There Are No Holy Lands: Proactive Approaches to Ending Religious Privilege

Image by Jolyne D from Pixabay

I turned on the cable TV news a few nights ago because I wanted to see if the pro-choice protests were being covered. PBS NewsHour is the only national news show I watch these days, so that's what I selected. There was little coverage of the protests, but something else caught my attention. The anchor referred to portions of Israel and Palestine as "the holy land." The graphic that filled the screen did the same. Holy land? Are you serious?

This was not the first time I had heard this phrase. I have heard it thousands of times. We all have. But on this night, I recognized it for what it was: religious privilege.

What is "holy" about it? Nothing that I can see. Who is it "holy" to? Not me. These reflexive references are a vivid reminder that religious privilege is inescapable. It surrounds those of us who live in the United States. It is so pervasive that even the news outlets derided as being too liberal push it.

A thought occurred to me at that moment. Religious privilege has lasted long enough. The non-religious are growing in number, but many of us make the mistake of going along with this nonsense.

I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm tired of holding my tongue. I'm tired of enabling the persistence of religious privilege as it threatens my health. I want phrases like "holy land" to be as unacceptable as referring to an Asian person as "oriental."

What Ca We Do?

How do we get there? We start by listening. What common phrases do we hear every day that reflect religious privilege? If we catch these in real-time, how do they make us feel? That's valuable information.

As we learn to catch them, we can work on changing how we react to phrases that reflect religious privilege. When we hear one and recognize it for what it is, we speak out. Instead of going silent, we challenge it. We ask, "What's holy about it?" And if a dialogue is open, we explain that we find religious privilege alienating. We discourage the use of language that maintains it.

I'm not claiming any of this will undo centuries of religious privilege. It is a start and a small one at that. But religious privilege needs to be undone. It doesn't have to happen overnight, but it does need to happen. We deserve better.

It is time for the non-religious to try something besides playing defense. Religious privilege is not going to disappear because we don't like it. It is time for more proactive approaches to ending religious privilege.