Religion in Private and Public

January 7, 2016 at 4:28 am 4 comments

I’ve been watching some discussion of contrasts in attitudes towards the role of religion in culture in Europe vs. the United States between various polytheists- of course, there’s a big cultural range within both Europe and the U.S.

For myself, I had a secularized Protestant upbringing- as in- we went to church, but prayer wasn’t practiced as a family, and my parents would get Deer in the Headlights looks in their eyes if I asked them questions about religion. Church was a primarily a way to access community in smaller and conservative towns as well as to be involved in social justice movements- yes in those days “social justice” was always a concept with a religious context (from Catholic theology actually!) The Social Gospel and Civil Rights movement were major influences, and to stand up for various oppressed groups and oppose the tyranny of the Religious Right was part of being a good Christian/Methodist and American citizen in general.

I came to associate expressions of Christian religiosity with being  conservative and intolerant. There were here and there more moderate examples of piety but in general it was a warning sign, especially as I grew to question my sexual orientation and religious views.

After going to a Lutheran college, I got more used to the idea that people could be sincerely, devoutly Christian while having a range of social & political attitudes. In some ways, I liked that the school’s religious slant was out in the open instead of the way it is at a lot of state schools, where it’s supposed to be secular, but with an awkwardly unacknowledged Christian slant.

I see pressure both from religious liberals who want to be tolerant and multicultural as well as atheist/nonreligious people to make religion an entirely private matter- this tends to be the Western European approach, as well as the case in certain social and regional groups of the U.S. While I agree we should be careful to not bring up religion at inappropriate times or create unnecessary conflict, entirely sweeping under the rug creates more conflict. It cedes public religiosity to obnoxious street preachers (I’ll include nonreligious ones) However, each religion needs to be treated the same way. I’d ask atheist activists to please stop using the phrase “religious privilege” as if all religions are treated alike. It’s Christian privilege. We support your right to not be religious. No strategy for protection of minority religious rights should be pitted against the rights of agnostics and atheists. I’m all for a more open, civil exchange of ideas- we need to have that in the public square to understand each other. Let’s not let people on the extremes shut this down.


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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Religion in Private and Public | whedonfreak976  |  January 7, 2016 at 4:34 am

    […] Source: Religion in Private and Public […]

  • 2. Helio  |  January 7, 2016 at 5:53 am

    It’s a bit more nuanced in western Europe. With the exception of France, which has a very strict secular stance -at least officially – and the UK, which is more or less in the opposite end, it’s normally an issue of not wearing your religion all the time. Processions, discussions, public shows of devotion – you’ll find them, but not overly so. To paraphrase a 19th century bishop, it’s a bit like salt: it’s okay up to a point. Otherwise, you start loosing that neutrality that allows people to coexist regardless of religion (or lack of).

  • 3. Amanda  |  January 7, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    ” I’d ask atheist activists to please stop using the phrase “religious privilege” as if all religions are treated alike. It’s Christian privilege.”

    I second that! I often wonder who has it worse in America, atheists or non-Christian religious people. It seems to depend on the situation. I’ve definitely seen some hate directed towards atheists by Christians, especially politicians. On the other hand, I work in the sciences, and in my line of work it seems like everyone is assumed to be an atheist or a Christian (because you were raised that way and haven’t given it up for social reasons).

    So if I were to ever “come out” as a pagan, I’d get hate from both sides: Christians who think I’m a devil-worshiper, and atheists who think I’m delusional and unfit to be a scientist.

    It also seems like in some circles Muslims are hated more than atheists. It seems like both the Christian right and atheist activists view Islam as an especially evil religion. I think it’s just an accident of history that right now Islam is the religion that’s spawning things like ISIS. If they United States ever becomes a failed state, I expect a Christian version of ISIS arising somewhere in the Deep South. Does that mean all Christians are like that? Obviously not. But somehow we’re supposed to think all Muslims are supporters of ISIS. I’d really hate to be a Muslim in the United States right now. At least pagans and atheists are mostly white, so we can pass as Christians if we need to. It’s a lot harder to be a closeted Muslim. You don’t even have to be an actual Muslim. All you have to do is look kind of Middle Eastern and you’re in trouble.

    • 4. caelesti  |  January 7, 2016 at 10:20 pm

      A big part of the problem is that many people in the middle do disagree and don’t speak up. Might there be a UU church, Friends Society or something that could make good allies? I live in an area with a large Muslim population, there’s still prejudice here, but people have to learn to get over it at least enough so they can deal with fellow students/co-workers/neighbors etc.


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