Damn, It Feels Good to be a Christian

I’m reading a new book called Intersections of Religious Privilege: Difficult Dialogues and Student Affairs Practice. It’s the theme for the 125th installment of the Jossey-Bass quarterly report series New Directions for Student Services — that is to say, it’s a collection of academic papers on a particular topic.

Normally, I stay away from reading those because… well… they bore me to tears. In this case, though, the focus is religion (and atheism) on college campuses, so I was intrigued. Specifically, it’s about how faculty members and staffers can better understand students’ religious beliefs and how they can start positive dialogue with them.

One paper included in this collection deals with atheist students. Since I posted about that paper a while back, I won’t say any more about it here.

Instead, I wanted to mention an essay by Ellen E. Fairchild which discusses “Christian privilege” — benefits that Christians get in our society that are denied to the rest of us — despite our nation’s separation of church and state.

Fairchild cites a list created by L.Z. Schlosser in 2003. Look at the perks you get for being a Christian in our society:

  • 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.
  • When told about the history of civilization, I can be sure that I am shown people of my religion made it what it is.
  • I probably do not need to learn the religious or spiritual customs of others, and I am likely not penalized for not knowing them.
  • I am probably unencumbered by having to explain why I am or am not doing things related to my religious norms on a daily basis.
  • It is likely that mass media represents my religion widely AND positively.
  • It is likely that I can find items to buy that represent my religious norms and holidays with relative ease (e.g., food, decorations, greeting cards, etc.).
  • My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have religious significance at all.
  • I can openly display my religious symbol(s) on my person or property without fear of disapproval, violence, and/or vandalism.

We could also add:

  • It is likely that most members of Congress believe as you do, and they sometimes legislate accordingly.

Are there any other items you would add to the list?

Those benefits all contribute to this false belief that we are a Christian nation. With all that in mind, it takes a lot of work for an administrator to make non-Christians feel included. The rest of the paper explains how we can challenge this “Christian nation” idea and instead celebrate our nation’s diversity.

Re-reading that list, some of the items are unfathomable to me. Growing up as a Jain, none of them were true. I was always the outsider. I imagine if I were a Jain today, it would only be worse because I would notice the differences much more often.

I don’t have any control over what pastors say in church, but I think it would be very powerful if a pastor said this to his congregation: What if you [Christians] lived in a society where Jews were the privileged ones? Or Muslims? Or atheists? What would you feel like? What would government look like? What would change in your life?

After considering all this, how are you going to change the way you deal with people of other faiths?

I wonder if any Christian pastors would be willing to challenge their congregations with such an idea…

  • ayer

    The answer to your question is yes; see the work of the prominent evangelical pastor Greg Boyd:

    http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Christian-Nation-Political-Destroying/dp/0310267315/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1248704067&sr=1-1

  • http://logofveritas.blogspot.com Veritas

    If I was in charge, we’d definitely have different holidays. April 12th and July 20th would be first on my list to add.

  • beckster

    An addition to the list: I have no difficulty finding people to form meaningful relationships with who also share my core religious beliefs.

  • Jason R

    a Perk: That your delusional thoughts aren’t generally thought of as being delusional.

    another Perk: Your beliefs are backed up by a factually inaccurate, mistranslated, cherry picked conglomeration of ancient texts.

  • Philbert

    My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have religious significance at all.

    I don’t know any Christians who view this as a positive thing.

  • Sackbut
    My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have religious significance at all.

    I don’t know any Christians who view this as a positive thing.

    They may not say so, but there is a benefit. It’s pretty much the same benefit the ancient church got from moving religious holidays to coincide with pagan or secular ones.

    Those who are not Christians, or who are casual Christians, still celebrate Christmas (to pick an obvious example), albeit in a non-religious manner. The religious Christians are then left only with the task of encouraging a religious component to an existing holiday. They are freed from the task of encouraging people to honor the holiday in the first place. They can also point to the widespread celebration of the holiday and claim, incorrectly, that it is evidence of widespread support of their religious beliefs.

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    Many Christians I know would say that you can’t be nice and culturally sensitive to someone when they are on the way to Hell…you need to get in their face and annoy them until they convert…it’s for their own good.

  • Stefani

    And yet there’s a subset of Christians who feel like they’re being persecuted for their faith. Utterly ridiculous.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I have heard pastors tell their flock not to associate with non-believers (or other faith groups) except in trying to convert them.

    So I would add as a benefit of being (an evangelical) Christian:

    “I can view all other faith groups and specifically non-believers only as targets of evangelism and not as equals at the table of life.”

  • dannyness

    Ellen Fairchild is my aunt. Cool.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    You can be considered virtuous and moral by a large group of people simply by sharing their faith.

  • Miko

    What if you [Christians] lived in a society where Jews were the privileged ones? Or Muslims? Or atheists? … I wonder if any Christian pastors would be willing to challenge their congregations with such an idea…

    Given the persecution complex one sometimes sees among Christians, I’m pretty sure that there are pastors out there suggesting this on a regular basis.

  • Kurt

    You can be considered virtuous and moral by a large group of people simply by sharing their faith.

    As a corollary to this one, it’s easy to get “your” people to support your business. Many cities these days have the “Christian Blue Pages” or some such alternative where you can seek out, for instance, a car mechanic who is a Christian and will presumably be “more moral” and trustworthy in providing you services. As a Christian (or perhaps, “Christian” in quotes) car mechanic, you can get additional customers who trust you, just for wearing your faith on your sleeve. I doubt this business strategy works as well for the openly-Muslim mechanic down the street.

