Atheist Privilege Blossoming

Is it Christian belief that pisses you off, or your minority status?

“Minorities” will become the new Majority in the USA.  This shows you what a silly, transient word “Minority” can be. This year, for the first time, the numbers of Minorities born in the USA surpassed the number of Whites born (LA Times, WSJ, Pew Research, Census Bureau).  White Priviledge will naturally atrophy.  Will a new privileged class emerge?  Inevitably!  “Privilege” is a problem in all societies.  Privilege is an opportunistic human disease.

Presently, Christianity is the default religion in the USA — Christian Privilege rules.  The American religious scene continues to puzzle demographers because for most other nations where average education, income and security levels are relatively high, non-belief is the default mode (Pew report).  American Atheists are often rightfully pissed off at Christianity exactly because it is the default mode. Christian-Privilege impacts their lives negatively and Christian theocratic movements harms American politics and the international scene.

In contrast to American Christians, I hear British Christians complain of the side-effects of being a minority in their country.   But those side-effects are minor compared to the Christians who are outright persecuted in many Muslim countries (Indonesia, Kuwait, Iran and more), in Communist countries (China, Laos) even in a Buddhist country like Myanmar (Burma).  Well, the governments in all these countries are dangerous.   When a government takes on the role of promoting any belief system, we have potential abuse.  And if the majority rules, the focus of abuse can change over the years.

Non-belief is rising in America — see this Pew data. Some day Atheist Priviledge may become the new disease here.  How can this be avoided?

Let’s do a thought experiment.  Imagine that the default religious position in America were, like Europe, to swing largely Atheist, and Atheist-Priviledge emerged.  Now entertain these two questions:

  1. What problems would come with Atheist Privilege?  Under what circumstances would you fight to protect Christianity?
  2. What percent of what pisses you off about American Christianity is due to their actual beliefs vs due to their privileged status?

In the comments, to supplement your thoughts, consider telling us what country you are from and what your religious position is.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

22 responses to “Atheist Privilege Blossoming

  1. vjack

    1. In the hypothetical atheist majority scenario, I would fight to protect religious freedom. This is much broader than Christianity, and I would have no interest in protecting Christianity. My focus would be on preserving religious freedom so that individuals could continue to practice whatever religion they preferred without state interference.

    2. Neither of these things provoke more than moderate and transient annoyance. What pisses me off are the constant violations of church-state separation (i.e., the need of many Christians to push their beliefs on the rest of us through legislation) and the demonization of atheists. My complaint isn’t with what they believe but how they behave.

    USA, atheist

  2. Sorry to derail the answering of your questions but I’m not sure what the exact aim for here — do you want to know how people suspect this will play out specifically in the USA given your scenario? If you’re looking for a more general answer, then according to your post, we could perhaps get some answers by applying these questions to the situation in the UK or Europe today?

  3. Thanks VJack, I agree.

    @ Nadder: My main aim is to wonder how much of what bothers us about others is their particular beliefs, or how they affect us. I agree with VJack, it is how it affects us that is most bothersome. I think we often confuse these. Speaking of possible futures was only my attempt at a means to that understanding. Hope that helps.

  4. I agree with Vjack, but that’s not the problem with an atheist majority. As a minority, a big portion of our population are deep thinkers, scientists, philosophers and generally well educated folks. To have a majority in any society, you have to have the idiots too.

    The problem in the US with Christianity isn’t the nice thoughtful liberal Christians like Douglas Wilson, its the ignorant redneck clutching his bible and guns and headed down to the voting booth to do exactly what his racist pastor told him to do. Atheism isn’t a cure for ignorance, so we continue to under educate our children, I can see a real problem with the growing number of ‘nones’ that might grow to be our population.

    I hate to agree with the theists, but religion can form an underlying moral foundation. It isn’t the only way to build one, but it is a big part of our society now. If we quickly abandon religion (as that poll suggests we might), we might face an entire generation that has very loose morals, and no fear of retribution.

    Even if it does come to pass, some other moral system will likely step in to replace our lost religion, but in the short term, I think we could see a decadent generation.

  5. I disagree. Atheism is in vogue now. Christianity is in decline and all we see are the ultra-conservative versions, so much so that many new atheists can only attack that version of Christianity. Hold on.

    Wait, I guess I’m bemoaning my minority status as a mainline, progressive Christian, not a evangelical conservative one. Must be why I prefer your company to those who supposedly share my privilege.

