“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”
–J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
“We were so excited about the Christmas tree, we almost forgot to light the Hanukkah candles!” I exclaimed, placing down the microphone of my Little Tikes karaoke box. December 24th: our beloved family dog Nana turned another human year – seven dog years – older. This was considered a primary reason for celebration. Our family also had a tradition of decorating our Christmas tree that day – on the eve of the holiday we knew as a joyful occasion filled with presents, Mommy’s fresh pancakes, and sitting under a fragrant pine tree in our pajamas as we played with our prized possessions, wondering about the existence of a magical man named Santa Clause.
I grew up in a Long Island town in New York that is known for having a large Jewish population. By “large”, this means approximately 20% of the population, as opposed to the majority of approximately 68% Catholic residents. In 2012, the United States Census Bureau released a statistical abstract of the country’s demographics, which provided the three most recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) results. According to the 2008 ARIS data, out of a total of 228,182,000 adults, approximately 25% were Catholic, and 1% were Jewish. Comparatively then, my little suburban town does have a larger-than-normal Jewish population. Jewish people are an influential force in the economy and government in my childhood community. They have a choice of several places of worship, religious instruction, and kosher menus.
The majority of this Jewish community lived on the South end of town, and my family lived on the North side. Judaism was not unheard of, but in my elementary school class of about 75 students (by my estimate), two of them were Jewish. My best friend and I were “both” – along with around 5 others who had parents of different religious backgrounds. The other children would go to “religion” together – the religious courses held at their churches. They would see one another there and make other friends. I felt like an outsider – and I wondered why they had answers to questions I didn’t understand: “Who was the first person on earth?” “What happens after you die?” “Why do people do bad things?”
When I told my parents how I felt, my father decided to take me to the temple he’d attended as a boy. Mostly, I found it boring. I did enjoy the sermon though, and I had more questions. We continued to go, with my little brother tagging along, and, when I was ten, we both officially converted to Judaism. We were tutored in Hebrew, the Torah, and Jewish tradition, and later we joined our peers in Hebrew school. The winter I turned thirteen, I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah with my family and friends – a melting pot of Jews, Christians, Atheists – it did not matter. I was surrounded by love and pride.
But, outside of my cozy niche of friends and family, I still felt excluded. I was often reminded that I was the “Jewish” student and questioned constantly about my decisions, beliefs, and customs. I was told “Merry Christmas”, a sentiment I reciprocated, but I was often embarrassed by a follow-up apology and a “or Hanukkah, or whatever.” The neighbors I played with once ran from me, terrified, upon seeing our electric Menorah in the window.
One particular remark that I received, and that continues to plague and puzzle me to this day, was: “You get to celebrate for 8 whole days? You are so lucky!” “Lucky?” I would think with confusion and disbelief. It seemed to me – and still does – that Christians celebrate their winter holiday for nearly two months, if not more! By Thanksgiving at the latest, we are bombarded with chipmunks screeching cheerfully, lights consuming unimaginable amounts of electricity, movies reiterating that Santa Clause is real, and questions about our plans for Christmas, what we want for Christmas, and “Why the heck aren’t you excited for Christmas?!”
Eventually, I learned to be secretive about my religion. I became a full-fledged participant in the Christmas spirit: singing the songs in my school choir, wearing Santa hats to Christmas-themed parties, and baking Christmas cookies. I stopped going to Temple, gave up on Hanukkah, and, finally, disaffiliated from the Jewish faith entirely. Being referred to as Jewish became an accusation and an insult. It became a trait I had to defend myself against: “I was raised Jewish, but I do not believe in it. Therefore I am not Jewish.” I am not Jewish. I am not not not.
After college, I moved to a small town in Ohio with my boyfriend (who was also raised Jewish but no longer believes in it. In fact, M finds all religious faith ludicrous; he prefers to rely on scientific theory and probability). I believe the town had one single temple, although I do not recall seeing it. And anyway, I wasn’t interested – I was not Jewish! However, I became increasingly uncomfortable with being such a religious enigma. I met hundreds of people each day, as I worked as an aide in a popular physical therapy office. Particularly around Christmas, I was constantly assumed to be Christian: “So, are you ready for Christmas?” “Are you going home for Christmas?” “Did you get your tree yet?” And I didn’t correct them, because, well, I was excited for Christmas because I would get to go home and see my whole extended family and my best friends. And, frankly, I like Christmas. Christmas rocks. I like singing and colors and food and drinking. And that’s what Christmas means to me.
My coworkers knew that I had a Jewish side of my family, and they were very kind and respectful about it. I remain very thankful of their tolerance. They were quite supportive when a woman corrected my “Happy Holidays” wish: “No, you say Merry Christmas!” I made an awkward joke about New Years, because she was a client.