    I suppose all communities (including atheists) support each others’ businesses to some extent, and that’s fine, but it’s a lot easier (in the US anyway) if you’re a Christian.

    On the other hand, for those Christian car mechanics who are corrupt and charge for unneeded repairs, I get some satisfaction that your customers really think you’re literally going to burn in hell.

  • http://anti-mattr.blogspot.com/ mathyoo

    If it were me in charge, I’d definitely make September 19th a national holiday. Arrrrr!

  • Epistaxis
    My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have religious significance at all.

    I don’t know any Christians who view this as a positive thing.

    Well, it means you can go into a department store and be greeted with a “Merry Christmas!” or feel entitled to complain about a “war” if you aren’t.

  • Spurs Fan

    I have to ask: Was the title of this post based on the “Geto Boys” song of the 90′s (“Damn, it feels good to be a Gangsta”)? For those of us who are white, you may have also heard it featured in the movie “Office Space”.

    If it was, that’s just brilliant. If not, then, er, disregard my comment. :)

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have religious significance at all.

    Which ones have religious significance again? There’s that one that is quite close the the pagan Winter Solstice, the other one that is near to the Germanic fertility ritual in the spring and there’s also pancake day. Yay pancakes.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I have to ask: Was the title of this post based on the “Geto Boys” song of the 90’s (”Damn, it feels good to be a Gangsta”)? For those of us who are white, you may have also heard it featured in the movie “Office Space”.

    It was! I *love* Office Space :)

  • http://terrierchica.blogspot.com erica

    Pastors wouldn’t ask their congregations to consider that. They don’t want christians to open their minds to anything new; they might leave the church.

    Even past that, there’s plenty of religious folks that aren’t allowed by their church to be friends with those that don’t have the same beliefs. Take mormons, for example. One questiont they are asked when being interviewed by their bishop for “worthiness” is if they fraternize with any apostates (like atheists…). They’d never consider anything different than themselves.

  • Julia

    I have heard pastors tell their flock not to associate with non-believers (or other faith groups) except in trying to convert them.
    So I would add as a benefit of being (an evangelical) Christian:
    “I can view all other faith groups and specifically non-believers only as targets of evangelism and not as equals at the table of life.”

    I’ve also heard that from a pastor, and he specifically said to make sure their children were not associating with unbelievers.

    As a corollary to this one, it’s easy to get “your” people to support your business. Many cities these days have the “Christian Blue Pages” or some such alternative where you can seek out, for instance, a car mechanic who is a Christian and will presumably be “more moral” and trustworthy in providing you services.

    And I would add to that it’s easier to get a job. I have a friend who’s having a ‘hell’ of a time finding work in her conservative little town at the moment. Every time she tries to network the conversation works its way around to what church she goes to. Problem is that she doesn’t go to church and if she is honest about not going they want her to come to theirs. She tried using the church she went to as a kid, but it’s the Catholic church, which apparently is no better as far as many people are concerned. On the plus side it means she may move out of the small town and come to the ‘big city’ and then I’d see alot more of her.

    So I’d also add: Improved networking and work opportunities.

    I have to ask: Was the title of this post based on the “Geto Boys” song of the 90’s (”Damn, it feels good to be a Gangsta”)?

    That’s also what I assumed. Love it!

  • Philbert

    Well, it means you can go into a department store and be greeted with a “Merry Christmas!” or feel entitled to complain about a “war” if you aren’t.

    Well, there is that. And as noted above, one can use the secular component to pretend that one’s religion is more popular than it is. But it is pretending. I guess it’s an example of trying to have it both ways – on the one hand, you can complain about those secular types who don’t “get” Christmas like the true believers, but at the same time you can pretend that the mass consumer festival of late December is some kind of affirmation of the religious festival.

  • Michael R

    The bible says if your eye causes you to do evil, pluck it out. I think that same logic is used to support avoiding atheists. We’re the evil that needs plucking, apparently. Ironically, when I think of the greatest evil that could be perpetrated upon the human race, I think R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N.

  • Donnacha

    Another plus – you will never have to go through the tedious and frankly pointless exercise of moving out of your home country to see what life is like anywhere else ever. Just think of the time you’ll save by NOT having to pack for exciting foreign holidays…

  • bernerbits

    Many Christians I know would say that you can’t be nice and culturally sensitive to someone when they are on the way to Hell…you need to get in their face and annoy them until they convert…it’s for their own good.

    And yet there’s a subset of Christians who feel like they’re being persecuted for their faith. Utterly ridiculous.

    I feel like there’s a strong overlap between the types of Christians identified by these statements. Not being allowed to get in people’s faces and annoy them until they convert for their own good is persecution, because their faith requires them to convert as many people as possible on their way to heaven. By extension, anything that makes aggressive evangelism more difficult, such as giving people various alternatives (“you can be good without God”) is also persecution.

    It’s warped but it makes a weird kind of sense in that context.

  • Sandra

    I’d like to add that christians don’t have to worry about a biased decision against them in court when child custody is being determined. — –When I went to court for custody, I was trapped in a sea of crucifix jewelry (worn by women and men).– — The non-christian can request that religion not be used as a determining factor (setting off the judge’s anti-christian radar) otherwise the christian has the ability to inject that the other parent is *gasp* non-christian, all but assuring that custody goes to them.

  • beijingrrl

    I know a Catholic whose priest had a sermon on how the Muslim population is growing implying they better start pumping out more kids so they don’t get overwhelmed. She called a mutual friend of ours frightened about this fact because even with her 4 kids so far it’s a losing battle. Thinking that there are places where they are the minority just really rattles them.


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