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…