That got me thinking about traveling to Israel. My boyfriend and many of my friends had gone on birthright trips – free trips to Israel offered to Jewish young adults. I had always dreamed of traveling to foreign lands, and I decided to apply for a trip. I traveled with 60 strangers to Israel in July 2013, where we met our Israeli tour guide and 9 Israeli soldiers – 4 of which were female. We hiked mountains, including Masada at sunrise, floated in the Dead Sea and down the Jordan River, explored the night life in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, placed our most precious wishes in the Western Wall, wept at Yad Vashem (the famous Holocaust museum) and Mount Herzl (the national cemetery), and learned unforgettable stories and lessons about the land for which our Jewish ancestors fought. And, for the first time in my life, I did not feel like a minority. Judaism was not an enigma. It was not a defining characteristic. It was just our culture and lifestyle. It was just a fact of life. We were individuals, and no one was “the token Jew”. It finally felt safe to be moved and affected by Jewish traditions, stories, and prayers. It finally felt okay to be Jewish. I finally felt proud to be Jewish. I am Jewish. I am Jewish.
* * *
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment of the United States Constitution
Regardless of the true motive and party behind the recent incident in Eastern Ukraine, I was horrified to learn that people leaving Passover services received pamphlets requesting they identify themselves as Jews to the government and register, or risk consequences including fines and even deportation. Anti-Semitism remains a presence in many parts of the world today. The U.S. is no exception. In April 2014, the murders of three individuals near Jewish community centers in Kansas sparked a national conversation about thriving Jewish discrimination. These crimes, as well as almost 60% of all hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2012 were motivated by anti-Semitism.
Jews are not the only religious minority facing discrimination in the U.S. In recent decades, and particularly these years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Islamic culture and religion have been under attack. From attempts to legally ban Sharia law and prevent the construction of Mosques, to government surveillance of Muslim communities and Mosques and Congressional conferences on the “radicalization” of the American Muslim population, Islamic Americans have systematically been oppressed and persecuted in the U.S.
* * *
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” –U.S. Constitution: Article VI, paragraph 3
When Barack Obama entered the democratic primary against Hillary Clinton (among others), I recall discussing it with my friend. He seemed fresh, passionate, and interesting to us. We had always shared a common interest in politics, current events, and, particularly, human rights; we’d attended marches and demonstrations together on several occasions. At the time, I adamantly believed he could never win, especially against someone as prominent and iconic as Hillary Clinton. My friend said, to my surprise, that she thought, “America would probably vote for a black man before a white woman.”
She was right.
I won’t go into the disgraceful way Clinton was publicized back then – feminism is a whole other topic for some other time – but I will say that the election disheartened my belief that women could ever be equal citizens in my country.
Back to the topic: racism, sexism, and white/male privilege are still enormous problems in America. However, that is not why I mention Barack Obama. While comments about his race were and still are made frequently, they are perhaps more unmentionable in today’s society, unless disguised by “humor”. But criticism and discrimination of Muslims – well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of! The constant questioning of the religious affiliation of the then-candidate, and now the leader of the free world – debatably the most powerful individual in the world – has shocked me to my very core. The Constitution of the United States explicitly states that religion is inconsequential when choosing political leadership. “No religious test shall ever be required.” Do Americans not know of this assertion, written in the very document many of them refer to when claiming we are a “Christian nation”? Do they choose to ignore or disagree with it? Do they feel that, as long as no one forced Obama to fill out a scantron, they are free to interrogate, berate, make assumptions, and spread inaccuracies about him? Why should a presidential candidate feel the need to prove he is Christian in order to win an election?
This preoccupation with religion also influenced Senator Joseph Lieberman’s public image. (On a lighter note, I was 11 when he ran for vice president, and for a short while I thought Senator Lieberman was the exact same person as actor Wallace Shawn. Seriously, look up pictures and you’ll see the resemblance!) Lieberman has been public and proud about his faith for many years: in 1988, he chose to pre-record his speech for the Connecticut Democratic convention, as it was held on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath). He has also broken Shabbat several times and has been asked to explain his choices. As there are far too many Christian politicians, I simply could not spend the time researching if any of them have ever been asked to explain an absence from church on any given Sunday. But I think you understand my point.
And who can forget the ongoing battle with religious discrimination that President John F. Kennedy once faced? In his words, “A Catholic cannot be President of the United States? Are we going to admit to the world–worse still, are we going to admit to ourselves—that one-third of the American people is forever barred from the White House?” The concern over allowing a Catholic man to become president was detrimental to Kennedy’s campaign, but with passionate speeches, strong campaigning, and substantial help from his family’s financial wealth, he succeeded in becoming the first – and, to this day, only – Catholic American president. Now, in 2014, we are still observing and experiencing religious discrimination, even with an administration led by a Hawaiian man of English and Kenyan descent, to whom an African American woman is married (Michelle Obama can trace her ancestry back to the pre-Civil War South). It is almost humorous to reflect on President Kennedy’s victorious declaration: “I think we have buried the religion issue once and for all.” Oh, dear Jack, hadn’t someone told you to never count your chickens before they hatch? I only hope that someday his sentiment and optimism come to be.
