Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Catholic Left's Internalized Anti-Catholicism

In Catholic circles, one of the many Clinton camp emails released by wikileaks has got a lot of play because it features Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta fielding questions from a fellow Democrat who wonders whether the US bishops' opposition to ObamaCare's contraception mandate could be used as an opportunity to start a 'Catholic Spring' uprising akin to the Arab Spring uprisings which brought down various regimes in the Middle East.

"There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a Middle Ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church." [source]

(That these regimes were replaced with more religiously fundamentalist ones rather breaks the analogy I suppose.)

As Ross Douthat observed on Twitter, however, it's a bit simplistic to simply label these slurs ('Middle Ages dictatorship', etc.) as simple anti-Catholicism, as many conservative Catholics have been quick to do, given that Podesta himself is Catholic as are many of the progressive Catholics who have supported and expanded upon the attacks on the Church and the bishops included in the emails. What we're seeing instead is that the progressive faction in the modern intra-Catholic civil war over theology and ecclesiology has taken on and internalized a lot of the anti-Catholic rhetoric of a hundred years ago.

This shouldn't necessarily be surprising. These days, we think of Protestant anti-Catholicism as being a product of the fundamentalist 'conservative' sects within Protestantism, but back in the day many of these lines of attack were formed by Protestants who were very much in the enlightenment/liberal tradition. For instance, when Newman wrote his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, in response to accusations from Charles Kingsley that the Romish Church encouraged dishonesty in its members, encouraging them to deny the truth and their own conscience at the insistence of the hierarchy, Newman was not squaring off against some right winger. Kingsley was a friend of Charles Darwin and a pioneer of Christian Socialism. Kingsley and those like him in the progressive Christianity of the day in great part disliked the Catholic Church because they saw it as backwards and reactionary -- which is precisely the view which many of the Church's internal critics take today.

Similarly, while people may associate the anti-immigrant Know Nothings and other anti-Catholic groups of the 19th and early 20th centuries with primarily right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric today, the Know Nothings were in great part motivated by a desire to preserve American liberty and democracy from the reactionary ideologies they associated with the Catholic Church and its political opposition to the secularist and progressive movements involved in the various European revolutionary movements of 1848 and beyond. Thomas Nast, who in the famous anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant cartoon above depicted Catholic priests as alligators about to feast on America's children, was actually a radical Republican in the aftermath of the Civil War, supporting racial equality and universal public schooling, which he saw as threatened by Catholic attempts to have their own school receive government funds just like the (effectively Protestant) public schools.

If progressive Catholics today have adopted many of the anti-Catholic stereotypes of the past about their own church, it's probably because many of those stereotypes were in fact developed by the kind of progressive Christianity which they would like the Church to resemble.

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