The Washington Post has an interesting interview with Susan Jacoby over the Brit Hume flap up and whether or not Christians are victimized by atheists in the United States. From the first part of the interview:

Q: Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Brit Hume and Sarah Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?

Of course proselytizing is a form of religious liberty permitted by our secular Constitution. That doesn’t mean Americans have to like it–whether proselytizing arrives at the dinner hour when a Jehovah’s Witness rings the doorbell or courtesy of a television network that, among its other charming attributes, is a staunch supporter of right-wing religion. And there is no merit to Brit Hume’s claim that he is being criticized by his colleagues in the media, as well as many religious and secular leaders, because he urged Tiger Woods to convert from Buddhism to Christianity. This is yet another example of the Christian right claiming that it is victimized when, in fact, it exerts great and disproportionate power in American society. When was the last time you heard a Jewish network commentator exhorting an adulterous Christian politician to convert to Judaism–and claiming that Judaism is the morally superior religion? Hume said what he said because Christianity, despite America’s growing religious pluralism (including an increase in the number of Americans who reject all religion), still occupies a privileged position in the United States. He said what he said because he could get away with it. At least on FOX.

Read the rest here.

Sometimes I get the sense that the fundamentalists and more rightwing variants of Christianity view any dissension or calls for equality as forms of oppression with respect to their belief. Any disagreement seems to get labeled with the charge of “bigotry”. This is something that I’ve even encountered among a number of left-wing believers. It’s difficult to see how disagreement with a belief and what it claims, however, can be characterized as bigotry. If that were the case, all public debate over beliefs or propositional attitudes would be off limits. Moreover, the suggestion that somehow Christians are the victims of bigotry from atheists, secularists, and members of other religions smacks of the white heterosexual male being the victim of reverse racism, reverse sexism, or heterophobia. It’s difficult to see how one can be the object of oppression when they enjoy hegemonic power in the United States.

read on!

Perhaps I just wasn’t keyed into these issues years ago, but it seems to me that something began to change in how religion was discussed in the United States about thirty years ago. This was when I first began hearing about the rumblings of the Christian Coalition and to encounter the politicization of religion. Around that time, the ultra-fundamentalist was still viewed as a strange, fringe figure, not unlike a cultist. For example, no one really batted an eye at Saturday Night Live’s “Church Lady” skits… At least as far as I remember.

As I remember it, 1) it was bad form to discuss religion and religious belief in public, and 2) it was bad form to question another’s belief. The reasoning behind these principles seemed to be two-fold. With respect to the first, since one adopted the premise that “the good” was universal and open to all human beings, evocations of religion where ethics and politics were concerned were largely irrelevant or beside the point, a distraction, because the good can always be known through independent means. Religious and denominational differences were irrelevant to these discussions because the good was already something that, in principle, is shared regardless of whether or not one advocates a particular set of religious beliefs. With respect to the second principle, faith was not discussed because it is a field that cannot be resolved or decided through rational debate. Respecting others– you know, loving your neighbor, and recognizing that your faith is a subjective commitment that cannot be demonstrated through reason or experience (what is publicly shared), one kept their faith to themselves and refrained from questioning the faith of others. The faith a person might have just wasn’t relevant to collective deliberations and actions. Just as we don’t berate another person for preferring bagels to bacon and eggs for breakfast, these things were set aside as personal. Now I confess that this might just have been how things were in my immediate and extended family– which was pretty devout on both sides (my mother’s side being strongly Roman Catholic and my father’s being strongly Southern Baptist until the noxious policies against women enacted by the Baptist Convention –but it seemed assumed and “to go without saying” outside my family as well. But who knows. We just didn’t talk about such things.

The thing that’s made the politicization of Christianity in the United States so noxious is that the second principle largely remains in effect, while religious grounds for public policy have become ubiquitous in the public sphere. That is, the thesis that it’s morally offensive to question another’s faith still remains in effect and the assumed more of the land, yet that same faith is able to function publicly as a ground for public policy. It seems as if a loophole has been found here with respect to religion. Religious belief can present itself as beyond questioning, all the while functioning everywhere in a very public way. As a consequence, the believer gets all the power, being entitled to spout whatever belief he might like publicly as a ground for policy, while being immune to questioning. When confronted with fundamentalist rightwing arguments against the equality of women, homosexuals, etc., it is forbidden to call a spade a spade and point out that these communities are, in effect, hate groups, yet this sort of hate is given free reign as a legitimate set of reasons in the public sphere. This, I think, is something that needs to change and we collectively need to mature in how we discuss religion in this country. The principle of tolerance or the thesis that faith should never be questioned was a compromise that arose during the Enlightenment as a means of quelling religious warfare and persecution. This was a good principle. However, it seems that given the way religion currently functions in the public sphere, it is high time religious belief be placed back on the table as an object of rational debate and dispute.

Advertisements