Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ignorance, Attitudes, and the Catholic Church

"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church - which is, of course, quite a different thing."
(Bishop Fulton Sheen, Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix, via Wikiquote)
On my way to becoming a Catholic, I found out that most of what I 'knew' about the Catholic Church was either at least four centuries out of date, or simply wrong.

In a way, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one:
"...To most non-Catholics and nominal Catholics, the Church remains a virtual unknown. University students leave their colleges and universities with fragmented and absurd views about Catholic Church history...."
("The New Atheism," Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, Congregation of St. Joseph, via CNA)

Clueless About Catholicism: An Old Tradition

It's not just American academia that's clueless about the Catholic Church. America's early cultural history is solidly English and Protestant. That's not all bad news.

For example, the Magna Carta and English Parliament may have helped start the notion that 'consent of the governed' was okay.

On the other hand, Henry VIII made himself "Protector and Supreme Head of the Church of England," a sort of mini-pope. After that, being Catholic in England was occasionally lethal. (June 22, 2012, March 7, 2012)

It didn't take long before English assumptions about the Church got -- imaginative is mild way to put it. (December 5, 2011)

Under the circumstances, I think my country's fairly consistent record of tolerating 'Papists' is both remarkable and laudable.

Ignorance, Bliss, and Politics

Thomas Gray added "ignorance is bliss" to the English vocabulary in the 1740s. ("Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College") I'm pretty sure that Gray was expressing a nostalgic mood: not claiming that ignorance is a good idea.

November's election involves serious issues, including whether or not:
  • Americans should be allowed to act as if faith matters
  • Taxpayers should pay a government agency to have non-taxpayers killed
Complicating this debate, a practicing Catholic is running for Vice-President.

Even without issues like abortion and religious freedom in play, having one of 'those people' running for a White House post is going to stir up all-too-familiar reactions:

Educated and Unaware

An ignorant person isn't necessarily stupid. The ignorant person may be very intelligent, but:
  1. Uneducated in general
    • Lacking knowledge or sophistication
  2. Uneducated in the fundamentals of a given art or branch of learning
    • Lacking knowledge of a specific field
  3. Unaware because of a lack of
    • Relevant information
    • Knowledge
    (Princeton's WordNet)
Where the Catholic Church is concerned, I think it's #3 that accounts for most of the ignorance Sister Roccasalvo wrote about:1
"...University students leave their colleges and universities with fragmented and absurd views about Catholic Church history. Their ignorance, however, does not prevent them from critiquing and ridiculing the Church as though they were expert church historians...."
("The New Atheism," Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, Congregation of St. Joseph, via CNA)

A Tradition We Can Do Without

In a way, I almost sympathize with Americans who feel angry and hurt because Catholics in America act as if our faith matters.

The America I grew up in was a nation where important folks were either WASPs, or able to look and act sufficiently WASPish to pass for 'regular Americans.'

That's changed: and is still changing. I don't mind: partly because I remember the 'good old days,' and am glad they're never coming back.

I don't think 'change for the sake of change' is a good idea, or that traditions are always a bad idea. America's traditional attitude toward the Catholic Church, though: that's a tradition I think we can do without.2

Curing Ignorance

This may sound simplistic, but I think knowledge is a cure for ignorance.

It'll take a long time for most Americans to understand what the Catholic Church is: or at least why it's not a threat to national security.

A major obstacle, I think, is that so many Americans 'know' things that simply aren't true about the Church. I'm cautiously optimistic, though.

I think America is going through a change that's as big as what we experienced in the '60s. Folks will be looking for answers that make sense.

When I started learning what the Church actually said, the answers made sense. I didn't always like what I learned, but I couldn't argue with the logic.

'My Mind's Made Up: Don't Confuse Me With the Facts'

Some folks may decide that they don't want to know 'too much' about the Church. Others may not be able to believe anyone except the little circle of friends, acquaintances, and 'experts' they've grown accustomed to.

I'm pretty sure that most folks are able to learn: and that many are willing to pick up new ideas.

Even if I didn't think that was so, I'd have to tell folks about Jesus: and why loving God, loving my neighbors, and seeing everyone as my neighbor is a good idea. Matthew 28:19 didn't give us the option of keeping quiet.

Somewhat-related posts:

1 Excerpt:
"The New Atheism"
Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J., The Way of Beauty column, CNA (Catholic News Agenchy) (August 29, 2012)

"...For Christians, Jesus Christ, humanity's redeemer, is the glory of God. Christianity's mandate is twofold: love of God and love of neighbor.

"Catholicism insists on wholeness - the whole God, the whole Christ, the complete community, the whole personality, the whole man and woman. (K. Adam, 'The Spirit of Catholicism,' 11) Catholicism has the power of assimilation of all that is beautiful, true, and good; it is creative, productive, and original.

"Nothing remains outside the Church's integral teaching: the purpose and destiny of every human being, sports and physical fitness, social justice, science and the arts, the care of the environment, the sanctity of human life, human sexuality, marriage, and the family. Our creed, our sacramental worship, our code of behavior, and prayer encapsulate Catholic faith. Moreover, the way of Catholic living is firmly grounded in reason leading to faith. There is a Catholic view about everything, regardless of topic.

"Wholeness and holiness are two interrelated aspects of one's life. Both are made up of a thousand trifles, but wholeness and holiness are no trifles....

"...Like the members of the symphony orchestra, Catholics are in the public view. A private Catholic is a misnomer. To be a member of the Catholic Church is always and everywhere to be a Christ├Ęd person and an ambassador for the Church.....

"...To most non-Catholics and nominal Catholics, the Church remains a virtual unknown. University students leave their colleges and universities with fragmented and absurd views about Catholic Church history. Their ignorance, however, does not prevent them from critiquing and ridiculing the Church as though they were expert church historians. In fact, their ignorance comes to the fore when they indulge in wholly trivial, vague, and often nonsensical notions about 'the greatest religious and political creation known to history.' These observations were made in 1911 by the influential Protestant scholar and historian Adolf von Harnack (quoted in K. Adam, 'The Spirit of Catholicism,' 13). His remarks however are as relevant today as they were one hundred years ago, and perhaps even more so....."
2 Examples of an all-too-common attitude toward the Catholic Church:

(From Thomas Nast Portfolio, Ohio State University, used w/o permission.)
"The American River Ganges, a cartoon by Thomas Nast showing bishops attacking public schools, with connivance of Boss Tweed. Harper's Weekly, September 30, 1871." (Wikipedia)

(from H.E. Fowler, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
"Crowley, Jeremiah J. (1913) 'The Pope: Chief of White Slavers High Priest of Intrigue,' p. 430"

From ''Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty'', 1926. Published by the Pillar of Fire Church in Zarephath, NJ. Copyright was not renewed.
(Pillar of Fire Church, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
"From ''Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty'', 1926. Published by the Pillar of Fire Church in Zarephath, NJ...."

(Chick Publications, via, used w/o permission)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

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.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.