June 26, 2014

The Loss of Privilege

Bumper sticker car parked in Santa Cruz, Calif...
Bumper sticker car parked in Santa Cruz, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It makes sense to me that the loss of privilege would be difficult. Even if one doesn't perceive the privilege one has, as is often the case with privilege, I have to think that its sudden loss would likely be noticed. But what sort of privilege could be lost suddenly? As you might have guessed, I am thinking here about Christian privilege for those of us living in the United States and other countries where Christian privilege thrives. There are many things about leaving Christianity behind that I do not miss at all; however, the loss of Christian privilege is one that I do sometimes miss.

If we take a moment and remember what we mean by Christian privilege, the kind of things that we lose by walking away from Christianity become obvious. When I was a Christian, merely telling someone that I was a Christian led them to have positive impressions of me. Upon hearing that I was a Christian, they assumed that I was a moral person, that I shared their values, that I could be trusted, and that we probably had a great deal in common. None of this was necessarily true, but the fact that they assumed it gave me a powerful social advantage. The reactions I would receive from telling someone I was a Christian stand in sharp contrast to what happens today when I tell someone that I am an atheist.

When I was a Christian, I could wear Christian symbols, adorn my belongings with Bible quotes, and slap Christian bumper stickers all over my car. I did not do any of this, but that isn't the point. The point is that I could do all this without ever having to worry about the repercussions that might follow. Nobody was going to assault me or vandalize my property on this basis. Such pro-Christianity displays were considered normal by the majority of my neighbors. In fact, doing some of these things might have elevated my status to some degree. None of this is not the case if I were to attempt to express my atheism in any of these ways.

Dating was rarely a problem when I was a Christian and not just because the date itself was much easier to get. The young woman would be eager to bring me home and introduce me to her parents. It would never have occurred to her to ask me to lie about my religious beliefs or my thoughts on the subject of religion in general. The fact that I was a Christian would be viewed as an asset in the context of meeting her family. Again, none of this has been the case when it comes to atheism.

When I was a Christian, my neighbors did not have to work too hard to understand me. They recognized me as one of their own, and I do not ever recall feeling demonized. I rarely had to explain myself or encourage empathy on their part. How that has changed!

I am not going to find fault with an atheist who says that there are aspects of his or her former religion he or she now misses. I suppose I am fortunate in that there aren't many that I miss. But the loss of this ridiculous and thoroughly undeserved sort of privilege is one that I can relate to missing at times.

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