When Some Are More Equal Than Others….

Contemporary American society reminds me a lot of Orwell’s Animal Farm, where everyone was equal, but some were more equal than others…

The last few years have ushered in a long-overdue recognition of the concept of privilege: we are at least beginning to discuss what we mean by white privilege and male privilege, and the ways in which unconscious cultural biases operate to disadvantage non-white, non-male citizens. Those conversations are important, and we need to continue them, but I want to suggest that it is also time–indeed, well past time–to address religious privilege.

It’s getting out of hand.

Just last week, a legislative committee in Tennessee approved a bill that would make the “Holy Bible” the “official book” of Tennessee.

In Mississippi, the legislature passed a bill that “gives protection to those in the state who cannot in a good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage.”

North Carolina recently “protected” good Christian folks from having to share restrooms with citizens of whom they disapprove, among other things.

Other states–notably Indiana–have passed measures clearly intended to cater to the religious beliefs of some (certainly not all) Christians about abortion, despite the fact that those measures demonstrably harm women.

Meanwhile, scientists continually fight efforts to introduce creationism into science classrooms, and civil libertarians oppose ongoing attempts to introduce prayer and religious observances into the nation’s increasingly diverse public schools.

All of these efforts, even those that have been repeatedly struck down by the courts as inconsistent with our First Amendment liberties, are met with a degree of respect that we would not accord other illegal actions. For that matter, these self-proclaimed “Christians” expect–and receive–a level of deference not accorded to atheists, or even members of other, less privileged religions.

As I write this, the Supreme Court is considering whether religiously affiliated organizations that employ people of many faiths and none can refuse to allow those employees access to birth control through their health insurance policies. The government has already bent over backwards to accommodate religious objections: the employer need not pay for the birth control and needs only to inform the government of its objection; the insurer will then provide contraceptives directly to the employee. The organizations are arguing that requiring the act of notification“burdens” their religious liberty.

In an analysis of that case, The Nation recently asked a pertinent question: Can religious groups simply ignore all the laws they don’t like?

Given their constant insistence on privileging the pious, it might be well to reflect upon the performance of our sanctimonious “family values” politicians. Those of us who live in Indiana are painfully aware of the damage done by self-proclaimed Christians with little or no interest in actually governing, but it is worth noting that things are even worse in deep-red Alabama. H/T Steve Benen at Rachel Maddow’s blog, reporting on Governor Bentley’s deepening sex scandal:

The Birmingham News’ John Archibald published a brutal column today noting that Alabama’s state government is simply unraveling: the governor is mired in scandal; the lieutenant governor is widely seen as “unfit to serve”; the state House Speaker is currently awaiting trial on 23 felony counts; and the state Supreme Court’s chief justice is Roy Moore, whose crackpot views have already forced his ouster once, and who can hardly be counted on to adjudicate responsibly going forward.

But they all go to church. And hold prayer meetings. And quote the bible. And (like Indiana’s Governor) they clearly believe that those attributes–not compassion, not administrative competence, not constitutional scholarship, not personal probity– are the qualities that entitle them to use the power of the state to force the rest of us to behave as they see fit.

We really need to stop privileging people who want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us, whether those beliefs are ideological or religious in origin.

We definitely need to remind these self-righteous theocrats that in America, wrapping themselves in religious dogma does not make them more equal than anyone else.


  1. It’s just disgusting how these christian fanatics are trying to rewrite the constitution, all the while saying states rights overrule federal law! Come on! Leave your religion at home please and let us all live freely. I’m so glad I saw the writing on the wall and left religion behind. It’s ruining the country and it needs to stop.

  2. You always hit just the correct balance, with honesty, integrity, responsibility and eloquence. I so appreciate that you continue to put things in prospective. Thank you.

  3. You are, of course, correct. Unfortunately, Beliefs are unchangeable so no amount of reason, logic, science, knowledge have any impact. We will be putting up with the harm they cause for our lifetimes, at least. I do not see a solution. Religions are vested, just as the banks, special interests & governments across the world.

