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A reader wants to know what to do…

Monday, January 28, 2013 1:01 AM Comments (68)

...about casual anti-Catholicism. He writes:

Like many Catholics, I have found myself in a situation where many of the people in my circles of friendly acquaintance are *not* Catholic or practicing Christians; they are decent people and will certainly go to the wall to help people they like, sympathize with or share principles with, but they are inevitably products of a secular or lapsed-Christian worldview and see nothing wrong with the Culture of Sex and Death that I have to refuse to support or agree with.  As a result, what I often find myself enduring in their company is nothing so grand as active persecution (I will not use that word for this in the face of what the Copts are suffering in Egypt), but rather a constant flow of a certain benignly dismissive contempt--none of it personally meant and little of it consciously deliberate, but varying in its effect on me from squirming discomfort to intense pain nonetheless.  Yet to call them on their behaviour with enough vehemence to drive home to them the scope of what they're doing would only bewilder them at best, since I honestly believe they genuinely do not grasp why what they are saying would hurt me, or alienate and anger them at worst, since they would feel themselves unjustly retaliated against for an offense they truly consider to be no big deal--especially should I do so in a social setting, ruining everyone's enjoyment for what may be nothing more than, and may certainly seem to *them* like nothing more than, my wounded pride.  I don't want such call-downs to take the form of an outburst of anger anyway, as this seems like neither the right Christian spirit nor the most likely to be effective tactic; yet the more insulted, belitted and demeaned I feel, the harder it is to maintain that serenity.  (Being white, straight, male and Catholic means I will also have absolutely *no* sympathy from anybody on the grounds of pointing out that they would not speak of any other identifiable group this way.)

What do you do when you want to ask for more consideration from your acquaintances about your beliefs, but to ask gently enough that it doesn't create disruptive backlash and hostility is to speak too lightly to make them grasp your point, yet to demand forcefully enough to make them understand how hurt you are is to speak so strongly it will only anger them?  How does one make anti-Catholic colleagues realize they're being anti-Catholic, especially when that anti-Catholicism is something they're not even really conscious of (and you're afraid to find out that they'd actually defend it as a principle if you did make them realize it)?

I think you are right to take the attitude of "Compared to real persecution, this is nothing" and to quash any temptation to feed feelings of anger or bitterness.  Mark Twain said, "Never attribute to malice what can be sufficiently explained by stupidity."  That line, funny as it is, is not quite fair in this case because your work mates are not stupid (necessarily) but simply oblivious.  They've drunk in, as have most Americans, the casual post-Christian anti-Catholicism of American culture and simply regurgitate it as pseudoknowledge that all normal people accept.  The trick, therefore, is to introduce them--brightly, cheerfully, and without the stench of victimism--to the fact that most of what they "know" is wrong, that Catholics are remarkably like human beings, and that they achieve this feat, not by perpetually apologizing for their faith ("I mean, I'm Catholic, but I'm not extreme about it and certainly don't go for all that stuff those dusty old bishops say") but by quietly and happily showing how, on a day to day basis, Catholic faith informs your life and makes it more human.

One fine way to begin doing this, of course, is to be visible about your faith,  We are an incarnational Church and so there are lots of tchotchkes and knick knacks (holy medals, rosaries, images of Jesus, Mary, saints, etc) you can adorn yourself or your office with to fly your flag.  In conservations, you can quietly correct casually bigoted remarks with actual Church teaching with the attitude, not that these people are enemies, but with the happy assumption that, when they find out what the Church actually teaches about X, it's really quite interesting and rich.  Also, don't be afraid to make clear the ambiguities and grey areas and I-don't-knows, since the Church is not a Police State where that which is not forbidden is compulsory (as many postmoderns imagine).  In short, live out loud a bit and see what the response is. 

Generally, the visible presence of Jesus, even in the smallest degree, prompts both fascination and revulsion.  Let the Holy Spirit handle the revulsed.  It's not your job to fix them.  Meanwhile, just quietly speak the truth in love as best you can.  You'll be surprised to see that quite a number of people will have their consciousness raised about their former unwitting bigotry once it dawns on them that you are Catholic and take your faith seriously.  There's usually not need to get angry and play the victim card.  Indeed, the victim card is something I counsel wounded Catholics against playing, because it is usually a worldly weapon of guilt manipulation, not a real appeal to justice. Those addicted weilding it as a meat cleaver to chop all conversation off at the knees and create a climate of Fear of Offense typically wind up creating a climate of resentment against the guilt manipulator.  Such people are usually in need of Insensitivity Training, not of kowtowing deference to their hyper-sensitivities.  Catholics should not imitate them and become one more grievance group. Jesus doesn't tell his apostles to go into the world with a chip on their shoulder about the injustice of it all.  He warns them of persecution and tells them to rejoice.  We should take that attitude.  Half the fun of being Catholic is of belonging to a weird and subversive subculture that the world, by definition, will never understand.  It's like being hipster, only you get to be happy and joyful about it instead of cynical and blase.

Hope that helps!

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About Mark Shea

Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.