In the December issue of The Outlook, historians D.G. Hart and John Muether continue a series on Roman Catholicism. The third installment, Anti-Catholicism, Good and Bad, has been the most intriguing to me thus far. (Here is the first installment.)
As the title suggests, the authors are essentially putting forth that there are two kinds of anti-Catholicism. First the bad kind:
“So strong was religious warfare that parts of nineteenth-century America resembled Northern Ireland today. A political party was established to oppose Roman Catholics from holding public office. A secret patriotic society, the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, began in 1849, admitting only American-born Protestants without Roman Catholic relatives. Members swore to oppose the election of foreigners or Roman Catholics. Because of their secretiveness ands their frequent furtive responses to inquirers with ‘I don’t know,’ they became known as the Know-Nothings.”
Add to what can only be tallied up to religious bigotry the irony of Protestants from Josiah Strong to Charles Hodge to Abraham Kuyper who suggest that resident within Calvinism are the seeds to all that westerners hold ideologically dear. Strong’s best-seller, Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis (1885) insisted that:
“Wherever Protestantism went civil liberty followed. The two greatest characteristics of Anglo-Saxons were civil liberty and spiritual Christianity.”
Presbyterian New Schooler Albert Barnes, in Presbyterianism: Its Affinities (1863) wrote:
“…all just notions of liberty in modern times [were connected with the fundamental principles taught by Presbyterianism].”
Charles Hodge in an 1855 lecture on the nature of Presbyterianism:
“It is the combination of the principles of liberty and order in the Presbyterian system, the union of the rights of the people with subjection to legitimate authority, that has made it the parent and guardian of civil liberty in every part of the world.”
And, of course, Abraham Kuyper in Lectures on Calvinism (1898):
“The logical development of what was enshrined in the liberty of conscience, as well as liberty itself, first blessed the world from the side of Calvinism.”
Some of the above works had at least a tangential purpose to show how Roman Catholicism, as opposed to Calvinism, was contradictory to good American citizenship. It would seem that true religion is not only useful to show how Roman Catholicism is unpatriotic but, even more interesting, also relevant to the felt needs of statecraft. One wonders just what is the appreciable difference is between the likes of televangelists per Joel Osteen and the writings of Abraham Kuyper. It may be that what scrapes the sensitivities of certain Presbyterians about the former is simply the crass and uncouth application of true religion to the baser felt needs of humanity, while the latter appeals to the felt needs of the merely sophisticated and cultured. What isn’t clear is why one deserves more ire than the other, that is, if Jesus’ kingdom really isn’t of this world.
Even so, the authors go on to suggest “a better anti-Catholicism.” They point out that whatever else Vatican II shows, its dovetailing with a lessened confidence about modern politics on the parts of Protestants has helped to reduce the antagonism between the descendants of Geneva and Rome in the contemporary geo-political landscape. As it concerns the former, in a word, “The older arguments about liberty and tyranny no longer make sense.”
And so after having previously suggested the possibility that, instead of Rome being necessarily opposed to the core values of a liberal democracy, it could be that Roman pontiffs conceived an “organic and ordered society was better for families and churches than the chaotic, individualistic, and rootless one that modern politics encouraged,” Hart and Muether instinctively and wisely advise:
“The challenge for Protestants today is to recover older and better arguments against Rome than the ones American Protestants have so often used. A good form of anti-Catholicism exists. It is based on Protestant beliefs about the Bible, sin, salvation, and worship. Those beliefs were essential to the Reformation. But beyond the history, they are crucial to men and women who want to be right with God.”
Agreed. After all, if Roman Christians (who invented the spiritual discipline of quiet times) routinely invite Jesus into their heart, want to take back America for Christ, transform the culture and read their bibles privately and pray—all things that have become absolutely central to devout modern Protestantism—then the only thing that explains the Protestant spitting and cursing about a distant cousin marrying a Roman Catholic is the bad kind of anti-Catholicism. But religious bigotry is not befitting those who would that a better Protestantism prevail.