  4. This is one of your BEST postings ever, Sheila!

    It is also past time for religious organizations and churches to be exempt from paying taxes. The rest of society should not be “burdened” by being forced to support them and their privileges.

    With all of their complaints of demanding that they be able to discriminate against anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into their description of Christian values, I have considered the thought that the rest of us should start discriminating against them. I wonder how they would feel if businesses and other entities refused to serve them or have anything to do with them simply because they don’t have the same beliefs about how people should live their lives.

    Some people are incapable of recognizing that their biases and demands are unfair and intolerable until they are treated the same way that they want to treat others.

  5. Yesterday several hundred enthusiastic supporters of BERNIE gathered on the south lawn of the State House and heard multiple speeches by union reps, African Americans, Latinos, First Nation People’s, teachers, etc., a broad spectrum of our society. My neighbor, a veteran of such activism remarked it was perhaps the best such rally he has attended. All this for a secular Jew. The final speaker: “let us pray in the name of Jesus, the only name of power…” I called out “what about Jews, Muslims a ‘Nones’ “and received nods of agreement. I saw some shaking their heads, which I took to mean disagreement. FEEL THE BERN!

  6. IMO, most of the “privilege” is just dressed-up bigotry. Jim Crow was naked hate. This time they have clothed it to look more socially acceptable. These people who thump their bibles continuously and loudly, cherry pick the message to support their claims to privilege in a complete corruption of the “Love thy neighbor as thyself” rules they purport to live by. In the process, they want to cement the privilege to themselves at the expense of those they consider unworthy, unequal, sub-human and/or expendable.

    If I had any means at all to leave this state, I would do so. Unfortunately, in our current mess, there are few places in this country where I could go to escape this kind of tyranny. Certainly not into any Southern state, or several Midwestern states (think KS, OK, ND, WI) or Western states (AZ, NV, UT, ID). Staying in the U.S. means that no matter where you go, you are faced with the same ideology and extremism. My ancestors left that stuff behind when they came across the ocean to a new place with new ideals, less suppression and more opportunity for themselves and their children.

    Look what a mess we have created by neglect, avarice, willful ignorance and bigotry. Same old, same old.

  7. A lot of dangerous stuff happens in the name of religion. I was a polite, mild-mannered agnostic until I happened to read the dust jacket of Jacques Chirac’s biography. He talked about George Bush’s calling him in the middle of the night to muse about whether the Iraq invasion might bring about the Second Coming, as though that were a good thing. At the very least, we need to elect leaders who hope to be around tomorrow, and who don’t expect a divine power to rescue them from their folly. I am now an outspoken atheist.

  8. A pastor for 17 years, I am often (almost always) revolted by some (most) of the positions taken by the more rabid so-called Christian leaders–and I am not bashful about speaking out against them and their very un-Christian ideas. When I read the linked post I wanted to shout Alleluia! (Maybe I did–at least on the inside). I have re-published this blog post in our church newsletter. I have shared it with friends. It is one of the best I have read in a long time. It explains in painful detail the point Sheila makes in her post. I recommend reading and sharing this as you find appropriate. http://johnpavlovitz.com/2016/03/08/maybe-you-should-stop-calling-yourself-a-christian-christian/

  9. Religion is a con. Selling imaginary eternal life to simpletons. So all of this religion in ‘Murica is really just a symptom — we are a nation of simpletons. Those of us who are not need to take control and begin a process of education, including discouraging religion.

  10. As a public school art teacher, I have always had to deal with an attitude of religious expression in art is OK as long as it is the “right religion. ” Right after 9/11 I was told Iby my superintendent in a small northeastern county where I taught High School Art, that my lessons on Islamic Art would no longer be allowed.

    The prevailing political winds in Indiana are all about school choice, but when it comes to those other religions, there is no choice. And the taxpayer funded vouchers is just another way these ideologues insist on shoving their religion down everyone’s throat.

