March 2, 2010

What is Christian Privilege?

APTEAS.jpgI remember the first time I was exposed to the idea of male privilege. I can't say I was initially receptive to the idea, mostly due to the accusatory manner in which it was presented. And yet, I now marvel that I ever had trouble grasping it. Part of what we mean by the various forms of privilege and how they work in society is that they tend to be virtually invisible to the group(s) that possess them. As a man, it was no wonder that I didn't immediately recognize male privilege. That's kind of the point. How about Christian privilege? Is it real, and if so, how do we help Christians understand it?

Like male privilege, White privilege, and the like, the easiest way to recognize Christian privilege is probably by considering a few examples.
  • An American Christian can affix a Jesus fish to his or her car without having to give vandalism a second thought. And yet, I do not get to place any sort of symbol promoting science, reason, or atheism on my car for fear of vandalism or assault. The same goes for t-shirts.
  • The state of Florida actually exempts faith-based day-care centers from state inspection and licensing while requiring both of secular day-care centers.
  • Christian billboards are commonplace, but atheist billboards are typically met with vandalism, protests, and calls to the billboard owner.
  • Public school teachers may come under fire for criticizing religion but are expected to criticize every other form of idiocy.
Christian privilege is not something of which most Christians are conscious. Most Christians in the U.S. do not think about it because they do not have to. Here's how Austin Cline put it:
A nonconscious ideology is analogous to the water fish swim in: fish don’t think of the water as wet because this environment is all they know — it structures their experience of life itself. Water simply is. Members of privileged groups don’t have to think about their environment because, for them, that environment simply is. They don’t have to be concerned about others’ opinions because it’s safe to assume that most think like them.
A worthwhile goal for all atheists involves working for the end of Christian privilege. We deserve nothing less.

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