Everyone’s writing about Easter, God and religion so here’s my FOMO-inspired contribution.
Don’t misunderstand: I am a bible-thumping Christian. I revere Passover (I don’t call it Easter) and I’m glad Jesus was born. I don’t attach theological significance to Christmas because he wasn’t born on what we now date as December 25.
There are other reasons I hate the commercialisation and commodification of Christian holy days. These reasons go beyond the fact, much discussed on Facebook, that these festivals were stolen, rather non-biblically, from pagan cultures over the centuries. Our church-political decimated peoples on its bloody ascent to cultural supremacy and civil power, and we, the congregants, looked on smugly and said Amen.
If I understand my New Testament correctly, the church was supposed to embody what theologian Greg Boyd has described as “power under,” “power with” or “alongside” others. The group clout to jab at a calendar date and have the lives of Moslems, atheists, Hindus, hipsters and agnostics affected by one religious bloc’s decision power over and the othering of others. It also makes me wonder what role our constitution plays in our day-to-day reality and whether others really have as much right to religious freedom as we tell ourselves they have.
Vast numbers of voters here and in the U.S have a greater expectation that their president will have a pastor than that s/he will have a sound economic plan. I was recently on a PowerFM talk show where I spent the better part of an hour persuading host Thabo Mdluli and co-panellist Pastor Paul Msiza (Baptist World Alliance President) that religion should be kept as far from political discourse as possible. While many theologians have the time and skill to turn social and religious issues’ impact on politics around in their heads, many Christians haven’t and won’t. Secular politicking is not anti-Christian: it is pro-everybody. Religious politicking uses populism to win votes.
Just as political parties become corrupt when they’re guaranteed a huge percentage of votes, religious caucuses tend to trample over the rights of minorities and individuals when enough people have agreed that a religion is the correct one and it’s okay to translate this consensus into political power. They say they will not impose on others but they do, and it is very difficult to check or protest it. I would like to know of one theocracy in which no one suffers as a result of religious and systemic injustice. How do we square such obscene religious power with the vulnerability of the cross or the beauty of the Beatitudes?
Christian triumphalism and privilege have a funny way of desensitising Christians to the oppression suffered by those on the wrong side of the tyranny of the majority. Christ’s self-surrender arose from his commitment to relinquish privilege and show solidarity with the othered. Religious power’s perversion of the cross implicates Christians – #YesAllChristians – in history’s authoritarian systems of religious oppression. It is the nature of groups who gather on the basis of being in the right to put outsiders, questioners and dissenters in the wrong. Again, our cross symbolises being put in the wrong by mobs who believe they are right. Yet we turn around and use that as a symbol of power, and inevitably, of power over others. I think this is an abomination greater than those some of our Christians point out, picket and protest over.
You can be intersectionally oppressed in every way and still participate in an unjust system by virtue of the faith you hold, even if holding the faith doesn’t translate into directly oppressive actions. Even if holding the faith translates into resisting the oppressiveness that has been done in the name of that faith. All Christians have a responsibility to account for the contribution of Christianity to injustice.
It would be convenient for me to split my faith, owning its good and distancing myself from its bad, going to heaven but leaving a trail of hell on earth. None of us gets to clock out of being labelled an oppressor until that oppression is done with; until a critical mass of Christians have pushed the system past its tipping point. And there is no wokeness without interrogating the role Christianity has played in shaping the world we have today.
Under article subtitle “The Links Between Christianity and Other Forms of Privilege,” Jewish feminist Ellen Kate writes that “Christian privilege has a lot in common with its bedfellows: white privilege, cis/hetero-privilege, and male privilege.”
But of course it does. If God is a heterosexual white man, then straight white men are at the top of the totem pole. When I bought a bible, I gave money to a group of people who unknowingly champion oppressive beliefs, and I am responsible for giving them that support. If this sounds like a form of conscious Stockholm Syndrome, it probably is.
“Like members of these groups, Christians don’t really have to think about their environment because, for them, that environment generally caters and conforms to their needs and practices. A Christian can casually mention going to church or celebrating a holiday without considering how others might respond. Conversely, they can make a disparaging remark about their faith without worrying that doing so will either make them seem strange or will reflect badly on their religion as a whole.”
Many fellow Christians say I shouldn’t highlight the church’s dirty laundry because it gives nonbelievers ammunition against Christianity. But my conscience says to air out the dirty laundry before our blind eye to it is used as ammunition. It is a grossly unchristian order of things that has led to this world in which “Christians can feel safe in their space” at the expense of other people’s access to that space. Kate goes on to say that, “much like members of other privileged groups, many Christians don’t want to acknowledge their privilege and go so far as to bristle when it is pointed out.”
Austin Cline, atheism.about.com’s Agnosticism and Atheism Expert, adds that, “Members of privileged groups don’t have to think about their environment because, for them, that environment simply is. They don’t have to be concerned about others’ opinions because it’s safe to assume that most think like them.
“Those who don’t benefit from such an environment do have to think about it all the time because they are so susceptible to being harmed by it. For members of less privileged groups, what others think matters a great deal because their opinions and actions control access to the larger benefits of society.
“Fish don’t have to think about the water; mammals must remain conscious of it at all times lest they drown. In most of the examples here, we can replace Christian/religion with male/gender or white/race and come up with the same results: examples of how our social, political, and cultural environment reinforce the dominance of one group over others. Male privilege and white privilege are closely related to Christian privilege because they have all been undermined by modernity and have all become part of America’s Culture Wars.
“Christians realize that many of the above privileges are in decline. They interpret this as persecution because privilege is all they have ever known. The same is true when men complain about the decline of male privilege and whites complain about the decline of white privilege. The defense of privilege is a defense of dominance and discrimination, but for those who benefit it’s a defense of their traditional way of life. They need to become conscious of their privileges and realize that in a free society, such privileges are inappropriate.”
If we are to break harmful hegemonies, we need to come to grips with the role religion has played in bringing us the slave-trade, institutionalised racism and sexism, colonialism and apartheid. There is no dismantling of unfair, harmful privilege (male, white, straight, CIS, able-bodied) without dismantling the ideology and thought system used to rationalise the irrational. Christendom as we have it in this country still does funny things – we have congregants being convinced to drink petrol and eat snakes. Some of those congregants can then easily be persuaded to harm other people. This is considerable power and yes, it is leveraged by politicians because whether you are there to listen or not, pulpits are platforms.
When 7de Laan introduced an interracial romance storyline, there was a furore. One of my Facebook friends shared this gem of a comment:
“The WHOLE ENTIRE BIBLE teaches us to NOT mix our seed. From Genesis right through Revelations. If you don’t see it you are NOT reading your Bible correctly…”
For me, though, the greatest argument against cultural Christianity can be derived from the bible. When we have religions that have justified systems that “oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Amos 5:12), scripture says of our public holidays and assumed religious correctness:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (21 – 24).
When religious teachings are oppressive, even churches’ social justice programs won’t mitigate against the damage.
“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer,I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” (Is. 5:12 – 16).
There is no dismantling prejudice without de-privileging the Christian ideologies that Trojan-horsed them in. I have written a book that gives one perspective on how this would work. Keep an eye out for it.
Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).
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Contact on SKhumalo1987@gmail.com