Friday, July 10, 2009

Defense of Scott and Kimberly Hahn's Use of "Anti-Catholic" in Their Testimony Book, "Rome Sweet Home"

By Dave Armstrong (7-10-09)

"Pilgrimsarbour" is a friendly Reformed Christian whom I encountered in the last few days. He asked my opinion about a review he wrote, of Rome Sweet Home. It was a remarkably complimentary review, coming from a Protestant. His main criticism had to do with the use of anti-Catholic in the book. Here is that portion (about 40% of the whole thing) from the review:
Aside from some important differences in doctrine, which are to be expected, Protestants will struggle with the use of the term anti-Catholic. This loaded term with its accompanying connotations appears often throughout the book, and is applied liberally to both Protestants who express negative personal feelings toward Catholics, and Protestants who merely disagree about doctrine, without qualification or distinction. Even Peter Kreeft, on the first page of his introduction to the book says, "I would hate to be an anti-Catholic in debate against these two!" A similar phenomenon can be readily seen in the general culture today, especially in the political realm. For example, conservatives who disagree with the current pending immigration legislation (McCain-Kennedy) which provides amnesty for millions of illegal aliens are told, even by the President, that they are "anti-immigration bigots who hate Mexicans." The purpose of this kind of language in the culture is to shut down dialogue with those who hold opposing viewpoints by making them feel ashamed of their choices and attitudes. There is never a discussion on the merits of their arguments. The word racist has become meaningless since all whites are to be considered racist, without regard to personal attitudes and behaviours. The problem for Catholics is that there are real anti-Catholics online and out there in the world, just as there are real racists. But painting all Protestants with such a broad brush renders the term anti-Catholic as meaningless as the word racist. It's not until the conclusion of the book that the Hahns adopt the neutral term non-Catholics, so it can be done. But it's difficult to understand why such obviously intelligent people would choose language guaranteed to alienate the Protestant reader. Additionally, there is no equivalent use of the term anti-Protestant in apologetics or in the blogs, although that attitude can frequently be found. In any case, the Catholic bloggers have taken hold of this term with a vengeance and are on the precipice of making it meaningless for the purposes of constructive dialogue. The new Catholic apologists are a force to be reckoned with. But if Catholics want to persuade Protestants of the beauty of the Catholic Church, they would do well to drop this "persecuted victim" approach in favour of something much more neutral, if not positively conciliatory.
Today, he further clarified:
The points I was trying to make were:

1) a lament for a declining precision in the English language in general, (hence the rant on the word "racist,") and

2) the inappropriate use (in my view) of the term "anti-Catholic." I felt at the time that it was being used indiscriminately to include anyone who disagreed with the RCC, and not only those who spoke rudely and disparagingly about it. I guess I took it personally because I was trying very hard to hold my convictions but with charity and some measure of conciliation.

It seemed an unfair and very broad brush, and I thought it was a tactic being used to deliberately shut down dialogue, much as that tactic is commonly used throughout society today.

(10 July 2009)
I looked through the book, so that I could form an opinion about this. Here is my response:

* * * * *

Hi Pilgrim,

I just finished scanning the Hahn book for uses of "anti-Catholic." You wrote in your review:
Protestants will struggle with the use of the term anti-Catholic. This loaded term with its accompanying connotations appears often throughout the book, and is applied liberally to both Protestants who express negative personal feelings toward Catholics, and Protestants who merely disagree about doctrine, without qualification or distinction.
I did not find this to be the case at all, and so I wonder how you got this impression. I don't see that the Hahns used the term any differently than I do myself, and you seemed to accept my take on it. Let me give several relevant examples (all Scott Hahn quotes unless indicated as Kimberly's):
my anti-Catholicism sprang from a zeal for God and a charitable desire to help Catholics be Christians.

(p. 6)
[Catholics aren't Christians: classic anti-Catholicism; he is talking about his own past views, not all Protestants, by any stretch]
I wasn't anti-Catholic in a bigoted way -- I was anti-Catholic by conviction.

