Christian Privilege in America

target-christmasAccording to interviews conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in 2007, 78% of American adults identify themselves as Christians. While that number is down 10% from 20 years ago, most aspects of life in America are still dictated by Christianity: we have “winter break” over Christmas, “spring break” over Easter, and not much thought is given by professors regarding scheduling an exam on days such as Yom Kippur or Eid ul-Fitr.

With the appearance of conspiracy theories in recent years regarding a “war on Christmas,” it has become evident that conservative Christians believe that they are losing their supremacy in popular American culture. Commentators such as John Gibson at Fox News Channel claim that “a cabal of secularists, so-called humanists, trial lawyers, cultural relativists, and liberal, guilt-wracked Christians–not just Jewish people” are persecuting the American Christian majority.

In his essay “Christian Privilege: Breaking a Sacred Taboo,” Lewis Z. Schlosser writes:

“Experiences of racism, sexism, and heterosexism each contribute to the oppression of and discrimination against persons from minority racial, gender, and sexual orientation groups… In similar fashion, Christian religious dogmatism contributes to persons from minority religious groups feeling that their religious identity is not valued, and subsequently, they feel discrimination and oppression because of their religious group membership.”

Concepts such as racism and sexism are often described as nonconscious ideology–in which a group’s inferiority is repeatedly reinforced through assumptions and interactions occurring beyond our conscious considerations. (Psychologists Sandra Bem and Daryl Bem use the analogy of a fish that doesn’t know it lives in a wet environment because it has never experienced anything else.) Within this framework, privilege is the perceived normalcy/lack of conscious consideration of exclusive benefits described as “unearned and unacknowledged advantages” that are taken for granted and which go unnoticed.

Sometimes, Christian privilege accompanies the perception that it is the religious minority’s own fault for being marginalized across all matters of American life. By choosing not to be a Christian, such discrimination is simply seen as something to be expected and deal with, and certainly not to challenge. Responsibility is comfortably shifted back upon people whose beliefs are deemed threatening to the status quo, regardless of what little clout they hold in such power dynamics.

Some examples of Christian privilege given by Lewis Z. Schlosser:

  • Christianity and its’ religious holidays are so completely “normal” that they often appear to no longer have any religious significance.
  • Christians can talk about their religion, even proselytize, and will usually be regarded as “sharing the word,” instead of imposing their ideas upon others or distributing “propaganda.”
  • The birth of Christianity’s central figure is used as the major point of reference for our calendaring system (B.C. and A.D.).
  • Christians can share their holiday greetings without being fully conscious of how it may impact those who do not celebrate the same holidays. They can also be sure that people are knowledgeable about their religious holidays and will greet them with the appropriate holiday greeting (e.g., Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, etc.).
  • Christians probably do not need to learn the religious or spiritual customs of others, and they are likely not penalized for not knowing them.


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