Two recent news stories highlight how cultural and academic elites in the West tend not to apply intersectional principles to Christians. First, many Eastern Orthodox Christians (of whom I am one) are peacefully protesting a Harvard University art exhibit that features Star Wars characters in Byzantine iconographic form, an appropriation of the sacred art of another culture in the name of American corporate pop art.
Second, some Arab Christians in Israel (many of whom also are Eastern Orthodox) are opposing a museum art exhibit there featuring what is to them a blasphemous crucifix scene that features the corporate avatar Ronald McDonald nailed to the cross. There’s also reportedly Barbie doll versions of a bloodied Jesus and of the Virgin Mary.
The latter exhibit sparked a riot in early January by some of Israel’s tiny Christian minority, which turned violent, and local church officials have taken the issue to court.
A Double Standard on Christian Iconography
The assumption that it’s okay to satirize and denigrate Christian symbolism and beliefs is widespread among cultural gatekeepers in the West. Yet they otherwise emphasize the need to recognize hate in words and symbols, and often seek to censor anything seen as marginalizing people’s identities.
Surveys and news reports repeatedly indicate that Christians worldwide are victims of violent persecution more often than any members of any other major faith tradition worldwide. However, apparently it is okay to create, promote, and defend exhibitions such as the current ones mentioned above in today’s West.
Not only that, but it often seems acceptable to make Christianity the “other” and demonize and seek to effectively eliminate it. Welcome to the world of secular privilege, where intersectionality is selectively applied.
So it’s fine, for example, to make nasty and sometimes violent comments aimed at Christianity and Christians, as I’ve experienced among academics for years, and even to ostracize colleagues and their families who are practicing Christians, making cruel comments that encourage actual bullying. But if someone tried to make such comments in such contexts about other faith traditions, or presented an exhibit denigrating their sacred forms and symbols in some way, that would be grounds for ostracism, at least, if not the professional equivalent of tarring, feathering, and execution.
Intersectionality Doesn’t Extend Very Far
The doctrine of intersectionality involves how people can have overlapping identities or contexts to their lives that make them vulnerable. So, for example, as a tiny minority in the United States an Eastern Orthodox Christian may not share the imagined privilege of an evangelical Protestant. The Protestant, if of low socioeconomic background and lacking an Ivy League education, might be more marginalized than someone of Muslim background who works on Wall Street and possesses a degree from Harvard.
A Russian Orthodox Christian in the United States more specifically may be targeted for Christian privilege, while under suspicion due to anti-Russian sentiment common on the rise again in elite circles, which conveniently ignore how millions of Slavic Christians suffered violent persecution and deaths under communism in the past century.
Likewise, members of Palestinian-Arab Christian minority communities in Israel are not necessarily benefiting from what cultural Marxists would claim is the cultural hegemony of Christianity, nor are many African Christians killed or kidnapped by violent Islamists.
Turkey also remains a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member despite the Armenian Christian genocide it still denies. China is a valued source of cultural and student exchange for top American universities despite its regime’s mass persecutions of various communities in the past and present, including Christians. Why all the double standards?
Whataboutism Doesn’t Provide a Sufficient Explanation
Inevitably, any discussion of this will spark the “whataboutism” of “what about what those Christians did to those people in…” Try using that to justify Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. It’s just as wrong in justifying what sociologist George Yancey has studied and called Christianophobia.
The African-American historian Albert Raboteau has detailed the many Christian slaves in America who were killed because their owners did not want them practicing their faith. He has called them the first American Christian martyrs. Many Christians in the United States came here because they or their families were persecuted abroad.
Some of the greatest mass killings in modern history have also targeted Christians. Yet such history is erased often in the equivalent of social justice sermons about the alleged patriarchal oppression of Christianity, all lumped into one “other” by those who often seem to want to assert their own culture as universal and force it onto everyone else. Isn’t that what awareness of intersectionality is supposed to combat?
For the exhibit in Israel, the Finnish creator of the “McJesus” sculpture at the center of the controversy (exhibited in other countries reportedly without incident) wants it taken down. But that’s only because he supports the boycott and divestment campaign against Israel, so doesn’t want his work exhibited there.
Speaking of intersectionality, I’ve sat in on conversations about how an administrator of color wouldn’t be hired because of Christian beliefs and about how a female Christian student was too uptight and therefore needed sexual initiation, have watched Christians being called “animals” in local political controversy, and have debriefed an ethnic minority Christian kid assaulted on a bus in the context of religious-ethnic bullying in a college town. All this emanates from attitudes among the well-educated progressive segment of the population denying there is any problem with secular privilege and Christianophobia. But if there is a problem, it’s the victim’s fault. Nothing to see, move along.
No, there is not––and never will be––persecution of Christians in America, they say, because it is a Christian country. That in itself is interesting, because in other contexts they say it is not a Christian country and that it never was founded as a Christian country, so let’s remove all traces of that history and heritage.
If such persecution ever does happen, they will say the victims will have it coming. So take away their professional livelihoods, send their kids to re-education facilities, make their cultural identities a non-entity in a re-hegemonized American society. Send the non-conforming evangelical bakers and Catholic nuns to the equivalent of debtors’ prison––or worse.
Meanwhile, perhaps the persecutors are happy that their successful careers are ensured, and their kids are heading to the Ivies and corporate fame. No privilege there to see, just move along.
Intersectionality thus unravels into selective memory and Hobbesian economic warfare of one group against another, tooth and claw, veiled in varied cultural and ideological justifications. As George Orwell said, some animals are more equal than others.