Christian Privilege

Here’s a very interesting reflection on the nature of Christian privilege that includes an “invisible knapsack” type list of specific examples of privilege. I recently thought about constructing a list like this, but ultimately decided not to; it would be too easy for someone with Christian privilege to dismiss a list like that as merely me complaining – see #18.

So I’m very glad to see it done, and done pretty well. I have problems with some of the way the list is put together – a couple of items nearly duplicate each other, while other items combine really important things that I think ought to be separated. And I wonder if the author was thinking mostly from the perspective of Muslims; there are a couple of pieces of privilege that I share, but not because I’m Christian, and on the other hand there are some particular things about fear of being outed as Pagan that didn’t really make the list.

Still, it’s a very good example of someone examining her own privilege with a careful eye, and it makes it a lot easier for people with less privilege to help explain what that privilege (or lack thereof) is like, and I thank the author from the bottom of my heart.

What do you think? How would you change that list?

 

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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16 Responses to Christian Privilege

  1. hmm…several items strike me as naive, at best – 29 in particular leapt out at me. However, the exercise strikes me as a worthwhile one and overall I agree the list is well-put-together.

  2. mmy0 says:

    I thought of posting on the Grace Rules website but thought it might come across as rude — but strangely enough my first response to this post was that it revealed a privilege within a privilege by reflecting the fact that the “Christianity” referenced was just a subset of the universie of Christianity. For example:

    1. It is likely that state and federal holidays coincide with my religious practices, thereby having little to no impact on my job and/or education. would not be true for many of those in the Russian Orthodox community since they still set their religious holidays using the Julian calender. In 2012 the Russian Orthodox community in Toronto celebrated Christmas on (according to the calendar most of North America uses) January 7. For Seventh Day Adventists the sabbath falls on Saturday.

    2. I can talk openly about my religious practices without concern for how it will be received by others. certainly doesn’t apply to those who believe that one should demonstrate belief in God by handling snakes or by refusing to get medical care for one’s child.

    Number four on the list seems rather problematic When told about the history of civilization, I can be sure that I am shown people of my religion. since civization predates Christianity by many millennia.

    • Literata says:

      Yup, those are both good examples. It’s interesting that she cites the privilege of not being required to speak on behalf of all Christians and then proves that she doesn’t. In the Paganism 101 post at the Slacktiverse we put a fair amount of effort into getting a diverse group of Pagans and then going out of our way to say that none of us spoke for anybody but ourselves; I know there are huge areas of Paganism that we didn’t even touch on.

      And here’s another place where being aware of variations within the broader ‘mainstream’ religion(s) can be a form of self-defense for minority religions. It can make it easier to explain one’s practices in an acceptable understandable context, and it can also serve to distinguish between situations where someone’s rights are curtailed based on a legitimate secular concern and true discrimination. If you allow kosher or halal butchering but not Santeria sacrifice, you need to be able to explain why. If you will respect Christian house churches but not Wiccan covens, you need to be able to explain why. If you allow one kind of prayer and not another, …and on and on…

    • This is a common misconception about privilege checklists like this. Not every item is going to apply to everyone. Most people who are part of that group are going to find at least a few exceptions, in fact. But the list as a whole applies generally — most Christians will experience most of those privileges most of the time.

      This misconception too often means that people nitpick at these lists, and try to discredit them by pointing out exceptions, rather than understanding the actual point.

  3. mmy0 says:

    Further to the list–it really does strike me as a reflecting a very Protestant view of the world–probably because I am culturally Catholic and still find myself bridling at the way Catholics are often portrayed in America media.

    In the light of that — imagine you are Catholic (and yes, I have been told by Protestants in the US that Catholics are not really Christians. Do you really think that item 12 is true right now? And what about item 15? Certainly item 23 is not true in parts of the US if you are a Catholic. Definitely no true if you are a Jehovah’s Witness (many of the key 1st Amendment cases arose due to the mistreatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses), or a Quaker, or a Mennonite, or Amish.

    Item 28 is not true for some groups in some parts of the US. Item 32 is not true for some flavours of Christians — nor is item 37. Ash Wednesday observances are still remarked on a viewed as specifically religious. Number 39 makes the presumption that all Christians feel comfortable swearing oaths — and that is most definitely not true.

    In short, I applaud the author of attempting to unpack some privilege but the list is short-circuited by the fact that the author does not see the massive levels of presumption and privilege that under hir assumption that “Christians” all look like and act like each other — and more importantly, like hir.