* * *
“Privilege: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people:
Synonyms: advantage, benefit; prerogative, entitlement, right; concession, freedom, liberty”
— Oxford Dictionary
When I was an elementary school student, I recall learning about Christmas around holiday season each and every year. Later, the teachers began to accompany this week-long lesson on Christmas traditions with one whole day dedicated to Hanukkah. One year, my mother cooked her amazing latkes (the traditional potato pancake) for my class. I was mortified when she gushed about my classmate, Joe, who loved the latkes and showered her with compliments. Joe, for lack of a better phrase, was mean to me. He made fun of my appearance, calling me ugly and too skinny, tried to get me into trouble, flicked staples at me, and announced to the class that I was a Jew, as if he were telling them I was a cockroach.
One year, my teacher even decided to add Kwanzaa into the holiday-themed lessons. She did so by reading a bunch of fifth graders an illustrated book about Kwanzaa that seemed to be written for five-year-olds. To this day, I only have a vague understanding of it, and it was not until much later that I learned how it was created, in America, to celebrate African culture. Thus, it is not exactly a religious holiday, if I understand correctly, but a cultural one.
Perhaps teaching us about both Hanukkah and Christmas (and Kwanzaa, that one time) was a step in the right direction. On the other hand, maybe it was a step further in the wrong one. For all I know, I am the only one who felt this way, but I came to understand that Jews and Christians were polar opposites. I was under the impression that the coinciding seasons of the holidays were not by chance – that Easter and Christmas were the opposites of Passover and Hanukkah, respectively. “Are you Christian or Jewish?” they would ask, “Do you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah?” “Easter or Passover?” “Jesus or Moses?” “Church or Temple?” These were the two options. And if I responded with the latter, I feared the never-ending interrogation that would follow.
Most Americans continue to maintain this mindset. Now Ramadan has somehow become part of “holiday season”, though I have yet to understand why. Ramadan is based on the Islamic calendar (as Hanukkah is based on the Hebrew calendar). It is completely unrelated to Christmas, and, unlike Hanukkah, does not even land around the same time consistently. Have these attempts to be inclusive have actually promoted the segregation of religion? Is it possible or beneficial to simply exclude religious holidays entirely from public education?
But then there is the other end of the spectrum, illustrated by my inquiry while my coworkers put up a Christmas tree in our office: “Are we putting up a menorah too?” to which I was asked, “What the hell is a Menorah?”
Apparently it is perfectly acceptable to go your entire life without ever hearing of a Jewish tradition as well known as lighting the Menorah at Hanukkah.
If one religious group is entitled to bombard our education, television screens, radio stations, roads, trees, grocery stores, magazines, and malls with their customs, it certainly seems they are exercising an advantage not granted to other groups. If one religious group is allowed to remain ignorant of all other religions, to assume others share, or at least understand their faith without a second thought, to accuse those who do not follow their religious customs of being evil, sinful, and unworthy of equality and the pursuit of happiness… mustn’t we recognize, define, and fight against it? Do we, the American people, share the beliefs of our forefathers, as Thomas Jefferson established: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State” For if we believe in the fundamental ideas from which this country has risen, why is the subject of “Christian Privilege” so damn unspeakable?
* * *
“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.” – Thomas Paine
Here, I’m going to state a few disclaimers. First, I want to reiterate that, while I am Jewish, half of my relatives are Christian, and I participate in non-religious celebrations of Christmas, attend their religious events such as communions, weddings, etc., and support and admire their beliefs and actions. In fact, I have not met many Christians in person that I disliked. My faithful church-going, Protestant Grandmother is my personal hero. Many of my best friends and favorite people follow the teachings of Christ, and I adore and revere them. This is not an attack on the Christian faith or any individuals who hold it dear. Furthermore, this is not an attempt to dispute the beliefs of Christianity; if Judaism or Paganism were the “privileged” faith, I would argue the same points. Your religious faith has nothing to do with this discussion.
Additionally, I want to begin by pointing a few things out. This article will refer to Christianity, but I do not mean to generalize. I understand that many denominations of Christianity are religious minority groups and do not receive the same advantages as their larger counterparts (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, et cetera). In 2012, it seemed that presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s affiliation with Mormonism was even more offensive to some Christians than President Obama’s Muslim heritage! I also do not claim to have a full or detailed understanding of the Christian religion or any of its denominations.
Furthermore, I am, by no means, condoning discrimination against Christians of any kind. I am sure we have all noticed the ridicule of Christianity, portraying its followers as egotistical, ignorant, insane, bigoted, and pushy. If you haven’t, I suggest you watch perhaps one episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or maybe listen to a few of the songs from Book of Mormon (on a side note, if you can take the kind of humor in South Park, which leaves no race, religion, or celebrity unscathed, you might enjoy the play). In fact, during my research for this post, I came across far more resources discussing discrimination against Christians than any other religious group! While I agree with the injustice of judging the entire religion and all of its followers based on the outspoken fanatics, I think we can attribute this abundance to a few things: (1) Christians make up approximately 78.99% of all adults in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 data; (2) As I’ve attempted to illustrate, religious minorities often retreat into silence in order to protect themselves from discrimination, suspicion, and disrespect; (3) Because of their power in the government and media, Christians seem to have more opportunities to voice their thoughts and opinions; and (4) Christian privilege has fostered a society in which opposing or disagreeing with them can evoke hostility, anger, and even violence.
