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.