  11. I have to laugh at things like making the Bible your official state book. The Bible is as unfit for children as “Tropic of Cancer”. Way to go Tennessee!

    The right wing needs to keep the religious zealots in their corner, because they provide the crowds to show up at town hall meetings and other public gatherings to advance their agenda. They are most dangerous because they are the most uninformed of any group in the counrty. Throw them a bone in the anti abortion debate, knowing you can afford to send your mistress out of the country when she gets pregnant.

  12. “Warning From a Student of Democracy’s Collapse”

    By CHRIS HEDGES JAN. 6, 2005

    PRINCETON, N.J. – FRITZ STERN, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany and a leading scholar of European history, startled several of his listeners when he warned in a speech about the danger posed in this country by the rise of the Christian right. In his address in November, just after he received a prize presented by the German foreign minister, he told his audience that Hitler saw himself as “the instrument of providence” and fused his “racial dogma with a Germanic Christianity.”

    “Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics,” he said of prewar Germany, “but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo-religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas.”

    Dr. Stern’s speech, given during a ceremony at which he got the prize from the Leo Baeck Institute, a center focused on German Jewish history, was certainly provocative. The fascism of Nazi Germany belongs to a world so horrendous it often seems to defy the possibility of repetition or analogy. But Dr. Stern, 78, the author of books like “The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology” and university professor emeritus at Columbia University, has devoted a lifetime to analyzing how the Nazi barbarity became possible. He stops short of calling the Christian right fascist but his decision to draw parallels, especially in the uses of propaganda, was controversial.

    “When I saw the speech my eyes lit up,” said John R. MacArthur, whose book “Second Front” examines wartime propaganda. “The comparison between the propagandistic manipulation and uses of Christianity, then and now, is hidden in plain sight. No one will talk about it. No one wants to look at it.”

    Remember this was published over ten years ago. Now, the movement is much more transparent, but on the other hand much more dangerous.

  13. As near as I can tell religiously political conservatives are no different than the proto-Confederate leaders of the 1850s. Any deviation at all from their orthodoxy is grounds for hate and sometimes violence. I try to be positive but I worry that it will take force for this issue to be brought back under control.

  14. There is nothing wrong with being a Christian, Jew, Hindu, atheist et al. Just keep it out of government. No problema! Neither side has any right to impose its views on the other side (or even their own) via laws or other means (regulation, rules etc.). Elected atheists and turbaned Sikhs at School Board meetings may have very different views on God, salvation etc., but so long as they keep those views out of their official duties as school board members, we have no problem. Those who wish to do otherwise have a problem; it’s called the Constitution (as many are learning).

  15. The Party of Lincoln began with Barry Goldwater to become the Party of Jefferson Davis, beginning in 1964. Here in Indiana some in the Republican Base have indicated they will not vote for Trump. The base here is split. They like Trump’s seal the borders rhetoric and being an outsider, but a portion of the base do not see his commitment to anti-abortion, evangelicalism, being pro-gun, and strongly opposed to same sex marriage.

    There is probably no candidate the Republicans could run in the Presidential general election that could win given all the litmus tests that exist in the base.

    Unfortunately, also here in Indiana we have Candidate John Gregg again. I have heard the definition of dumb is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. People can wail and grind their teeth about Pence and the Republican Super Majority, but the Establishment Democratic Party in Indiana is content to remain in the enclaves.

    By the way: Earlier this year Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi proclaimed April 2016 to be Confederate Heritage Month. Mississippi joins Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Mississippi as states that celebrate Confederate Heritage Month, alternately known as Confederate History Month.

  16. A very interesting and thought provoking piece, Professor! I no longer attend church for a variety of reasons, but the current “Christianity” is one main reason. It seems to me that white privilege and male privilege are tied strongly with Christian privilege since Old Testament writings and some of Paul’s writings are used as justification for actions.

    Some of my doubts spring from seeing the same battles being fought over and over: equal treatment for all people, fair monetary policies, voting rights. A promise of a faraway Heaven in death seems a paltry reward for mistreatment in life.