Regardless, anti-Christian prejudices are not what this post is about, and if you would like to read more, Google it. Literally. And – don’t trust everything you read.
* * *
“The Gateway to Christianity is not through an intricate labyrinth of dogma, but by a simple belief in the person of Christ.” –Norman Vincent Peale
Clearly, there is no ultimate definition of a “Christian,” because of all the division among its denominations. For the purposes of this article, “Christianity” refers to faiths and religions that aim to conduct a life according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. More specifically, by “Christian,” I refer to any person or group who believes he or they are living in accordance with Christ’s intended guidelines as they have interpreted his teachings.
And no, I am not going to capitalize any pronouns.
* * *
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
This post is becoming a novel, but I wanted to address these subjects knowledgably, thoroughly, and – most importantly – respectfully. If you have made it this far – first of all, thank you! – but, second of all, I must warn you: I have reached the point at which I will list examples of Christian privilege in the U.S. If what I have written thus far has offended you, you will probably not enjoy what is to come. However, if you are interested, open-minded, and/or in agreement, this is probably what you’re looking for now that you’ve skimmed through my rambling introduction. In other words, we’ve arrived at the nitty-gritty, the unspoken, the unmentionable – list of Christian privileges:
The Pledge of Allegiance
“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery
As a New Yorker who recently moved to Houston, Texas, I was quite surprised to learn that Texas has it’s own pledge of allegiance to the state flag: “Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.” It originally did not include the reference to “God”, but this was added in 2007. According to Texas state legislature, this should be recited after the pledge to the U.S. flag, with right hand over heart, similar to the national conduct during the U.S. flag’s Pledge of Allegiance.
If you are not from Texas, and you find this ridiculous, you might want to consider how a Pagan, an Israeli, a Buddhist, an Atheist, or a Canadian may feel while holding his or her right hand against his or her heart and reciting: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Let’s dissect that, shall we?
Definitions according to Oxford Dictionary:
o Pledge: a solemn promise or undertaking
o Allegiance: loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior or of an individual to a group or cause
o Republic: a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.
o God: 1 – (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being; 2 – a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity
o Indivisible: unable to be divided or separated
…And I think we all know what liberty and justice mean. So, what am I getting at? Well, who says the pledge of allegiance, and when do they say it? Politicians say it. They say it when opening congressional conferences, as well as many other official meetings. How does this speak to the reinforcement in the U.S. Constitution that qualifications for leadership positions should not include religion, as per the aforementioned Article VI?
Who else? Students. Students say it. Every morning at school, from kindergarten until high school graduation. While the Supreme Court has ruled that students cannot be forced to join or punished for their silence, every single student and every single adult who has attended American public schools has had to sit through it five days a week for approximately thirteen years of their lives.
And if you do not participate? From experience, I can tell you: you become the recipient of glares from your teachers, pointing from your classmates, and questions. Those never-ending questions.
So, regardless of who chooses to abstain from speaking the words of this “pledge,” each and every American resident, that is right, not just citizens – remember, this country prides itself on welcoming members of other countries (supposedly) – must learn this pledge, hear this pledge, and, more often than not, recite this pledge. Regardless of your faith, your country of origin, or even your supposed right to freedom of speech, you know and have probably said this pledge. Doesn’t freedom of expression allow us to disagree – or even dislike – our own country? And yet, we have vowed our loyalty to a flag – a FLAG! – and to a “republic” whose people apparently hold supreme power – unless they aren’t in the privileged majority – under “God”, which is singular, thus referring to a single god, and implies that this country serves God, not the people. We have solemnly conceded that the country is indivisible – yet look at the polarization, look at conservatives vs. liberals, republicans vs. democrats, wealthy vs. poor…! And finally, we have declared our eternal loyalty to a country that promises “liberty and justice for all”. What liberties are those? The liberty to openly practice hatred for those who disagree with our religion? The liberty to quietly sit still while others stare at you during the pledge of allegiance? The liberty to vote for representatives that never share your faith? These are not liberties; these are legal technicalities granted to minorities so that they may live quietly as long as they navigate around the privileged majority. And if there are privileges granted to groups based on race, religion, gender, etc., then there is no justice. Because it is not fair.
* * *
“True freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.” – Jonathon Sacks
Let’s move on. Christians also have an advantage in the courtroom. It is true you may request to make your sworn declaration on something other than a Christian bible, or on nothing at all. You may also choose to say, “at the penalty of perjury” rather than “so help me God”. However, I attempted to research the available options, and found that there is much variation from state to state and limited reliable sources with information about what you can and cannot use, say, and do. So, if you must testify, where the heck are you supposed to find this information in preparation for court? Can I swear on my complete DVD set of the television show, Friends? Because I would be much more fearful of disavowing that than a bible.
Let’s also consider that you may be testifying before a jury, supposedly of your peers. If you are not Christian, how many of those “peers” will be able to judge you objectively? And, if you wish to avoid revealing your religion for fear it may paint you in an unpleasant light, then what do you do? You swear on a religious doctrine you do not follow, to a God you do not believe in.
