Monday, October 23, 2006

Anti-Catholic Christians

I was raised Catholic, and although I am no longer a believer I do have a great deal of respect for the Church's long history of deep thought and careful consideration of their faith. I've always liked the adage that "Quantity has a Quality all its own," and you have to admire the amount of scholarship the Church has put out over its 2,000+ year history.

At least, I have to have respect for it. For others, not so much. Here's what the church of one Congressional candidate in Minnesota believes, for instance:

Therefore on the basis of a renewed study of the pertinent Scriptures we reaffirm the statement of the Lutheran Confessions, that "the Pope is the very Antichrist" (cf. Section II)

That's from the charter of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), where candidate Michelle Bachmann worships.

I understand that sometimes the most intense hatred arises among siblings, and inter-faith disagreements can be the worst of all (see modern Baghdad for a more current example, or the streets of Ireland during the 80's). I find that incredibly sad.

What I find completely unacceptable, however, is the substitution of righteous indignation for rational thought. I continue to run into people who have the most absurd ideas about what Catholics believe, and it has apparently never occurred to any of them to actually, you know, ask a Catholic or (blasphemy!) perhaps read a book to find out what the Church actually teaches, rather than what some stereotype or passed-down prejudice might say.

The King of all Catholic Misconceptions, of course, regards the "infallibility of the Pope". Non-Catholics seem to think this is some kind of ecumenical Super Happy Fun Time Magic Power Word, whereby any utterance (no matter how banal) that drips from the Pontiff's lips is imbued with the glory of the Almighty and suddenly made so. They actually think that Catholics believe were the Pope to say "The sky is a lovely shade of mint green today", the sky would all of a sudden change color.

Even a cursory look through Google would turn up articles by the Catholic Church that would quickly give the lie to such a construction, but apparently that's too much of a bother. It's so much easier to just demonize someone who disagrees with you rahter than bothering with all that research claptrap.

The spectre of mob rule, inflamed by passion and ignorance (particularly that sort engendered by religious disputes), is as grave a threat to a true democracy as can exist, something well understood by the Founding Fathers. The only way to combat it is through education and training in the use of research, logic, and rationality. It frightens me that people who can believe such arrant nonsense as that quoted above are regularly elected to public office. Imagine a country in which the government was not barred from officially endorsing a given religion -- the candidate who's a member of the synod quoted above, who believes that the Pope is literally the anti-Christ, could use her position in Congress to pass legislation outlawing Catholics, or making their persecution the law of the land. And all based on ignorance and a lack of understanding!

We have a secular Constitution not because religion is of no importance to people. It's the exact contrary, in fact -- religion is simply too important to let the government decide which one is right. If we don't have the freedom to decide for ourselves what the Ultimate Truths are, if we have a government that can officially subscribe to one sect over another, then eventually we will revert back to the religious wars that make up the sad history of much of our cultural ancestry.

Combining ignorance with political power is a dangerous combination. I hope the voters of Minnesota -- especially the Catholic ones -- take a good long look at who they're pulling their lever for in November.


Allen said...

I was raised in a fundamentalist (inerrancy of scripture; pre-millennial rapture, etc) home. One of the things I remember hearing as a child was that, indeed, the Pope was the Antichrist. Later on someone (I can't remember who) of one or another prophetic stripe wrote a book suggesting that the Antichrist was actually going to be head of the U.N. Thus the Roman Catholic Church was replaced by the United Nations as the source of all that is -- and would be -- bad in the End Times.

I stopped attending church quite a while ago so I haven't kept up on the latest prophecy but I've often wondered how the religious right (if I may use the term in its most general sense) can hang together so tightly when there is so much doctrinal disagreement. Really push a fundamentalist about a Catholic person's salvation and I bet you'll find that the fundamentalist's list of requirements have not been met by even the most devout Catholic. In other words: they're going to hell.

With regard to this politician, I suppose it's always possible that he has no idea about his church's stance on the Pope. (I didn't dig into the story so maybe he's made some public statements on the issue.) I would posit, based on my experience growing up in fundamentalist churches, that many if not most of the people sitting in those pews have little to no idea what is the official doctrinal stance of their church. All they know is that the praise band rocks the house and that the pastor rides a Harley.

I could be wrong of course. It happened that one other time. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Fabulous post, Jeff. I am still amazed that in a world where we are striving for acceptance and peace that hatred and misconceptions abound. If all the people who are going to hell are really going there, it'll be hotter than we've been led to believe due to all that body heat…

What’s unfortunate is that people who have religious agendas are regularly elected to office. I’ve seen it time and time again, because they are smart enough to keep their religious opinions to themselves. Perhaps because many Catholics are “cradle Catholics,” thus growing up in the faith instead of entering and learning all the tenets of Catholicism, there is an implied“ignorance” surrounding many Catholics. I think we Catholics are coming to understand that there is a wonderful history behind this 2,000-year-old religion, yet the misconceptions and misunderstandings abound.

As a Catholic, I do not pray to statues – they are simply representatives of those people whose lives we might wish to emulate and remember, much as we put photos of loved ones on our walls and carry in our wallets. The pope is our shepherd here on earth, and we believe him to be a holy man who leads us to peaceful valleys and calls us to learn more about our faith. We do not believe that if you are not Catholic, you are going to hell. Quite the opposite. We revere Mary and the saints, but Jesus is God and that God is one in three.

The older I get, the more I believe religion and government should be separate. However, I do hope and pray that world leaders govern by an ethical and moral heart and conscience, one that has deep and firm roots in spirituality.

Allen, I am on a constant quest to discover more about my Catholic religion, and I am open to anyone e-mailing me and asking questions. I know more now than I did a few years ago, thanks in part to my brothers Johnny, Jimmy and Joey. I cannot promise I will know all the answers, but I will promise to find out. For Catholic answers to a variety of subjects, visit our brother’s Website, Catholic Community Radio, And we Catholics don’t bite – we encourage dialogue and questions as we are all children, searching for salvation and answers in a world that seldom seems to offer them. -- Denise

Allen said...


I hope I didn't leave you with the impression that I thought ill of Catholics. I was just relating a story about what I was taught as a youngster in regard to the Pope. I've since come to question most of what I was taught and the nonsense about Catholics was among the first things to be jettisoned.

I will check out that website as I'm always interested in learning -- if not necessarily in believing.


the lair of the Evil DM said...

The biggest misconception I've had to deal with amongst amongst my esteemed Evangelical and "Reborn" fellows is that "Catholics aint Christians".
I always have a big laugh at that one.

What I dont find at all amusing is the "cross we have to bear" in dealing with these sick monsters who prey on our children and use my church as their hunting grounds. And when the Anti-Catholic Christians want to unload both barrels on us this is the latest ammunition that our detractors reach for.

Anonymous said...

Great dialogue! It is blasphemy that priests or anyone in a leadership position would abuse children. That is, to me, the ultimate sin. But I'm not willing to throw out the Catholic religion for those who allow evil to infiltrate their hearts. I, too, have heard the "Catholics ain't Christians" line, and I thought that growing up. I've come to believe most of us do aspire to improve and reach for something beyond ourselves. Even if you don't come to believe, the path of learning is truly wonderful. I have to agree with my brother, Joey: I don't think God is going to ask for a denominational membership card at the gates of heaven. It might be simiplistic, but to live one's life to a higher degree of humanity, faith and unselfishness is the path to heaven. And, as Pascal said, if there is no heaven, then we've still led a life worth living. -- Denise

Geopoet said...

Perhaps Bishop Fulton Sheen said it best:

“There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church— which is, of course, quite a different thing.” -foreward to Radio Replies Vol. 1, page ix