On the Subtleties of Christian Privilege (and Its Blatant Forms)

There is a branch of Christian commentator that, whenever Americans are beset by tragedy, starts playing the blame game. All tragedies, be they natural or human-made, are the fault of gays, liberals, atheists, and the removal of prayer from school. Or, more accurately, they are the fault of God, who is upset because of gays, liberals, atheists, and the removal of prayer from school.

(In all fairness, all religions/nonreligions have their blame game commentators. Who can forget the Iranian cleric who blamed earthquakes on indecently dressed women and the subsequent birth of boobquake?)

Calling Out the Blame Game

Thankfully, such commentators are more and more becoming the fringe. Case in point is Brittney Bullock’s calling out of Mike Huckabee [pre-published edit: here’s a link to her wordpress blog] for blaming the Aurora shooting on “Godless society”.

Bullock quotes Huckabee as saying, “Ultimately, we don’t have a crime problem or a gun problem, or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem.”

Bullock continues by noting:

He went on to say that the assault on religion in this country, specifically Christianity, is to blame for these reoccurring mass murders. He explained, ‘Since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, communities, the military and public conversation, you know, we really shouldn’t act so surprised when all hell breaks loose.’

Similarly, Pat Robertson, in light of the shooting at the Sikh temple, has blamed atheists who hate God. [Insert standard I don’t hate what I don’t believe in comment here.]

In response, Bullock takes Huckabee to task for exploiting the Aurora tragedy to push “some arbitrary, fundamentalist Christian agenda that offers zero intrinsic value in solving the grandest issue of where do we go from here….” In fact, she goes further to point out that Christians are responsible for their fair share of tragedy in the US. I would say this acknowledgement is pretty uncommon when Christians critique the Christian blame game.

Blatant Christian Privilege

In a nutshell, Bullock is calling Huckabee out because his Christian privilege is showing. What do I mean by Christian privilege? I mean that being Christian and broad Christian-cultural norms dominate American society. As such, being/thinking/acting/worshiping Christian are normalized and not doing so is rendered the status of minority or ‘other’.

So, for example, Huckabee says that God has been taken out of our schools, communities, military and public conversation. To simplify it, this is the classic “reverse racism” canard, just used in the context of religion.

Taking them one at a time-

Schools:

There are over 9000 Catholic/Christian schools in the United States. Basically, there is roughly 1 Catholic/Christian school for every 10 public schools. It does not appear to be that hard to find a school with God in it.

When in doubt, Christians can homeschool.

And, to be sure the point is made, there are legal ways to have prayer in public school.

Communities:

There are approximately 300,000 Christian churches in the United States. Per this fact sheet, there were 4.9 million commercial buildings in the United States in 2003. That means buildings dedicated to Christian worship, alone, make up roughly 6% of all non-residential buildings in the United States.

For comparison, there are 5,697 cinemas (roughly .1%), 48,353 bars (almost 1%), and 35,119 US post offices (roughly .7%).

Consider this, the 2007 Census of Governments found the US had 39,044 local governments (including counties, municipalities, and townships). That is nearly 8 Christian Churches per local government in the United States.

Military:

In all honesty, just read the Wikipedia entry on Religious Symbolism in the US Military.

Or you can watch this Fault Lines episode.

Public Conversation:

If God were out of the public conversation, this would not have made the news.

More than 84% of the 111th US Congress was either Catholic or Protestant. You’ll note, the most underrepresented group (in congress as compared to general population) was ‘unaffiliated’.

Oh, and here’s a website from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life about religious issues pertinent to the 2012 presidential election.

Needless to say, Huckabee is full of himself in saying that God and Christianity have been stripped from society. However, Bullock also stings him for his “arbitrary, fundamentalist Christian agenda.” Here, Huckabee may have grounds to call foul. Are conservative, evangelical Christians facing discrimination? Probably not like other groups. But their voice is definitely being marginalized. You can find an interesting article about this, within a higher education context, here.

A More Subtle Christian Privilege

The thing is, as much as I enjoyed her post, I want to point out a moment where Bullock shows her own Christian privilege. Bullock speaks as a Christian as if she is speaking for all religious people.

You may be thinking, huh? Where?

As I said, it is subtle. Bullock positions herself as a Christian critiquing another Christian. But when she goes to make a counterpoint about the morality of non-Christians, she speaks only of atheists and nonbelievers. In other words, there are Christians (the religious) and atheists (the non-religious).

What she does, in a nutshell, is exclude all other non-Christian religions. She strips them of voice by wrapping them into her “religious” (read Christian) stance.

Now, in pointing this out, I do not mean to suggest that Bullock has any strong disliking or prejudice against other, non-Christian religions. Based on her post, I would reckon Bullock is deeply dedicated to inter-faith work.

But, she falls into the trap of speaking about Christian vs non-Christian categories as if she’s talking about religious vs non-religious categories. When Huckabee says we need more of the Christian God in schools, communities, the military, and politics; he is disenfranchising more than just atheists. For Huckabee, “Godless society” is anyone that isn’t a Christian (and perhaps some that are).

A good example of this form of Christian privilege is when a Christian describes a distinctly Christian view, belief, or concept as being “Judeo-Christian”. The historical ties between Judaism and Christianity do not mean the two religions, in practice, are all that similar.

This kind of privilege is not that surprising. Most dominant groups speak of their particularities as if they apply generally (e.g., hetero-normativity or cis-normativity). Likewise, depending on how it presents itself in context, it may not be all that pernicious (e.g., Bullock’s post). However, when left unchecked, such privilege can grow to Huckabeean levels.

In Summation

Bullock’s post is fantastic. It is the right critique from the right voice. Also, as I mentioned, it is a Christian voice calling out Christian wrong-doing. That’s refreshing. Oh, and, congrats on making HuffPo.

My note of her subtle Christian privilege? Yes, it’s a picky, pedantic example. I’m only, like, 5 or 6 posts in, but, if you’ve learned anything so far, it’s that I am pedantic. Sometimes, you have to take the opportunity when it arises.

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One comment

  1. A Spare Mind · August 16, 2012

    You do realize that gay marriage killed the dinosaurs, right? xx

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