* * *
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
I have already discussed at length the challenge of being instilled with the understanding that Christianity opposes Judaism, and that Christian equals good, while Jewish equals bad. Christmas was treated as a universal joy, with lessons, crafts, and songs dedicated to the holiday for weeks on end. Meanwhile, the story of Hanukkah was addressed for one day, if I’m being generous. And it was presented as just that: a story. “Christmas is a time to celebrate love and hope and kindness.” “Christmas is when Santa Clause visits all the good little boys and girls to give them presents!” “Christmas is celebrated with songs and prayers and gifts and family!” “And Hanukkah… Hanukkah is in memory of a story that Jewish people believe in. Years and years ago…”
Ah yes, those silly Jews! What a fun story! Too bad they are not good enough for Santa though…
If this were not enough, Christianity has continued to force itself into educational standards. One of the most prominent conflicts Christians have with public education is the inclusion of the theory of evolution and/or the absence of “creationism” – or what is really just their religious idea of how the world and humans came to be. I recall being subjected to a weeklong lesson in my tenth grade biology class, in which my teacher vigorously tried to convince us that the possibility of evolution and religious faith were not mutually exclusive. This only served to fuel the fire of students announcing that they would not stand for being tested on a theory they did not believe in. I would not have minded skipping that test too, but that was only acceptable if you wrote a declaration of your 100% indisputable faith in something other than the theory of evolution. This drama did not serve to make the theories about how God and evolution could exist harmoniously any less boring to me.
Advocates for creationist education often refer to theories of “creation science” – the study of physical science under the notion that a creator – God – exists and is all-powerful. These scientists argue against the notion that evolution is “science” and creation is “religion”. This puts the very definition of these two terms in question.
The Oxford dictionary provides these definitions: science: “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”; religion: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”.
Keeping these definitions in mind, let’s examine the arguments for and against the inclusion of “God” in “science”. Creation scientists point out the inevitability of bias by humans studying science, particularly “origins science”, which they argue is “driven by philosophy” and “story-telling”. Creationists also sometimes view evolution as a belief system, pointing out how much the theories of evolution and origins of the universe are based on scientific theory and probability, not on indisputable facts. One of their primary defenses against these theories concerns how much they rely on chance; their objection is that life is too complex to simply evolve based on luck. They also claim that evolutionists misconstrue “naturalism” or “materialism” as “science” – insisting that “nature is all there is.”
On the other hand, plenty of evolutionists do not dispute this – they define “creation science” as an oxymoron and “science” as “methodological naturalism – it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms.” They provide explanations and evidence that challenge creationist arguments, such as the complexity of the eye being impossible to prevail under the assumption of natural selection or the lack of transitional fossils to support macroevolution. When comparing the theory of evolution with creationism, one cannot help but notice that both seem to provide theories and explanation purely in defense against the other. In other words, they both have holes. Furthermore, some creationists, while accepting the definition that science is a study of perceptible and testable phenomenon, feel that evolution cannot be scientifically proven, and thus is as much based in faith as creationism. However, this tends to lead them to argue that creationism and evolution should be paid equal attention by educators.
Let’s assume, then, that evolutionism and creationism are both part of belief systems. If we should be required to learn these theories, why not the theory of Pangu, who, according to traditional Chinese mythology, emerged from a cosmic egg to become the first living being and the creator of everything, by splitting the egg into the Yin and the Yang – the earth and the sky? Should we also be tested on our knowledge of the Druidic belief in the Celtic creation stories, such as an eternal Melody beginning quietly over nature’s waters, and the beginning of life as it reached its crescendo? Should these beliefs be taught in a class separate from biology – the study of living organisms – if they are not considered scientifically canon? And, if not, how many years of biology are we going to need, assuming that we must cover every single theory regarding the origin of life and the universe?
For anyone that laughed at those examples, that reaction is evidence of Christian privilege. If we must take one religion seriously, then it would be constitutionally and morally incorrect to dismiss any other religion. If Christian advocates of Creationism in education oppose the teachings of any other religion in the school system, then why should their theory of the origin of humanity be favored?
In contrast, let’s assume that both creationism and the theory of evolution are scientific concepts. How, then, should we classify science? Should we accept that “origins science” is truly a science, but one based in philosophy and stories? If we understand “science” by this definition, what else qualifies? What about the Scientologist presentation of reincarnation as an indisputable fact?
Public education is a governmental entity, not a religious one. In keeping with the American foundation of keeping these separate, how can schools include “creation science”, if it is the study of the physical world with the assumption of God’s existence and creation? Does this not inherently require the inclusion of religion in a governmental institution? If teachers promote or acknowledge the Christian belief in God as fact, an alternative to evolution, or, like my old teacher, as a presence supplemental to evolution, then they are providing an advantage to the Christian majority, and, in turn, dismissing non-Christians and enabling the continuation of religious discrimination.