  17. Eric,

    “I try to be positive but I worry that it will take force for this issue to be brought back under control.”

    You might be right. But a strong dose of effectively directed TRUTH might be a better alternative TREATMENT to this new strain of the HITLER VIRUS.

  18. Of the long list of ways to not be smart, among the most seductive is choosing a tribe to avoid thinking.

    It just slays me that whole Presidential campaigns are run under the promise that I’m the most conservative or most Christian or most white or most male or female.

    What do those things mean exactly? TBD. But vote for me ’cause you and I are like the same dude so a vote for me is power for you.

    Power to the tribe!

    Democracy and freedom require so much more including the reality that to reap the benefits of freedom one must share the power with ALL others governed.

    That requires careful objective vetting of candidates not Academy Award fav voting.

    Freedom is never free!

  19. I agree with Nancy: The place to start is with a wholesale revision of 501 nonprofit laws. It’s one thing for all of us to post about the impact of religious dogma on constitutional rights, but that won’t address the fact that all of us are underwriting theocracy while we kvetch. Next time you walk or drive past a church, temple, or mosque in your neighborhood, take a guess at the assessed value of the land and buildings if used for any other commercial purpose, and multiply that by the total number of religion-owned properties in your county. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, there are 876 congregations in Marion County alone, and more than 9,000 in the state (from 2010 Census data). If all the real estate owned by religious organizations were returned to the property tax rolls tomorrow, Indiana could have a budget surplus the likes of which we have never seen before, and organized religion might have less money to spend on political influence.

  20. These issues as well as the attacks on women’s rights, minority/immigrant rights, education systems, science, the poor, voting rights/responsibilities and the environment are substitutes for the civil war.

  21. Today’s blog ties in with yesterday’s. If they are going to cite religion they must be reminded the Bible tells us “the poor will always be with us” and “we are our brother’s keeper”.

    AgingLGrl; at the time the decision was made not to tax churches, they were all providing neighborhood outreach to help all in need. Few continue to provide what was once known as Christian love to help even their own congregants. Time for them, all of them, to begin paying their dues; we have provided them with necessary infrastructure and public safety protection at no cost to them long enough. They are among those who are “more equal than others” and, as a mutual friend of Sheila’s and myself often quoted, they must learn “There is no free lunch.”

  22. I think that JoAnn asks the right question. Does religion return to the community enough to justify the gift of tax free existance? Clearly some churches do and some don’t. But tax free is binary. It either is for all who claim religious status or none.

    At what point in the mix of beneficial to the community do the scales tip from one side to the other?

  23. Former President Jimmy Carter has written a book – “Call to Action” – that I highly recommend. It traces discrimination against women to misinterpretation by various religious faiths, including Christianity. He notes that you can find scripture to support most any position on any issue including horrendous cultural practices such as slavery, but you can also find scripture to love your neighbor as yourself. For instance, I’ll honor your decisions on contraception and you honor mine.

  24. There is a proliferation of “churches” in poverty stricken areas, both urban and rural. A drive through the rural roads of southern Indiana reveals more independent churches set up in homes and old storefronts than businesses that offer necessities. This is an underground economy where anyone who has the gift of gab and a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible can make a living holding church services, yet no one questions it. They are purveyors of ignorance at minimum and at worst narcissistic predators. No one dares question their credentials and counseling practices, or even demand a criminal background check. Taxing these churches would at least pull the curtain aside to reveal the economics behind the pulpit and protect the young and elderly from potential predators.

  25. Some are more egalitarian than others. = means nothing without $=$ or +[sum]=+
    All men are born equal and = goes the rest of the mental =.

  26. I have stated several times in this blog that the christians should believe whatever the hell they want to believe and let the god they worship do her job of separating the holy from the sinners. They’re not qualified to make those types of judgements in spite of what some say to the contrary.

  27. I am a life-long church-goer, but the older I get (I’m 54), the more I think that religion is basically a bad idea. That’s all.

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