Justice and Advocacy · Religion and Spirituality · Science and Philosophy

When Religion Equals Privilege

CW: If you love Jesus, you may need to make sure you’ve got spoons to hear some serious stuff I’ve been trying, and failing, to communicate to several people I love dearly. If you’re struggling with how religion works and what it means for you, please read this. If you’ve left religion behind, don’t read unless you’d like another reminder of why Christianity is fucked up.
Many of you may have noticed that I’ve grown more nihilistic, honest, and generally bitter toward life since I stopped believing in God. I get that you think you’ve got the answer, that someday I’ll be back in some weird emotional spiral where I dissociate from my own brain and project it on a being in the sky who was weirdly into a really horrible way to kill people a couple thousand years ago. Once you realize that that’s all it is, you can’t go back. Not unless you’ve got strings attached – as so many people do, being forced to profess love for Jesus in order to maintain wealth, status, health, community, and good graces.
But as I’ve learned about what it means that I grew up white – a privilege in itself, though my childhood was anything but normal. The world was just a more happy-go-lucky place when I could afford to not be homeless, to not be separated from the good will of my friends and family, to know I was in the good graces of the God up above who loved me unconditionally, though I sure did worry a whole lot about all the billions of people God didn’t seem to be helping very fast. In fact, I felt incredible guilt that led to complex trauma and depression because I felt if only I could take on the suffering of others, as Jesus did – dying for him as a martyr would be the only way to accomplish this, I learned as a toddler. I started hurting myself to prove to God that I was ready to die for him. Heaven didn’t matter to me – it was the salvation of all those hurting people across the world that I wanted, and if I could die a martyr and convert many to Christ, my life would be worth something.
And then I found out none of that was true. I read a lot, and asked a lot of questions, and all of my questions had answers that got me into trouble with Christians. A lot. Answers like, does Paul’s use of the word “scripture” when he says “all scripture is God-breathed” refer to the 66-book Protestant canon, or the Catholic version, which includes the Apocrypha? The answer is neither! And there are hundreds of options for that multiple-choice question! The truth is we have no fucking clue because they were letters from an underground movement that treasured the voices of its political martyrs under the tyranny of some sick bastards who liked conquering and torturing people. Kinda like our leadership of the world today. But I digress.
Anyway, it got worse: not only was I disenfranchised with Christianity, I fell in love with a man who’d never known the country I grew up in – white, privileged, conservative sister-mom that I was for the first 23 years of my life. The emotional abuse and physical exhaustion of being a caretaker for all that time has taken its toll, but I learned that while I was spanked and I feared corporal punishment, I was not a homeless child, like 2.5 million children today. I was not stripped and beaten mercilessly by my caretakers, or kept in chains. I was the golden child to narcissist parents, not a scapegoat, until I rebelled. I had seen America through the lens of white supremacy – an embellished history was taught by my only two teachers I ever had, mom and dad. We came here, there were a few indigenous people around, we politely asked them to move, slavery was like a thing that happened forever ago and what wow look over here no questions about how they got here in the first place, industry! Schools! Labor! Work yourself to death and don’t ask why!
Also I was taught absolutely nothing K-12 about world history except if it was about convincing an already politically conservative parent in my sheltered little world that Israel was cool and Russia was like a thing to present policies about. But the truth is, debate was the perfect place to hide for HUNDREDS of parents who wanted to get away with “encouraging critical thinking” among their Christian children. And it fucking worked. To this day, for every one person I know who has risked everything they had – their status, their community, their access, their very survival – to come out as LGBTAIQ+ or to come out as non-religious. And yes, I include that, because I’m looking at you, too, white privileged moderate liberal able-bodied (and even Christian/religious) gays and lesbians and bi/pan people who want to wave from floats at Pride but won’t think to ask if your privilege is still built on a system of genocide against people who don’t look like you.
I am not always going to be perfect at judging situations, communicating what I really want to say, and being inclusive. I know for a fact that I’m so damn naive from all the being-sheltered that I am racist. It’s okay to admit that, because I sometimes repeat things that I didn’t know was inappropriate, and am called out by a person of color to check myself.
I can be self-confident and grow amazingly and exponentially! If only you knew! I want to tell you all about the wonder of the universe, how I have learned that I am made from the dust of stars, not placed on this spot of land by an equally sadistic and apparently benevolent creator. I can actually recognize and accept WHY life is meaningless, and that’s amazing! How lucky we are to live in such a time as this, with such access to knowledge!
But I cannot tell you, because you’ve said, “I’m praying for you,” “I want reconciliation between you and your parents,” “I don’t trust you not to spend money on something I don’t approve of,” or simply left me on read for years in messenger because you cannot bear to unfriend me. I cannot share the wonders of the whole universe, literally, with you, because the wall between us is that you insist that your white privilege is something you deserve, not something you inherited from violent ancestors who TO THIS DAY still own all of the shit they stole and destroyed. The slaves and poor of those days are now in prisons and dependent on wages to survive, and you have the audacity to believe that your job or your access or your family’s wealth fell into your lap, because you’re afraid to grapple with the fact that the little voice in your head that you think is God is just random neurons firing off in a brain that evolved in an animal.
That fear is your betrayal. You would rather live well and give to charity than demand justice for the poor and destitute in Flint, across the world where we are depleting resources and bombing innocents, much less admit that MAYBE GOD IS NOT PUNISHING ME, MAYBE THIS COULD HAPPEN TO ANYONE, AND YOU DIRECTLY BENEFIT FROM HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS.
The utter irony is that your faith literally demands that you be willing to sacrifice all this for the sake of Christ. If you love your family more than me – welp, good thing your family’s all Christian! Whoo! Wouldn’t want to think about going down that road.
I long for there to be union between us, as humans. But you are not willing to admit the full reality of what the United States of America is – a short-lived experiment in which white people kill everybody, feast atop their corpses, and then wonder why they’ll still die once they’ve destroyed everything.
If you are selling your soul to a corporate enterprise because you have access to opportunities that many other people don’t, think very seriously about what it means to be a white Christian in this country. You may be simply clinging to God because Yahweh spells White Privilege to you. And if you are marginalized and you believe in God, I will ask: can you honestly say that this religion, if true, isn’t highly convenient for reinforcing this colonial madness that has wreaked havoc on this once-flourishing land?
Final note: there are exceptions, as always. If you are an exception, you know it already. But I implore you to think about what your faith does for you, and continue the good work you’re doing in distributing resources. I don’t have the energy to go into the whole question of how this applies to all religions, but right now Christians are the ones killing Muslims, and Israel is not synonymous with Judaism but that country is also killing Muslims. Therefore my biggest gripe is with Christianity because that was my experience, and it’s the bully in the world right now.