In the U.S., Christian, like white, is an unmarked category in need of marking. Christianness, a majority, dominant culture, is not only about religious practice and belief, any more than Jewishness is. As racism names the system that normalizes, honors and rewards whiteness, we need a word for what normalizes, honors and rewards Christianity. Jews designate the assumption of Christianity-as-norm, the erasure of Jews, as “anti-Semitic.” In fact, the erasure and marginalization of non-Christians is not just denigrating to Jews. We need a catchier term than Christian hegemony, to help make stark the cultural war against all non-Christians.
Christianism? Awkward, stark, and kind of crude – maybe a sign that something’s being pushed. Sexism once sounded stark and kind of crude. Such a term would help contextualize Jewish experience as an experience of marginality shared with other non-Christians. Especially in this time of rising Christian fundamentalism, as school prayer attracts support from “moderates,” the contextualization is critical for progressive Jews, compelling us to seek allies among Muslims and other religious minorities.
I’ve been longing for just this word for quite a while. I’d add that this should include not only religious minorities, but atheists and agnostics too. (Although we have to remember that the categories overlap; a Jewish atheist may have a different relationship to Christianism than a Catholic atheist, although either may be harmed by Christianism.)
- From “Jews in the U.S.: The Rising Cost of Whiteness,” in Names We Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity (1995), edited by Becky Thompson & Sangeeta Tyagi. [↩]