Thursday, August 13, 2009

Iraq and America, and the Catholic Question

I haven't heard "go back where you came from" for quite a few years. I can't say that learning of the phrase's passing from the language and culture would make me unhappy.

I might not be likely to hear it in any case, since lately I've been living in areas where the people living there, grew up there. Until recently. Even a bigot might balk at regarding someone with generations-deep roots in American soil a 'foreigner.'

American History: Learning to Get Along

A question that leaders need to answer is 'what to do about people who are different?' A traditional approach in some cultures has been to either kill minorities outright: or let them live, and kill them when a scapegoat is needed.

That's not nice, and we're not supposed to do it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1935)

For the last several decades, here in America, there's been a lot of discussion about "tolerance:" Generally along racial / ethnic lines. Well and good.

Before that, when I was growing up, I was taught that America practiced religious tolerance, too. Which is just as well, considering this country's history.

In 1776, America "was overwhelmingly English and Protestant."1 Sure, there were Catholics in the 13 colonies: A whopping 23 or 24 priests serving between 20,000 and 25,000 Catholics. That's around 1% of the 2,500,000 population of the nascent country. The Catholics were mostly in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. 12

Fast-forward two centuries. By the time I was taking a long, hard, look at America's institutions and what I thought of them, America had changed. Protestants were still a majority, but by a smaller lead: 65% of Americans were Protestant from 1973 to 1993.3

A little over a dozen years later, in 2007, America looked like this:4
  • Protestant 51.3%
  • Roman Catholic 23.9%
  • Unaffiliated 12.1%
  • None 4%
  • Other or unspecified 2.5%
  • Mormon 1.7%
  • Other Christian 1.6%
  • Jewish 1.7%
  • Buddhist 0.7%
  • Muslim 0.6%
That makes America 76.8% Christian - 78.5% if you add Mormon - and barely over half Protestant.

America is by no means perfect. I've discussed that, more than once, in another blog. On the other hand, over the last 233 years Americans have somehow learned to get along.

Getting used to allowing Catholics to live must have taken some doing. At least some of America's founding fathers had oddly familiar attitudes about allowing Catholicism to sully the shores of their land.
"...The political spark that ignited latent anti-Catholicism in America was the Quebec Act of 1774. The settlement of the French and Indian War in 1763 left Great Britain with the whole of Canada and everything west of the Mississippi River. The British, in the Quebec Act, retained French civil law in Canada, protected feudal land tenure, and mandated that the existing religion of the French Canadians-Roman Catholicism-was to be tolerated. The British-American colonists were outraged and considered the law to be one of the 'Intolerable Acts' of the British Parliament. If the British had any regard for 'the freedom and happiness of mankind they would not have done it,' wrote Alexander Hamilton. 'If they had been friends to the Protestant cause they would not have done it.... They may as well establish Popery in New York and the other colonies as they did in Canada.'

"The general assumption was that Roman Catholicism, by its very nature, is incompatible with republican5 government and that any toleration of it would, , threaten its establishment. Consider two addresses issued by the Continental Congress in October 1774 in response to the Quebec Act. Congress wrote the Canadians, asking 'What is offered to you by the late Parliament? . . . Liberty of conscience in your religion? No. God gave it to you; and the powers with which you have been and are connected, firmly stipulated for your enjoyment of it.... We are all too well acquainted with the liberality of sentiment distinguishing your nation, to imagine that difference of religion will prejudice you against a hearty amity with us.' Yet five days earlier they issued an 'Address Written to the People of England' (penned by John Jay), which expressed 'our astonishment that a British Parliament should ever consent to establish in that country [Canada] a religion that has deluged your island in blood, and disbursed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.' "1 [emphasis mine]
I think it's important to remember that "Protestants" are no more unified and monolithic a group than "Muslims." You've got your Anabaptists, Anglicans, Baptists (rivaling Baskin Robbins for variety), Hussites, Lutherans (with over a dozen varieties), Methodists (United Methodists, now), Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and many more.

Back in the late 18th century, people had come to the colonies in part to practice their religion. And found themselves living next to people who didn't. As someone put it, "...New York was more a sphere for forced religious diversity than a center of religious liberty...." 6

We did get 'religious liberty' out of the mess, though: which I think as an outstanding accomplishment.

Not that America has achieved some pinnacle of perfection, of course. One reason I put so much emphasis on understanding Islam and Muslims in another blog are latter-day Alexander Hamilton wannabes who say things like "they're all Muslims."

