Why Do They Hate Catholics So Much? | Dr. James Hitchcock | IgnatiusInsight.com
Why Do They Hate Catholics So Much? | Dr. James Hitchcock | IgnatiusInsight.com
Editor's Note: Written eight years ago, this essay remains quite timely,
even in its direct and indirect references to current events.
Most professed believers cannot conceive of why it should
ever be necessary to make sacrifices for their religion, which is why
there is almost total indifference to the fate of persecuted believers
during one of the great ages of religious persecution in the history of
Authentic religion, precisely because it penetrates so
deeply into the being of its adherents, has the capacity to inspire
either great love and devotion or great hatred, sometimes one
transforming itself into the other. At certain times in history that
suppressed hatred bursts out violently, in systematic and frenzied
attempts to, as Voltaire is supposed to have urged, "Crush the infamous
thing." Such was the French Revolution, the triumph of Communism in
Russia, and other episodes.
While particular justifications are offered for this frenzy of
annihilation--the privileges of the clergy, ecclesiastical wealth--beneath
it all is something which no degree of "reform," nor attempts by
Christians to be accommodating, could ever expunge--hatred of a system of
beliefs which calls each man's life into question at every moment, which
reminds people of the infinite God who judges their every action. It is
this which finally is intolerable to a certain kind of mind, which
senses that it will not be at peace with itself until every vestige of
this transcendent claim has been eradicated.
The often sadistic violence of the French Revolution seemingly betrayed
the cool rationality which the Enlightenment proposed. But not the least
of the Enlightenment's inadequacies was that it did not understand the
irrational forces which it was helping to unleash. Today the tradition
of the Enlightenment appears to have reached its end in the murky
half-light of "post-modernism." However, classical Enlightenment
critiques of Christianity--that it is superstitious and repressive--are
now invoked with more effect than at any time in the past two hundred
years, and with the same potential for irrational violence.
Among the numerous "stories" which the media ignore are the acts of
vandalism directed at churches, occurrences which seem to have become so
common as to be treated almost routinely. To date this is about as far
as the enemies of religion have gone in inflicting physical harm.
But the frenzied symbolic assaults on religion are numerous and
frightening, revealing as they do the barely suppressed violence which
its enemies harbor and which, it is fair to judge, they would eagerly
act out in life if given the opportunity. The hateful blasphemies of the
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco are merely one
Frenzied blasphemy--the mocking of sacred symbols, the association of
those symbols with the sickest kind of pornography--reveals the depth of
the violent hatred because it represents an assault in some ways worse
than the desire to do bodily harm. It aims to annihilate the sacred core
of the believer's very being. It is a mentality in which the actual
killing of individuals would be almost an anti-climax.
It is one of the supreme ironies of an age awash in ironies that it is
Christians who are now routinely accused of being hateful, of fomenting
violence, even as the guardians of public opinion carefully conceal from
view the true mentality of the anti-Christians. (Thus the Sisters of
Perpetual Indulgence are presented merely as a group of merry pranksters
who do what they do in order to raise money for charity.)
One of the results of the style of episcopal leadership which has
prevailed in America for three decades is that much, although not all,
of this hatred has been diverted away from the Catholic Church and
towards those Protestants who can be called Fundamentalists. It is now
treated as merely self-evident that the latter are hate-filled and
intolerant, while the Catholic Church is assessed in each particular
situation, showing promise of change in some areas, intransigent in
others. More than one bishop has probably prayed quietly, "Thank God for
Pat Robertson. Let them pick on him rather than me."
How is it possible that anti-Christian bigotry is so strong in a society
which is apparently the most religious in the Western world? In part the
answer is that the very strength of religion inevitably provokes hatred;
where it is weak it is simply ignored. On the other hand Christianity,
and perhaps especially the Catholic Church, is also not perceived as
truly powerful. Thus religion is hated for its alleged oppressiveness
but at the same time is not feared, the classic predicament of those
Western monarchies where revolution occurred (England in the 1640's,
France in the 1790's, Russia in 1917).
