Religious Privilege

I’ve been reading a lot about privilege lately and revisiting some essays and articles from my feminist days and I’ve come to realize there is a serious lack of dialogue about one of the strongest forms, the religious sort.

Now you’re thinking, what the fuck are you talking about? I mostly mean this conversationally – and Westerners will know specifically what I mean when we consider the insanely privileged place that believers have in a world of science, facts, logic, and natural laws.

Believers (religious people) do not have to hold their religious beliefs accountable the way atheists, scientists, and people generally have to regarding their other beliefs about the world. Religion is embalmed and inured by this arbitrarily sacred place that is self-righteously indignant in the face of questioning. And most of us support it, for some crazy reason. If you doubt this, let’s set up some equivalents shall we?

Imagine I told you that I believe I will live forever, and I mean this corporeally like in the ‘highlander’ or ‘vampire’ sense. You would be right to ask the question, ‘Um…why is that?’ assuming you took me seriously in the first place. Not only that, everyone would support you in not just asking me to prove it, but even ridiculing me for my unfounded allegations.

But now you’re thinking, hey, that’s not the same. Religions are really, really, old and so, due to the law of really old and antiquated ideas, they can’t be compared to silly notions that are unheard of or new. Well, actually, they can be but I’ll humor you.

Now let’s say that over dinner I told you that I am religious and that I believe in one of the oldest gods, Poseidon, Lord of the Sea and Sky, and nightly I participate in beach-side rituals honoring his glory.

Again, you would raise an eyebrow and think to yourself, ‘Holy shit, check please!’

But if someone said, “I’m a Christian and I believe that through him I’ll live forever,” or “I’m a Mormon and I have a whole planet coming my way in paradise,” or, “As a Muslim, I believe that my holy book is the perfect, irrevocable word of a being I’ve never seen, have no proof for, and only believe in because my parents have told me to over and over again,” then we are expected to ‘respectfully’ nod our heads and say no more.

Let’s think again about what scientists, for example, are expected to do when they assert a belief about the world. Mind you, scientists discover facts about the planet that generally assist everyone and remain true regardless of what culture or continent you are on. Scientists must rigorously test and experiment with their ideas, regularly submit their theories to critical examination, and for the most part, readily alter their understandings when the facts are in conflict. That’s a good thing because imagine we lived in a world where people just ‘believed’ they knew how to perform heart transplants – or a world where people just had ‘faith’ that these chemicals they know nothing about will cure you. It’s a good thing we expect people with ideas about the human condition, cosmology, ontology, and biology, to support them with facts. That is, unless you’re religious, then you don’t need to support your ideas at all. You can just demand that people respect them.

The conversation between non-believers and believers is even more telling when it is atheists who are expected to provide proof for the non-existence of god. This is impossible as you cannot prove a negative. Prove there aren’t leprechauns. Prove there isn’t an orchid rotating around the galaxy somewhere. But believers, with nothing but revelation and anecdote, are never expected to seriously reckon with their faith. Even when they attempt to legislate based on it, and police others because of it, and worst of all, advertise their values as ‘the best’ as a result of it.

Imagine what would happen if we no longer asked physicists, biologists, doctors, and scientists of all kinds to support their assertions? Religious privilege has got to go. If you don’t want your beliefs questioned then keep them to yourself and do not force them on others, or use them as a supporting argument. The moment you assert your faith I am entitled to question you – and you may choose not to to answer but remember, assertions made without evidence can be dismissed without them as well. Your belief is little different than a cult – the only difference is how long it has been around and how many people believe in it. And no topic is too taboo to be openly discussed.

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