Many Christian individuals and groups also wish to control or abolish sex education. This is based on Christian teachings and the Christian bible. Since 1981, literally billions of dollars worth of taxpayer money went toward federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage education. Between 1996 and 2010, 1.5 billion taxpayer dollars were spent on these programs, increasing drastically under the Bush administration. Much to the dismay of Christian groups advocating abstinence education, this funding has dramatically subsided under the Obama administration. I will reiterate that public schools are an American institution, not a Christian one, and U.S. policies assume that humans are all equal and have the right to freedom of expression and religion. Christians who believe in abstinence should be free to practice it, talk about it, and even teach it in religious schools and lessons. But why should Americans who do not agree with these beliefs be robbed of information on the risks of sex, contraceptive methods, and the reproductive system? Though Americans have funded this sex education policy, whose efficacy is unsupported, for 30 years, groups such as the Christian Coalition are currently furious that the government is “too big” and has a “spending problem”.
* * *
“Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.” – William Butler Yeats
Interestingly enough, many of these same groups who oppose “big government” and federal funding of institutions such as healthcare, women’s health clinics, and social security, also argue that laws based on Christian faith should be enforced. In fact, Christian leaders and lobbyists frequently base their political opinions on religious values, without considering the beliefs of others. If laws are based on the teachings of a single religious group, the government in turn imposes the beliefs of that group on all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation. If these groups oppose “big government,” why do they advocate laws preventing others – who may or may not consider themselves Christian – from making personal choices in parenting, sex, and marriage? Is this what our American forefathers had in mind when they established our right to freedom of religion and expression?
I doubt it. In fact, many of the founding fathers’ objections to religion and/or its presence in government have been well documented.
Some Christian groups argue that they are addressing “moral” or “social” issues that are unrelated to politics and religion. Meanwhile, they are basing their moral arguments on their Christian faith, and they are turning to the government to prevent others from breaking the lessons they have deduced from religious doctrines. For example, most Christian political groups take issue with the rights of individuals with non-heterosexual affections and sexualities. By this I mean to include people who are attracted to the opposite gender in any way, at any time, as I gravitate toward sexuality falling along a spectrum, rather than into boxes, somewhat like the Kinsey scale. The Christian Coalition writes: “The definition of traditional marriage is under attack as liberals seek to radically redefine an institution that has existed for thousands of years. In recent years, it has come under attack by left-wing judges who have sought to redefine marriage by judicial decree. Now, President Obama’s administration is actively working to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and is supporting lawsuits to have the law overturned by the United States Supreme Court and urging the top court to legalize homosexual ‘marriage’.” Yes, homosexual “marriage” is quoted, as if to deem it fake. Well, that’s an interesting argument for “saving traditional marriage”! In fact, before autonomous marriages (or “love marriages”) became the norm, arranged marriage was overwhelmingly accepted and encouraged. Now, that is tradition! That is an institution that has existed for ages! Furthermore, many religious groups in the U.S. continue to encourage and believe in the importance of arranged marriages. So, why not throw that into the legal system as well? While we are at it, perhaps we should also revive the dowry. I’m shocked at the recent increase in interracial marriage. That is just breaking tradition! I’m sorry, would you find the inclusion of these “traditions” in legislature oppressive? Would they allow certain groups to enjoy privileges at the cost of others? …Well, then.
This is only one example of legal arguments based solely on Christian faith. In another example, many Christian groups support the criminalization of abortion, based on the definition of “human life” as “God’s creation from fertilization to natural death”. They refer to bible passages to support their arguments against abortion. These include God and/or Christ’s forbidding of human murder and the biblical descriptions of the unborn as being human. Some specify “murder” as unlawfully taking another’s life, while lawfully doing so is “killing”. By that argument, abortion is not murder as long as it is legal. Um, what?
However, some Christian groups protest abortion on the grounds of religious moral clauses without making this distinction. Despite their apparent abhorrence of the taking of human life, they often support capital punishment, again citing the bible. Perhaps the fickleness of Christian political arguments is the fault of their bible. Perhaps they just tend to pick and choose passages to support their political agendas. Regardless of what came first, they are basing their political positions on their religious beliefs. The Christian religion is influencing political platforms and legislature, which, once again, leads to the suppression of non-Christians’ rights to live according to their principles, thus inhibiting their constitutional right to freedom of religion and expression.
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Society and the Media
“Writing can give full meaning to characters and avoid pure stereotype.” – James Earl Jones
The prevalence of Christian privilege cannot be solely blamed on the government. It exists in American society as well. Even in our daily vernacular: “God bless you,” “This is heaven on earth,” “It is hot as hell in here!” The ones I find most offensive, however, further enforce that Christian = good, such as, “That’s very Christian of you.”
Log into your choice of social media, and find an abundance of links and exclamations telling you to “Keep Christ in Christmas!” and “No more ‘Happy Holidays’! Merry Christmas!” Yes, Christmas must be a very difficult time for Christians, what with all the Jews and Muslims and Pagans jumping in on the Christmas spirit! How dare they decorate a Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols! How dare people acknowledge the existence of other winter holidays! The month of December is the month dedicated to Jesus’ birthday (which is inaccurate anyway)!
