Christian privilege?

One day as I was on Facebook, I happened to see a post listing 32 examples of so-called “Christian privilege”, things in society that seem natural and expected — IF you happen to belong to the majority faith. The last point was interesting: “You can dismiss the idea that identifying with your faith bears certain privilege,” and that got me thinking. Did I agree with this? My perspective is an unusual one: I was raised as Christian (but with little formal religious training) but became a Bahá’í over 20 years ago, so I could consider these from two perspectives. How would I respond to the points the author makes? Let’s find out.

The original source for this list was

  1. You can expect to have time off work to celebrate religious holidays.  From a Christian perspective, that’s true, especially with regards to Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. I’ve never had to take vacation days for those days. In order to observe Bahá’í holy days, I would have to take vacation days, except if the holy days happened to fall on a weekend or coincide with other holidays. Now it could be argued that the Christmas holidays are more of a secular winter holiday period.
  2. Music and television programs pertaining to your religion’s holidays are readily accessible. That’s certainly not true for Baha’is, but this is explainable by the small number of Baha’is in the US. Baha’i-related music is available from specialty stores; it won’t be available at your neighborhood big-box store any time soon.
  3. It is easy to find stores that carry items that enable you to practice your faith and celebrate religious holidays. This is the same situation as in point 2. The specialty stores are available and will be sufficient to meet the demand for some time.
  4. You aren’t pressured to celebrate holidays from another faith that may conflict with your religious values. This is not the case for me at all. As a Baha’i, I believe in the oneness of God and the oneness of religion. No holiday from an earlier religious tradition would conflict with the teachings of the Faith or conflict with my values. If the opportunity arose for me to observe Hanukkah, I would, and I would have no problem doing so. If I had a chance to observe a Muslim or Buddhist holiday, I would.
  5. Holidays celebrating your faith are so widely supported you can often forget they are limited to your faith (e.g. wish someone a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” without considering their faith). Again, the same situation as in point 2. It’s a matter of numbers. And being wished a Merry Christmas, a Happy Easter or a Blessed Eid is not something I would find objectionable.
  6. You can worship freely, without fear of violence or threats. This is indeed true in the US. It is not true in Iran, though, as the Baha’i Faith is officially proscribed in the land of its birth. Baha’is are targets for official persecution and are pressured to convert to Islam. They resist this pressure and are thus subjected to the loss of jobs, the prevention of education, imprisonment, death, and even the ability to be buried according to the rites of their faith.
  7. A bumper sticker supporting your religion won’t likely lead to your car being vandalized. This seems very unlikely to me.
  8. You can practice your religious customs without being questioned, mocked, or inhibited. The Bahá’í Faith has very few rituals, so there is nothing really that would be seen or perceived as alien or threatening.
  9. If you are being tried in court, you can assume that the jury of “your peers” will share your faith and not hold that against you in weighing decisions. No, they won’t share my faith, but I will share theirs, since I believe in the unity of religion.
  10. When swearing an oath, you will place your hand on a religious scripture pertaining to your faith. Not unless I were to provide my own. Then again, I would have no problem swearing on a Bible or a Qur’an, thanks to the unity of religion. They are Holy Books; I recognize them as the Word of God.
  11. Positive references to your faith are seen dozens of times a day by everyone, regardless of their faith. Few references of any sort to my faith are seen by most people. The references that are seen would tend to be positive, in my opinion.
  12. Politicians responsible for your governance are probably members of your faith. Now this is definitely not true for multiple reasons. The primary reason is that Bahá’ís do not become involved in partisan politics. It is very rare for a Bahá’í to run for elective office; I know of only one individual who has done so. The activities associated with partisan politics — the campaigning, the fundraising, etc. — do not promote unity; indeed, they’re far more likely to promote divisiveness these days, and that goes completely against the Bahá’í teachings. So I see it as a good thing that Bahá’ís are not involved in partisan politics.
  13. Politicians can make decisions citing your faith without being labeled as heretics or extremists. That would be true, in my opinion.
