When the Pope decried the “marginalization” of Christianity in Westminster Hall in England, I commented that this persecution complex that Christians have is simply based on their perspective; not a reflection of reality at all. Relativity teaches us that if you assume your frame of reference is fixed, it can appear as though you are moving toward something when in fact that thing is moving toward you – more specifically since Christianity sits high atop the heap (and has for a long time), the fact that it is moving toward the middle looks, to Christians, like they are being marginalized. It’s a phenomenon known in statistics as regression to the mean.
However, in sociology circles this phenomenon is known as privilege. This should not be confused with having privileges in the sense of freedoms to do stuff like leave your desk at work or the privilege of addressing an audience when giving an amazing speech. Privilege is what happens when you or your group have an undeserved level of power based not on your actual merits, but for historical reasons. There’s a lot of talk in anti-racist circles about white privilege – white people are at the top of the heap internationally because of the technological dominance of Europe in the colonial era, and since then have enjoyed a false assumed superiority over all other groups. In feminist circles, it is male privilege that is discussed – for reasons that I am not educated enough to speak on, men have dominated (and oppressed) women and have enjoyed a false assumed superiority over women.
One of the manifestations of privilege is the fact that the group in question is completely unaware that they enjoy it. Because these groups have built a system for themselves (through the selective interpretation of history, through in-group legislation, through behind-the-scenes social programs) that empowers its members from the moment of their birth. While you were reading that last sentence, you weren’t aware of the feeling of your pants/skirt against your legs; you weren’t aware of the background hum of fluorescent lights; you weren’t aware of the sound of your own breathing – when it’s there all the time, you don’t notice it’s there. Of course now that I’ve reminded you of these things, you may suddenly be aware of them. The other side of privilege is that those who have it are free to deny that it exists, and instead claim that those in the non-privileged groups are trying to rob the privileged of things that they deserve.
As an anti-racist and feminist, it’s no stretch for the anti-theist in me to see the exact same phenomenon happening in religious groups:
In her affidavit, a 24-year-old woman from the fundamentalist Mormon enclave of Bountiful says attending Cranbrook’s College of the Rockies was “going into what I see as a wild and unstable world. Out there people were behaving in ways that are not in accord with my beliefs — fighting, impatient, yelling, dating and breaking up, drinking, using foul language.”
In another affidavit, a woman identified as Witness No. 2 complains that Revenue Canada has cut back child-tax benefits to some plural wives. It says they are living common-law and must claim the father of the child’s income, regardless of whether others are already claiming it. “This has been a real hardship,” she says.
It has all the hallmarks of privilege: other people’s behaviour is not in accordance with my beliefs, therefore I am persecuted; the tax code doesn’t make exemptions for my religion, therefore I am persecuted; I am not free to live outside the laws of the country I live in, therefore I am persecuted. These are people who don’t understand what persecution looks like. Persecution is what happens when you are not given rights that other people have based on your group affiliation. Persecution is what happens when you are repeatedly told that the way you are born makes you somehow deficient or unworthy. Persecution is what happens when you must work twice as hard to achieve half as much as someone else because of superficial qualities that are completely unrelated to your job.
Privilege is what allows you to ignore all of those things and cry ‘victim’ when you are told that you can no longer behave outside the law based on your entirely-voluntary beliefs.
Before someone starts a mindless rebuttal of this point, saying that I’m describing the “homosexualist agenda” or “Islamification” or something else stupid, re-read the paragraph:
Persecution is what happens when you are not given rights that other people have based on your group affiliation. Persecution is what happens when you are repeatedly told that the way you are born makes you somehow deficient or unworthy. Persecution is what happens when you must work twice as hard to achieve half as much as someone else because of superficial qualities that are completely unrelated to your job.
If you still think you have a point, congratulations – you’ve got privilege!
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