Friday, October 22, 2010

The Catholic thing...

A friend of mine asked me for my opinion on the following editorial, so I gave it.

Religious tolerance: 'Patriots' unite against Catholics in 1920
Published: Saturday, October 16, 2010, 8:52 AM
Guest Columnist SHARON DAVIES

As Mark Twain once quipped, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

In the early 1900s, many Americans were genuinely frightened by the perceived religious threat of the Roman Catholic Church and the suspected imperialistic intentions of its leader, the pope. He was plotting the overthrow of the United States, warned the fearful, to "make America Catholic." ...

Religious fear on this scale had fatal consequences. ...

At the time, these men did not consider themselves religious bigots. They believed themselves patriots, upright fathers and sons, husbands and brothers protecting their families, and the nation, against a foreign threat they feared was intent on their destruction.

The anti-Catholic fever of the 1920s was not a regional story; it was an American story, extending north, east and west, casting Catholics as second-class citizens for decades. It didn't truly end for another 40 years, when presidential candidate John F. Kennedy felt compelled to say directly that his allegiance was to the United States, not the pope. Today, the worst of the anti-Catholic fervor might simply be an embarrassment, were the consequences less dire and were there not so many signs that we haven't learned from our mistakes.

The mistake being that we should not oppose Muslim activism as anti-American.

1. I agree that rank suspicion-mongering and stereotyping is bad. I hope that's uncontroversial.

2. When I first got interested in Catholicism my senior year of college, I was doing a writing assignment for a correspondence course I was taking. A nonfiction piece. I had some Catholic friends who expressed being ostracized sometimes in our Christian fellowship, which piqued my interest. I did some research, which entailed interviewing the pastor at the main campus Catholic Church and he told me how a priest two generations before had been very popular and active on campus but, long story short, eventually got kidnapped, castrated, and dumped on the lawn in front a church in Palatka. He went to Canada and decades later the story got pieced together by an MA history student at UF: (I may be botching the exact details, sorry) of the three KKK attackers that night, one was a cop in Gainesville, another was the sheriff of Ocala, and the third was most likely the mayor or someone very high up. I was stunned. So I am very sensitive to the history of anti-Catholic bigotry in the USA.

3. Where my analytical/critical radar starts beeping is in certain disanalogous points the editorial tries to make.

a. What is the Catholic equivalent of 9/11 in history and/or in people's minds?

b. What are the equivalent cases of widespread brutality against Muslims in our day (to liken to those against Catholics in the editorial)?

c. Islam has no Magisterium and no Pope, so there is no "figure" to which they can be accused of swearing allegiance. Rather, Muslims are typically understood to have an often visceral allegiance to their native countries, and perhaps some mullahs therein, and to the larger Muslim World. No Catholic was or ever is taught to withhold allegiance to his own country in favor of Italy or even the Vatican State. Rather, all a Catholic must do is support his country and, where policies conflict with his faith, mount a protest and, if needed, simply abstain from voting for equally unacceptable candidates/policies. The point is that, e.g., a Pakistani-American Muslim might very well have a strong conflict of interests based on a fundamental cleft in his 'civilizational'/cultural allegiances. Look at the NY Times bomber. It's the same objection people have always had to strongly non-accommodationist immigrant sectors and I think it's a legitimate complaint. If you are actively supporting another country's polity against the USA's, that won't wash. What happened with Catholics is that eventually people learned, unconsciously at least, that Catholic theology does allow for public service and patriotism (though it may not allow politicians to advance certain positions and remain consistent with their faith). Otherwise, there would not be the number of committed Catholics in politics which there are. That's where we are: the people need to be convinced Muslims, and Muslim thinking, does allow for committed Muslims to be committed patriots. So far, many are still unconvinced.

d. Can we really imagine a Muslim saying his allegiance is not to Allah but to the United States if he were running for the Presidency? Perhaps, but then I wonder how much of a Muslim constituency he would retain. That was the concession JFK, Jr had to make (or rather, chose to make for rhetorical purposes, since, as I say, there is no principled reason he had to make that concession other than to soothe people's fears). People are uncomfortable with the idea that Muslims want to enshrine sharia law in the USA (and in Europe). But they've always been, and still are, just as hostile to "Catholic meddling" (e.g., keep the Pope out of my bedroom, keep your laws off my body, etc.). So, yes, I have no problem with Muslims pushing for their own agenda. After all, the Knights of Columbus once successfully reshaped American mores, so all's fair in love and war... and politics. By the same token, though, I think it's a bit disingenuous for people to get so worked up about the opposition Muslims are facing in their own campaigns. Why not pity Catholic activism in the same way? If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. It's up to the American people whether they want to swallow Muslim reforms or not-- the Ground Zero thing seems like a pretty straightforward private vendor freedom, so like I say, fair's fair-- but the question is whether Americans really are willing to swallow Muslim activism. If Europe is any indication, Westerners are increasingly unwilling to compromise their own cultural autonomy to Islamic insurgency, and we can probably expect the usual "Euro-American" lag after which the same resistance will spread in the States.

No comments: