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The real anti-Catholics

Culture | Secularists play the religion card without understanding religion

Issue: "It's Bush vs. Gore," March 18, 2000

One presidential candidate is stirring up fear of "evil" evangelicals, accusing the other candidate of anti-Catholicism. At least religion is in the news, but the problem is that secular journalists and pundits are often clueless when it comes to theology. In his book Prodigal Press, WORLD editor Marvin Olasky tells about President Nixon going to church in the depths of the Watergate scandal. The reporters dogging his every move crowded into the sanctuary. The pastor's sermon was about human sin and our need for forgiveness in Christ. Afterwards, the reporters surrounded the pastor. "Were you preaching about President Nixon?" No, the pastor said. I didn't have the president specifically in mind. That's the message in all my sermons. I was just preaching the gospel. "But when you were talking about sin and the need for repentance, does that apply to the president?" Well, said the pastor, it applies to everybody; we all need to repent and turn to Christ. The next day, the headlines were all about how Nixon was denounced from the pulpit. Today, reporters still don't get it. They're all over Southern Baptists for their evangelism programs directed at Jews. And Bob Jones University is vilified for its founder's criticism of Roman Catholicism. Pronouncements of its former president, who died three years ago and had not been president for 29 years, are trotted out, then associated with a candidate who gave a speech on the campus. To say this signals agreement with that former college president is sheer guilt by association. (When Bill Bradley, a former senator from New Jersey, makes a speech at Princeton, does that mean he agrees with Jonathan Edwards?) The implication of all of the indignation over such "religious intolerance" is that a Baptist who wants to bring a Jew or a Catholic into his church is somehow an example of hatred. But if conservative Protestants try to convert Catholics, it is also true that conservative Catholics try to convert Protestants, as is evident every night on EWTN, Mother Angelica's television network. America is the most religiously diverse nation in the world, with all of the denominations and sects disagreeing with one another, doubting each other's salvation, and trying to convert each other. And yet, we all get along with each other amazingly well. This is what it means to be religiously diverse, a quality that liberals claim to prize but that they really want to eliminate in favor of a single, monolithic ideology called relativism. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are the dangerous ayatollahs of the Christian right, according to the conventional wisdom, cut from the same cloth. But a huge theological chasm separates Mr. Robertson's charismatic theology and Mr. Falwell's Baptist theology. Journalists would really get confused if they read the strong theological polemics each side writes about the other. The assumption among many secularists is that religion is a matter of identity, roughly equivalent to race or ethnicity, rather than a matter of belief. (Judaism is a somewhat special case, involving both an ethnic identity and a religious belief.) Religion is what you are rather than what you believe. In this view, a person can be a Catholic or a Baptist without necessarily believing what those churches teach. And criticisms of a belief are construed as hatred against the group. To be sure, stirring up religious hatred is as dangerous as stirring up nitroglycerin. But we might ask, who exactly is doing that? Not the so-called Religious Right: It has always included not only evangelicals but Catholics (such as Alan Keyes, Pat Buchanan, Paul Weyrich, and many others) and also Mormons, Jews, and others. For all of their important theological differences, they could all agree that they should exercise their citizenship to try to reverse the nation's moral decline. The genuine anti-Catholicism in this country-the vitriolic contempt and mockery of both Catholic beliefs and the people who hold them-comes from the left. In movies and television, Hollywood regularly trashes the Roman Catholic church, portraying priests as sexual deviants and ridiculing their most precious symbols. The arts world demands taxpayer money to defile crucifixes and icons of the Madonna. Watch the St. Patrick's Day "gay pride" parades if you want to see real anti-Catholicism. Some of the worst offenders, such as the studio heads who made the movies Dogma and Priest, are big contributors to the campaign of Al Gore. But this goes beyond guilt by association. The Catholic church, as a matter of doctrine, is pro-life. The Democratic platform enshrines the right to an abortion as a test of political orthodoxy. And yet liberal Democrats claim that their party is hospitable to Catholicism. To paraphrase Chesterton, those who are not religious are not the best judges of theology. The person who presumes to play the religion card had better know whether it's a trump or a wild card, and he had better understand the nature of the game.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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