What is Secular Privilege? Here are 10 Everyday Examples

When trying to better understand what white privilege is supposed to be, I discovered a series of articles that help by providing concrete examples, such as What Is White Privilege? Here Are 9 Everyday Examples by Suzannah Weiss.   As I was reading through these, it occurred to me that the social justice movement has been suspiciously silent about a another form of privilege that may be just as extensive  – secular privilege.

Let me use the first seven examples of white privilege  from the Weiss article to show they could just as well represent examples of secular privilege (it would help to read that article before this one).   I’ll start by again quoting Weiss, with a few word changes, and quote her examples with the appropriate word changes.   I will then add three more examples of my own.

Let’s begin.

If you’re a secular person who has trouble understanding your privilege, here are some examples proving that it definitely exists. It’s not your fault that you benefit from these privileges, but you can still work to help others benefit from them too.

1.Your Wages Aren’t Lower Because You are Religious

While I was unable to find any solid studies that compare the income of religious vs. secular people, this Pew Research survey found that atheists and agnostics have a higher household income than members of most religions.  For example, while almost 60% of atheists have an income of more than $50,000 per year, only about 30% of Baptists do.

While the Pew data don’t measure religiosity itself, it is worth noting that the religious group with the highest household incomes also happens to be the least religious.   In this survey, 58% of people who made less than $30,000 a year self-reported that religion was very important in their lives, while 58% of the people who made more than $100,000 reported that religion was at most “somewhat important.”

2.People Don’t Make Assumptions About Your Intelligence Because Of Your Religion

A common stereotype about religious people is that they are stupid.



The stereotype is even proudly perpetuated by the social sciences – Religious People Are Less Intelligent Than Atheists, Concludes New Study.

3.You Don’t Feel Pressure To Represent Your Religion

Secular people never have to worry that if they make a mistake, people will assume they made it because secular people are less capable.  On the other hand, if you belong to a religion, a mistake (intellectual or ethical) will be used as something that represents your religion.  Being secular absolves you from this pressure to defy your religion’s stereotype so that your mistakes don’t hurt others of who share your religious faith.

4.Most Products Are Geared Toward You

A secular person can go into any corner convenience store to buy beer, cigarettes, lottery tickets, or other secular goods and walk out with something that suits them. Religious people will not find religious items so readily available (like pocket Bibles or kosher food), reminding them that in the eyes of mainstream culture, they are invisible.

5.Most Media Is Geared Toward You

Secular people can feel fairly confident that they will see people like them represented on TV, in movies, in magazines, in books, and all over the Internet. The media is clearly secular, as one can easily watch Netflix all weekend and listen to the radio in their car all week, catch a movie on a Friday night, and read the newspaper every morning without being exposed to religious messages/themes/people.

Furthermore, while the media promotes secular lifestyles and mindsets, it often expresses an antireligious bias.  As journalism student Katherine Dempsey noted:

Media bias against Christians is not new. A study published in the Journal of Media and Religion points to partiality between 1980 and 2000 against certain Christians by examining how nightly television network news broadcasts reported on “fundamentalist” Christians. The study found that fundamentalists were reported in a “consistent, mildly negative manner.”

Not surprisingly, a Pew survey found that only 8% of journalists attend church on a weekly basis, while 68% never attend or attend a couple of times a year.

6.Beauty Standards Aren’t Rigged Against You Because Of Your Faith

The rigid beauty standards depicted in the media harm all women, and that harm can be due to factors other than religion. But many religious women express their faith through modesty of dress.  Some refuse to wear pants or makeup and others cover their heads.  Yet the beauty standards of most women’s magazines, fashion designers, and the various ads found throughout the media portray women who are scantily dressed with lots of makeup. Secular women don’t usually feel the same pressure to uncover themselves and paint their faces.

7.Jobs Won’t Discriminate Against You Due To Your Religion

A recent study shows that employers are more likely to discriminate against you if you are religious:

The first study focused on New England employers and showed that when referencing involvement in a Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, atheist, Jewish, Muslim, pagan or Wallonian (a religion made-up by researchers) student group, an applicant was 24 percent less likely than the control group to receive a phone call from an employer. The control group was composed of those resumes that mentioned a generic student organization like “The Student Alliance.”The second study repeated the field experiment in the South with similar results. Applicants who reported a religious identity of any kind were 26 percent less likely to receive a phone call or email.

