August 22, 2016

Christian Privilege in Mississippi

Christian delusion
This post originally appeared on the Mississippi Atheists blog in July of 2012. It has been revised and expanded.

While running errands recently, I parked my car and was in the process of heading into the store. As I did so, I noticed that I had parked next to a car that had both a Jesus fish and one of the symbols you see here on its trunk. I paused for a moment and considered moving my car. Had it been newer and less scratched up than it is, I might have done so. In the end, laziness won out, and I decided not to bother.

As I walked on, it occurred to me that I probably would have moved my car if I had a Darwin fish or any other pro-reality messages affixed to it. I don't think I would have had enough confidence that the owner of the car parked here would not have messed with my car in this case. This seems like reminder of Christian privilege here in Mississippi. The evangelical fundamentalist Christians who live here do not have to worry about the consequences for displaying pro-Christian messages; we atheists cannot say the same.

The Christian whose car I parked next to can put all sorts of pro-Christian and even anti-reality messages on his or her car without worrying about vandalism. This Christian has probably never stopped to consider the possible consequences of being pulled over by a secular law enforcement officer who might not appreciate these symbols and might even treat him or her differently on this basis. This Christian probably does not have to worry about what his or her employer would think if he or she were to notice these symbols in the parking lot.

I could easily convince myself that this is no big deal. While I sometimes think that I'd like to have a Darwin fish on my car, not being able to do so is a fairly minor issue. Besides, I am free to do so. I could slap a Darwin fish on my car as soon as I could reasonably obtain one. I don't do so, however, because I fear that I'd be subject to vandalism by evangelical fundamentalist Christians here in Mississippi and additional scrutiny by evangelical fundamentalist Christian law enforcement officers and employers. Being free to do something does not mean that one is free to do it without experiencing adverse consequences.

Small, isolated instances like the one I describe here often sound trivial. And really, many of them are trivial when we consider them individually. The problem is that there are so many of them that their cumulative impact begins to be a bit less trivial. It should be of concern that there are all sorts of ways secular Mississippians have to think twice about how they express themselves. We deserve to have as much freedom as our Christian neighbors. And yet, this often seems like an unrealistic goal when we are surrounded by reminders that this is evangelical fundamentalist Christian turf.
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