Skip to comments.Anti-Catholicism in the U.S.: A hate much loved and lied about
Posted on 05/13/2003 11:59:25 AM PDT by NYer
Is a need to hate essential to the human condition? No. But history and contemporary life insist that hating has beguiling charms. Denying them is a main job of civilization. That job's not being done very well these days.
For the moment, put aside African-Americans, Jews, Latinos and other traditional hate targets and consider the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.
The most elegant description of anti-Catholicism I have read is John Highham's: "the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history." That surgically precise diagnosis is quoted in The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice by Philip Jenkins (Oxford, 288 pages, $26).
Jenkins is a chaired professor of history at Penn State and has written 15 previous books, several of them involving the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Answering the inevitable question, he writes "I was a member of the Roman Catholic Church for many years, but I left without any particular animosity, and since the late 1980s, I have been a member of the Episcopal Church. ... I have never been a member of the clergy in any church, nor a seminarian, nor was I associated with any religious order." (And, no, lest you ask, I am not and never have been a Roman Catholic.)
Jenkins examines the phenomenon slowly, methodically, tracing its long history and its European origins, its often-disguised currency among orthodox liberals, the Church's treatment in novels, movies, television and the mainstream press. The array of issues on which anti-Catholicism can flourish today in the United States. is very powerful - feminism, homosexuality, contraception, abortion are at the top of a longer list.
He builds with methodical patience - to a conclusion that there prevails today in the United States. rampant, forceful, shameless and largely uncriticized anti-Catholicism.
He tells a tale of bigotry, of small minds and smaller hearts. But he also tells a more complex and important story of profound differences in values, attitudes, moral objectives and human standards that separate the Catholic Church from many non-Catholics. This is neither the basis nor an excuse for bigotry, but it is a wide window to understanding the passions.
Jenkins examines books, magazine articles and opinion columns by Maureen Dowd, James Carroll, Anna Quindlen, Garry Wills, Richard Sipe and many respected others. "Over the last fifteen years," he writes of them, "we have seen the massive revival of an ancient anti-clerical and anti-Catholic image that had largely been excluded from respectable discourse. Today, though, the priestly caricature has returned to the social mainstream. It remains to be seen whether the anti-clerical assaults will have consequences anything like those of [Martin] Luther's time."
Jenkins begins by pointing out that the appalling child sexual abuse scandals and the bungled, often corrupting responses by men high in the hierarchy have provoked expressions of anger in words unmatched since the 1920s. Those crimes are abominable - as the anger of enormous numbers of Catholics, lay and clergy, dramatizes. But this book is about realities that go far deeper, in history and in social attitudes.
Referring to anti-Catholicism as "the thinking man's anti-Semitism" and "the anti-Semitism of the liberals," he recounts pre-scandal, politically motivated desecrations of St. Patrick's Cathedral, other Catholic holy places and vandalism of altars and shrines. He argues persuasively that they precipitated little protest in the mainstream news media, yet if such behavior were directed toward any other group, outrage would be explosive.
Jenkins examines in impressive detail the current scandals and recent demonstrations - with other motivations - in or near Catholic places of worship in the United States and Canada. He concludes: "In modern American history, no mainstream denomination has ever been treated so consistently, so publicly, with such venom [as has the Catholic Church]. To find parallels, we would have to look at the media response to fringe groups and cults, such as the Mormons of the mid-nineteenth century, the Jehovah's Witnesses of the 1940s, or the controversial cults of the 1970s. ... It is reasonable to cite this affair as a gross efflorescence of anti-Catholic rhetoric."
Citing recent stage plays, art exhibitions and articles published in journals including the Nation and the New Republic that have ridiculed the church or the pope, Jenkins writes, "It would be interesting to take a satirical or comic treatment featuring, say, the Virgin Mary or Pope John Paul II and imagine the reaction if a similar gross disrespect was applied, say, to the image of Martin Luther King Jr. or of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998."
Jenkins has taken on a topic that I thought on first blush would be annoying to the point of embarrassment, to either side, and hardly the stuff of a long and detailed book. To the contrary, he accomplishes a fascinating tale, exploring the depths of the consciousness of this country - diverse forces that weave together the history of the civilization that we share.
(Excerpt) Read more at sunspot.net ...
What these largely mediocre, small-minded, tasteless and crass personalities really revile is the principle of moral discrimination, the distinction between right and wrong, and hierarchical moral values distinguishing good from evil in which the noble and good are upheld as possible for human realization. Because they neither accept nor strive for these values in their own personalities and lives, it is threatening and intimidating that anyone even dares to proclaim them as desirable. The urge to ridicule and destroy those who call attention to their own lack of moral vigor becomes impossible to resist.
One also should not rule out direct diabolical manipulation of weak and sinful minds. In some cases they are devoting extraordinary amounts of time and mental energy to ridicule something which, from all appearances, ought to be inconsequential to them. A liberal who spends a great deal of time agonizing and agitating over the alleged and imaginary machinations of the Church is exhibiting a rather extreme and peculiar neurosis. Considering that the Church in America is actually quite liberal, modern, and progressive itself, the anti-Catholic agitation is all the more bizarre and contradictory. What is frequently the target of much of the ranting and raving are the alleged abuses of Church officials from either 400 or 800 years ago. Why an educated and seemingly culturally sophisticated liberal in 21st-century New York or Massachusetts would spend a great deal of time ruminating over a Renaissance-era Spanish monarchy, as if it were an issue of immediate concern, is certainly worthy of psychiatric research of a rather intensive kind.
