Longread: “The War on Easter” and The Privilege of the Religious Majority

This Sunday would have been labor hero Cesar (not Hugo) Chavez’s 86th Birthday. In honor of his memory, Google honored Chavez with a Google doodle. Chavez got to be the O. All in all, it was a small tribute to a very important man.

This Sunday, it was also Easter. And many American Christians thought that Chavez’s place should have been filled with an Easter egg. Yes, the right wing blogo-sphere/Fox News was offended by the fact that Google chose to honor a liberal labor hero rather than a Christian holiday. When I say, “the right wing blogo-sphere”, I mean:

In other words, it was the usual suspects of Religiously Privileged Outrage. These publications are always ready to say their rights are being violated the minute they are denied total control over American culture. Never mind the fact that Google hasn’t done an Easter-related doodle since 2000. Never mind the fact that Chavez was a devout Catholic, who, as Morgan Guyton points out, exemplifies the spirit of what Easter is about far more than the Easter eggs that graced the home page of Bing.

The “War on Easter”, as it is now known, didn’t just start with this manufactured controversy. Bill O’Reily has been looking to boost his ratings with this crap for weeks, pointing out the rare cases where Easter bunnies are being called “Spring” bunnies, and where Easter egg hunts are being called “Spring Egg hunts.” And his message was the same as it was during the war on Christmas: having to be inclusive LITERALLY means the end of Christendom.

Rob Lowe also hates pluralism.

This sort of rhetoric is the height of religious privilege, which, in America, is Christian privilege. (Except, as I’ve noted before, in highly intellectual environments). Many Christians (not all of them, I should add) expect that their religion should be allowed total control over the public sphere. Take this comment, by Rob Dreher of The American Conservative,

It’s a small thing, of course, but this kind of thing, accumulated, signals an intentional de-Christianization of our culture, and the creation of an intentional hostility to Christianity that will eventually cease to be latent, or minor. It cannot have been an accident that Google decided to honor a relatively obscure cultural figure instead of observing the most important Christian holiday, a day of enormous importance to an overwhelming number of people in the United States, and to an enormous number of people around the world.

In Dreher’s comment, a religiously neutral public sphere is one that is “de-Christianized”. In his narrative, tolerance is the first step on the road towards anti-Christian persecution.

This argument, of course, is nothing more than a new version of the repeated assertion that America is a “Christian Nation”, which essentially means that Christians deserve not  only accommodation in the public, cultural sphere, but control over it. In this climate, calling the Easter Bunny a “Spring” bunny is not only anti-Christian, but anti-American. Meanwhile, as I observed last week in the “Mop Sink” controversy, even the smallest amenity made in a public space for non-Christians can be an outrage.

The problem here is that the public sphere we should be striving for is one that is as religiously neutral as possible – it should favor no religion while offering space for all of them to exercise their beliefs. In this world, a company like Google could totally offer a little tribute to Easter, as they can to Passover, Ramadan, etc. But it shouldn’t be expected of them.

Two final thoughts:

1. For an ideological wing obsessed with how “political correctness” might control the words they use, the far right certainly seems concerned with what words people use. At least when we’re talking holidays.

2. If Fox spent every hour it spent covering the “War on Easter” covering persecution of Christians in places like Egypt, maybe Fox could actually do something to fight religious persecution.

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