Privilege Blindness

A couple of voices in the blogosphere tackled the often fraught topic of privilege, and focused in more specifically on the phenomenon of Christians in the United States who may have been losing some of their historic privilege recently, but who mistake the gains of others for persecution of themselves. For instance, Neil Carter writes:

The Christian message was predicated upon a martyrdom, and it was fashioned by a people suffering from persecution. Because of this, it will always make the most sense among groups of people who are similarly persecuted and underprivileged by their surroundings.

But put this same message into a subculture in which its adherents actually wield the positions of greatest civic and economic power and you get a grotesque monstrosity which goes around bullying others, then claiming victimhood every time the targets of their abuse try to defend themselves.

We call this “privilege blindness,” when you cannot even see the ways that the world gives you an upper hand. Or in this case maybe we should call it privilege projection. You take those inequities for granted because it’s the way things have always been. Once you become accustomed to a steady diet of such regular privilege, the slightest reduction in the inequality leaves you feeling utterly persecuted.

I often regret that Neil has ended up an atheist, since he often seems so adept at separating Jesus, whom he can view positively and appreciate, from his modern-day followers. If those followers had not succeeded in driving him away entirely, he’d have made a fantastic liberal Christian! 🙂
Vance Morgan wrote along similar lines:

One way to ensure that one’s faith is not co-opted by fear is to remember that, as the events we celebrate during this coming week show, love often looks like failure—the sort of failure that we naturally seek to protect ourselves against using any means necessary. But often that protection turns what we claim to value most highly into a mockery of itself. At the heart of faith is something fragile, holy, pure, and impossible to destroy—something that thrives not when protected but when openly exposed and released.

I’m glad that Patheos provides a venue where voices like both of the above can be heard either individually or in conversation with one another!

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  • //The Christian message was predicated upon a martyrdom, and it was fashioned by a people suffering from persecution…put this same message into a subculture in which its adherents actually wield the positions of greatest civic and economic power and you get a grotesque monstrosity which goes around bullying others, then claiming victimhood every time the targets of their abuse try to defend themselves.//

    MHO this is happening. I never heard it put so well!!

  • John MacDonald

    James quotes that:

    The Christian message was predicated upon a martyrdom, and it was fashioned by a people suffering from persecution.

    As I’m learning about early Christianity, it seems to me the paradox of Jesus being a convicted criminal, but also a righteous martyr (like Socrates, or the impaled noble man in Plato’s Republic), is at the core of the message in Mark. In the death/resurrection in Mark, the three key characters seem to be the women who found the empty tomb, the angelic young man in the tomb, and the soldier at the cross:

    (1) The women who are witnesses to the empty tomb leave and tell no one. This seems to be an extension of Mark’s idea that a prophet is not understood by his friends and family (Mark 6:4-6) – as is the cluelessness of the disciples in Mark.

    (2) The angelic young man in the tomb seems to be the same young man who was naked earlier in the story. Earlier, the naked young man was as guilty as naked Adam, following a criminal like Jesus. But the young man is made holy by proclaiming the resurrected Jesus, who was a noble Martyr, not a criminal, in God’s eyes.

    (3) Justin Martyr seems to suggest that Jesus’ resurrection account is supposed to present him as an alternative (or at least equal) to the Caesars. Justin writes:

    “What about your dead emperors, whom you always esteem as being rescued from death and set forth someone who swears to have seen the cremated Caesar [Augustus] ascending from the pyre into the sky?” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 21.3).”

    Mark picks up on this theme by beginning his gospel with a spoof on a piece of Augustan propaganda. Randel Helms writes

    The syncretic flavor of Mark is at once evident from his reproduction of a piece of Augustan imperial propaganda and his setting it beside a tailored scripture quote. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” closely matches the formula found on a monument erected by the Provincial Assembly in Asia Minor (1st century BCE): “Whereas… Providence… has… brought our life to the peak of perfection in giving us Augustus Caesar… who, being sent to us and to our descendants as a savior…, and whereas… the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euaggelion) concerning him, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth.”

    We can see, then, the irony of the Roman soldier at the cross declaring that Jesus, a convicted criminal, was the son of God – and hence at least equal to Caesar!

    -So, in God’s eyes, Jesus was a noble martyr, not the terrible criminal society condemned him to be.

  • rtgmath

    Why would a person who can “separate Jesus from his modern-day followers” become an atheist? Because it is possible to separate Jesus from his modern-day followers.

    In other words, the religion lacks the power to change lives. People can “follow Jesus” and still be putrid and worthless people. God doesn’t actually change their lives. The people demand the privileges both of imputed spirituality and political control, while being able to claim persecution for people wanting to be free of such trash. They condemn others while being completely engulfed in their own sins.

    “You are inexcusable, in that while you condemn others, you are doing the same things,” Paul told the readers in Romans 2. The “goodness of God leads to repentance” — or there is no power.

    And so I hang on the threshold. I was “saved” at an early age, but I have found precious few people along the way for whom “salvation” actually meant a damn. I have met a lot of people telling me to stop looking at people and start looking at Jesus, but if the very people who claim to be saved don’t show evidence of it, then does Jesus actually save? Where is the evidence? Some days it would be easier to be an atheist.

    And that is why believers become atheists. They look for the evidence of salvation promised in Scripture, and they don’t find it. Instead they find excuses and licentiousness.