matthew S. Rotundo: Radioactive
User: matthewsrotundo
Date: 2013-12-23 19:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Radioactive
You know, I think offensive is the wrong word here, and actually plays into the hands of Christianist zealots. See, if the problem is merely that I am offended, well, that's just me being overly sensitive. I just need to get over it.

The problem is not and never has been me being offended by the display of a cross on public property. The problem is that I am being excluded. By erecting the symbol of your religion on public property, you're claiming it for your own. You're excluding me from that land, and you have no right to do so. I pay for that property with my taxes. It's mine, too.

To say nothing of the fact that Jesus Himself had some words of advice for people who make such a public display of their piety--something about a closet, if memory serves.
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martianmooncrab
User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2013-12-23 19:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
its when the religious wont leave you alone with their invites, their preacher, their fellowship, and the polite No doesnt register. It seems to redouble their efforts to "save" you. The rigidness that would make most Nazis look warm and cuddly. Oh the list is endless when it comes to controlling the flock.
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Agent Mimi
User: agent_mimi
Date: 2013-12-24 13:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In high school, I suffered through some tremendous bullying from a girl who, during summer between 8th and 9th grade, decided I had to get baptized. I said no, repeatedly, though she called me all summer long. By 10th grade she was harassing me and making my life miserable, easy to do for her since her family was rich and influential in that small town. Since then I've noticed dozens upon dozens of examples where the religious trying to "save" the non-religious has turned into abject cruelty, always under the guise of just trying to help.
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martianmooncrab
User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2013-12-24 19:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Never trust a reformed (fill in the blank)... its like they got the best brand of Life Spackle... it will make everything perfect.
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2013-12-24 17:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've never, ever understood why their "must proselytize NOW" trumps my "religion is a personal, private thing, leave me ALONE." Never.
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martianmooncrab
User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2013-12-24 19:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
one size does not fit all..
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2013-12-23 21:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't remember if I've mentioned the case here that I ran into in a small town in Ohio when I lived there twenty-odd years ago. The town had a daily paper. A Jewish gentleman decided to begin an alternate newspaper that was mostly a Little-Nickel-alike with the occasional article. It did fairly well for a while, or so I was told. Until he decided to express an unpopular opinion and was figuratively run out of town on a rail.

Many years before he (and I) arrived in town, a local craftsman had built a large wire nativity scene that was mounted on the side of the county courthouse every year.

The Jewish gentleman printed an editorial in his paper politely trying to explain (I saw the article in question -- it was the opposite of hostile) why that nativity scene was not appropriate because it was displayed on a government building. He promptly lost all of his advertisers, was basically shunned, and ended up shutting his paper down and leaving town.

When I arrived in town a year or so after he left, I was proudly told the whole story by at least three people when the nativity went up on the courthouse that December. I bit my tongue because my then-husband had just taken a rather public position in town (library director) and I didn't want to get him in trouble. Not that I wanted to, you understand. I pretty much had to.

Religious privilege indeed.
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2013-12-24 10:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
Well, that's a sad story indeed. :(
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a_cubed
User: a_cubed
Date: 2013-12-24 00:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Unfortunately, it just plays into their self-valorizing to point out what real religious persecution looks like. The BBC had a report on the burning of churches, the kidnapping of Christians and other serious religious oppression in Egypt at present. One of the churches burnt down was 12 steps from the local polie station who refused to come to their aid. This is what happens when religion and politics travel in the same cart. While I detest Christianity (and most of the other religions, actually) I feel sorry for the Egyptian Christians and deplore the perpetrators of these acts, who are no more following the tenets of their faith in these acts than the followers of Smug Republican White Jesus (SRWJ) in their culture wars in the US.
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alumiere
User: alumiere
Date: 2013-12-24 02:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you for posting this. I have no brain today, but it clicked, and ,I hope to come back and say more.
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vicki_rae: ZZZ - Glowing Pink/Lavender Rose
User: vicki_rae
Date: 2013-12-24 03:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:ZZZ - Glowing Pink/Lavender Rose
My elderly mother has started watching the Sunday morning TV preachers and it's been a real eye-opener.

Did you know that believers are ENTITLED to special privileges? Said repeatedly and loudly. WTF?
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shelly_rae: Stone Lion
User: shelly_rae
Date: 2013-12-24 15:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Stone Lion
The Cross is such an interesting symbol. It's one of the first successful 'spin' symbols. In huge same way that modern groups have embraced words like Queer, Gay, or the Pink Triangle and made them positive Christians have taken a torture device and made it a sign of their worship. If you think about it the Cross is grotesque. It's like worshiping the gallows, or guillotine. A man died--actually thousands of people died in a horrible way. That's what I think of when I see a cross and I don't want one erected in my public space anymore than I want a daily reminder of an electric chair.

But that's just me.
Anon
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2013-12-24 17:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A friend once said, if they insist on displaying their crosses, then here's my replica of the gun that shot JFK.
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bondo_ba
User: bondo_ba
Date: 2013-12-26 13:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As an atheist myself - from a family of atheists in a very religious country (in fact, a country that gave the world the current Pope), I find a lot of the nuttiness involved in religious history unfortunate, but I can't condone taking down monuments because of it.

We need to be able to separate things and respect each other - even if that means accepting symbols that may have historically (even recently historically) had threatening connotations.

That cross in Fresno is over a hundred years old, and should stay where it is - just sell the land to a group that respects that, and problem solved.

Of course, I find it terrible that monuments to the Soviet leaders were taken down after the Wall fell (despite not being in the least sympathetic to socialism anywhere - experience with Latin American Socialism would do that to anyone), so maybe I'm not the best person to give an opinion. I feel that history is something that needs to be respected - even if one doesn't like what it represents.
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