If you were to ask the Joe on the street “Which is the most hated/persecuted/marginalized religious group in the world?” you would probably get a range of different answers, depending upon the interviewee’s political orientation(s).
People leaning towards the left would most likely say, “Islam. Islamophobia is a big problem in the West. Definitely.” Others leaning towards the right would probably say “The Jews. They have suffered the most and even now, Israel is under threat from Islamic fundamentalists. We must stand with Israel.” In India, it would probably be, “The Hindus! Just look at the Kashmiri Pandits.”
And I don’t deny that each of these groups has suffered immensely in the past. I sympathise strongly with anyone who has been persecuted or discriminated against in the secular sphere on the basis of their race, religion, economic status or sex. It goes without saying that I condemn all forms of religious bigotry. But in my humble opinion, neither Islam nor Judaism can claim the title. In my mind, the most hated religion in the world today is Catholic Christianity.
I know. It sounds strange. But spare me the incredulous look, because I am just about to back up my claims with extraordinarily strong evidence. But before I do that, let me tell you my story.
I myself was raised in the Hindu community, but after a decade-long search for the truth, I lost faith in the faith of my forefathers. I am now making my way across to Christianity, and in all likelihood, I will end up either Roman Catholic or in Eastern Orthodoxy. I have studied more religions and denominations than I can remember – from the Ahl-e-Hadith (and the lesser known Ahl-e-Qur’an) to the long-extinct Zurvanism – and I will soon begin an undergraduate degree in Theology at the University of Oxford.
My friends, I can testify with all my heart that there is no religious group that is more maligned, slandered and attacked in popular culture than the Catholic Church.
Each and every worldview is built upon some major controlling narrative or the other. Modern society is the offspring of three great ideological uprisings in the past, all of which are overtly and vehemently anti-Catholic, either prominently or tangentially. You might have guessed two of them, but the third one may surprise you. I am speaking of the Enlightenment, the Protestant Reformation and the rise of Marxism. Now let’s consider their controlling narratives one by one.
The world had great and immense potential since the evolution of the homo sapiens. A great example of this was Europe, which in the classical world was a great hub of learning, philosophy, art, and science. Great thinkers and minds arose who tirelessly “stretched forward their hands towards perfection” in Greece and Rome. All of this was happening – until the rise of Christianity, the most intolerant branch of which is the Catholic Church. Led by the theocratic impositions of Constantine, the Catholic Church brought all of Europe under their tyrannical captivity. Superstition reigned; science was stifled; the freedom of the heart was curbed; man was put into chains. The growth and progress of Europe were stunted… until the great Renaissance dawned upon mankind, and Europe was reborn – a phoenix rising from the ashes. The captivity of Rome was overthrown and the great continent emerged, to build its future on its own.
The Protestant Reformation
In the beginning, Christ and the Apostles built up the Church and commanded them to preach the Gospel far and wide. All was going well… but over the centuries, slowly but gradually, pagan influence began to creep into the Church. Superstition and idolatry gradually came to cloud the Gospel, and eventually, it was lost for good! The situation was especially bad in Western Europe, where the Pope presided in the place of God, reigning down his ungodly tyranny upon the masses, chaining the Christian and denying him his rightful freedom. The Spirit of God departed for a while from the pagan Roman church… until at last, the seeds laid by the great martyrs Wycliffe and Hus bore fruit, and the heroes of the faith – Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin – emerged. These luminaries showed us the path and helped us break the chains of Roman tyranny. The Reformation was a glorious cleansing of the church, and countless souls were freed from the captivity of the Roman harlot.
History is marked primarily by class-struggle. From ages past, the privileged (the haves) have oppressed the have-nots. A prime example of this is seen in the decadent, superstitious Catholic Church. This is an organisation that has promoted colonialism (the Crusades being a great example) and continues to have an authoritarian patriarchal structure of clericalism and privilege that oppresses the common man. To this day, the Pope and his henchmen participate in the oppression of the masses, by opposing abortion, contraception and denying women equality by not ordaining them to the priesthood. This organisation must change, or perish. The common people must arise out of the chains of this tyranny!
Now, if you have been studying the three movements I describe, you will quickly see that absolutely nothing I have written is an exaggeration. For example, if you are acquainted with Protestant polemical literature (as I am), you will notice that many of the terms I have used – “Roman harlot”, “Roman [Babylonian] captivity”, “freedom of the Christian”, “chains of bondage and superstition”, “false gospel”, etc. – are not mine, but the exact terms used by Protestants to this day!