The single greatest enemy of a vibrant Christianity in the United States
is not its proclaimed opponents but the deep, seemingly ineradicable
complacency of its own adherents, a complacency which is to a great
extent abetted, even actively fostered, by the clergy themselves. Most
American Christians, including some who are ostensibly orthodox, live by
the assumption that one espouses a religion in order to make one's life
richer and more satisfying. The ultimate test is whether, like
everything in the culture is supposed to do, it makes the individual
"feel good about himself."
Most professed believers cannot conceive of why it should ever be
necessary to make sacrifices for their religion, which is why there is
almost total indifference to the fate of persecuted believers during one
of the great ages of religious persecution in the history of the
Christians are now completely on the defensive in Western society in
terms of their beliefs. Public discussion of religion is often casually
hostile, and those who profess to believe are often apologetic in the
popular sense of that word. As the events at Littleton, Colorado showed,
public agencies like schools are tolerant of all kinds of deviant
behavior, even as they are increasingly vigilant against the "intrusion"
of religion into the public square. While there may be no systematic
pattern of discrimination in employment, it would be a brave (or
foolish) person who would talk openly in a job interview about deeply
held religious beliefs. In the academy, including institutions which are
nominally Catholic, such discrimination is often taken for granted.
This is merely the beginning of a process which is likely to get worse.
Looking at the situation through purely human eyes, it is likely that,
as the reality of this hostility finally begins to dawn on comfortable
Christians, and the price of their faith keeps getting higher, most will
simply fall away, abandoning a faith which has become a handicap instead
of a support.
In an important sense the real battle now is not between believers and
overt secularists but between orthodox and liberal Christians, a reality
which is at its starkest in Protestantism but which is also present in
the Catholic Church. Because the Fundamentalists remind them of what
they once were, and perhaps ought still to be, liberal Protestant
leadership regards their orthodox fellow Christians as the single
greatest enemy of the human race. People who boast of their ability to
"reach out" towards the despised and rejected have been the most
effective soldiers in the war to demonize and marginalize orthodox
believers, to the point where the National Council of Churches is a
public apologist for religious persecution throughout the world. Liberal
Christianity is finally at the point of abandoning any claim about the
unique importance of Jesus Christ in the economy of salvation, and this
will merely intensify its view of orthodoxy as dangerous.
Especially in view of the nation's apparent indifference (if not worse)
to the scandalous behavior of its president, some orthodox believers are
in a state of discouragement, to the point of urging withdrawal from the
public square into a kind of monasticism which will try to keep the
faith alive for a better day. But in this atmosphere it is well to
recall the Catholic wisdom that not all are called to the monastic life
and that the degree to which the monks of the Dark Ages simply huddled
in their monasteries has been exaggerated--many of them were
missionaries, bishops, even royal officials.
One major argument for believers remaining active in the public sphere
is the explanation (excuse?) which Evelyn Waugh gave for his seemingly
un-Christian behavior--how much worse it would be if there were no active
Christian presence. Those who know the truth have an obligation in
justice to, for example, the unborn, which they are not free to
Those who advocate a strategy of quasi-monastic withdrawal also
underestimate the strength of the enemy. Jerry Falwell said all that
needs to be said on the subject when he explained that Evangelicals
began entering politics because the government would not let them alone.
There is no place in the modern world where anyone can hide.
Thus Christians are obligated to continue the public struggle, no matter
how much obloquy it continues to bring down on them, even as they are
obligated to storm heaven with their prayers. A major need is preparing
Christians to live in an environment of hostility, increasing
discrimination, possibly even of persecution. But this is perhaps the
most severe of the many pastoral tasks presently being neglected.
This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the May/June 1999 issue of Catholic Dossier.
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Dr. James Hitchcock, (e-mail)
professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary
Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press, in the Adoremus
Bulletin, and on the Women
for Faith and Family website. He is the author of several books, including
The Recovery of the Sacred, What is Secular Humanism?, and Years
of Crisis: Collected Essays, 1970-1983.
Princeton University Press just published his two-volume history of the
Supreme Court, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life:
The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses (Vol. 1) and
From "Higher Law" to "Sectarian Scruples"
(Vol. 2). He is also a regular contributor to many Catholic periodicals,
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