Thursday, August 14, 2003

Though I know it’s hardly a brave moral stance in these ultra-liberal days, tonight I was reminded of how very much I dislike low church Protestantism in general. I don’t hate everything about Evangelicals, of course. But man, I hate enough about them.

I grew up entirely unaware of the existence of anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism in my world. I also grew up strangely shielded from the Evangelicals all around me. Unlike most of the kids I went to school with, I never once went to Baptist Sunday School or Methodist (you can bet I’m talking about the lowest kind of Methodist) Bible Camp. And so, mysteriously, I never learned to properly hate Jews and Catholics, like so many of the people around me did. In fact, I was blissfully unaware of the existence of Jews and Catholics in my community, in the same way that I was blissfully unaware of the existence of Evangelicals, until I was nearly in high school.

And then, suddenly, religion became a very, very big deal. Because after all, the Jews killed our sweet Jesus, and the Catholics worship statues of Mary in an effort to keep good Baptists from reading their Bibles. Or some such.

When I studied the Holocaust in Jr. High, I became aware of the very real presence of anti-Semitism. I remember kids calling each other “Jews,” and I remember being very puzzled the first time I heard someone use the phrase “Jewed him down.” But anti-Catholicism still confounded me. I read that the KKK hated Catholics, and I didn’t understand why. But I figured that it was some sort of weird historical thing. Something that was probably just about as popular today as hating the English for what happened in the Revolutionary war. But when I heard a teacher, a teammate’s mother in fact, making anti-Catholic cracks, I became aware for the first time that what I thought was a weird footnote in a history textbook was actually a living sentiment amongst people I knew.

It seems that in my community, and I think in most communities, it’s still an acceptable bigotry to hate Catholics. It’s wrong to hate Jews; nearly everyone will tell you that. And everybody knows why it’s wrong to hate Jews; Hitler hated Jews, and everybody hates Hitler. But it’s okay to hate Catholics. Even though most people know Catholics and interact with them fairly normally, there’s still an undercurrent of hate in every Evangelical/Catholic relationship.

This is not, of course, because Evangelicals and Catholics are really so very different on matters religious. It’s because Evangelicals are profoundly uneducated. I’m serious about this. Evangelicals do nothing to teach themselves anything even vaguely connected with Christian history. They blindly repeat lines about the worship of Mary and the priestly conspiracy to keep the Bible a secret. It’s as if Christian history somehow ends with John of Patmos and doesn’t pick up again until the Scopes trial, when good Protestants everywhere were brutally assaulted by those nasty evolutionists. The high church, consequently, isn’t a whole lot better in this arena; they seem to think that Christianity stopped with John of Patmos and picks up again with Martin Luther.

In any case, Evangelicals are profoundly confused about exactly what it is they believe. And the few very basic Christian platitudes they’ve been force-fed over time, they wield against Catholics, as if Catholics reject them. Of course, in the meantime, they do nothing to find out what Catholics actually believe, so they end up looking, and in actuality being, bigoted and ignorant. In reality, there are precious few practical differences between Protestants and Catholics, particularly in the most oft-screeched attacks.

For instance, every good Evangelical knows that Catholics think they can buy their way into heaven with good works. Meanwhile, no Catholic actually believes this. Catholics believe in grace, as garnered through right actions, the primary right action being that of faith, as the only hope of man’s salvation. Protestants hold that grace, as garnered through faith, is the only hope of man’s salvation. Protestants then scream about Catholics “working their way into heaven,” all while preaching sermons full of fire and brimstone about how people have to obey God and shun sin or face the fires of hell. There’s no practical difference between the Protestant and Catholic view, of course. Both hold that you must believe in God, and behave yourself, if you want to see heaven. But Protestants still keep fighting the straw man of good works.

And then, of course, every good Evangelical knows that Catholics follow “the traditions of men” instead of God’s own word, the Bible. Nevermind, of course, that the Bible itself was written and assembled by men, and is only authoritative because of man’s tradition. Nevermind the obvious fact that Evangelicals believe in “the traditions of men” as much as anyone; after all, how many altar calls do you find in the Epistles? That’s all irrelevant, because Evangelicals are historically ignorant, and they’re proud of it. They’ll stubbornly strut their stupidity, because Catholics are bad.

At base, the reason that Catholics are bad, in the mind of an Evangelical, is that Catholics are bad. It’s nothing to do with historical study. It’s nothing to do with the actual beliefs of Catholics. It has to do with blind bigotry. The same kind of bigotry that tells us that the Jews killed Jesus, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, and in spite of thousands of years of dogma leading us to the clear conclusion that all men, regardless of ethnicity, killed our Jewish Lord Jesus with their sins.

And so, I grow weary of Evangelicals. I don’t claim that they don’t do some good work. I don’t think every Evangelical is an anti-Catholic, and I’d be as dumb as one of the people I was attacking, if I tried to say that there weren’t some real theological issues between Protestants and Catholics. But I know where I see bigotry and ignorance. And it’s rarely on the mackerel-snapper side of things. I know where I see real scholarship and real historical and theological study; and it’s sure as heck not on the Evangelical side of things. And I’m reminded of a friend’s appeal for my conversion to Catholicism: “Convert! Because 20,000 Protestant denominations can’t all be right!”