Sunday, October 18, 2009

Memorial Crosses are an example of Christian privilege

In my race, class, and gender psych class we’ve been talking about dominant and subordinate groups and how privilege manifests itself (its crazy interesting).

One of the topics we’ve recently discussed is how dominant groups tend to make themselves seem neutral (and therefore invisible). Not only does this cement the dominant groups grip, since people then don’t think to question the validity of that dominance, but it also implies that the dominant group is without bias.

I can list to a thousand examples, but an easy one is all the accusations of racism that were flung towards Judge Sotomayor. People concluded that she must be racist because she stated her race and gender would give her insight in regards to certain situations. The problem wasn’t with the questioning (since the question in and of itself wasn’t invalid), but with the obvious lack of similar questioning towards the 98% of white judges on the Supreme Court. Their whiteness was never called into question as a measure of prejudice because to be white is to be without a race essentially.

Another example is how it’s commonly assumed that black people voted for Obama simply because he’s black, but no one even thinks to question if the white people who voted for McCain did so because he’s white.

My point in all this is that Christianity is a dominate group in America as surely as the white race is. A good example is how Christianity is rarely questioned. When a person isn’t Christian, they have to explain why in great detail and with solid facts (here is a good example) while the Christian is never required to do the same. Another is how people are outraged when anyone is bothered by the Ten Commandments being erected on government property or how people must be “fascist” for not teaching creationism alongside evolution.

Anyone who isn't Christian already knows this and the reason I bring it up (besides general interest) is because of a current court case I read about on Sociological Images.

It turns out the Supreme Court has recently weighed in on a case regarding a war memorial on the Mojave National Preserve. The problem isn’t just that the war memorial is a giant cross and the National Preserve is public land, but the Preserve has also refused to allow other religious symbols to be placed on the land (specifically a Buddhist memorial).

Now this post is not about the separation of church and state or the importance of historical monuments - it's about the privilege of Christianity.

Justice Scalia’s comments embody that privilege:
"It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead," Scalia said of the cross that the Veterans of Foreign Wars built 75 years ago atop an outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve. "What would you have them erect? ...Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?"

…I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion," Scalia said, clearly irritated by the exchange.

This kind of thinking highlights the neutrality Christianity is believed to have.

The idea that the cross is not a religious symbol is simply ridiculous. No way around it. People almost always bring up is the fact that the cross has been widely used for ages but, while it’s definitely true, the argument still fails to recognize that the cross was being used by Christians. Therefore, the cross's religious significance is further proved instead of the other way around.

As Peter Eliasburg – the lawyer arguing the case – said, "I have been in Jewish cemeteries; there is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew."

Here is Colbert’s take on the situation:

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I personally don’t care about this particular cross, but I do think it’s disingenuous to claim the cross doesn’t have a religious connotation. Let’s at least call a spade a spade and be done with it.


  1. Hi! It's been a long time since I cruised around checking out everyone's blogs...I miss it.

    Anyway, I couldn't agree with you more. The cross may have historically been used in other ways, but it is instantly recognizable as Christian. They have adopted it as their universal symbol, and to claim that it's in some way not religious in terms of this memorial is just plain ridiculous. If you're going to reject a Buddhist memorial specifically because of its religious connotations, then you should do the same for a Christian memorial.

    I think the example of christian privileging that irritates me the most is Christmas. It affects our entire culture - brings work to a standstill, beefs up the economy, and bombards us visually for months. It's a holiday meant specifically to celebrate the birth of Christ and yet our culture clings to it, trying to ignore that it's such an intensely religious holiday. It privileges Christianity over everything else, and it's become our default winter holiday.

    Anyway, interesting discussion!

  2. Hey! Long time no see. Hope you’re not too swamped with work. :)

    The Christmas thing bothers me too. Even though it has lost most of its religious aspects, it shouldn’t have been made a federal holiday in the first place.


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