Taking an Incomplete in Religion

October 13, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

In comments on my “Christian Is Not a Religion” post, Man of Letters says that minority and majority perceive things differently. Stephen Colbert’s, “I don’t see race” nicely illustrates the idea that privilege, when it’s working well, is invisible, especially to the privileged. Nonwhites may find it harder to unsee race.

The privileged position (white, male, etc.) is the default setting. As with default settings for machines or software, most people don’t even notice that these settings exist. After a while, the default setting just seems to be the “natural” way, the way things are. The default also comes be seen not just as the way things are but as the way things should be. To say that male is the default setting for sex implies that other settings, female for instance, are, well, faults. Being male is right and natural; it’s what we all should be doing. Women just aren’t as good at it.*

A similar set of assumptions seems evident in Justice Scalia’s idea that it is “outrageous” to think that the cross honors only Christian war dead. In Scalia’s view, even if you’re not a Christian, the cross is still for you. And if you don’t feel honored by that cross, well maybe there’s something wrong with you. In Scalia’s case, these ideas still seem to be unexamined assumptions. Others make the case more explicitly. Theologian Ann Coulter, among others, says that in relation to Christians, Jews are “uncompleted” or “unperfected.” When Jews are completed and perfected, they will be Christians.

Jews, given their centuries-long experience with others seeking to perfect them, may understandably be less than enthusiastic about Ms. Coulter’s beneficence.


*This assumption has been the basis of TV sitcom plots going back to “I Love Lucy.” Lucy tries to do something that men usually do (for example, working or having a job), only to fail hilariously.


Dan said...

Right on the money as usual Jay.

In regards to the topic of privilege, Tim Wise will be giving a lecture tomorrow, October 14 @ 2:00 at William Paterson. I'm leaving work early to attend.

I encourage whites to attend this lecture.

Jay Livingston said...

Thanks Dan. I can't be at WPU tomorrow, but I'll try to find out what Wise says.