He argues persuasively that they precipitated little protest in the mainstream news media, yet if such behavior were directed toward any other group, outrage would be explosive.
Take "the Pope is the Antichrist" mythology, for instance. Just from a logical point of view, if Pope Julius II, Leo X, Adrian VI, Paul III (or any of the other popes during the 16th century at the time of the Reformation movement) had been "the Antichrist" (as alleged), then Pope John Paul II could not be "the Antichrist." Which makes you have to ask what kind of logic is at play in such wild ruminations and prognostications. Popping the hot air out of such wild balloons is something the media could do, if it had any interest in reducing wild-eyed anti-Catholicism. The position seems to be that it is hoped one of the popes turns out to be the Antichrist, so they will say all of them are (just in case). That's pretty sloppy theology which certainly calls into question a lot more along similar lines.
The dislike of Mary (Jesus' mother) is something that, from a Christian point of view, doesn't make much sense either. What is not understood is that things like bowing, kneeling, praying, sacred icons, etc., do not constitute the "worship" of something other than God. People in the seventh through thirteenth centuries bowed down or knelt before kings knowing full well that they were not "worshipping" a king as god. Referring to a specific Christian personality as a "saint" or as specially "holy" was something which derived from early Christianity. Somewhat on the order of where particular personalities in the Old Testament were distinctively "righteous" and called by God for some providential purpose(Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Jeremiah, et al.). What you have is a lack of familiarity with the history of Christian devotions and, really, Christian Western culture. Illiteracy and lack of education bring a great deal of confusion and havoc in theology. It has a great deal to do with almost every major point of the bigotry in question.
The social mythology of the Western Church as the central bogeyman of history, the obsession with 400- or 800-year-old controversies of jurisprudence, the illogical and contradictory proclamations about the identity of the Antichrist, etc., are in this folkloric urban legend territory where fears, fantasies, and anxieties tend to dominate. They relieve the biogoted accusers of the emotional burden of moral self-examination since there is this fantastically horrific bogeyman menacing them. It's a bizarre area of psychopathology and anthropological folklore. As long as attention and vigilance is focused on the phantom, moral evaluation and distinction on other issues are blurred. It's odd but on the psychological level it is a little like these slasher films like Friday the 13th or Halloween. There's some kind of thrill involved in imagining something scary which has little reality or which is exaggerated wildly beyond its actual level of threat. Radical evil is concentrated in one area, one select target, for the period of time necessary to effect an emotive social catharsis. That this also happens with witches, people of darker races, Communists, Jews, neo-Nazis, monstrous aliens from Outer Space, or "the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" at different times for different social or ideological groups in collective states of mass paranoia seems to indicate a deeper psychological and cultural phenomenon of anthropological significance.
In terms of anti-Catholic agitation, there is usually already an estrangement from Christian Western culture (iconoclasm, for instance) which sets the theological confusion in motion for the more giddy imaginings of what is supposed to be going on in the churches.
What these largely mediocre, small-minded, tasteless and crass personalities...
I suppose that "judging the source" of personal attacks such as calling people "mediocre, small-minded, tasteless and crass" also tells us a lot.
Is there a way one can disagree with the tenets of Catholicism and not "magically" be labeled a bigot.
I suppose that you, in being a Catholic, disagree with the tenets of Protestantism, Islam, Mormonism, etc....Does this make you an Anti-Islam bigot, or an anti-Mormon bigot??
Which tenets do you disagree with and why?
You take the hypocritical cake! There are many Romanists here(yourself being one of the foremost) that have outwardly relished the thought of a return of the Great Inquisition! If one has truly been born again and has a continually present relationship with THE GOD OF THE HOLY BIBLE, is there any wonder that they would be wary and skeptical of any fervently "devout" Romanist?
Can you see Jesus rounding up, torturing, raping, murdering and stealing the property of anyone in His name? I dare say, NO! But, there are documented volumes of Romanist popes and clergy that in the name of "holy mother church" were and are willing jihadists for Rome.
I thank God for deliverance from that cult! (nothing personal, mind you)
I thank God for deliverance from that cult! (nothing personal, mind you)
Thank you for supplying that ever needed abject lesson in ignorance-is-bliss anti-Catholic bigotry.
(nothing personal, mind you)
Hmmmmmm. How about ... fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Or, NEVER FORGET!
I suppose you would deny that the holocaust happened as well.
No, I leave that to the KKK types like you.
Which tenets do you disagree with and why?
Should your posing a question back to me rather than answering mine tell me that there is not a way to disagree with Catholicism without being labeled a bigot?
Are you calling the Catholic church the "one true church"?
This kind of "anti-Protestant" bigotry so common here on the FR Religion forum sickens me!
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.