  6. Interesting hypothetical scenario, Sabio, that you would suggest a future country built on facts instead of beliefs. What a wonderful place that might be!

    If religious beliefs were a minority, I would still support the notion of allowing people to believe whatever rubbish they desire, whether it’s Christianity, Scientology or Pastafarianism.

    As far as the privileged status is concerned, I agree with vjack. Many Christians in the US demonize nonbelievers and assert that their beliefs are the only source for a moral culture. Belief in a deity is not necessary for one to have a moral compass.

    (I ask everyone to re-read that last line and let it sink in. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

    I feel the Christian agenda undermines our efforts to promote proper education and true equality in our society. While I have no problem with believers using whatever emotional coping mechanisms they need to get them through a traumatic experience, I do have a problem with them imposing their dogma on the rest of us.

    I’m sure some Christians will whine about that last paragraph and try to project that they are the victims here, but take a look at this here, here, here, here, hereand here.

  7. @ Luke,
    I agree that your liberal Christianity has a bad rap due to the conservatives and fundamentalists …
    I agree that Atheism is on the rise.
    But for now, I think Christianity is still highly privileged in a way that advantages your children over mine and advantage your opinion in society far over mine. So I don’t think you can play down Christian Priviledge at all.

    I always *pray* that your influence among the loud exclusivist Christians in our society grows!

    @ Bart Mitchell,
    Interesting thoughts. Thanx.

    Your name links to George W.’s site. Is that you?

  8. George was kind enough to allow me to be a guest-poster on his blog a while back.

  9. Adam

    1.What problems would come with Atheist Privilege? Under what circumstances would you fight to protect Christianity?

    One of the problems I could envision is the smashing out and squelching of minority traditions which often have a religious element that runs through them. Christianity has certainly already done a great deal of damage here, but I could see a finishing off under a society where there was a clear Atheist privilege.

    Also, churches now function as one of the few places where the public still gathers in a meaningful way within their own communities. This country has already seen a sharp decline in civic engagement which we know has had a negative effect upon society, and taking one of those last meeting places and communities away doesn’t seem like it would have the net positive affect many of us might think it would. That isn’t to say that something else might not rise up and take its place, but that hasn’t happened with some of the other civic groups that we used to belong to either.

    I don’t suppose I’d really “fight” to save Christianity unless some sort of facist movement was taking place. I don’t fight for Atheists or Buddhists or really anyone right now. I mean, I speak out now and then when I see injustice, but I wouldn’t really categorize that as being an activist or fighting.

    2.What percent of what pisses you off about American Christianity is due to their actual beliefs vs due to their privileged status?

    I’d say it’s about 50/50 really, but at times they overlap quite well. For instance, it is their privilege that when they “talk” to God, they aren’t called crazy, even if directing that same speech at a tree or your hairdryer would be considered as such.

  10. exrelayman

    vjack expressed my thoughts to a tee. However, to continue in the vernacular of the original post:

    Confused us say, “Better to be pissed off than pissed on.”

  11. Well, smile, if everyone is going to agree with vjack, I am going to comment more to vjack:

    @ Vjack:
    I too think religious freedom is critical. But I would also fight to make sure not to join people who exclude Christians from their circle of friends, and I would be sure to hire Christians in my company. No matter how religious freedom is written, there is much it can not protect.

    I think it is indeed their privileged status that allows them to violate church-state separation — so I think “Privileged Status” is a huge part of the problem. I think they can only demonize atheists because of their “Privileged Status”. So the point of my post is that when the privilege disappears, much of what you distain will disappear.

    But can you imagine how some Atheists may then abuse their new privilege?

  12. @ Adam
    I agree with you — could see holidays neutralized, mention of Christmas could be a crime. If the US government became more of a social democracy with strong central government interference in everything, new Atheist privileged majority could do these things and worse.

    I think that growth in government can be a big factor in decline of civic engagement — people expect the government to take care of things.

    I like your points, thanx

  13. Not trying to downplay Christian privilege at all. I started to and noticed a smell and found it coming from my own train of thought. Trying to show that in writing that response. I really am seeing what you’re seeing here, Christians have privilege; a certain kind of Christian is assumed here; atheist privilege is on the rise (esp in my generation); and if you want to avoid becoming the thing you hate, best to start thinking about behavior now when the tables get turned.