Many groups believe we should strive to be a Christian nation. The American Christian Society uses flyers promoting the hope for “life in the United States to be free of fear, debt, and mixed cultures”. I’m sorry, but what United States are they referring to? They cannot mean the same one that represents itself with the iconic Statue of Liberty, which proudly welcomes newcomers with the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, /Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, /The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. /Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: /I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” The same organization goes on to argue that the U.S. needs to be recognized as a Christian nation, and that, while individuals should not be forced to believe and non-Christians are welcome to live among them and execute their rights, they may not partake in government or media: “Someone from a different race can be permitted to live among a different society. This person has the same basic rights as the other members in the society. However, these people living among others may NOT partake in government (this includes voting). They also may not own any media outlets.” Again… seriously!?
Of course, not all Christians go to such extremes. They do often protest Christian portrayals in the media as being discriminatory. I have already conceded that Christians are a frequent punch line in the media. However, unlike other groups, Christians can easily find an abundance of shows and channels on T.V. and in the radio dedicated to their customs and beliefs (Christian Television Network, Trinity Broadcasting Network, GOD TV, etc.). There is also no shortage of Christian movies or books. And, while there are many characters representing Christians negatively, there are exponentially more well-rounded, lovable characters that are Christian. This is because Christianity seems to be the “default” religion. How many television shows representing “normal” Americans have annual Christmas specials (ER, Gossip Girl, Mad Men, Glee, and nearly every sitcom – Boy Meets World, How I Met Your Mother, The Cosby Show, Full House, That 70’s Show)? Even shows representing non-Christians spend entire episodes on Christmas (Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Seinfeld). I won’t even try to list how many children’s shows focus on the holiday.
On the other hand, other religious groups are portrayed as “token” characters in most instances. Mrs. Wolowitz, mother of Howard Wolowitz in The Big Bang Theory, is a walking cliché: she is overbearing and treats her adult son like a child; she cooks his meals, usually brisket; and, despite living in California, has an exaggerated accent of a stereotypical Brooklyn-born Jew. Her son considers himself Jewish as well, but he does not apparently partake in any Jewish customs and even goes as far as to frequently ridicule Judaism. Janice Litman Goralnik, the ex-girlfriend and frequent tormenter of Chandler Bing in Friends, is another stereotyped Jewish character: she has a high-pitched, nasal, Long Island accent, a big nose, big hair, long nails, and too much makeup. She is oblivious to how others perceive her; for example, she assumes she is welcome to attend – and sing at – Chandler and Monica’s wedding. She gets divorced and claims to be “riding the alimony pony” and later remarries and has a son whose enormous nose is the butt of more than one joke. In short, Janice fulfills the classic “Jewish American Princess” cliché.
Other religions have even less of a presence in television. Going back to The Big Bang Theory, Rajesh “Raj” Koothrappali is a Hindu character born in India. He has a thick accent, enjoys Bollywood entertainment, and, most notably, is selectively mute. In other words, perhaps the only primary Hindu character currently on television is rendered silent for much of the show (although he recently overcame this problem now that the show has achieved incredible success). The portrayal of Muslims on our screens is abysmal. They seem to be terrorists, as in Homeland (perhaps due to the central plot of the show), or characters who are Muslim but exhibit no practices or characteristics of the religion, such as Abed Nadir of Community. Abed states that he is Muslim, but this is not crucial to his character; he is portrayed as a rather emotionally and socially inept film student, who initially entered college to fulfill his father’s wish of someday taking over the family falafel business. There is also Sayid Jarrah of Lost, who was an Iraqi soldier captured by U.S. forces and persuaded to torture his own commanding officer after being shown footage of his home village being attacked. He is portrayed as the most easily violent of the Lost characters; he tortures and kills many people, occasionally out of anger or vengeance.
So, while the media makes examples of most religions, they tend to include religious minorities for the sake of being politically correct. And, while characters of non-Christian religions are typically secondary or flat characters based on stereotypes or a single defining quirk, the protagonists and fully developed characters are nearly always Christian.
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In conclusion, here is a brief summary of some of the privileges granted to Christians in the United States:
- Christians can move to or visit just about any town in the country without worrying that an appropriate place of worship will be there.
- Christians can live just about anywhere in the country knowing a religious education will be available to their children.
- Christian communities, institutions, and places of worship can typically function safely without suspicion, surveillance, or investigation.
- Christians have the opportunity to vote for political representatives who share their religious morals.
- Christians can run for office without fear of verbal or physical attack based on their religious beliefs.
- Christians do not have to fear or feel anxious about expressing their faith publicly, such as on social media websites, resumes, vocally, or through fashion choices (i.e. a cross necklace is less likely to stir controversy or conversation than a star of David).
- Christian views are perceived as “normal”, “traditional”, or the “default” religion.
- Christians hold enough of a majority that it is possible to promote and enforce legislature based entirely on their religious principles.
- Christians can testify in court without the hassle of explaining their need to use different phrasing and props, as their God and religious doctrine are included by default.
