Are Christians privileged in the UK?

There’s a discussion about that question attached to a posting from the toothycats. One of the toothycats (who are a couple with a shared blog) posted an entry about their Christian beliefs, which promptly exploded into religion_wank (why does that community not exist already?) after lark_ascending turned up, and, angered by a toothcat‘s oppressive action of posting about an interest of theirs on their blog under a cut, started a huge argument (she later experienced drama remorse and deleted fracking everything, but there’s an archive of some of the thread here). I’m unable to resist this sort of thing, so I’ve stuck my oar in here and there.

I can see the point of these privilege checklists which circulate on the net. You don’t know what it’s like to be someone else. If you’re someone who has it good, you may assume that everyone has it equally good. Checklists are a reminder that this assumption isn’t valid.

If you’re not careful though, what you can get out of in a discussion of privilege is black and white thinking (if you’ll pardon the pun) where you insist that someone must be oppressed because they belong to a group you’ve identified as under-privileged, regardless of anything that person says about it. This has happened to a couple of LJ friends, but it doesn’t happen to me very often, because I’m male, middle-class and white so nobody (except Daily Fail readers) would argue that I’m discriminated against. Nevertheless, I am a non-Christian, and I’m not being oppressed. The situation in the UK isn’t like it is in some parts of the USA, so checklists from there aren’t portable.

The other thing I didn’t like about the list that everyone’s been doing as a meme on their blogs lately is that some of it effectively asks “do you come from a healthy culture?” and might, if handled badly, cause people who do to feel bad about that. It’s no credit to you where you were born, of course, but neither do you want the situation where you can’t say that to be from such a culture is a good thing, worth having. A privilege, in fact.

24 thoughts on “Are Christians privileged in the UK?”

  1. Subject: I thought we were an autonomous collective
    Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!

    I think you must be right about lark_ascending being bitten by a rabid Evangelical as a child. She has mutated in to someone far worse than the worst Evangelical I’ve ever encountered (and I knew a lot of literal creationists).

    I’m unsure whether she is actually incapable of understanding what everyone (including those of us on ‘her team’) is saying to her. Does she keep coming back all guns blazing because she’s missing the point or is it a stubborn refusal to back down now that she is at the pinnacle of her hobby horse? I’m not sure.

    I assume she hasn’t replied to me or you in that post because she’d have to consider what we’ve said, given that she can’t claim we’re oppressing her and not listening to her because of our religious beliefs.

    She thinks that Christians should all be held responsible for the actions of other Christians, so for example she tried to link Christianity with the war in Iraq (which is I think quite a childish approach to a complex question) and then pinned it on the toothycats. I’m very very glad that no one other than her has such insane ideas, because if they did people would consider me as an atheist to be responsible for her utterly reprehensible behaviour.

    The poor toothycats are pretty much the nicest least evangelising Christians anyone could meet. In fact the reason they made the post was because I was continuously badgering them on and offline to be more evangelistic, and to specifically write a post detailing what they believe and why.

    I’m amazed at the tolerance of the toothycats. Putting up with her ongoing war on people talking privately behind a cut in their own journal must be absolutely tiring.

    Apparently she’s actually quite nice IRL. I guess the internet does that to people.


    1. Subject: Re: I thought we were an autonomous collective
      if they did people would consider me as an atheist to be responsible for her utterly reprehensible behaviour.

      Well, there is the argument that christians share beliefs, whereas atheists are only united by an abscense of belief. So you could argue that Christians are responsible for other Christians behaviour whereas atheists are not, if you did it carefully. I’m not sure it’s a useful position – obviously if you are a vicor and you tell your congregation to go and burn down someone’s house because god has told you to and they do you ought to take some responsibility, but that doesn’t take away the responsibility of the people who actually torched the house. There are a lot of christian peace groups who protested very very hard against the war in Iraq, and personally I would say they were less responsible (because they spent lots of time and energy trying to stop it) than other people (christians or non-christians) who didn’t bother.

    2. Subject: Re: I thought we were an autonomous collective
      Apparently she’s actually quite nice IRL. I guess the internet does that to people.

      Well, I get on fine with lark_ascending in real life, but she can be “outspoken” if you get her onto one of her pet hobby-horses like Christianity. But I did cause a flame war on her LJ a while back. She likes to be right and isn’t so keen on being disagreed with 🙂

      1. Subject: Re: I thought we were an autonomous collective
        I think that’s a big part of the problem. She sees this like some kind of fire fight where she needs to win rather than a discussion with her friends.

        I’m an atheist who has a dislike of Christianity, but I recognise that other people like Christianity and we all have to live together in (relative) harmony. Discussion and debate is fine, but she is looking pretty childish with the way she is behaving. Even more importantly than that she is being rather unfair to the toothycats who are very nice people.

        1. Subject: Re: I thought we were an autonomous collective
          I think I probably have met1 (at least one of) the toothycats and if so then they are indeed very nice people. Not that it would excuse lark’s behaviour if they weren’t.

          1 At a UKRC meet?

  2. I think the problem with the privilege idea as I’ve often seen it around is that it’s used to shut people up inappropriately.

    AIUI, the idea of it is to say that there are some things about life as an unprivileged individual that aren’t experienced by a privileged one (and vice versa), and that for such a person to deny them on the basis that they don’t experience them is inappropriate.

    So far, so good, but it seems (maybe this is just in the bits of online I’ve dropped in on) to be used to tell people that they’re not allowed to express any opinion on anything tangentially to do with a domain because their status is suspect. Again, I can see where this might be appropriate, but I suspect it’s more broadly invoked than necessary.

