OCTOBER 6, 2003
Martin E. Marty
The New Anti-Catholicism, a book by Philip Jenkins, (Oxford) is occasioning some finger-pointing. Who is guilty? Mainline Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, Fundamentalist Protestants, Pentecostal Protestants, and African-American Protestants. Just kidding. They are off the hook. Jenkins used a fine tooth comb to rake together evidences of anti-Catholicism, but I could find only two Protestants in his line-up of the accused.
This absence of evidence is astonishing. I've written a book on American Protestant and another on American Catholic history noting that, from the first Protestant landings in 1607 to the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, who was Catholic was a key element in the national plot. And Protestant anti-Catholicism and Catholic anti-Protestantism was no more evident than at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII. No more. What happened?
Ecumenism led to understandings, burying of hatchets, and a spirit of empathy and concord. Add to that: the action of the Holy Spirit? The presence of people of good will on all sides. The awareness that there were more satisfying enemies out there. Catholic reform. Protestant awareness that many myths about Catholic power were just that, myths. Hungers among laity for better relations among people, beginning with families. Ease of exposure to each other as Catholic and Protestant "ghetto" walls leaked and often fell.
Did anyone else notice that this is a book about Catholic anti-Catholicism, though Professor Jenkins (pp. 12-15) hopes to qualify that generalization. True, in a chapter on news media incomprehension and elsewhere, "secular" and "liberal" villains show up. But in the long chapters on "The Church Hates Women," "The Church Kills Gays," "The Pedophile Priest Crisis," etc. almost all the attacking against Father Pope and Mother Church comes from Catholics. A few born-Catholics turned violently (Mary Daly) or mildly (Matthew Fox) against it. Most, however, stay within the church, and Jenkins often speaks, guardedly, of their loyalty to the church against which they bring often brutal charges.
Sometimes Jenkins does the work of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, coming close to naming dissidents as heretics. Thus Garry Wills, who is very public about his faith in the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Sacraments, and, yes, the church, gets pushed to the margins because he attacks papal power in his historical work and some bishops' actions in his contemporary appraisals and comment. Jenkins's Catholic rogues gallery of attackers includes Sister Joan Chittester, the Catholic Theological Society, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Frances Kissling, Geraldine Ferraro, Mark Jordan, Eugene Kennedy, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Maureen Dowd, Anna Quindlen, and critical-Catholic organizations.
Two more things: I don't mean that all Protestants are always off the hook; they simply are too muted and rare to be part of this book. And I don't think anti-Catholicism is, as Jenkins's subtitle puts it, "The Last Acceptable Prejudice." Try "anti-Fundamentalism" and many more. No hypersensitive folks should get to claim a monopoly on victimage in the rough and tumble of American life.
Also in October at the Divinity School:
From October 21 to 23, the Divinity School brings together a group of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scholars -- philosophers, theologians, ethicists and legal thinkers -- for the 2003 D.R. Sharpe Lectures entitled Humanity before God: Contemporary Faces of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Ethics. The aim of the conference is to examine anew the shared ways in which the three monotheistic faiths in the Abrahamic tradition conceive the idea of humanity before God, and how each contributes to contemporary understandings of fundamental claims about the inalienable sanctity and dignity of human life. In multiple ways, the idea of humanity before God is informed by certain central narrative figurations of the creation of humanity within the Torah and the Qur'an. With a view toward these narratives, the conference will explore several crucial dimensions of the idea of humanity before God within the Abrahamic traditions and in relation to our contemporary situation. Events begin on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 21 with an opening keynote lecture at 4 pm by Hilary Putnam, Cogan University Professor (Emeritus) at Harvard University. The conference ends on Thursday afternoon with a closing keynote address at 2 pm by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor at George Washington University. The conference is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is strongly encouraged. For more information, go to the conference website at http://sharpelectures.uchicago.edu. Stay tuned for upcoming Sightings columns on topics related to the conference.