- Christians can expect their verdict to be decided by a jury that mostly has heard of, generally understands, and/or shares their faith.
- Christians can expect to see more realistic representations of their faith in the media than others, who are frequently portrayed as stereotypes or extremists, or added only for the sake of political correctness.
- Christians can find more representations of their faith in the media in general.
- Christians are able to receive an education that caters to the values of their religion.
- Christians are not usually defined by their religion. Peers do not call them, “the Christian friend” or “their token Christian”.
- Depending on their job, Christians can expect to have the holidays they celebrate off, without having to make a request. They can often enjoy these days off without losing compensation.
- Christians do not usually have to respond to inquiries about the validity and meaning of their holidays.
- Christians can safely assume that others know at least general and popularized aspects of their faith and customs.
Of course, there are always exceptions, and these claims are based on research and statistics. There is always a margin of error. Thus, not every single privilege will be true for every single Christian in every single instance.
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“Oppression: Prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control:
‘a region shattered by oppression and killing’”
— Oxford Dictionary
So, does the prevalence of Christian privilege create oppression for religious minorities? Let’s analyze, based on the dictionary definitions. Has Christian privilege lasted for a prolonged period of time? Certainly. It has been historically documented even before the discovery of what is now the United States. Furthermore, there have been several Christian “awakenings” in America, which have frequently led to attempts to apply Christian teachings to political legislature and education, such as the 1925 State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes trial, which focused on the inclusion of evolution vs. creationism in education.
Have religious minorities been treated cruelly as a consequence of Christian privilege? Consider the aforementioned prominence of hate crimes committed against Jews. Or perhaps the high number of anti-Islamic hate crimes, as reported by the FBI. Or, at a less extreme level, the accusations and hostility Christian groups direct towards non-Christians. Try to adopt the perspective that you have gone your whole life having to explain and validate your beliefs and principles. Imagine that you felt you should keep quiet about your opinions, that you should not wear symbols of your heritage, that you should avoid discussing your faith with employers, or that you have been taught your faith is an alternative or inferior belief system. Imagine that you had to consider your aspirations and actions in terms of how people would respond to your heritage or background. Imagine trying to add up all the days you had to sit through educational lessons that catered to a belief system other than your own. Imagine having to respond to assumptions that you are Christian when you are not, or that you are an extremist or a terrorist, or that you are from a certain place, or hold a certain occupation based on your faith. Imagine having to research communities to find places of worship before relocating. Having to refuse a good job or education, because it would be impossible to uphold your faith there. Hearing from your peers, the media, and millions of complete strangers that your beliefs are immoral, that you are inferior, or strange, or wrong. Imagine being told you must be saved, or you will be forever damned.
Have religious minorities been treated unjustly due to Christian privilege? Well, if Christians have the privileges listed above, this implies that they are not available to other religious groups. According to the definition of “privilege”, the advantage or immunity is granted only to a particular group. Thus, by allowing certain rights and opportunities to Christians, other groups are excluded and robbed of these rights and their equality. I will reiterate that, when people are treated unequally, based on their religious beliefs and affiliations in these cases, they are being treated unfairly. Justice implies that individuals receive the treatment they rightly deserve, and the U.S. Declaration of Independence establishes that all people “are created equal” and possess “unalienable rights” from their “Creator” – which may be a hairy being hatched from a cosmic egg, a supernatural omnipresence that used the first male’s rib to create the first female, scientific events such as the Big Bang, or fairies with magic wands. The point is, that these rights – to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” – are inherent, and therefore immoral for a government to grant or take away.
Finally, has Christian privilege led to control of religious minorities? The long-held majority of the American government by Christians seems to suggest that it has. Furthermore, the advantages established by that government, in legislature, education, and overall failure to even acknowledge, much less search for a solution to Christian privilege, further exhibit the systematic oppression of non-Christian religious groups. Christian privilege has created a nation in which non-Christians live in fear of losing their right to express or practice their beliefs freely, suppress their voices in political and social institutions, and must tip toe around the controlling Christian majority that robs them of their rights as humans to live, speak, and think freely, happily, and safely. Simply put, if we are all created equal and possess these unalienable rights, then the same opportunities and rights granted to privileged majorities must become available to all of us, regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, and religion.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
1. What are your thoughts and feelings regarding this issue?
2. Have you, or anyone you know, felt targeted by religious oppression or discrimination?
3. Do you think that one religious group experiences preferential status either by law, human nature, or something else? Do you feel this is just, legal, or both?
4. Do you believe the majority should always be regarded as correct?
5. Do you believe the religion holding majority status should receive preferential status?
6. Should religious freedom should be controlled or limited? What should be done in the case of religious doctrines that go against American laws or freedoms (such as polygamy or differential treatment of genders)?
7. What can and/or should be done, if anything, about religious privilege?
Please feel free to share your thoughts, anecdotes, opinions, ideas, etc. on any matters related to the subjects addressed in this post. And do try to remain respectful! If you wish to express your fear, hate, or disapproval of any religion – Christian or not – your comments will be irrelevant here.
“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they are not on your road does not mean they have gotten lost.”