Catholics in an Anti-Catholic Land

Melania Trump meets Pope Francis on May 24, 2017
Photo Credit: REX Shutterstock

I want to begin this essay by saying WELCOME to Melania Trump, who just revealed yesterday that she is a practising Catholic, and the first Catholic to live in the Whitehouse since the Kennedy administration. It was a pleasant surprise to learn this, and we welcome her with open arms. There are some who will point out what appears to be a marriage irregularity between her and Donald. Please note, that all good Catholics should give her the benefit of the doubt on this. We must assume that Donald Trump is making arrangements to take care of this problem, out of respect and love for his wife, assuming he hasn't already done so. We look forward to seeing Melania and Baron at mass now, and we thank her so much for coming out publicly, and taking this courageous stand for the Catholic Christian faith.

Now on to this topic of standing up for the Catholic faith. As my readers know, I am a catechist and apologist for the Catholic Christian faith. One of the things I do on this blog, and in my books, is dispel false information about the Catholic Church, while attempting to teach accurate information. This is for the purpose of knocking down walls that might obstruct some people from knowing the truth. When this happens, occasionally some people convert, while others at least have more respect for our faith.

However, it doesn't always work. There are some people who love falsehoods more than truth. There are some people who love anti-Catholic propaganda more than their brothers and sisters in Christ. Because you see, while I am certainly not the best apologist in the world, I know that even the best couldn't stop some people from believing and spreading anti-Catholic propaganda.

This is because the problem is primarily an emotional one and not an intellectual one. Having lived in the Protestant Evangelical/Fundamentalist world for the early years of my adult life, I can tell you that the vast majority of Protestant Fundamentalists have only a very cursory understanding of the Bible. They don't understand it. They've never done any serious study into it. They have no idea of its context, or even where it came from. And you know what? They don't care. For them, their faith is an emotional thing. It has very little to do with intellect, reason or even charity. It's about: "I'm right, truth be damned, and you better agree with me, or you're going to Hell." I lived with this mindset among many of my Fundamentalist brothers and sisters for the first 10 years of my adult Christian life.

Can you reason with such people? No. Can you get such people to see the truth? No. Can you get them to admit that they might be wrong? No. Is there any hope of helping them? No.

I know that last statement may seem shocking. How can I say there is no hope? Well, I can, and here is why. It has to do with free will. These people have actively chosen a path based on emotional needs, that has nothing to do with logic, reason or Scripture. It has everything to do with believing they are right, and emotionally affirming themselves in that belief, even if it means they have to condemn over a billion of their Christian brethren to Hell. In such cases, when I encounter such people, I make my case, back my points, and then graciously say goodbye. They're not worth getting into an argument over, nor are they worth my effort. When I make a case to these people, I do so not necessarily for them, but rather for anyone else who might be listening or reading. This is why it's so important to take the moral and emotional high ground. Casual observers need to see that we Catholics are the calm and rational ones in such confrontations. When we bow out of what is obviously going to become an argument, we must do so gracefully and with charity, so the casual observer can see that we're behaving as Christians, while our Fundamentalist brethren are acting hostilely and hysterically.

There are two things we need to understand about Anti-Catholic Protestant Fundamentalism...

First, it is dying. The whole thing is built on conspiracy theories and tired old prejudices that don't hold water under close examination. It has no solutions to the problems of this world, or even to personal family problems. It is generally escapist in nature, wherein adherents hope for a mystical Rapture to whisk them away while this world they hate burns behind them. They're almost always suffering from significant family problems. (I'm speaking from experience here.) Divorce is rampant among them. Extra-marital affairs are common. Cohabitation and children out-of-wedlock are regular occurrences. They have horrible financial problems, and sometimes legal problems too. All the while, they frequently present a facade that "all is well" and they're more "saved" than the rest of us. Because they've memorised a few Bible passages, they can present themselves as very knowledgeable, and this of course is designed to intimidate others -- especially Catholics. However, the reason why Protestant Fundamentalism is dying is because their children have seen through the facade. They've grown up in Fundamentalist homes and they know the whole thing is a show. Many of their friends are not Fundamentalists, and the last thing they want to do is condemn them to Hell, especially when that's their only support network, since their own families are usually so broken. As a result, the children of Fundamentalists are constantly leaving their Fundamentalist faith behind, so their parents think they are damned. The parents condemn the children to Hell, beg their friends for prayers, and then affirm that "all is well because Jesus approves." I've seen this pattern play out, over and over again, and I've been watching it for 30 years. Anti-Catholic Protestant Fundamentalism is dying.