The NYT’s Nicholas Kristof reported:

The discrimination becomes worse if the applicant is an evangelical Christian. According to Yancey’s study, 59 percent of anthropologists and 53 percent of English professors would be less likely to hire someone they found out was an evangelical.

“Of course there are biases against evangelicals on campuses,” notes Jonathan L. Walton, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard. Walton, a black evangelical, adds that the condescension toward evangelicals echoes the patronizing attitude toward racial minorities: “The same arguments I hear people make about evangelicals sound so familiar to the ways people often describe folk of color, i.e. politically unsophisticated, lacking education, angry, bitter, emotional, poor.”

This may be the tip of the iceberg.  Given that most social scientists are secular, and appear to discriminate against the religious when they hire candidates, it is not surprising that they have ignored this issue for decades:

Wallace said that there is a notable lack of research done on religious discrimination in the workplace. “Surprisingly, sociologists haven’t done a lot of studies of this problem. We found only a scattering of five or six articles over a 30-year period,” he said.

8. People Don’t Make Assumptions About Your Mental Health Because Of Your Religion

Another common stereotype about religious people is that they are mentally ill to some degree or another.

In fact, professor Peter Boghossian, a full time faculty member in the philosophy department at Portland State University and an affiliated faculty member at Oregon Health Science University in the Division of General Internal Medicine, has recently argued that religious faith should be classified as a mental illness.

As far as I have been able to determine, no social scientist has spoken out against such a proposal.

9.A secular education for your child is free.

If you are a secular parent wanting your children to have a secular education, the government provides free schooling from ages 5-18.  What’s more, these schools effectively have a zero-tolerance for any religious expression in the schools and the courts routinely enforce efforts to censor if a violation is uncovered.  On the other hand, if you want your child to have an education that includes religious considerations and values, you will have to pay large sums of money.  Assuming a modest tuition of $3000/year for K-8th grade, and $10,000/year for 9th-12th grade, religious parents can end up paying $67,000 for something that secular parents get for free.  Of course, since many religious parents cannot afford such an education, they are forced to send their children to secular schools that promote secular values and outlooks.

10. Universities won’t discriminate against you because you are too religious.

Julie R. Posselt, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Michigan, was allowed to witness a review of PhD applications at six research universities.  What she observed in one instance is disturbing:

The applicant, to a linguistics Ph.D. program, was a student at a small religious college unknown to some committee members but whose values were questioned by others.

“Right-wing religious fundamentalists,” one committee member said of the college, while another said, to much laughter, that the college was “supported by the Koch brothers.”

The committee then spent more time discussing details of the applicant’s GRE scores and background — high GRE scores, homeschooled — than it did with some other candidates. The chair of the committee said, “I would like to beat that college out of her,” and, to laughter from committee members asked, “You don’t think she’s a nutcase?”

Other committee members defended her, but didn’t challenge the assumptions made by skeptics. One noted that the college had a good reputation in the humanities. And another said that her personal statement indicated intellectual independence from her college and good critical thinking.

At the end of this discussion, the committee moved the applicant ahead to the next round but rejected her there.

That the committee members felt so comfortable behaving like this in front of her, and that she observed this with such a small sample, suggests this type of thing is not uncommon.

In fact, there are multiple cases of students having their applications rejected because of their religious beliefs. For example:

One student, Brandon, was denied admission because when asked in an admissions interview what was the most important thing in his life, he replied simply, “My God.”  In rejecting his application, Radiation Therapy Program Director Dr. Dougherty informed Brandon, “I understand that religion is a major part of your life. . . however, this field is not the place for religion. . . . If you interview in the future, you may want to leave your thoughts and beliefs out of the interview process.” The college unapologetically doubled down on this sentiment, stating that Dr. Dougherty’s statement “is not bad advice,” and that students, when interviewing for secular positions, would be better advised to “have a concrete reason for wanting to undertake the training at hand than to say only that God directed one to do it.”  (For more on Brandon’s case, click here).  This situation is almost unbelievable, but unfortunately Brandon isn’t alone.

Even if religious students get admitted into a university, there are many reports where they feel the need to hide their religious views from their professors.  Consider one such report:

John had been a straight-A student until he enrolled in English writing. The assignment was an “opinion” piece and the required theme was “traditional marriage.” John is a Southern Baptist and he felt it was his duty to give his honest opinion and explain how it was grounded in his faith. The professor was annoyed that John claimed the support of the Bible for his views, scribbling in the margin, “Which Bible would that be?” On the very same page, John’s phrase, “Christians who read the Bible,” provoked the same retort, “Would that be the Aramaic Bible, the Greek Bible, or the Hebrew Bible?” (What could the point of this be? Did the professor want John to imagine that while the Greek text might support his view of traditional marriage, the Aramaic version did not?) The paper was rejected as a “sermon,” and given an F, with the words, “I reject your dogmatism,” written at the bottom by way of explanation.