The way I see it, if I don't speak up for the rights of others to practice their religion, I shouldn't expect tolerance of my own beliefs.

Which brings me to the news item that got me started on this post.

Christians in Iraq: The Catholic Connection

In common with most Western journalism, the Catholic News Service headline focuses on the dire. It's accurate, though, as far as it goes:
"Vatican official: Iraq's Christian community at risk of disappearing"

"A leading Vatican official called for greater protection of Iraq's beleaguered Christian minority, saying the disappearance of Christianity from the country would be an enormous religious and cultural loss for everyone....

" 'The authorities must do everything they can so that Christians are a respected and integral part of the life of the country, even if they are a minority,' Archbishop Filoni said in an interview Aug. 11 with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano...."

"...If Iraqi Christians continue to emigrate, it won't take long before they'll lose their language, culture and identity -- and it will be lost forever, he said...."
(Catholic News Service)
Archbishop Filoni also said that Iraqi Christians need to decide whether or not they want to maintain their community.

He's assistant secretary of state at the Vatican now, but he's got a clue what Catholics in Iraq are going through. From 2001 to 2006 he was the Vatican's nuncio to Iraq from 2001 to 2006. He was the only diplomatic mission chief to stay on duty in Baghdad while an America-led coalition invaded Iraq and gave Iraqis an alternative to Saddam Hussein.

My guess is that there are contemporary Iraqi equivalents of Alexander Hamilton around, so Iraqi Catholics and the country's majority leadership have their work cut out for them.

Here's how Iraq shakes out, when it comes to religious beliefs:7
  • Muslim 97%
    • Shia 60%-65%
    • Sunni 32%-37%
  • Christian or other 3%
Substitute "Protestant" for "Muslim," and you've got a country that's a trifle more diverse than America was in 1776.

I hope Iraq does as well as America did, allowing 'those people' to raise their families.

It's not all doom and gloom for Catholics in Iraq:
"...The archbishop pointed to the recent restitution of three church-run schools as an important step in the right direction. The schools, two in Baghdad and one in Kirkuk, will be run by Chaldean Catholic nuns, who managed them before they were nationalized under Saddam Hussein...."
(Catholic News Service)

Tolerance Takes Conscious Effort

It's a little too easy, I think, particularly for someone growing up in a place like America, to assume that tolerance is the norm, and intolerance is limited to uneducated, unintelligent, funny-looking people. You know: foreigners.

I grew up in America and like it here. I hope that, if Iraqi Catholics decide that they must leave their homes, they'll consider moving in. Not just because they're Catholics: I think America benefits from immigrants. I would: I'm descended from immigrants myself.

And, America has a pretty good record of tolerance, together with: I think the sometimes-imaginative views of Catholicism come in part from propaganda going back at least to the era when Europe's northern princes were establishing their independence from Mediterranean Europe's cultural and economic dominance. The more contemporary 'Christianity kills people' idea may be related to that: a sort of generalization of the old 'Protestants/Catholics are monsters' propaganda. I think the Post-Renaissance interest in (obsession with?) human abilities may be involved, too.

Maybe it's my experiences in the sixties, but I don't feel at all bad about being counter-cultural, and belonging to the " '...religion that has ... disbursed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.'..."1 According to John Jay, anyway.

Related posts: In the news: 1"Faith of Our Fathers"
Matthew Spalding, via EWTN (undated)

C. John McCloskey, via EWTN (undated)

3"NORC survey finds America’s Protestant majority is shrinking"
The University of Chicago Chronicle (August 19, 2004)

4"United States"
CIA World Factbook (last updated July 30, 2009)

5When Alexander Hamilton and John Jay were protecting America from Catholicism, the Republican party was still eight decades in the future. The "republican government" mentioned is one "having the supreme power lying in the body of citizens entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them or characteristic of such government". (Princeton's WordNet)

Essays in American History, The Educator's Reference Desk (undated)

CIA World Factbook (last updated July 30, 2009)
A tip of the hat to srsusan, on Twitter, for the heads-up on that news article.


Brigid said...

"would make be unhappy" I think that's supposed to be "me"?

"like 'they're all Muslims." End quote missing.

"I grew up in an America" what?

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Sounds like I had a cold - in which case I should have written, "would mayg be unhabby."

That last is quite a typo.

And, they're fixed. Thanks, as usual!

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

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