A few years ago I was reading the North and South trilogy by John Jakes. A societal phenomena was mentioned that I had never before been aware of: anti-Catholicism.  I asked my husband if he had ever heard of it and, of course, he had.  Then I started thinking about things I had heard but never truly understood. Like in the movie Far & Away, in which Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are Irish Catholics immigrating to the U.S. I remember they were the brunt of much prejudice in that film. I also remember hearing how appalled many American’s were when JFK, a Catholic, got elected president. By being totally unaware of this societal prejudice, I was displaying ethnocentrism. This is a term I learned in Anthropology. It pretty much means I think my culture is the center of the universe. You see, I was raised one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I honestly did not think any religion was as hated as mine. We are also led to believe we are the most hated religion because Jesus said his followers would be “objects of hatred by all nations on account of his name”(Matthew 10:22). This prophecy could easily have been fulfilled in the first century when Christians were being fed to the lions and blamed for burning Rome, but any marginal group who is widely unpopular likes to use the scripture to prevent its followers from getting fed up and leaving.

At any rate, I digress. For all you Christians out there who think you must be the chosen religion because nobody likes you, Catholics did it first. Catholics have been hated for centuries. Officially, since the Protestant Reformation, but I am sure a lot of Jews and Muslim’s hated them before that thanks to the Inquisitions and Crusades.

Anti-Catholicism was exported to the United States from Great Britain on board the Arabella. As the Puritans and Congregationalists came to the colonies to flee the tyranny of the church, they brought with them extreme feelings against their own persecutors. The influx of Irish Catholics in the 19th century only fueled people’s grievances with the church, for they felt the Irish lacked control over their passions, were backward and superstitious.  Many Americans felt, and still feel, that Catholicism is a threat to their civil liberties. This was clearly demonstrated when Catholic Joe McCarthy made such a mockery of American civil liberties during his Communist witch-hunt in the 1950’s with the Red Scare.

The majority of U.S. citizens consider themselves Protestant which makes Catholics the proverbial other that draws such prejudice and persecution.  Historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. has called Anti-Catholicism “the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people”. Another historian said “all too many ways lead to Rome. Idleness leads there; for Rome saves the trouble of independent thought”. Catholicism with its many symbols and rituals seems strange to a country built upon Protestant puritanical ideals. In a country that looks with suspicion upon hierarchies, Catholicism is full of them with its God-like Pope, and many priests, cardinals and bishops. The religion only gains more “other” distinction as this modern world marches further from tradition toward secularization. Nowadays, people don’t necessarily want religion to disappear, just privatize. People are tired of hearing about religion, yet Catholicism remains stubbornly public with their issues against abortion, homosexuality, birth control, etc.(This may also explain why people have less time and inclination to talk to Bible-thumpers at their doors). The enormous wealth of the Catholic Church, its apparent support of Fascist Europe and Nazi Germany, the child abuse cases, and their stubborn refusal to adapt to modern culture only marginalizes them further.

As I was researching this subject, a thought occurred to me: if American’s are all about individual freedom and their hatred of Catholicism is due to the absolute control the diocese exercises over its laity, what about other religions? When I think of religions that control the lives of their followers, I personally don’t think about Catholicism. Mormon’s, Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to fit the bill better. Yet these are home-grown religions. Their headquarters are right here in the good-ole-U-S-of-A. American’s have always hated the idea of foreign rule. Could it be they consider Catholics under foreign rule? If the President of the U.S. requested one thing and the Pope something else, where would the Catholics loyalty lie?  As far as I know, that has never been an issue, but the words of Thomas Jefferson clue us in to the mindset of our founding fathers: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government,” and, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

Before my readers claim anti-Catholicism died with the election of JFK, look again. The new anti-Catholicism is alive and well and being fed by homosexual groups, feminist groups, child abuse victim advocates, and even Hollywood. Phillip Jenkins has recently written a book entitled “The New Anti-Catholicism–The Last Acceptable Prejudice”, and though I haven’t had a chance to read it, we see the issue is still a part of our society.

So what should Catholics do? What should all religions do in an increasingly secular society in which the vast majority hate to have religion rammed down their throats? What if standing up for their beliefs and pushing them off on others is part of their beliefs? We can’t very well expect religious adherents to ignore what they believe to be their god-given duties. But then they shouldn’t expect us to be willing to swallow it. So the best way to combat hatred and prejudice is by practicing a little cultural relativism. That is another term I learned in Anthropology. It basically means seeing things from another’s standpoint. Trying to understand why people do what they do without the animosity and judgment. If the religious are left to practice their faith unencumbered, and the anti-religious can live their lives un-harassed then maybe we could all get along.  But since conflict has always followed religion, perhaps John Lennon was right,:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Anti-Catholicism ( […]

  2. […] Anti-Catholicism ( […]

  3. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say some of the current anti-Catholic feeling is their own fault. Protecting child rapists will definitely lower your popularity a tad.

  4. […] Anti-Catholicism ( […]

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