As we go through our hatemail, we often wonder why religious people get so ANGRY with us, threatening violence, cursing at us, on occasion vandalizing our property, and so on. What gives?
Religionists (in this country, and many other places) have what’s called religious privilege. This is a term in social justice that means certain societal advantages built into our culture that are, by tradition, expected by religious people, propagated by religious people, and defended fiercely by religious people. (Our culture also has white privilege, male privilege, etc). Some examples of religious privilege are listed at the bottom of this post.
One reason people get so angry at our activism is that they perceive our actions not as protecting and fighting for our rights, but as THEIR loss of privilege, even if they wouldn’t word it that way.
The so-called “War on Christmas” is a great example: Christians have had the privilege of assuming this is a “Christian nation” for long enough that they get upset when we assert our place in society as non-Christians.
Losing privilege is certainly no fun. It does feel like you’re losing something, even if it’s something you had unjustly in the first place. When you are accustomed to certain advantages, and you start to lose those advantages, life is harder. Anyone who lost a lot of money in the housing bubble etc knows this feeling, or, say, if you’re a Muslim living in a predominantly Muslim country and you move to the United States. If you used to be able-bodied and become disabled, you will quickly see how uncomfortable and unaccommodating the world can be toward you.
Atheists who were formerly religious can experience the same thing. It is just as difficult for us to lose those privileges as it is for religious people who remain religious to lose them when our activism works to equalize things.
I think it’s important that we keep in mind that religionists have reasons to be upset at us. They aren’t good reasons, but there are reasons. By helping them understand that we are defending equal rights, not special rights, I think we can be on better terms with religionists. Similarly by helping them see that they currently have special rights, perhaps they will be more understanding of our perspective.
- Dave Muscato, Public Relations Director
Some examples of religious privilege from columnist Sam Killerman:
- You can expect to have time off work to celebrate religious holidays (e.g. the government shuts down on your religious holidays).
- Music and television programs pertaining to your religion’s holidays are readily accessible.
- It is easy to find stores that carry items that enable you to practice your faith and celebrate religious holidays.
- You aren’t pressured to celebrate holidays from another faith that may conflict with your religious values.
- Holidays celebrating your faith are so widely supported you can often forget they are limited to your faith (e.g. wish someone a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” without considering their faith).
- You can worship freely, without fear of violence or threats.
- A bumper sticker supporting your religion won’t likely lead to your car being vandalized.
- You can practice your religious customs without being questioned, mocked, or inhibited.
- If you are being tried in court, you can assume that the jury of “your peers” will share your faith and not hold that against you in weighing decisions.
- When swearing an oath, you will place your hand on a religious scripture pertaining to your faith.
- Positive references to your faith are seen dozens of times a day by everyone, regardless of their faith.
- Politicians responsible for your governance are probably members of your faith.
- Politicians can make decisions citing your faith without being labeled as heretics or extremists.
- It is easy for you to find your faith accurately depicted in television, movies, books, and other media.
- You can reasonably assume that anyone you encounter will have a decent understanding of your beliefs.
- You will not be penalized (socially or otherwise) for not knowing other people’s religious customs.
- Your faith is accepted/supported at your workplace.
- You can go into any career you want without it being associated with or explained by your faith.
- You can travel to any part of the country and know your religion will be accepted, safe, and you will have access to religious spaces to practice your faith.
- Your faith can be an aspect of your identity without being a defining aspect (e.g., people won’t think of you as their “Christian” friend)
- You can be polite, gentle, or peaceful, and not be considered an “exception” to those practicing your faith.
Fundraising to support congregations of your faith will not be investigated as potentially threatening or terrorist behavior.
- Construction of spaces of worship will not likely be halted due to your faith.
- You are never asked to speak on behalf of all the members of your faith.
- You can go anywhere and assume you will be surrounded by members of your faith.
- Without special effort, your children will have a multitude of teachers who share your faith.
- Without special effort, your children will have a multitude of friends who share your faith.
- It is easily accessible for you or your children to be educated from kindergarten through post-grad at institutions of your faith.
- Disclosing your faith to an adoption agency will not likely prevent you from being able to adopt children.
In the event of a divorce, the judge won’t immediately grant custody of your children to your ex because of your faith.
- Your faith is taught or offered as a course at most public institutions.
- You can complain about your religion being under attack without it being perceived as an attack on another religion.
- You can dismiss the idea that identifying with your faith bears certain privileges.