Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Privilege To Oppress

I've been engaged lately in a very interesting conversation about how social privilege can be used as a source of oppression lately. It has been primarily from a feminist perspective, but today's traipse through right wing blog No Apologies revealed a very interesting pattern of assumed religious privilege being used to justify oppression of both women and GLBT folk.

Consider the following:

Hateful attack against Truro’s Christian mayor
The Status of Women Must Be Abandoned
'I'm a pariah' says Muslim scholar who is gay
Calgary favours homosexuality over Christianity

All of these articles are arguing in one form or another that articles of specific religions are essentially a legitimate reason for limiting the lives of others.

Consider the following:

...They further expressed their shock and amazement at the City’s response, since the City authorized a flag raising ceremony on the masts of City Hall and a proclamation just three months prior for homosexuals. The church feels that the requests were the same and that the only difference can be found in the message. Street Church states that the City now officially endorses homosexuality and firmly opposes Christianity in the public square.

There's a couple of points of interest - first is the claim that because the City of Calgary chose to recognize 'Pride Month', that it should also recognize a religiously-centered celebration. This is a false equivalence, since different faiths have substantially overlapping Calendars (especially around the Winter Solstice).

The city's response (posted at Pawlowski's Streetchurch website reflects this:

The City of Calgary recognizes multiculturalism and our pluralistic society, and we celebrate our city’s diversity and the benefits this offers our community by enriching the lives of all Calgarians. The City recognizes several important cultural and religious events in the community including the Menorah Lighting, Eid celebration and the annual Nativity scene. However, while we allow the celebration of faith-based events at City Hall, we do not issue proclamations for religious or spiritual leaders nor do we raise a flag in honour of a specific religion.

This makes sense when you consider the fact that not only does Christianity hold major celebrations during December, so do other major faiths such as Judaism, and arguably most pagan faiths do as well. For the City of Calgary to specifically recognize one of these faiths over another is to send a negative message to the citizens of Calgary who do not profess that faith. Religion is deeply personal, and highly contentious at the best of times. For the City to remain more or less silent on the subject is quite appropriate.

Yet, at the same time, while these same people are crying out about how their particular faith is being "persecuted" (how a faith that is nominally practiced by the majority of our population can possibly argue that it is being 'persecuted' is beyond me, but they do), the same people have used the doctrines of their particular faiths to argue quite loudly that GLBT people should be held as less than equal participants in our societies.

Consider the following comment:

Good for Mayor Bill Mills to stand up to this pervertion.

It is very interesting from the perspective of considering the notion of socially organized oppression in the context from which feminism argues. The claim is, in essence, that it is a horrible thing for GLBT people to be treated as equal participants in society. Yet, the religious argument against homosexuality doesn't recognize that it is the flip side of the persecution claim that they make routinely.

Similarly, there is also an emerging argument from right wing political christianity that claims that feminism has "gone too far", resulting in commentary like this:

Something is wrong with that picture, now we have woman taking care of the men, broken homes, and nothing going right. Our society has been vilified. Even though men are physically stronger many times than woman we have woman taking mens jobs, but still not getting paid as much.

"Men's jobs"??? Really - I didn't know there was such a thing any more.

However, this is again a situation where a position is being staked out that is rooted fundamentally in a scriptural understanding of "the differences between men and women". In this situation, it is fairly clear that again, a scriptural understanding is being used to limit a person's ability to contribute to society fully.

Both are ultimately examples of asserted privilege on the part of the claimants - they believe fully that they are "in the right" of the matter, and do not appear to understand how they are in fact imposing their beliefs on others in a manner that limits both the value and the validity of individual, lived experiences.

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