Seriously? What are they thinking? (In truth, they probably weren’t thinking!)
Many Americans would be shocked to learn about the long history of anti-Catholicism in the United States. The standard narrative of U.S. history is one of religious liberty and toleration. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. From the beginning, the majority of the U.S. population has been composed of various Protestant sects. Protestantism’s roots were anti-Catholic in origin and the Protestant Reformation kicked off years of violent conflict between the two Christian rivals. This legacy of hatred was inherited by the Protestants that settled in America. Following independence many states banned Catholics from holding public offices out of fear that “Popery and the Inquisition may be established in America.”(1) Anti-Catholic sentiment only grew as Catholic Irish and Italian immigrants flocked to the U.S. during the nineteenth century. One of the more violent outbursts against Catholics came during the Kensington and Southwark Bible Riots in Philadelphia (1844).
Maura Jane Farrelly, in an interesting piece at Aeon, reminds us of that past. Noting the recent change in attitudes towards Catholics, she argues that “Americans no longer consider Catholicism to be a threat because the very idea of ‘freedom’ in the US has changed into something more compatible with the corporate approach to freedom that the Catholic Church has always insisted upon. The Catholic understanding of religious liberty and church-state relations has also changed, becoming more compatible with the US vision and the reality of religious pluralism.”
She also examines the shifting attitudes about the separation of church and state among evangelicals, Catholics, and Muslims. Based on polling, she concludes, “Only 28 per cent of US‑born Muslims think that mosque leaders should refrain from politics, but 60 per cent of Muslim immigrants recently told researchers at Pew that mosque leaders should ‘keep out of political matters’. It’s a directive that suggests Muslim immigrants in the US might be more ‘American’ than some of the Catholics and Protestants voting and campaigning in the US today.”
Given the importance of this topic in light of the increasing anti-Islamic attitudes, I think Farrelly’s review of our anti-Catholic past is apropos. Read her entire essay here.
(1) Major Thomas Lusk at the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (February 4, 1788) in The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, vol. 6, p. 1421.
This is an interesting comparison between the nineteenth and the twenty first centuries: The Return of the 19th Century. There does seem to be some noteworthy similarities between now and then (at least on the surface). It’s something to think about.
Peter Manseau reminds us that “[t]he American conversation about Islam may be noisy and confusing, but it isn’t new. And these forgotten images remind us to avoid the old tendency to portray Muslims—now millions of our fellow citizens—solely as caricatured villains in scary stories or cardboard paragons in moral ones.” Read the entire article at:
The president of the New-York Historical Society, Louise Mirrer, argues for a unified American history that incorporates diversity: “The case for teaching American American history has always been strong. But at a time when much of the world is in turmoil, that case is even more powerful. Many nations today are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to integrate different ethnic, religious and racial groups. That’s why it’s so important that our schools, colleges and museums should teach the unity of American history as well as the diversity. We must make sure that Americans honor their differences, but also know that they have a shared history — a history that is the indispensable basis for an inclusive, tolerant society.” I think this would be a more interesting and positive way to teach US history. What do you think?
I think we all know why the myth persists. This might be wishful thinking but maybe Peter Manseau’s new book One Nation, Under Gods will persuade some who are not familiar with the history that this is not a Christian nation. Here is an excerpt from Laura Miller’s review of the book:
“The Pilgrims might have all called themselves Christians, but some differences among them were seen by their theocratic leaders as profound threats to the spiritual survival of the community. Both Williams and Hutchinson were cast out and created communities of their own. There was literally never a point in the history of the colonies or the U.S. when all or most Americans genuinely shared the same faith. ‘The true gospel of the American experience,’ Manseau writes, ‘is not religious agreement but dissent.’”