    1. I agree. Online, it seems to lead to the “lefty causes as prescriptive religion” phenomenon that you sometimes see on feminist and anti-racist discussions (“this word means what I say it means, if you disagree you need to go and repent and re-read the gospels”).

      But I’m only saying that because I’m male and white, of course.

  3. I am a non-Christian, and I’m not being oppressed

    I think some of Christian “oppression” is that it’s very easy for Christians to do ‘spurious’ things because of their faith (not shop on Sunday, be off work on the 25th December etc) that other religions can’t do.

    One of my friends is an actuary, and they used to timetable the exams to avoid Christmas and Easter. Then they started to avoid Jewish holidays, and then Muslim holidays, and then there weren’t any days left to sit exams on, so they stopped trying to avoid any dates at all and just spaced the exams out logically in a way they hoped everyone would be able to find at least one session that worked.

    So maybe it is more meaningful to say Christians have privilige over members of other religions, in a way they don’t over atheists, because there aren’t large groups of atheists all wanting the state to do the same ‘irrational’ thing. Pirate costumes aside.

    1. it’s very easy for Christians to do ‘spurious’ things because of their faith (not shop on Sunday, be off work on the 25th December etc) that other religions can’t do.

      Frankly, that’s no longer true. There are all together too many politically correct types out there who insist on trying to right the imbalance by forcing non-Christian religious holidays into our consciousness while banning people from celebrating the Christian ones (or downgrading them to “winterval” and such). I used to work for a company that didn’t acknowledge Good Friday as a holiday, and that in the UK ten years ago!

        1. Well, as one who lived and worked in the midlands in the two years the Graun admits Winterval “happened”, I can say the general feeling was more in line with the stunningly over-hyped Sun / Mail accusations than the Graun’s “there was never anything to it” claim. But perhaps we were all the victims of mass hysteria.

    2. Well, I’m an atheist and it really frustrates me that my company forces me to take a week off at Christmas. Flights at Christmas are really expensive so I can’t afford to go anywhere. If I could work over Christmas, I could then take that week off at a time that suits me better. I understand why the rule is as it is but I do rue the loss of that week that I could have spent somewhere nice that I instead ended up just spending mooching around at home.

      1. I would agree. Except that if I wasn’t forced to take a week to mooch around at home I’d *want* to do so but feel guilty about doing it and so not. I quite like enforced mooching; but then I like mooching.

      1. Subject: Re: A+ drama, would lulz again
        Oh yeah, I suppose I do. Not to mention exclamation-mark-exclamation-mark-eleven and all that. It’s so difficult to keep up with the cool kids nowadays.

  4. Yes, Christians (and especially Anglicans) are privileged in the UK in a number of ways, many of which are probably quite invisible to me. But here are some of the ways this privilege operates:

    • Bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords.
    • Blasphemy against the Christian religion is illegal (though the law is possibly now a dead letter, it remains on the statute books and still has a chilling influence).
    • State schools are required by law to provide “a daily collective act of worship, wholly or mainly Christian in character”.
    • Public holidays and Sunday trading laws are convenient for Christians and inconvenient for members of other religions.
    • Public broadcasting supports programs of a wholly or mostly Christian nature (“Sunday Worship” on Radio 4; “Songs of Praise” on BBC1; many special programs at Christmas and Easter) without much in the way of corresponding programs for other religions.
    • Public expressions of religion such as carol singing in the streets and ringing of church bells are considered unexceptional (whereas public displays of other religions, for example muezzins or eruvim, are frowned upon).
    • Two people of the same sex cannot marry, and neither can more than two people of any sexes (convenient for Christians since these are among their religious beliefs).

    I know that it’s hard to be outraged at this kind of privilege unless it affects you directly. I can only think of a couple of instances where I’ve been on the receiving end. (a) When I was a teenager in the 1980s I was kicked out of my local Boy Scouts because I didn’t go to church. (b) In 2003 I tried to book a double room in a hotel in Scotland for myself and my partner. “Are you married?” said the man taking the booking. “Er, no,” I replied. “I can’t help you then,” he said.

    So Christian privilege is only occasionally a minor inconvenience for me and really not worth moaning about. But if I came up against it on a weekly basis I am sure I would be livid.

    1. ISTR that Jewish-owned businesses were allowed to close on Saturdays and open on Sundays when the Sunday Trading laws had more force. I realise that this may be a special case rather than disproving your general thrust of argument, though.

      1. Yes, see part II of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. But note the extra difficulties involved: the owner has to find an “authorised person” who can certify that he or she is Jewish, and the list of shops obeying the Jewish sabbath is kept in a public register. These conditions don’t apply to businesses that choose to close on Sundays.

        The effect of the Act is that in much of the country it is more convenient to observe the Christian sabbath and less convenient to observe the Jewish sabbath: the law does not have to be biased in its expression to result in a bias in its implementation. (“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges” — Anatole France)

    2. I’m not sure about blasphemy. If you can’t successfully prosecute the people responsible for Jerry Springer the Opera, it’s hard to see how the law has a chilling influence. The law has become something like the personal power of the monarch: it only still exists on the understanding that nobody can use it.

      Still, I agree that cultural Christians, of which I am one, are privileged. But the the evangelical in me (which I’m keeping in the cellar, metaphorically: “It rubs the lotion on its skin, or it gets the hose again”) wants to say that cultural Christianity isn’t proper Christianity. One of my problems with lark_ascending‘s rant was that she seemed to argue that the toothycats were especially well off. Proper Christians like the toothcats aren’t in fact more privileged than other people who share a Western culture (which includes stuff like male/female monogamy, having a day off at the weekend, and things like that).

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