For the past several weeks, I have stood up on a soapbox and used my Christian faith to rail against various institutions. What I have not done is acknowledge one very important fact: in being Christian, whether or not I like it, I am afforded certain privileges. This failure to accept my privilege is not one unique to me. Most Christians fail to understand the gravity of being “the norm” and of occupying spaces that allows their practices to be dominant. However, as a person who does hold marginalized identities, I realize the importance of naming and grappling with privilege when it is afforded to me. So for this week I am going to step down off my soapbox and endeavor to take a candid look at some of the ways Christianity fails to acknowledge its privileges, as well as the way Christianity sensationalizes itself without recognizing that it shares practices, histories and beliefs with several other faiths.
Christian privilege, much like white privilege, often goes unnoticed but takes up a lot of space. It rears its head in both small and large ways, in everything from the business sector to the passing of laws. American Christians love to pretend that there’s a separation of church and state. But let’s be honest, almost every child in grade school from kindergarten all the way through senior year of high school stands up in the morning to pledge their allegiance to the United States flag–which is weird, but that's a column for another day–which ends with “ONE NATION UNDER GOD.” Why does the pledge of allegiance not say one nation under YHWH, Allah, Vishnu, Shiva or Tabaldak?
That would be because when most Americans say God, what they implicitly mean is the Christian God. But if that example didn’t solidify it for you, let’s take it a step further. Why were same sex couples not allowed to marry in all 50 of these United States until 2015….
Because multiple senators, congresspeople, and general Americans argued that marriage should be between man and woman. And their arguments were based on what, ladies and gentlemen?
Even beyond these concrete things, there are small, almost imperceptible privileges that Christians are afforded that other faiths are not. No one will cast a second glance at my cross necklace, but should a Muslim woman wear hijab, she is likely to be subject to second glances, name calling and sometimes even assault–and yes, I mean here in these United States. Christians can spew religious hate, falsehoods, and animosity (and from the pulpit too), but should any other religion attempt the same practice, they’d be labeled as a terrorist and all hell would break loose.
Christians pretending that there’s a separation of Church and state is par for the course, but Christians choosing to bash other religions in an effort to discredit them while at the same time sensationalizing themselves is particularly wild. Why, do you ask? Because in a shocking plot twist, some of these religions and practices that Christians so love to discredit or ignore share a history with Christianity.
For example, the Bible is not just composed of the New Testament, but also contains the Old Testament. The Old Testament also just so happens to function as The Torah, The Nevi’im and The Ketuvim.
What are those you ask?
Oh, just the Holy Books of Judaism, who would’ve guessed!
Along with this comes the indisputable fact that Jesus was a Jew (and often considered a heretical one at that). Yet, when thinking about the construction of Christianity, many Christians will negate or attempt to skim over this fact. This often creates a sense of sensationalism amongst Christians, where they feel as though their practices are totally unique and original, failing to realize that Christianity was in fact born out of Jewish laws, practices and beliefs.
Judaism is not the only monotheistic religion that holds some shared history with Christianity; Islam does as well. In fact the trio is often referred to as the Abrahamic/Ibrahimic traditions, because one of the key figures of their Holy Texts and of the religions as a whole was Abraham/Ibrahim. Abraham is considered the first Jew, as well as the first Prophet of Islam. Christians narratives have much of the same basis for understanding Abraham as Jews do. In all three traditions, Abraham/Ibrahim is cited as the person who called his community to forsake idols and polytheism for the worship of one God, making him so central in each tradition. In sum, Christianity shares beliefs and textual commonalities with BOTH Judaism and Islam. Sorry, not sorry, to all those Christians who are Islampahobic.
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But wait, there’s more!
Outside of the Abrahamic/Ibrahmic traditions, Christianity has also taken cues and even practices from… wait for it.. wait for it… Paganism! In antiquity, paganism and Christianity existed in tandem; however, the Christian Church began evangelizing to the Pagan community in an attempt to convert them. Yet they found the inertia of pagan traditions difficult to overcome. So instead the Church absorbed pagan calendar dates and created the ecclesiastical calendar around their existence. Over time this calendar would become considered de facto Christian dates, only occasionally challenged by your eclectic relative trying to convince you that Jesus wasn’t born in December… although history proves they might be onto something.
I know, I know, at this point it sounds like I am attempting to rip the whole Christian faith to shreds, which probably seems counterintuitive for a writer who claims to be Christian. In actuality, all I am aiming to do is prove one point, that is this: yes, Christianity does have some amazingly unique features. But we also need to name and grapple with the ways we co-opt other religious practices and in the same breath berate the faiths we stole them from. Yes, I mean stole, not borrowed, because we never asked to use them. And we damn sure never intended to give them back.
More importantly, we who identify as American Christians in particular need to recognize that we can not allow Christianity to dictate the functioning of the entire nation. If we actually pride ourselves on being a people who love our neighbors, and believe in the radical love of Christ, then should we not be kind to our neighbors and friends no matter whether they practice the same faith as us?
Tatayana Richardson is a Trinity senior who would like Christians to stop using the Bible as justification for hate and calling it faith. Her column "Searching for Canaan" runs on alternate Mondays.