Thereafter, John could never get better than a C for papers without any marked errors or corrections. When he asked for a reason why yet another grade was so poor he was told that it was inappropriate to quote C. S. Lewis in work for an English class because he was “a pastor.” (Lewis, of course, was actually an English professor at Cambridge University. Perhaps it was wrong to quote Lewis simply because he had said something recognizably Christian.) Eventually John complained to the department chair, who said curtly that he could do nothing until the course was over. John took this to mean that the chair would do nothing and just accepted the bad grade.

Then there was the classic case of Emily Brooker:

Brooker, a student in the university’s School of Social Work, had been assigned by a professor, Frank Kauffman, to write a letter to the Missouri Legislature expressing support for homosexual adoption.  She refused to do so because of her religious objections and was charged with a “Level 3 Grievance,” the most serious charge possible, and faced the possibility of having her degree withheld.

In addition, Brooker faced a 2 1/2 hour interrogation from an “ethics” committee, which asked her personally invasive questions such as “Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners?” and “Do you think I am a sinner?”

Secular students don’t have to worry that their applications will be rejected or that they will be punished or interrogated by university professors or administrators for holding a viewpoint that was secular.

In summary, secular parents are assured a free and purely secular education for their children.  When the secular children graduate, they do not have to worry about their secularism becoming an obstacle to being admitted to a university.  Once in the university, the secular nature of their views will not be challenged or mocked and they can proudly write and speak about them.  If they go on to apply to graduate school,  they do not have to worry about their secularism becoming an obstacle to being admitted to a PhD program and the secular nature of their views will not be challenged or mocked. When they are done with the university, their secularism will not become an obstacle for getting a job and they can look forward to a higher income than their religious peers.  Throughout all of this, they can enjoy a mass media that caters to all their secular interests and don’t have to worry about their culture stereotyping them as stupid and mentally ill.

It would seem to me that anyone who is honestly and seriously interested in social justice would pay attention to secular privilege and seek to check it.  But alas, no one in the social justice movement is willing to acknowledge even the existence of secular privilege.  Could it be because the social justice movement itself champions and defends secular privilege?  After all, we know in the atheist community, there is a huge overlap among anti-religious activism and social justice activism.   And could it thus be that their posturing about social justice itself is just self-serving deception?

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11 Responses to What is Secular Privilege? Here are 10 Everyday Examples

  1. mechanar says:

    “All animals are equal!But some are more Equal than others”

  2. Regual_Llegna says:

    “And could it thus be that their posturing about social justice itself is just self-serving deception?”

    Yes, they don’t have a objetive reason to not to be self-serving deception. The least self-serving reason is fear (lovecraftian type of fear to the unknown), perpetuated by their own views, about the faith of others people, like royalists: They doubt or deny the loyalty of religious people, because they cannot be the focus of their faith even if this faith is not a belief in a god.

    They don’t have a objetive goal by which to live with one another, no cohesion, no tradition, no comparative base (dogma; central philosophy of life) they are the worst in doing comparation, especially if that comparation is a legalist against a moralist (they selectively flip thosec).

    For them is:
    – Traditionalist, Honor and Literalist views of the law vs Religion convictions/belief = Religious people conviction need to ben over or denied their convictions/belief or face eye for eye discrimination.

    Example: “Punch a Nazi” (hint: the social justice warriors activist decide who and what is a nazi)

    – Social Justice convitions/belief vs Traditionalist, Honor and Literalist views of the law = brave attack to the oppresor.
    “In 2012, Texas Judge Tonya Parker publicly declared that she would not perform any marriages until the state government met her demands.
    Specifically, the lesbian Dallas County judge wanted state legislators to authorize same-sex marriages, and until they did, she wouldn’t perform them for anyone.
    “I do not perform [marriages] because it is not an equal application of the law. Period,” Parker told the Dallas Voice at the time.
    “I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage equality in the state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away,” she told the group.
    “So I usually will offer them something along the lines of, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t perform marriage ceremonies because we are in a state that does not have marriage equality, and until it does, I am not going to partially apply the law to one group of people that doesn’t apply to another group of people.’
    “And it’s kind of oxymoronic for me to perform ceremonies that can’t be performed for me, so I’m not going to do it,” the New York Daily News quoted Parker as saying at the time.”

