Religious Privilege Primer – 7 – Undeserved Respect

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In Reaction to the Passing of Proposition 8:
A Conversation of Privilege around Religion and Faith
Zack Ford – November 8, 2008

Preface: Roots of ZFB
Part 1 – Introduction: Reflections on Prop 8
Part 2 – What is Privilege?
Part 3 – Christian Privilege
Part 4 – Religious Privilege
Part 5 – Atheism and Privilege of Beliefs
Part 6 – Critical Thinking and Indoctrination
Part 7 – Undeserved Respect

In conversations I have had with individuals in the week since Prop 8 passed, I have heard many examples of this privilege being challenged.  Here are some of the things that have been said to me:

“I have challenged my beliefs and I do challenge my beliefs and I have already come to the conclusions I am at. … I…have studied my faith much more than you probably have.”

“Never question my faith; you project a message of people being wrong when they have faith.”

“Clearly you do not have the capacity to see any other view but your own….which is ironic considering the fact that you’re asking the very same of your ‘debate opponents’—that which you do not, yourself, provide.”

“No, I won’t defend my faith to you—faith is a very personal thing and I won’t defend that to anyone.  My faith does not give me privilege in our society, identifying as a Christian does.  These are two very distinct things.”

I hope, given the context I have created for my perspective, it is clear to see how these statements avoid the kind of critical dialogue I am trying to engage in, and actually reflect a dualistic perspective.  These statements, along with the defensive emotions that accompanied them, represent to me the very privilege I am trying to bring to light.  Because our society supports privileging theistic beliefs, it has become a societal norm to not question them.  In fact, it is impolite and disrespectful to even suggest they could be open to question.  Douglas Adams (author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) once said the following that sums this up well:

Religion … has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever.  What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not.  Why not? – because you’re not!’  If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it.  If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it.  But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that’.

Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe … no, that’s holy? … We are used to not challenging religious ideas. … Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things.  Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

I think it is clear to see that what Adams was getting at was what we define as privilege.

Part 8 – Concluding Reflections

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