January 25, 2008

Christian Culture

Christian Jesus Cross is critical about TV and...
Christian Jesus Cross is critical about TV and Religion (Photo credit: epSos.de)
An intriguing post at ExChristianDotNet recently caught my attention. The author, Layla, mentioned that Christianity was presented to her when she was growing up not as a choice for her to make but as a lifestyle. "It just...was." I think this is an important topic to probe. In fact, it occurs to me that this just might be one of the most important obstacles to increased tolerance of atheists in the United States.

A great many atheists pride themselves in being deep thinkers, scientifically or philosophically inclined sorts, who arrived at atheism after their thorough investigation of religion found it horribly lacking. They look at Christians and think, "If only they had learned how to think critically, they might never have fallen prey to this mass delusion."

Of course, most Christians were raised in their religion from an early age. It feels as much a part of who they are as any other early experience. It should come as no surprise that many Christians enter adulthood never really considering alternatives. Many have never had any reason to do so. Christianity has always been part of their lives. 

As Layla writes,
Like many others here I was raised in the way that Christianity wasn't presented to you as a choice; it was a lifestyle. It just... was. Even if you didn't go to church. It wasn't that you weren't a Christian, you were just a backslid Christian, in need of a little prodding, belittling, but all in the name of God's good works, you see.
The scenario where a Christian grows up believing that everyone else believes as they do and that their worldview mirrors reality is at the heart of Christian privilege. Why wouldn't they celebrate their Christian holidays as they want, and how dare those pesky atheists complain? They are the norm, and all others should step aside. Such persons know that not everyone believes as they do (if they stop to think about it), but they are likely to feel on an emotional level that their belief system is the only relevant one.

Many Christians do not hate atheists; they simply forget that we are there and don't understand why we aren't more willing to indulge them. They see us as complaining about an endless parade of trivial issues (e.g., god in the pledge of allegiance or on money, Christmas displays at city hall, etc.). These issues do not bother them because their religion is the one being promoted. While it would bother them if it was Islam being promoted instead of Christianity, this is not the case, and so they do not have to confront it.

One of the most important successes of both feminism and multiculturalism has been the exposure of male privilege and Eurocentrism. I'm not saying that these attitudes are not still present, only that they have become much harder to defend. If I catch myself saying something reflective of male privilege, I stop and think about how inaccurate this is and how women may feel upon hearing it. Even my internal dialogue has expanded and become more inclusive through these influences - this is what we mean by gaining awareness.

For many Christians, the beneficial effects of multiculturalism have been moderated by rigid dogma. Nowhere is this more evidence than in attitudes toward atheists. While many Christians have demonstrated increased tolerance toward persons of other faiths, atheists represent a glaring exception. Their bible condemns us, and we continue to be demonized as immoral, as in denial, and as being bound for hell.

The feminist, Civil Rights, and LGBT movements did not happen over night. Overcoming the widespread condemnation of atheists is going to take longer, especially in the U.S. To the degree that atheism comes to be perceived as a viable alternative to religion, American churches have everything to lose. They know this well and will not sit idly by without utilizing their great power. We have to be in this one for the long haul.

Layla writes,

Now that I feel I am deprogrammed, I fear the worst part is the years ahead. It is not acceptable to think as I think and believe as I believe. I find solace in my immediate family, we have all opened our eyes around the same time. But the fact remains I live in a Christian society through and through. How do you escape a cult when it is all around you?
Layla is not giving herself enough credit. What she says about the pervasive influence of Christian culture in America is correct, but she did accomplish the most important escape. Her mind is free.

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