    “… met her demands.”
    “… I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage equality ….”

    One of the comments says: “…she has no legal compulsion to perform marriages. …”

    She is not force by legalism but by tradition. She is still using her position of power to make a “choice” in this case demand: activism by authority. After that comment the next says:

    “… You can tell them all day that one was a case of a clerk breaking the law by denying elibgible people their right to access a county service vs a judge who elected to not participate in a voluntary activity on the basis of inequality. …”

    THAT IS:
    Law is above Religion, Moral Activism is Tradition and Honor, Law will ben over to please SJWs views…


    One person in the comment section write what i think:

    “This judge has so much as admitted that she is an activist judge and is using her position to legislate from the bench as many liberal judges do. This is a breach of judicial duty, judicial integrity, and judicial protocol as she is not in the legislative branch but the judicial branch as you have pointed out. If we took the time to study her history on marriages, what do you think we’d find? That she seldom performed them, never performed them, or performed them frequently. Just saying.”

    DUTY, INTEGRITY AND PROTOCOL (MORAL AND ECTHICS), three things that are really important to any large human society. Three things that SJWs/gnu atheists/leftists/current liberals lack in their arguments and views.

  3. Just Curious says:

    “asked her personally invasive questions such as “Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners?” and “Do you think I am a sinner?” ”

    Boy, I would have LOVED to have been asked such questions! My simple answer would have been, “Of course I do! We’re ALL sinners – you, me, the Pope, him over there, everybody. Why? Do you think select groups of people are somehow exempt?”

  4. Regual Llegna says:

    New Info: Google go more insane (A.K.A. more prove that they are a bunch of SJWs):

    Search the word Tenet, for the latin word tenere:

    Google offer me this definition:
    “Further steps must be taken to strengthen this model of society, the key political tenets of which are public participation in the democratic process, the development of competences, access to general interest services, equal opportunities and the provision of basic social guarantees.”

    But the merriam-webster.com dictionary says:
    “Definition of tenet
    : a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true; especially : one held in common by members of an organization, movement, or profession”

  5. TFBW says:

    When I type “tenet” into Google, I get a definition very much like the Merriam-Webster definition, and do not see the item to which you refer. Don’t leap to conclusions about Google based on individual search results: they try to find things “relevant to you”, sometimes with odd results, but mostly with intellectually insulating results.

  6. Regual Llegna says:

    TFBW says:
    “When I type “tenet” into Google, I get a definition very much like the Merriam-Webster definition, and do not see the item to which you refer. Don’t leap to conclusions about Google based on individual search results: they try to find things “relevant to you”, sometimes with odd results, but mostly with intellectually insulating results.”

    I want to know: Why my individual search result is diferent using google?
    Maybe you shuld search the word: tenets
    The definition only shows in the plural form.

  7. Regual Llegna says:

    This page is the one that is highlight in the google definition: http://www.linguee.es/ingles-espanol/traduccion/tenets.html

    But in that page tenet/tenets is translated to spanish to value/values.

  8. Dhay says:

    > 2.People Don’t Make Assumptions About Your Intelligence Because Of Your Religion

    Here’s a portion of Jerry Coyne doing just that in his 29 March 2017 blog post entitled “Are religious people a bit thick?”:

    I’ll admit here, then, that if you tell me you’re a theist, or adhere to a religion that makes untenable reality claims, I’ll think less of you. I won’t deem you “stupid,” which is an overall assessment of one’s mental acuity, but I’ll think you somewhat irrational and, as the Brits say, perhaps a tad thick.

    Of course I expect readers to weigh in below. And tell the truth!


    That last amuses me; if he expects sensible replies when he has such an echo-chamber, he must be somewhat irrational and, as we Brits say, perhaps a tad thick.

  9. TFBW says:

    @Regual Llegna: “I want to know: Why my individual search result is diferent using google?”

    Two people sitting next to each other can search for the same thing and get different results. As I say, Google tries to make results “relevant to you” based on its idea of who is doing the searching. At the very least, that’s going to take your estimated location into consideration, but usually they have much more data on you than that.

  10. Dhay says:

    I recall a newspaper article on the way Google personalises search results to what it thinks the searcher is searching for, using previous searches as its guide to what the searcher wants to see. It used as an example two people — the journalist and a friend — searching for information on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, using using the exact same search words.

