Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Atheism is My Privalage

I am an athiest, but that hasn't always been the case. I was brought up in a Salvation Army family, I played carols on my trombone for old folks at christmas and believed in a god. Specifically Mr Christian God, though Jesus Mary and all the rest of it didn't always ring true.

I regard my athiesm as a faith because I think the most logical approach to religion is agnostocism. I mean there could be a large rabbit in the sky that generates solar systems simply by wiggling its ears, our measly
galaxy have been shat out by a 10 ton parrot in another dimension - nobody really knows*.

The reason I am an atheist is partly because of feminism. Somewhere along the line it occoured that the people who suffer most in this world tend to be a combination of black, non western, women. It may seem simplistic, but I came to the conclusion that no God worth following would shit so consistently on those who aren't white male and rich.

I know there are ways in which the problem of evil can be explained, and that there are deeper philosophical arguments which I am completely ignoring. It's not that I think these arguments are irrelevant, but because I had a more important revalation today.

That my Athiesm is one of my privalages as a white western woman, and that it is vital that a discussion on faith and feminism should understand what religion means from a non western perspective.

In the white western world (and here I am specifically talking about the US and the UK though this counts for much of Europe too)
we veiw religion as a sort of personal faith. Religion is an individual thing, about what you believe more than what you actually do. This has not come out of nowhere, it is the product of hundreds of years of Protestant Christianity dominating politics and culture. No matter how secularised we feel as a nation, we live with this legacy.

This legacy dictates that we tend to veiw other religons in terms of protestant christianity. This is clearly flawed, as many non protestant religions define themselves by practice, rather than through faith alone. We cannot talk about other religions in terms of belief and ignore their important social functions.

Similarly we shouldn't misunderstand the connection between religion and identity. This is what I mean by athiesm being my privalage.

I am white and from the west, and my previous religious identity was protestant christian, therefore it is very easy for me to abandon.
I can say 'hey guess what, I'm an athiest now' and no one will say to me, 'but you're really jewish aren't you?' or 'I thought you were a sikh?'. That is one of the privalages connected to the colour of my skin and the country of my birth.

For the protestant christian, their religion need not be a part of their identity because for so many years it has been the norm. This is not the case for muslims, jews, sikhs, hindus, catholics etc. If you are born into one of these religions it is likely to be a part of your identity whether you want it to be or not. Even if you abandon all religous practice, you may still be identified with that particular religion. This is because these religions are the 'other' and protestant christianity is the norm - just as white skin and having a willy are also viewed as normative.

Abandoning your religion may not be an option, nor may it be desireable because it is so connected to an 'othered' identity. Religion may be a source of strength and community where a community is opressed,the practices of religion may serve an important social function which cannot be cast aside in the name of ideology.

This is why my athiesm is very much my privalage. I think one of the problems that could be connected to faith and feminism is the misunderstanding of religion, and of athiesm itself. It is important to understand that athiesm is actually an intrinsic part of protestant christianity.
Even though I can give up my christianity, I cannot give up my privalage which arises from that particular religion, and its history of political dominiance.

I am not saying that there are only white athiests, or that it is impossible to become an athiest if you were not previously protestant christian. Of course that is possible, but more of a previous religious identity is likely to be retained.
Nor do I wish to suggest that white protestants do not view their christianity as part of their identity. I know many that do, and I know it can be complex. The Salvation Army for example has an important social function and it does remain a part of my identity despite my lack of belief in god and copious consumption of alcohol.

Thus I guess what I am saying is that even athiests cannot seperate religion from culture, even if you abandon religion it is still a vital part of your cultural context.
This is a result of history which we cannot just ignore, but the fact that protestant christianity is so normative makes it harder to see. Particularly for the dawkins generation.

So then though I am an athiest I think this is my privalage as a resident of a protestant christian coountry. I don't think you have to be an athiest to be a feminist, (even though I think Mr Christian God, and indeed Mr Allah and any of the other male conceptions of a deity are patriachal**) because the social function of a religion may be seperate from actual belief. Nor am I saying that you can't be a feminist and believe in a god - but I think it probably makes it harder.