Notice also, another thing: though these movements all originated in Europe, they have since then been widely disseminated. There are more than 900 million Protestants around the world (almost an eighth of the world population). The philosophy of the Enlightenment has spread around the globe as well, as evidenced by the fact that most of the countries in the world are (or, at least, claim to be) liberal secular democracies. And, of course, Marxism has claimed the most populous country in the world as its own and continues to have a loud presence around the world (particularly among the students and youth).
Is it just me? Am I just seeing it this way because I myself strongly lean RC? (Well, technically, I began leaning RC after I saw its theology being vastly misrepresented and slandered in Protestant fundamentalist circles on the internet). But it’s not just me by any stretch of the imagination.
Here is what pro-life activist, journalist and Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro had to say at a conference in Dana Point, CA: “Unfortunately, the attacks [by radical leftists] on Catholics have come first and foremost […] It’s really fascinating to watch, not just from a Jewish perspective. Usually, we’re the first on the hit list. Now it’s you guys.” Shapiro went on to note several instances of anti-Catholic prejudice in the popular media. But one could also note the attitude of contempt several Democrat politicians displayed towards conservative Catholicism as we see, for example, US Senator Diane Feinstein’s bluntly stated to the Catholic judicial nominee Amy Barrett, “The dogma lives loudly within you”.
But what about the historical data? Don’t they prove that the Catholic Church is, indeed, so to speak, “guilty as charged”? Not so, says non-Catholic sociologist, University of California Berkeley scholar and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rodney Stark, who has written many books on Christian history, including several defending Catholicism from what he says as unfounded attacks and slanderous misrepresentations. Among his many works are God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, Reformation Myths and Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic Lies.
America, of course, is historically extremely anti-Catholic. And with the worldwide dominance of American culture as well as the proliferation of American-style Evangelicalism, anti-Catholicism too has spread around the world. But don’t take my word for it.
Ryan Reeves is a Cambridge scholar and a professor of Church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, one of the eminent Protestant institutions in the USA. Several of his lectures are available on his YouTube channel (in my opinion, an invaluable contribution to public education). I highly recommend his lecture Catholics in America. In it, Reeves discusses how, historically, large sections of the Protestant population in America have always tried to, especially in the face of Catholic immigration, “slander and to mock and to lampoon Catholics, in an effort to demoralize and ideally to get them to convert to Protestantism”. (Since Professor Reeves is teaching at a well-respected Protestant institution, I will similarly assume that he is a Protestant and has no dog in this fight.) He goes on to discuss historically famous instances of anti-Catholic propaganda, including the ghost-written 18th century bestseller autobiography of “Maria Monk”, which claimed to expose scandalous debauchery and immorality within Catholic convents, and which – according to Dr. Reeves - we now know to be a complete hoax.
Self-evidently, hatred against Catholics must change due to the simple social rule that one ought not to be persecuted for one’s beliefs. Here are three things which I think need to happen in order to help the situation change.
Firstly, people need to better appreciate and understand the Catholic Church’s rich and vibrant intellectual history, especially the glories of the Middle Ages - figures like Aquinas, Anselm, Ockham, Peter Abelard, Duns Scotus and so on.
Secondly, the anti-fideism of Catholic theology needs to be properly recognised as well (I’m looking at you, Christopher Hitchens). The doctrine of the interplay and complementary nature of faith and reason, popularised by Aquinas and officially adopted by the Catholic Church at the First Vatican Council, will only lead the devout Catholic to a deeper admiration of and respect towards the sciences, not a fear of them. Hence, we have great Catholic scientists like Gregor Mendel, George Lemaitre, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus and – of course – Nicolaus Copernicus (who, by the way, was respected and admired by several Catholic clergymen of his time, including Pope Clement VII). For example, on November 1, 1536, Cardinal Nikolaus von Schönberg, Archbishop of Capua, wrote to Copernicus expressing profound admiration, and requesting him to tell him more about his new cosmology.
Thirdly, people need to remember the mistakes made by Catholics in the past. Yes, Catholics are not, and have never been, perfect people. They have made mistakes, like any other group. We must not repeat the errors of antiquity, and we must remember and learn from them. But, at the same time, we must also recognise the fact that the Catholic hierarchy (I’m talking about folks like Popes John Paul II and Francis I) has publicly apologised for many of the past excesses and sought forgiveness for the same. An institution that is ready to own up to its mistakes in such a public manner shines a ray of hope for the world. And it is only such an attitude of humility, repentance, and desire to change that will help contemporary Catholics overcome the ecclesiastical abuses and errors of the modern world.
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