This is a guest post by Clyde Daly Jr.. Clyde is a senior at Gordon College and will be attending graduate school at the University of Notre Dame this fall. When he’s not in lab working on his research project or promoting important conversations, he can be found musing on his own blog, miningasteroids, or on Twitter @cjjc0.
[This piece is adapted from a previously-published article.]
Imagine a country that had freedom of religion, but also had a greater than 70% Muslim population. Of course, this would range from “Cover your women from head to toe” Islam to “You don’t really need to pray five times a day, as long as you pray often” Islam, and some groups didn’t see others as True Muslims, but that’s what freedom of religion is for, right?
Imagine that people of no religion were a 16% minority, and Christians were a less than 2% minority. There might have been more Christians, but public sentiment shifted away from them powerfully when a Christian group attacked this country for what they called “crimes against Christian nations.”
Can you envision a place where the opinion that Muslims should get special treatment in matters of religious freedom was not a fringe opinion nor an idea that a few strange people wished was true? What would it be like for a non-Muslim to live in a place where an impressive number of candidates for public office openly endorsed this idea of “Muslim heritage”? What would you teach your minority-religion children when you found that the historical narratives taught in their public educational system supported this Muslim dominance and were informed by it?
Imagine that the national motto, written on all of the nation’s currency, was “In Allah We Trust.” Imagine that in order to pledge allegiance to this country, citizens were required to state that they lived in “one nation, under Allah.” This had not always been. During a nationalistic conflict between this country and another world power that was both Communistic and atheistic, these words had been adopted in an effort to rally the support of the people. Prior to this, the Pledge of Allegiance had no religious wording, and the national motto was “Out of Many, One.” Imagine that when people inevitably pointed out that these new mantras conflicted with freedom of religion, and that the use of “Allah” clearly referred to only to the Muslim Allah, the complainers were labeled unpatriotic, not true citizens of the country.
Imagine that a Muslim came to you and told you that Muslims were being persecuted in this country. What would you say to him or her? As a Christian or other religious minority, how astounded, how ignored, how violated and invalidated would such an obviously and deeply untrue statement make you feel?
I often find myself astounded by the level at which Christians in the United States seem to be unaware of their religious privilege. Christians are the group whose religion so pervades the United States that discussions about popular secular morality often quote the Bible for emphasis. Minority religions are accepted popularly because they also lead to God, or truth, or some other thing for which Christianity is normally used, not because they are valuable in and of themselves.
This awareness of Christian privilege comes in highest relief for me when the inevitable discussions come up about worldwide religious persecution. These conversations sometime talk about how Christian religious liberty is ignored in lieu of minority-religions’ liberty in the United States. I think this is blatantly insulting to the subjects of the second type of conversation, Christians in countries where anti-Christian persecution really does occur. The third type of conversation, which is strangely absent, is the conversation about non-Christians who are persecuted worldwide. Why don’t we talk about Muslims in Israel? Why don’t we talk about atheists and agnostics in Iran and Saudi Arabia? Why don’t we talk about Hindus in Fiji, and why don’t we talk about Muslims in America?
Christianity grew out a place of persecution in the Roman Empire, but America is not Diocletian’s Rome. American Christians should take a look around; they must understand that they live in a much more Constantine-esque nation than their words sometimes suggest. If Christians don’t learn to behave with much more compassion for the people who have a right to see their Diocletian’s hand on the Bible each Inauguration Day, they’re going to continue to alienate the very people whom they wish to convert. Non-religiosity and Paganism are growing. Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are immigrating. And Christianity cannot help but become more offensive to them as long as they continue to pretend they could be discriminated against in such a “Christian nation.” Just like the monuments of racial and gender privilege, this monument of unacknowledged religious privilege must be torn open to reveal the wounds of the truly oppressed.