Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice?

This story is doing the rounds today. John Edwards hired a blogger named Amanda Marcotte. It turns out that Marcotte has written some pretty nasty things about Catholicism in the past, and now Edwards is being called to account.

Who is criticizing Edwards? Well, our old friends William Donohue of the Catholic League, and Kathryn Lopez of the National Review (yes, the pro-torture publication). And who is defending him? An array of left-leaning bloggers, including Steve Benen, who downplayed it as a storm in a teacup, a story about bloggers "who’ve written a few posts conservatives consider shrill". But it's not quite so simple. Here is a sample of Marcotte's writing:

"Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology."

"There’s a pragmatic reason that the Vatican might be a little hesitant to come right out and say that there’s no limbo is because the concept is wielded by everyday Catholics to explain where the souls of unborn babies go, which is just an extra way to guilt trip women who have abortions."

"He can’t help it; he’s just a dictator like that. Hey, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, the Pope’s gotta tell women who give birth to stillborns that their babies are cast into Satan’s maw."

This goes far beyond honest disagreement with certain Catholic teachings. This insults and mocks core religious beliefs. Ask yourself: if the author had said similar things about Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, would the response have been so muted?

This is merely the latest manifestation of the old nativist anti-Catholic prejudice that has always been present in American culture (either manifest or latent). Catholicism is foreign, disloyal, anti-Democratic, passionate, irrational, rigid, an oppressive institution where priests tell people what to think. Throw in the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, and there you have it-- a classic American blend of anti-Catholicism!

As I noted recently, much of the right's stance against Mexican immigration can be explained by this very anti-Catholicism. It just so happens that in this instance it appears on the left. But this is not so peculiar. During the McCarthyite 1950s, and again in the lead up to the Iraq war, free speech was deemed less important than demonstrating loyalty to the national cause. The left adopted similar tactics to harass and censor those who deviated from "politically-correct" speech codes in various places in the 1980s and 1990s. The witch hunt has a long tradition in American popular culture, and it can rear its ugly head just as easily on the left as on the right. And the Catholic Church has always been the chief candidate for a witch hunt (how else do you explain the reaction to the sex scandal, with new allegations arising in the media every half hour or so?).

Until Edwards and the Democrats figure this out, the Republicans will continue to attract Catholics. And, as you know, I do not view this as a favorable outcome.


John said...

I think it is a mistake to interpret the recent blogger dustup as a manifestation of 19th-century anti-Catholic nativism. Anti-Catholic nativism was frequently tied closely to anti-immigrant or anti-minority prejudice. If it has a modern equivalent, it would be the vigilantes on the southwestern border, some of whom have expressed explicitly anti-Catholic rhetoric to match their racial bigotry. In fact, these groups and their supporters have been denounced repeatedly by both of the bloggers that Donahue attacked.

It makes more sense to view the bloggers as rhetorical opponents on policy issues. The rhetoric may be heated, and even offensive in some cases, but it is directed towards arguing over political positions. Their rhetorical opponents frequently match the vigor of their rhetoric (if not the vulgarity). After all, as a liberal Catholic I am sure that you have encountered suggestions that you are not a real Catholic, should not come to Communion, etc. In the last presidential election cycle we even got such suggestions from our bishops! I certainly have heard such comments, and I find them appalling. As a liberal Catholic, I find that I get more of that from my fellow Catholics than from my fellow liberals.

By the way, I found your blog via the link from the Commonweal blog, and I plan to read and visit again in the future. You have some great writing here.

Franklin Jennings said...

Try being Catholic for a change.

You shouldn't be shocked that when you have to ameliorate your catholicism in your own description that others will question your devotion to the faith.