    • Literata says:

      True. Absolutely true. There’s a lot more gray area in terms of “part of my religion” than the author acknowledges. On the other hand, I think she has a point: “nonsectarian” is generally a code word for “generically Christian” and a lot of people depend on the “we both worship Christ” idea to get their “normalness” acknowledged, and it’s largely part of #8 and #9 in terms of “assuming universality of (Christian) religious experience.”

      I would not be surprised to hear a Jehovah’s Witness or Amish or Quaker person say that they experience being considered “Christian” as a gift to be revoked at the slightest disagreement with the dominant modality of Protestant Christianity. Catholicism as a lobby tends to be slightly more powerful than that, but I bet a lot of individual Catholics experience that too – is that part of what you’re trying to address?

      As for #39, the first time I was required to swear/affirm something in court, I was absolutely thrilled to see that there wasn’t a piece of “scripture” in sight. I was honestly concerned about that, as that was in the midst of my conversion experience, and I really didn’t want to face it then. This is a legacy of bad screenwriting and Hollywood portrayals of court proceedings, plus the fact that adherents of majority religions are less likely to be faced with the actual fact of court proceedings.

    • Also: All privilege exists on a spectrum. Some Christians do indeed get more Christian privilege than others. It doesn’t mean they don’t get any.

      • Literata says:

        You know what I didn’t see on that list? Prayer before legislative bodies. It’s comparatively a small thing, and I guess it could be included under the bits about “the people running the place are probably my religion,” but I consider it an important part of Christian privilege that when there’s a “general” prayer and somebody says “God,” Christians feel comfortable that they know who is being addressed and it’s all good for them.

        • Yes. I doubt I’ll see a pagan giving opening prayers in Congress in my lifetime. A Hindu giving one in, I think, a state assembly, was hissed and booed a couple years ago.

  4. mmy0 says:

    Catholicism as a lobby tends to be slightly more powerful than that, but I bet a lot of individual Catholics experience that too – is that part of what you’re trying to address?

    My experience of the relationship between Catholicism and the status quo is greatly coloured by being Canadian and growing up in Army camps. Different denominations were dominant in different provinces and so it wasn’t that difficult to go a few kilometers and find a place where one was in the minority (at least in terms of power.)

    And my dad remembers seeing signs outside of buildings when he was a kid “no Catholics, Jews or Blacks allowed” (okay, other terms were used but that was what they meant.)

    One of the things I was trying to get at was the “myth of non-sectarianism.” I don’t know if you remember when I had an argument with Fred about his claim that a call to “join our hands and bend our heads in prayer” (at the Giffords shooting memorial) was non-sectarian and was open to all people of faith or atheists. [Fred basically argued that it was just plain rude not to pray the way everyone else was doing it--or at least to pretend to.] There isn’t really one dominant, single way of praying or showing you are in prayer or interacting with the divine. As soon as one thinks there is one is mistaking “being amongst one’s own” for “the default way of doing things.”

    I actually had a moment like that once with an American Catholic. I was interviewing him for a job and he kept saying to me “as a Catholic I would do this” and “as a Catholic I would do that” and finally I interrupted him and said “what you mean is ‘as a Polish-American Catholic from this part of the US this is what I would comfortable doing” because believe me I grew up Catholic and that isn’t the way the nuns did things where I grew up.”

    Actually, rather relevant to your “trouble” with Arlington County — there are a raft of cases that went all the way up the Supreme Court wherein people had been acting as if “that which is mainstream Protestant” is religion and the rest didn’t count and so wasn’t protected and shouldn’t be respected.

    And that was the thing that I remember — that people argued that it just didn’t count as a religious or as religious ceremonies.

  5. Makarios says:

    ‘: . .“nonsectarian” is generally a code word for “generically Christian”. . . .’

    As far as I’ve been able to see (in my admittedly limited experience), “nonsectarian” tends to be a code word for “generically Protestant.” Minor point.

    By the way, that list of 40 items appears to have been taken from a handout to a presentation entitled “Interrogating Privilege,” by Kathy Goodman and Tricia Seifert, delivered at the annual convention of the American College Personnel Association in 2010. Link here.

    And thanks for the link to the Derailing site. I’ve added it to my bookmarks.

    • Literata says:

      Bingo.

      I’ll take a look at that link – thanks! Glad you liked DFD; it’s been invaluable in understanding privilege debates on the internet for me.

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