    (The search was sent as a link, such as eg https://www.google.co.uk/#newwindow=1&q=Deepwater+Horizon+oil+spill&* so the journalist knew his friend had indeed used the very same search.)

    The journalist got results giving information about the disastrous effects on the environment; his friend, a financier, got lots of results giving information about the disastrous effects on BP share prices.

  11. Dhay says:

    Here’s gluonspring’s response to Jerry Coyne’s request (three above) for “readers to weigh in below. And tell the truth!” about “are religious people a bit thick.”

    The smartest people I know all left [religion] sooner or later, with a couple of striking exceptions. Those exceptions are a great source of puzzlement to me and I strongly suspect that they represent people who are trapped in a controlling social network where the costs are too high.

    The very smartest person I have known in my entire life was one of my roommates in college, and he has done great things and made a fortune. My sense that he is too smart to really be religious is so strong that I actually think he is just putting on a show to satisfy his network of religious friends and family.


    Shermer’s jibe at Collins, that “smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons”, comes to mind; though gluonspring’s response seems to be desperately grasping at straws, any straws, any possible rationalisation whatsoever to avoid having to accept what is to him unacceptable, rather than being a smart response.


    What do you call a man who thinks nasty, prejudiced, discriminatory things about a group of people, blogs publicly those nasty, prejudiced, discriminatory things about the group of people, but applauds himself for not actually saying those nasty, prejudiced, discriminatory things when face-to-face with anyone in that group?

    Personally, I’d call him a bigot. A bit after gluonspring’s response, Coyne weighs in — typically heavy-handedly — to slap down Jody Hey, who had commented that Coyne’s OP was offensive hence counter-productive:

    I’m not trying to persuade religious people here, Jody, and I think you know that. I’m saying what I FEEL when I encounter a person who seems intelligent but is religious. I do not call religious people “dumb” when I’m dis;cussing religion with them.

    If you think I should shut up about my feelings, then say so. And I guess Dawkins should have shut up, too, when he called religious people “delusional” or even “child abusers.”

    Perhaps religious people can use this against me, but what I’ve just said is nothing compared to what religious folk say about atheists.

    Finally, I aim my arguments at young people, or those on the fence, not those who have drunk the Kool-Aid.

    I’d appreciate it, then, if you’d lay off telling me how I should persuade people to give up their faith. Dawkins has conveted hundreds or thousands of folks away from religion even though he’s called them “delusional” or “child abusers.”

    There was a kerfuffle at Middlebury recently, some people got very agitated about the guest speaker having carried out some research a while ago which purportedly showed that Black people have lower intelligence than White people. Substitute “Black” for “religious” and “White” for “atheist” in that Coyne quote, see whether you don’t get obvious racism of the kind that sparked violent protest at Middlebury. And whereas Charles Murray had research to back his claims, Coyne has no research, just his FEEL-ings, just his prejudices.

    Let’s see: FEEL-ing religious people are dumb, which Coyne tells us he himself does FEEL, is not the same as directly telling religious people they are dumb, even though he is here publicising those FEEL-ings, and his claim that religious people are “dumb”, on his blog in and for public view. He only hides his hostility and contempt face-to-face.

    On his blog Coyne makes little or no attempt to hide his FEEL-ings, his prejudice, his contempt: even a sniff of “accommodationism™” triggers Coyne into a rant; he wears his FEEL-ings on his sleeve.

    (There’s dissimulation and hypocrisy, there, too; he tells Jody Hey, “If you think I should shut up about my feelings, then say so”: yet we can be near-certain from his past behaviour that had she actually done so, he would have blown his fuse and perma-banned her.)

    For Coyne, it’s OK to put your FEEL-ings online, and he also thinks it’s perfectly OK — even admirable, because anti-religious hate speech is effective at converting people such as Coyne’s target of young people or fence-sitters — for Richard Dawkins to call religious people “delusional” and “child abusers”; from which we can conclude Coyne thinks it would be perfectly OK for Coyne himself to call religious people “delusional” and “child abusers”.

    What do you call a man who thinks nasty, prejudiced, discriminatory things about a group of people, blogs publicly those nasty, prejudiced, discriminatory things about the group of people, commends others who have said and written nasty, prejudiced, discriminatory things about the group of people but applauds himself for not actually saying those nasty, prejudiced, discriminatory things when face-to-face with anyone in that group?

    Personally, I’d call him a bigot.

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