(p. 7)
[shows that he is not using the word as a synonym for "bigotry" -- what we are often accused of -- since for him the category is much bigger than that, and includes sincere "conviction"]
Among the Presbyterian students, we [he and Gerry Matatics] were the only ones stalwart enough in our anti-Catholicism to believe the Westminster Confession ought to retain a line most reformed people were willing to drop: the Pope is the Antichrist.

(p. 25)
[He is distinguishing his extreme position even from most Presbyterians, let alone Protestants as a whole, thus showing again that he is making the necessary distinctions of category]
Dr. John Gerstner . . . Calvinist theologian with strong anti-Catholic convictions . . . the Roman Catholic Church, which he referred to as "the synagogue of Satan."

(pp. 70-71)
[shows again that anti-Catholicism is an extreme position, to describe Catholics in this fashion; not the position of all Protestants]

Scott, after all, had been anti-Catholic -- he had thought one could not be a thoughtful Christian and remain Roman Catholic. I, on the other hand, had had a more balanced approach -- Catholics can be Christians, . . .

(pp. 80-81)
[provides a concise definition of how they are using the term: Catholics aren't Christians. Again it shows that they are not using it of all Protestants indiscriminately. Kimberly had many strong, vociferous objections to Catholicism, as I did, from the same position as hers. So clearly, the use of "anti-Catholic" in the book is not a synonym for "all disagreement with Catholicism."]
Close friends became distant . . . The irony was that, not so long ago, I had been far more anti-Catholic than any of them. In fact, most of them did not regard themselves as being anti-Catholic in any way . . .

(p. 97)
[distinction again made between anti-Catholic and ecumenical Protestants]
the toughest brand of anti-Catholic either of us had ever come across before, the ex-Catholic fundamentalist . . . To them I was demon-possessed, so they urged Kimberly not even to listen, since Satan was using me to lure her with his lies. . . . anti-Catholic fundamentalists who were concerned for my salvation . . .

(pp. 122-123)
[Catholics aren't Christians: they're dupes of Satan; need to be saved: hardly a broad, indiscriminate definition]

When, on the other hand, they are referring to Protestants across the board, they use the broader, all-inclusive "non-Catholics" -- as on p. 179. And they are very complimentary:
they do far more with less than many Catholics who have the fullness of Faith in the Church but who are famished and fast asleep.
The glowing way in which Kimberly describes her Presbyterian upbringing (pp. 8-11) clearly shows what they both think of the great majority of Protestants who are not anti-Catholic.

As for Peter Kreeft's remark that you cite: "I would hate to be an anti-Catholic in debate against these two!" -- it carries no necessary sweeping indications. All he was saying (in my take, anyway) was that it would be far more difficult to contend with Scott Hahn coming from an anti-Catholic position, than a standard Protestant position, because it is tougher to prove that Catholicism isn't Christian at all (the anti-Catholic position) than to engage in the usual battles about the papacy, Mary, etc.

Perhaps that explains (at least in part) why seven anti-Catholics turned me down when I wanted to debate the fundamental question of "what is Christianity?" with them.

* * * * *


Ken Temple said...

What happened to the "recent comments" thingy on the side bar?

doesn't show the recent comments.

Dave Armstrong said...

It comes in and out . . .

Ken Temple said...

now I see it. That was weird. It wasn't until I posted at the top article that it appeared. Interesting.

James Morris said...

Oh, I have finally achieved my goal of getting a new account.

Hope your Father is doing ok Dave,


Andrea said...

Well, maybe Scott Hahn wasn't planning to ofend anyone when using the term "Anti-Catholic". I read the book and I didn't get the impression he was applying that term to everybody. I just think he used this term to talk (in general) about someone that is against the Catholic Doctrine (or against the Catholic Church). Maybe there is not too many "Anti-Catholics" in USA, but in my country there is lots of them!

Andrea said...

Oh, and by the way, your defense of Scott Hahn's use of the term "Anti-Catholic" was brilliant!

Dave Armstrong said...

Why thank you!