Second, it will not go out quietly. You see, Anti-Catholic Protestant Fundamentalists believe they are the last Christians standing. So as they see their numbers gradually diminish, they believe this signals the end of the world. They believe the mythical Rapture is imminent now, and so they shout their poisoned message ever louder. "Repent! For the Rapture is coming! The END is at hand!" I've heard this message all my adult life, and even during my childhood. Nothing has changed. The more that Fundamentalists sense they're losing control, the more hysterical they will become. This means their Anti-Catholicism will intensify as they gradually fade away. With the availability of the Internet and social media, we can expect them to sound a lot bigger than they really are. That is their objective of course. In truth, they are a tiny and sad minority in the Christian world, but the image they'll project will be one of a juggernaut. In truth, only a tiny percent of Catholics will convert to their form of Fundamentalism. The vast majority of Catholics who leave the faith will go to either Evangelicalism (a much softer Protestant alternative) or stop going to any church altogether. So while it is true that Fundamentalism is dying, it is also true that we can expect them to get louder and more obnoxious as they fade away.

Nothing terrifies a Protestant Fundamentalist more than Catholicism in the news. For example; when President and Melania Trump visited the pope in the Vatican yesterday, Facebook and Twitter lit up with post from Anti-Catholic Fundamentalists going hysterical about the "New World Order" and the "Antichrist and False Prophet." I couldn't help but laugh. I heard the exact same thing at age 10 concerning Ronald Reagan and Saint Pope John Paul II. Welcome to the wonderful world of Protestant Fundamentalism; where conspiracy theories are commonplace, hysteria is the norm, and rational thinking is no longer necessary. We need to understand that Protestant Fundamentalism is really nothing more than the death throes of Protestantism in general. It is the last dying gasp of a religious movement, started in the 16th century, that is about to fly apart in every direction.

Protestant Fundamentalism came to these shores in the early 17th century, when the first Protestant colonial power (England) setup and fortified her colonies on the East Coast. It was the Catholic Spanish and French who originally pioneered North America, but with England emerging as the new European superpower, all that would soon change. The Catholic French were driven back into Quebec and Louisiana, as English Anti-Catholicism was firmly established on the North American East Coast. The American War of Independence managed to subdue the overt nature of English Anti-Catholicism within the colonies (now states), but it as still there beneath the surface. It re-emerged in the early 19th century with the rise of the American Party, also called the "Know-Nothing Party." Following the American Civil War it culminated with the rise, and later rebirth, of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). By the late 19th to early 20th century, American Anti-Catholicism (English in origin) managed to accomplish economically what England could never accomplish with the penal laws. They managed to make Catholicism a handicap in a so-called "free country."

Protestantism began to die in the early 20th century with the introduction of Modernist tendencies. That's when Protestant Fundamentalism was born, in an attempt to resuscitate the corpse. Along with Protestant Fundamentalism came a resurgence of Anti-Catholicism. After all, Protestantism defines itself in opposition to Catholicism. So it only makes sense that any attempt to resuscitate the dying corpse of Protestantism would logically carry with it a profound and intense Anti-Catholic message. The 1928 presidential election was a turning point. Democratic candidate Al Smith (a Catholic), ran against Republican candidate Herbert Hoover (a Quaker), in what turned out to be one of the most nasty, mudslinging campaigns in modern history. Hoover won, but not before Smith was smeared with questions about his loyalty and patriotism because he was a Catholic. At that time, the Republican argument against Smith as that Catholics can't be trusted with high office, because of their loyalty to the pope. Simultaneously, the KKK initiated a smear campaign not only against Smith, but also against the Catholic Church in general, circulating fake news about uncovered oaths, allegedly sworn by the Jesuits and the Knights of Columbus, to kill and destroy anyone who stood in the way of a Catholic takeover of the United States. The matter was so serious that Congress was forced to conduct an official investigation. It was determined by Congress that the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by the Klan, and that no such Jesuit or Knights of Columbus oaths exist. These Klan-sponsored fake oaths are still circulated among Anti-Catholics today, especially on the Internet.

