Some thoughts about Christian privilege25. Oktober 2013 | Von thursa | Kategorie: Articles in english, Das Odins Auge Projekt
Around Easter 2012, I was annoyed by a public debate about „silent holidays“. (In almost all German states, public dance parties are forbidden on Good Friday and Easter Saturday.) In my opinion, in a state that claims religious neutrality a holiday of a religious community, however big it may be, should not be a reason to prohibit people from enjoying themselves. Therefore, I decided to work on a project about christian privilege.
What do I mean by this?
When religion is mentioned, most people here [in Germany] automatically think of Christianity in its Roman Catholic or Lutheran Protestant form, and, today, maybe of Islam; non-Abrahamitic religions are overlooked entirely, not to mention non-standardized, non-codified forms of spirituality. The latter are, in the best case, a riddle that is considered by the mainstream only insofar as it competes (or seems to compete) with the major Christian denominations.
Together with an uncritical a-religiosity, Christianity is the „rule“ that is ascribed to people about whose religion nothing is known, similar to the phenomenon that the majority of people assume a person is heterosexual, cisgender and monogamous if s_he doesn’t explicitly state something else.
Excursion: What is privilege?
To be privileged means to be in a societal position of power and to enjoy more or less everyday comfort. Privileged identities are mostly those that are unquestionedly viewed as the rule; traits that are ascribed to the average person if not stated otherwise, as: white, in possession of the German citizenship, male, cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled, employed, middle-class. The perspective and the needs of these groups are viewed as „normal“, right, important and valid for everyone, whereas those of people not pertaining to these groups are judged as non-essential, „other“, „special needs“ or „minority“.
In this sense, a privilege is not something a certain group enjoys by right, but something that should be available to all humans. Privileged people are often not even aware they are privileged, or they deny their privilege, or it is denied that non-privileged people are banned from things that privileged people take for granted, or explanations are made up why the non-privileged have no right to being treated like first-class humans.
I do enjoy some privileges: e.g., people talk about me, a cisgender woman, with pronouns I deem fitting for me and I am approached with an address that is consistent with my gender identity. As a white German I do not have to justify myself for my musical taste or dislikes, I am not asked where my parents came from, nor is admiringly stated that I do speak German quite well; if I have problems to find cosmetics that fit my skin, my very light skin is seldom the cause.
In other areas I encounter what it’s like not to be privileged. As a woman, street harassment is a phenomenon I deal with on a nearly daily basis – be it that I’m harassed or that I walk around with heightened awareness at night, bearing the necessity to react to possible street harassment in some way in my mind. As a lesbian, I find myself ignored, negated and declared unessential in most cultural products (operas, stage plays, novels, movies); and if I wanted to move in with my (hypothetical) female partner and rent a flat for that, it might be much harder than if I wanted to move in with a male partner. In pagan contexts, I have to justify myself when I object to heteronormative concepts and practices and want to practice alternatives, while the very same heteronormative ideas are taken for granted and considered to be the most normal things of the world.
And as a non-Christian I stumble repeatedly upon things I want to talk about later.
As a privileged person, I can’t simply shed my privileges. There’s nothing wrong with me enjoying these liberties and securities – what’s objectable is that others do not enjoy them. If I want to do something so that others could enjoy that too, I can do it: act in solidary ways in the first place. Be it calling out racism if witness it; be it that I as an employed middle-class person refuse to take part in the usual bashing of unemployed and „underclass“ people; be it speaking up for the right of people to raise children even if I do not want to have children of my own; be it advocating accessible buildings and websites even if I myself have no disability up to now.
Christian privilege – a translation project and some reflections
What does German everyday life look like? Which privileges do Christian people, groups and establishments enjoy without even noticing how non-Christian people (Muslims, Taoists, Pagans and Atheists, among many others) are excluded from them?
At this place, a document comes into play that I found some years ago: the Christian Privilege Checklist. When I wrote the German version of the article, I could not determine the original author, nonetheless I simply started to translate the document into German – although several English versions circulated around the internet, there was simply no German version available.
This article here, however, is a translation of my own thoughts that accompanied my translation of the checklist. Instead of quoting the full checklist here, I’ll summarize some points further down. You can read the original checklist here.
I want to stress that the original Christian Privilege Checklist has a certain US-American perspective, and I haven’t „subtracted“ the differences that result from differences of culture and even legislation so far. E.g. open Christian proselytizing from private people is considered as awkward here.
In Germany, there are, as far as I know, big regional differences and big differences between Christian denominations. The privileges described below are most valid for the two big denominations: Roman Catholic and Lutheran protestant. Other denominations might be more in a marginal position, so „privileged/marginalized“ is rather a spectrum than a black/white distinction here.
And being an Atheist or a Muslim/Muslima in Berlin is way different from being an Atheist or Muslim/Muslima in Upper Bavaria.
The German situation e.g. regarding the limitations of employees‘ rights in church-owned businesses and church finances is not considered in this article.
Also, the Christian Privilege Checklist in its original form is not valid globally. It is valid for Western societies where Christianity is the dominant religion.
Instead of citing the full checklist, I’ll summarize some areas of life affected by Christian privilege:
Holidays and culture
Holidays and the surrounding culture are shaped by Christianity. Christians can be sure that they have time on their hands to celebrate because public holidays fall on their holidays; they don’t have to squeeze festivities into a regular weekday, or take days off to celebrate properly.
Festivities like Christmas and Easter are so much merged into general culture that they seem to bear little religious character at all; greetings like „Merry Christmas“ and „Happy Easter“ or the easy availability of festive decorations, greeting cards, etc. bear witness to that.
Religious education is easily available, media testify the existence and importance of Christianity e.g. by regularly devoting air time to Church issues or Christian festivities. Christianity enjoys a broad representation in culture (media, music, books…); materials for religious practice are as easily available as commonly known and respected places for worship. Christian religious acts are widely accepted and seldom subject to ridicule.
In Western cultures, Christianity has shaped the notions of „faith“, „god“, „religion“ and others so strongly that applying them to other religions will lead to misunderstandings.
Consequences of disclosure of one’s religion
Christians can be open about their religion, but in most cases, they don’t even have to: their religion is already the default case, and disclosing it comes as no surprise. Disclosing their religious affiliation will not lead to negative consequences in professional life, negative consequences from authorities of any kind, or make them, their families and their property targets for violence.
Knowledge and cultural standing
Christians won’t be punished for not knowing about the religious or spiritual customs of others. In fact, they can choose to ignore them altogether. They can take their own experience for granted and suppose it’s universal and also valid for other religions and spiritual systems.
In contrary to others, Christians won’t have to explain or justify themselves for respecting religious commandments, for doing or not doing religious things on a regular basis or for celebrating certain days.
What is desirable? In my opinion: Everyone should have unhindered access to safety, education, public services, employment; nobody should worry about negative consequences from disclosing their worldview; educating oneself about different cultural, religious and spiritual views or at least not behaving totally ignorant should go without saying. Our society is far from that; but that’s still a good reason to work towards it!