Thursday, September 16, 2010


“You can’t trust those people—they’re anti-American! They want to take over the country, and if we elect one of them President he’ll become the agent of the Antichrist to conquer us and try to impose their religion on us. We know he’s not really a Christian. We have to take a stand now!”

We can imagine (some who listen way too much to talk radio don’t have to imagine) folks saying exactly these things about President Obama and the proposal to have a Muslim community center near the site of the World Trade Center. But the words I’m using are only a summary paraphrase of words thrown at another group of Americans for much of the 19th and 20th centuries: Catholics.

It was widely believed that Al Smith, and later, John Kennedy, were most likely secret emissaries of the Pope, whose Vatican “legions” were ready to invade our shores (irrationally, some people somehow seemed to expect another Spanish Armada, this time directly from Rome). We are still regarded by some ultra-evangelical Protestants as not Christians. Even with the finessing of crucial speeches by Rev John Courtney Murray, SJ, Kennedy might well have lost the 1960 election had it not been for “creative bookkeeping” in election returns in Chicago (and, less famously, in Texas). People dreaded a Catholic in high office like they dreaded the apocalyptic four horsemen. Why?

Not only were they regarded as the vanguard of the Vatican and not Christian (“everybody” knows that Catholics are idol-worshipers), they were foreigners. They came from countries where English was not the primary language: Poland, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Lithuania, Portugal; or worse, they came from a country where English might have been spoken but whose people were chronically despised—Ireland.

If we contemplate standing in condemnation of a race or nation or religion, fostering misunderstanding and malice, we need to see our own history in the mirror—we who are Catholics, and we who are Protestants as well. What is the heritage of anti-foreign xenophobia in our country? What can we do to combat its irrational grip on people’s hearts? These are not trivial questions, and I do not propose simple solutions. I do think we need to think, and to pray…


  1. What I find really interesting is that we are doing exactly what was done after the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor in 1941. We interred all the Japanese in camps (ostensibly for their own protection) due to the fears of the populace. The parallels are striking and scary to say the least. Will we ever learn from history? Oh sorry, silly me, postmoderns don't need history.

  2. The difference being is that Catholics, or other (foreigners??) weren't killing innocent people by the thousands, and beheading leaders of other religions, nor was there a call for something similar to a call to a jihad against other religions/peoples. (I am referring to a period after the Native American genocide) I'm not saying we should fear people simply because they look different, or their religion is different, but we must be vigilant, and stay tuned to those that do want to harm us, whether it's a small minority, or not. It is not a matter of IF, but WHEN, we will be attacked again. I don't see this being the same as a xenophobe, or the like, just rationalism based on past actions, and not so far in the past. I truly do not see the comparison.

  3. Unless you are implying that Americans who are Muslim are also terrorists/jihadists, anonymous, I fail to see your critique of my analogy. Anti-American feeling in the USA was largely brought by English who were convinced that Catholics were indeed terrorists (the Gunpowder Plot of 1605). In any event, the language is the issue--we say about Muslims what was said about Catholics (rightly or wrongly, in either case).

  4. I'm not saying they are (all) terrorists, and I'm not saying that some (American Muslims) are not (terrorist)sympathizers. Why don't they speak up more, when atrocities are committed in the name of Islam? Then perhaps simpletons like myself might begin to think that there are some that don't believe in violence in the name of allah.

  5. We live in The United States of Hypocrisy.

    "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!...
    unless, of course, you're a different color than me, from a different place than my ancestors, or practice a different religion than me. If this doesn't apply to you, welcome."

    Leaders say,” We’re all about individual freedoms... All men are created equal... Blah blah blah... This message was paid for the committee to elect (enter any name from any party here)" Then they want to listen to a certain groups calls, read a certain groups emails, check a certain groups immigration status, or put a disproportional amount of a certain group on the no fly list.

    Judges will also make public spectacles of themselves to put the Ten Commandments in a courtroom. What would the reaction be if a judge wanted to post the Five Pillars of Islam in a courtroom? What would be the percentage of support vs. uproar?

    Some very vocal "patriotic Americans" will put themselves in front of every camera that will hit record and vilify the Muslims for wanting to build a mosque near the former site of The World Trade Center. In the same breath, they will condemn the Muslims for a lack of gratitude when we freed them from their oppressive regimes. They believe Islam is a religion of hate. Why?

    "How can they still hate us after the hundreds of Ground Zeroes we built next to their mosques? The nerve of them."