The Last Remaining Prejudice? Not Hardly!

You sometimes hear Catholics express the opinion that anti-Catholicism is the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice in America.

For example, in a recent piece defending Archbishop Dolan, James Farrell of Irish Central writes:

Archbishop Timothy Dolan has come out swinging against The New York Times, accusing it of anti-Catholic bias in two recent articles.

He is right.

Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice it seems to me in America. If the same comments that were made about Catholic religious figures were aimed at Rabbis, immams [sic] or Dali Lamas there would be widespread outrage.

The substance of what Farrell says is quite true, and I’m glad to see him stepping up and adding his voice to Archbishop Dolan’s. You can read Archbishop Dolan’s original piece here.

Nevertheless, the claim that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in America is incorrect.

It is certainly true that people publicly say things about Catholics they would never say, for example, about religious groups like Jews or Muslims—or about particular racial or ethnic groups.

It’s also understandable that many Catholics would perceive anti-Catholicism as the last remaining prejudice since it may be the only one they personally experience, the only one many of them feel.

And, indeed, anti-Catholicism does have a long history of social acceptance in the United States, as illustrated by the accompanying 19th century cartoon by Thomas Nast, which features one of his trademark ape-like Irishmen carving open the goose that laid the golden egg (the Democratic Party), to the delight of an avaricious priest.

But anti-Catholicism is far from being the last socially acceptable prejudice in America.

What are some others?

To a degree, it depends on what you mean by “socially acceptable.” What’s acceptable in one social circle is not acceptable in another, and there are degrees to the phenomenon of social acceptability. If you define your group small enough, you can find some social circle in which it is acceptable to say any arbitrary thing you want. If you define your group large enough, you’ll find someone in it who will object to the same arbitrary thing.

Nevertheless, it is possible to find prejudices that are given voice, without immediate censure, in a wide range of contexts, both private and public.

For instance, there is anti-Evangelicalism/anti-Fundamentalism. This is hostility towards conservative Protestantism. Many Catholics tend not to be aware of this prejudice because they are not the object of this kind of hostility, but those of us who are converts from conservative Protestantism have vivid memories of the way the press and other elements in modern culture would mock and look down upon our beliefs.

For us the equivalent of the priestly pedophilia scandal was the 1980s televangelism meltdown. The televangelists had always been an embarrassment to many of us, but they were the most visible faces of the movement, and when the financial and sexual scandals erupted, we were subject to the same kind of searing public criticism that the Catholic Church would be subject to a few years later.

Then there is the more general anti-organized-religion prejudice that is hostile toward anybody who takes their faith seriously, or at least anyone who takes a western religion seriously. You can find this among the people who say that they are not religious but “spiritual” and from militant atheists like Dawkins and his crowd.

And, if we want to be frank, there are some anti-Muslim sentiments that get expressed in America without being automatically censured. (I’m talking actual, undue hostility toward Muslims as a group, not prudent caution—though this is far less than the raging anti-Americanism and anti-Christianism harbored in the worldwide Islamic community.)

Prejudice in America goes beyond religion, though.

That will be the subject of our next post.

What are your thoughts?