Phew...


* Not even Douglas Adams
** I do not wish to imply that all conceptions of the deity are masculine. Having said that if there is a female god then she is a maschocist.

7 comments:

Christian Feminist said...

Firstly, can I say that I love the Salvation Army. I don't know what your experience of them was, but they are probably the only denomination of christianity ever to exist that had gender equality in their leadership as a matter of course right from the beginning (I love Catherine Booth so much - its almost an obsession!).

I agree with a lot of what you are saying. For me, its important to stress (as a protestant christian) that its **a good thing** that inherent to my faith is the ability to choose what I believe. Protestantism was born (in part) out of the inability of the Catholic church to accept discent from the dominant (male) view. (Not to say that we haven't then gone on to make the exact same mistakes.) We are 'the protestors' in fact. Protestant christianity is so diverse, because lots of different ways o thinking and doing things are accepted in a way that isn't the case in the Catholic Church (I can't speak for any other religion).

I also appreciate the point that I am priviliged as if I were to give up my faith tomorrow, I wouldn't be rejected by any of my friends/family etc, although a lot of them would be sad about it. That option is always there, I'm allowed to change my mind, this isn't true for all people (even a lot of other protestants).

Christian Feminist said...

p.s. not entirely sure its fair to say that Protestant christianity is about what you believe not what you do. Certainly when Luther did all his stuff (I have such a deep knowledge of church history...)the view was certainly that we are not saved by our ACTIONS but by our FAITH (i.e. by grace). Which I think is true, and also wonderful, but thats not really relevant... What I'm saying is that this doctrine (accurate though it is) was never intended to provide an excuse for not living a 'holy' (whatever that means) life. See Romans, 'all things are permissable but not all things are not beneficial' etc.

However, I do take the point that most of society isn't quite up on the subtilties of salvation by faith alone. (Lets face it, I clearly don't know what I'm talking about either!) Sorry for hijacking your blog.

twirlingmycni said...

I will always have a place in my heart for the salvos - my family has been salvation army since it started back in 1864 so my experience is quite large ( band camp, junior soldier, trombone, timbral the whole shebang)
Even though I am a big athiest, and even though the salvation army does a fair few crap things, and I had big rows with my sunday school teachers about homosexuality and sex, I still like them.
Ps Hijack away, I love comments.

Christian Feminist said...

When I was 14 I told off my Sunday School teacher for being sexist and racist. No wonder I ended up a scary feminist...

Live4God said...

While researching "othering", looks like I stumbled across a dyke loving, God hating community. Thank goodnes for freedom of speech, eh?

Andrew said...

Not to be knit picky but The Eastern London Mission was started in 1865. I would like to wish you much luck in life twirlingmycni with your view it does worry me though. I too was like you at one point in life. I was a devout Christian family that has been involved with TSA for many years. At one point I almost went off to CFOT to become an Officer. I had a falling out and for 10 years went on living a worldly life and didn't care about God.
As I look back on my life during those 10 years I see just how bad things were for me. After I accepted God back into my life things were so much better for me and my family. I'm not saying that God makes things easy because that's not completely true. There are parts of my life that are more difficult because I have God back in my life. Prosecution being the main problem.
But I pray that some day you might see the light again as well.

Andrew said...

Not to be knit picky but The Eastern London Mission was started in 1865. I would like to wish you much luck in life twirlingmycni with your view it does worry me though. I too was like you at one point in life. I was a devout Christian family that has been involved with TSA for many years. At one point I almost went off to CFOT to become an Officer. I had a falling out and for 10 years went on living a worldly life and didn't care about God.
As I look back on my life during those 10 years I see just how bad things were for me. After I accepted God back into my life things were so much better for me and my family. I'm not saying that God makes things easy because that's not completely true. There are parts of my life that are more difficult because I have God back in my life. Prosecution being the main problem.
But I pray that some day you might see the light again as well.