The rest of the 20th century chronicles the slow-motion train wreck that is Protestantism, both in Europe and North America. Make no mistake about it, the apostasy in the West, we have witnessed in our lifetime, is in fact the collapse of Protestantism. While we have seen Catholicism suffer to, careful analysis shows that Catholicism only flounders insofar as it is united to Protestantism. On other words, the more Protestant-looking a Catholic parish is, the more it suffers and implodes as Protestantism collapses. The reason why Catholicism has suffered so much in recent decades is because in recent decades, Catholic leaders have tried to make the Catholic Church appear more Protestant. This is what happened when you tie your moorings to a sinking ship. It pulls your ship down with it! The Catholic Church will be liberated from this Western apostasy only when she cuts the ropes tying her to Protestantism.

As mainstream Protestantism collapsed during the 20th century, we saw most Europeans embrace Secularism, while in North America, there were two reactions. Some mainstream Protestants left Protestantism for Secularism, while a good number left for Evangelicalism, the softer and milder sister of Fundamentalism. Today, 90% of Evangelical churches are made up of former mainline Protestants and former Catholics. What we have witnessed here in the latter part of the 20th century was not the emergence of a new form of Christianity through evangelism. Rather, Evangelicalism is nothing more than the refugee camp that emerged after the collapse of mainline Protestant denominations. As mainline Protestants in America bolted, a great number of them filed into the Evangelical Protestant churches and megachurches.

The difference between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism is really nothing more than their attitude toward Catholics. Evangelicals are only mildly suspicious of Catholicism and are genuinely disinterested in the affairs of the Catholic Church. Sometimes they might even express some curiosity and cooperation with Catholics. Occasionally they'll acknowledge Catholics as their Christian brethren. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are characterised by their classical Protestant approach to Catholicism. Like the German and English "reformers" they view the Catholic Church as a great threat to the spiritual and physical well-being of Christians. Having a strong Americanist component as well, they see the Catholic Church as a threat to the United States and a danger to all Americans. Logically speaking, if you're going to revive Protestantism, this is how to do it. Protestantism is defined by its opposition to Catholicism. So at least in this one area, Fundamentalists are making sense. If you're going to bring Protestantism back from the dead, whatever you do needs to have a very strong Anti-Catholic message. It is failing though, as more Americans prefer Evangelicalism to Catholicism. The softer and milder sister is much easier to adopt in this modern world. But Evangelicalism cannot save Protestantism. It's a dead end, because it acknowledges the possibility to Christianity outside of the Protestant belief system. A recent object lesson in this is the conversion of Hank Hanegraaff (The Bible Answer Man) from Evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy. Hank, who's radio talk-show I've listened to for decades, had been an Evangelical all his life. His show was (and is) a staple of orthodox doctrine within the Evangelical world. However, in recent years he had been attending an Eastern Orthodox church, and just recently announced his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. This sent shock waves through the Evangelical world, and created a clear line of demarcation between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. Evangelicals, somewhat confused but accepting, continue to listen to his show and call in for questions. While Fundamentalists rejected his decision as outright apostasy from the Christian faith and blogged accordingly. (On a personal note, I've always respected Hanegraaff, and applaud his decision to join our Eastern Orthodox brethren.) Hanegraaff's conversion, however, demonstrates what I'm talking about. Evangelicalism's days are numbered, simply because they do acknowledge Christianity outside their fold, and when confronted with Christian expressions (like Catholicism and Orthodoxy), which are more deep and rich than their own, the likelihood of conversion is rather high. I say this as former Evangelical myself.

Today, in the early 21st century, two forms of Anti-Catholicism now exist in North America. The first is the tried and true Protestant Anti-Catholicism, kept alive by the diminishing number of Protestant Fundamentalists. The second is a newer, and more insidious, Secular Anti-Catholicism, which teaches that the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic, meaning one who doesn't practise the faith. We see in politics and media how the Secular Anti-Catholics operate, praising and rewarding bad Catholics for their "courage," and characterising good Catholics as "dangerous zealots worse than Islamic terrorists." (Yours truly is proud to wear that as a badge of honour, considering who it comes from.) I suspect with Melania Trump's recent decision to embrace her Catholic heritage, we can expect the Trump Whitehouse to now be attack by both types of Anti-Catholics -- Secular and Protestant. Please keep in mind though, that Protestant Anti-Catholicism is dying, so we can expect them to get even louder in the days ahead.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Comments

David Dougherty said…
WOW! This is one of the greatest articles I have ever read on this subject. My mother was a Protestant Fundamentalist so I know whereof the author speaks. As a Catholic myself I hope he is right about Protestantism flying apart. I just hope the Catholic Church doesn't follow suit. Modernism is the death of the Catholic Faith.