Saturday, August 11, 2012

Power Points: Confronting Christian Privilege

Among the Jewish population, which constitutes only a small demographic minority in the U.S., it seems that there are various group-based approaches in dealing with the predominantly Christian population. One is a deferential conformity or assimilation in which Jews will go out of their to maintain good relations with their non-Jewish associates in order not to upset or stir up latent (and not so latent as the case may be) anti-Semitic feelings that these people might harbor. This submissive behavior is usually found in locales where Jews constitute a relatively miniscule number such as in small towns and rural areas.

Another approach is assertiveness, wherein Jews are less concerned about what Christians think of them. As such, they are less inclined to "go along to get along." This outlook is more typically found where Jews are in larger numbers and are on more or less equal footing with non-Jews in terms of numbers as well as economic and political power such as in large metropolitan areas.

But what happens if one or a few members of a small Jewish community who are joined with outside allies stand up for principle on an issue that goes against the grain of the larger Christian population in that locale? That's what happened in Hawaii in 1985 a Jewish group protested against a large cross as a violation of church-state separation. The monument had been erected several years before on federal landa marine base to be exact, and it had come to be considered a landmark of sorts by the non-Jewish locals. The challenge went to court, and in 1986 the U.S. District Court agreed that the cross indeed sent a religious message and should be removed.

As might be expected, this affair raised the ire of the Christians against the Jews there, and for fear of that very consequence, many of the latter had opposed undertaking the legal challenge in the first place. It's obvious as to which of the above group-based approaches this community was taking. And therein lies the heart of the matter.

First there is the cultural phenomenon of Christian privilege in the U.S.,  which is a a sense of entitlement that most Christians there take for granted and most other Americans accept without questioning. For example, no other religion in the U.S. gets its own national holiday (Christmas).  Followers of other religions in the U.S. generally don't assume that everyone else must accept public displays of their symbols of faith on public landand then get upset when they don't get their way; or impose its dogma on science instruction in public schools (creationism); or use the power and notoriety of political offices to promote or endorse their religious views (think Governors Rick Perryand Mike Huckabee).  In short, no other religious group in the blatantly defies  the separation of state and church which is a cornerstone of American democracy. 

Yet the justification for Christians to think that they ought to be so honored, namely that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation", is totally false.  America is not now and never has been owned by any religious entity.  There is not a single word in the United States Constitution about God or Jesus, or an endorsement of any particular faith. The only references in that document to religion regard  freedom of and from it (First Amendment and Article 6, Section 3).  Also Many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christians. Finally, the Treaty of Tripoli which was signed in 1796, flatly states that America is not a Christian nation.       

Not surprisingly, this entitlement mentality has also has spilled over into the U.S. military as well, where Christian proselytizing especially since the Reagan era has become a serious issue.  To combat (no pun intended) this menace, in 2005 Mikey Weinstein founded the MRFF (Military Religious Freedom Foundation).

Mr. Weinstein is a Jewish graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and retired officer whose son and other non-Christians endured religious discrimination and harassment at that institution. It turns out that the USAFA is not the only source of Christian bullying of religious minorities and atheists.  It's endemic throughout the Armed Forces. Yet despite the accomplishments of the MRFF, an acquaintance of mine who is also a Jewish retired military officer thinks that Weinstein is too militant and that he should try to work within the system to accomplish his goals. (In fact, this acquainance was the one who told me about the Hawaii incident).  However, Weinsteins's frustrationds are based on the very futility of his having going through proper channels to seek a solution  to Christian abuse of power only to be met with indifference. Morevoer, the MRFF has been nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.   That doesn't sound very belligerent to me.
No doubt it's their numbers that have led so many of American Christian into this mindset of superiority and obliviousness to the rights of others. But thanks to the Constitution, the religious majority does not get to run the country. So it's time for diffident and indifferent non-Christians to take a lesson people like Mikey Weinstein and assert themselves in this issue, just as advocates of CP need to get put aside their delusions of grandeur and get over themselves.