  14. @ Luke,
    When I say “Christian Privilege”, I do not mean a certain kind of Christian. You, Luke, and your kids, all have the privilege simply by being the majority. And it is further worsened by (as you allude) the conservative exclusivists. But you all ride on that privilege — liberals and conservatives alike. Just saying “I am Christian” secures your kids privilege no matter what type they are as contrasted to when my kids say “I am an Atheist”. This is part of why Atheists are even frustrated with liberal Christians because in a sense if liberal Christians aren’t speaking out loudly against the exclusivist conservatives, you are silently empowered by their nonsense.

    I realize you fight against them. And I think you are right that we Atheists need to watch our behavior now before Atheists themselves blossom into the new privileged class. That, indeed, is the point of this whole post!

  15. CRL

    USA Atheist, but I essentially live in an atheist-privilege scenario already. (Or, more accurately, an uninterested agnostic-privilege society.) My school is roughly 65 percent nonreligious, and most religious people keep their faith pretty quiet. I admire the courage of anyone who will speak to defend their religious beliefs when attacked as much as I admire the tact of those who do not speak to defend their beliefs when not asked about them.

    I find the extent to which revelation of religious beliefs can change people’s opinions of someone somewhat scary. My experience of “coming out” as an atheist at a 97% Catholic school taught me how nice it is when someone who disagrees with you will respect and defend your beliefs. I try to do the same for Christian friends, who I will defend from attacks on their intelligence and reason. Nothing else is really necessary. Even on a large scale, I think the most atheist-on-Christian discrimination will occur on a person-to-person, not government-to-person or business-to-person scale.

    It takes a rare type of personality to care deeply about something you do not believe exists. For this reason, I do not know if the US ever will have an “atheist privilege” society—by the time nonreligious folks become able to gain public office, atheism will probably not be a big deal, thus, atheists won’t really have a reason to persecute religious people, or even to think about their lack of religion when making decisions. In other words, I don’t see a ban on Christmas being enacted any time soon.

  16. @ CRL: Interesting points, thank you!

  17. We are in agreement. Let me hone the last response so it’s more accurate and please correct me if I’m wrong:

    “Christians have privilege; a certain kind of Christian is assumed here and even if you don’t fit that model, the privilege is still there; atheist privilege is on the rise (esp in my generation); and if you want to avoid becoming the thing you hate, best to start thinking about behavior now when the tables get turned.”

  18. JMB

    What problems would come with Atheist Privilege?

    A lot given what we know of history and psychology. At least, we would have a better chance of solving these problems with more people in the world who value critical thinking and the scientific pursuit of knowledge.

    Under what circumstances would you fight to protect Christianity?

    I cannot think of any reason to fight to preserve a belief system based on meaningless concepts like “faith” and “the supernatural.”

    What percent of what pisses you off about American Christianity is due to their actual beliefs vs due to their privileged status?

    50% privileged status – obviously, a delusional majority is more of a threat to civilization than a delusional minority.

    50% beliefs – the false claims and utter dishonesty of unfounded beliefs them make them unworthy of respect.

  19. @JMB,
    I’d say that critical thinking (not the monopoly of atheists by any means) and scientific pursuit of knowledge, though helpful, are far from the safeguards needed for a society I prefer. Love, compassion, cooperation, kindness and much more are needed. These don’t come with intellect — they need a nurturing of their own.

  20. JMB

    Why do you think these qualities are mutually exclusive? I would think that greater intellect would lead a person to become more thoughtful, open, fair-minded and reasonable – and what reasonable person would choose to live in a world without love, compassion, cooperation and kindness?

    For instance, as a kid growing up in the 1950’s south, I thought it was irrational and illogical to discriminate against others based on the color of their skin, even though I was surrounded by religious, anti-intellectual people. Using my “intellect” lead me to become more compassionate. I could name countless other examples.

    Maybe I was a weird kid! 🙂

  21. @ JMB,
    I don’t think they are mutually exclusive — of course they can exist together. I just don’t think intelligence is neither necessary nor sufficient for kindness. Sociopaths can be brilliant and the mentally challenged can be very kind.
    Now, I think that studies DO show that intelligence is correlated with lack of religiosity. All I am saying is that being kind takes a culturing of emotions — intelligence is an added benefit.

  22. JMB

    “All I am saying is that being kind takes a culturing of emotions — intelligence is an added benefit.”

    I find it hard to separate emotions from thinking when speaking of the (normal) human mind. They seem permanently and hopelessly intertwined. So we basically agree, just differ in semantics.

    Anyway, after reading most of your blog, I can see you are both intelligent AND kind!

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