  14. It is easy for you to find your faith accurately depicted in television, movies, books, and other media. Right now, it is not easy to find the Bahá’í Faith depicted at all, accurately or otherwise, in mainstream media. This is the same situation as in point 2, all due to the small number of Bahá’ís in the US. Over time, this will change.
  15. You can reasonably assume that anyone you encounter will have a decent understanding of your beliefs. No, for the same reasons as point 2. But that means I’ll have a chance to tell them of my beliefs, and it may well be that my beliefs aren’t much different from their beliefs.
  16. You will not be penalized (socially or otherwise) for not knowing other people’s religious customs. Since I was raised as a Christian, I do have some knowledge of general Christian customs. I won’t have detailed knowledge of a particular denomination’s customs and practices, though.
  17. Your faith is accepted/supported at your workplace. My place of employment is very diverse, very tolerant and very accepting of multiple religious faiths and practices. As a multinational corporation, it couldn’t be otherwise. I haven’t had any problem at work as a result of my faith — although shortly after 9/11, my then-supervisor did ask me some questions about the Bahá’í Faith and how it related to Islam.
  18. You can go into any career you want without it being associated with or explained by your faith. Absolutely true. I’m not aware of any career that is specifically tied to the Faith.
  19. You can travel to any part of the country and know your religion will be accepted, safe, and you will have access to religious spaces to practice your faith. This is somewhat true. While there is only one Bahá’í House of Worship in the US at this time, there are a number of Bahá’í Centers and a greater number of Bahá’í communities where the believers meet in one of their own houses. I would have little difficulty finding Bahá’ís in larger cities and, with some effort, could find them in other areas. Also, it isn’t necessary for me to have a particular location to practice my faith.
  20. Your faith can be an aspect of your identity without being a defining aspect (e.g., people won’t think of you as their “Christian” friend). I would think that would be the case.
  21. You can be polite, gentle, or peaceful, and not be considered an “exception” to those practicing your faith. This is definitely true. Most Bahá’ís are perceived to be gentle and peaceful and polite and courteous, and in this, they are practicing the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and following the example of His son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
  22. Fundraising to support congregations of your faith will not be investigated as potentially threatening or terrorist behavior. Absolutely not, not in the US. What’s more, there will never be a fundraising call from Bahá’ís to the general public, for only Bahá’ís in good standing are eligible to give to Bahá’í funds.
  23. Construction of spaces of worship will not likely be halted due to your faith. I’m not sure about this. I think this would be true in general. Now there may be objections due to disruptions of the neighborhood, increased traffic, etc., but those are brought up against buildings of all faiths
  24. You are never asked to speak on behalf of all the members of your faith. This has not happened to me yet.
  25. You can go anywhere and assume you will be surrounded by members of your faith. Not yet, due to our low numbers.
  26. Without special effort, your children will have a multitude of friends who share your faith. Not yet, due to our low numbers.
  27. Without special effort, your children will have a multitude of teachers who share your faith. Strictly speaking, no. But thanks to the unity of religion, they will share aspects of their teacher’s faiths
  28. It is easily accessible for you or your children to be educated from kindergarten through post-grad at institutions of your faith. Not yet, again due to our low numbers.
  29. Disclosing your faith to an adoption agency will not likely prevent you from being able to adopt children. I don’t think it would be a problem.
  30. In the event of a divorce, the judge won’t immediately grant custody of your children to your ex because of your faith. To be honest, I don’t know.
  31. Your faith is taught or offered as a course at most public institutions. Not yet. At some point in the future, it is sure to be.
  32. You can complain about your religion being under attack without it being perceived as an attack on another religion. In the US, yes (to be clear, the Faith is not under attack in the US). In Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East, no.
  33. You can dismiss the idea that identifying with your faith bears certain privileges.

So do I agree that there is such a thing as “Christian privilege” in the US?  Possibly. Is that causing me any harm? No.

My thoughts on this matter are my own and do not reflect the views of any institution of the Bahá’í Faith.