The Editor’s View: Nice Try

I have great news for you: Anti- ]Catholicism is a myth, a scheme cooked up by religious conservatives to deflect criticism away from themselves. At least that’s what prominent “freethinker” Susan Jacoby believes. She wrote as much in a March 14 column on the Newsweek/Washington Post Web log:

The idea that anti-Catholicism is a significant force in American life today is a complete canard, perpetrated by theologically and politically right-wing Roman Catholics—a minority among the Catholic laity—and aimed at anyone who stands up to the Church’s continuing attempts to impose its values on all Americans.

The claim that only “right-wing Roman Catholics” are offended by attacks on the Faith is ridiculous—a few conversations with the everyday faithful should expose that readily enough.

Ah yes, but Jacoby has a response to that. Apparently, we’ve just been a little oversensitive; the “anti-Catholic attacks” are really just instances of constructive criticism. “What really upsets the Catholic Right is not discrimination but disagreement,” she writes.

Do some people make fun of certain Catholic beliefs and say things that the Church would find offensive? Of course. . . . Depending on your point of view, these jokes reflect prejudice, skepticism about religious belief in general, or bad taste. What they do not constitute is discrimination.

That’s a nice trick. Mention to Jacoby an item off the laundry list of grotesqueries hurled at the Church and she’ll dismiss it as an isolated instance of prejudice or poor humor. So long as you deal with each episode on its own, you can ignore the bigger reality.

Given her positions and tone, Jacoby likely considers the Catholic Church anti-woman and anti-gay. Indeed, she claims, “The church has still not given up trying to force its version of morality on other Americans.” But that is precisely what Jacoby and her ilk are doing—attempting to impose their secular, anti-religious values onto the most religious nation in the developed world. If polls show that a majority of Americans oppose the Church’s position on embryonic stem cell research, they also show that Americans reject Jacoby’s secularist agenda by an even greater margin. So which party is guilty of strong-arming America?

As hard as she tries, Jacoby’s argument isn’t terribly convincing. Catholics are offended by attacks on our Faith because we don’t like to see that which we hold sacred ridiculed or threatened. As an atheist, Jacoby believes herself above such things. But while she has no God to worship in the heavens, there are surely plenty of earthly realities she holds close. I have a feeling that if abortion were made illegal tomorrow, she’d react with all the indignation she sees in Catholics. Attacks tend to reveal the things we cherish.

A final point: New York City shock-jock Don Imus was fired last month for making a racist and sexist remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. But that was hardly his first offense. Imus had a long history of anti-Catholic remarks on his show— including a regular bit where he would impersonate Edward Cardinal Egan and spew vulgarity. And yet there was no great public outcry, no protests, no broad calls for his removal.

The problem here isn’t that Catholics get offended, but that our offense isn’t treated with the same attention and respect afforded other groups. Two standards are in play— one for Catholics and one for everyone else. And that, Ms. Jacoby, is called discrimination.


  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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