Promoting Equality for Atheists by Dismantling Christian Privilege

racism and discrimination

As it turns out, watching a bunch of black-and-white news footage of civil rights protests and Klan rallies filmed in the 1960s right before going to bed wasn't one of my better ideas. I couldn't sleep, and I found my mind stuck on how little had changed. There was one speech in particular from a White supremacist official right here in Mississippi filmed during the late 60s that sounded nearly identical to some of the garbage we hear today from racist Republicans. It wouldn't be fair to say that nothing has changed, but I found it incredibly demoralizing to realize how little has changed. The rhetoric coming from the Black protestors sounded the same as what we hear them saying today too, providing another reminder that the struggle for civil rights is far from over.

What stood out to me the most was how the blatant racism of those times was embedded in the White privilege that pervaded the culture. Sadly, this is still here. Even though much of the racism looks different today, the White privilege is still here and continues to provide a context in which contemporary racism is facilitated. As a result, I find it difficult to imagine ending racism without ending White privilege. Since Christianity was prominently featured in most of the Klan rallies and the speeches of various racist officials, it was hard not to consider the parallels between White privilege and Christian privilege. Christian privilege remains pervasive throughout much of the United States, and I can't help thinking that it facilitates Christian bigotry and hatred in similar ways.

When someone is raised from birth to believe that people belonging to another group are less-than-human, it can't surprise any of us that they might grow up with hateful attitudes. While watching an interview with a White Mississippian who said that his father used to beat him if he saw him talking to a Black child or even standing too close to one, I found myself empathizing with how difficult it must have been for him to overcome the hate. It sounded like he had managed to do so, but it had taken him most of his life to accomplish this feat.

Many evangelical fundamentalist Christian parents in Mississippi are still teaching their children that atheists, Jews, and Catholics are destined for hell and deserve whatever is in store for them there. Atheists in particular are often singled-out as being evil. Few see this as a problem anything like racism. It isn't surprising that fear and hatred of atheists thrives here or that suggesting otherwise is widely perceived as an attack on Christianity.

Most of us would walk out of a local business if we noticed a White pride sign hanging behind the cash register, but pro-Christian signs are commonplace. Local business owners want everybody to know they are Christian, and they use signs inside their businesses and even public advertisements to broadcast this message. I have yet to see an ad boasting "White-owned business," but I see several "Christian-owned business" taglines. The implication is obvious: you can trust them because they are Christian, and you should not trust anyone who isn't. Thanks to the pervasive Christian privilege, this messaging works.

Where do we go from here? I am beginning to think that our efforts to eliminate Christian bigotry and hatred of non-Christians are likely to be constrained by the continued persistence of Christian privilege. Top-down measures can only go so far without meaningful cultural change from the bottom up. I believe that is going to require us to work on dismantling Christian privilege.