‘The Last Acceptable Prejudice’

How to respond to attacks on the Catholic faith.

NEW YORK — As an anti-Islamic video allegedly fuels deadly unrest in northern Africa and the Middle East, and a 15-year-old exhibit mocking Jesus Christ reopens in New York, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) points out that Catholics are frequently the targets of anti-religious bigotry in art and popular media.

His organization condemns the violent Muslim reactions to The Innocence of Muslims, but spokesman Ibrahim Hooper wonders why Christians, and Catholics in general, don’t make more effort to peacefully defend against attacks on Jesus, Mary, the Eucharist and the Church.

"We’ve seen a crucifix in urine, elephant dung on Mary and The Last Temptation of Christ, and mockery of Jesus on TV has become common," said Hooper, a Muslim. "We oppose violence, but I would like to see Christians speak out more than they do about these insults. We all too often see Jesus mocked."

Ten years ago, Hooper’s organization began defending Christianity when it called upon the TV Guide Channel to pull a professional wrestling ad that portrayed Jesus gambling at a bar. Since then, it has often asked networks to stop mocking that which is sacred to Catholics and other Christians.

"The tasteless and insensitive portrayal of Jesus, peace be upon him, used in this commercial is an insult to the deeply felt beliefs of Muslim and Christian Americans," wrote Nihad Awad, CAIR’s executive director, in a letter to the TV Guide Channel in 2002.

Hooper believes anti-Catholic attacks in the media — the type that incite violence when directed at Islam — have become so common that most Americans don’t even notice them. Philip Jenkins detailed this prejudice in his 2003 book The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice.

"While we actively oppose violence, we also warn about going numb to anti-religious hostility directed at any religion," Hooper said.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said that if The Innocence of Muslims insults Islam, then a show titled American Horror Story: Asylum should equally outrage anyone who is genuinely concerned about anti-Catholic bigotry. The show will debut on FX on Oct. 17.

"It’s all about a sadistic Catholic nun and people who abuse and torture people in a Catholic asylum," Donohue said.

The Catholic League bought a $50,000 ad in The New York Times to criticize Comedy Central host Jon Stewart for a TV skit that featured a woman with a Nativity scene covering her private parts.

The organization has spoken out against comedians Penn and Teller for referencing Blessed Mother Teresa in an obscene manner. It has an exhaustive list on its website that illustrates the bold anti-Catholicism of Bill Maher, who has accused priests of raping nuns. Maher admits that he works for the demise of the Catholic Church because he believes it "is entirely destructive to the human race."

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about persecution of Catholics on May 11 to officials of Pontifical Mission Societies who were meeting in Rome. He explained that those who proclaim the Gospel "continue to be persecuted like their master and Lord" Jesus Christ.

"However, despite the problems and tragic reality of persecution, the Church does not get discouraged; it remains faithful to the Lord’s mandate," the Pope said, as reported by Catholic News Service.

The Pope explained that Christ’s message "can never give in to the logic of this world, because it is prophecy and liberation; it is the seed of a new humanity that grows, and only at the end of times will it come to full fruition."

Donohue points out that Christians are often forced to pay for and sponsor expressions that insult Jesus and Mary.

The latest example is the reappearance of "P--- Christ," a 1987 art exhibit that portrayed a crucifix in a jar of the artist’s urine. The depiction won an award that was sponsored and paid for by the federal government’s National Endowment for the Arts. It reopened in New York on Sept. 27, as part of an exhibit at the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery in Midtown Manhattan that runs through Oct. 26.

"Instead of getting plaudits from Washington and Hollywood for not getting violent, Christians get more abuse precisely because they do not react with violence," Donohue said. "It’s really a sick message, because it says: ‘As long as you don’t get violent and harm us, we will abuse you.’ We can’t seem to motivate them to respect us for living in peace."

Jimmy Akin, senior apologist for Catholic Answers, a San Diego-based Catholic apologetics organization, and a Register blogger, said Scripture warns Christians that they will suffer hostility and persecution for their beliefs. He quotes John 15:20, which states: "Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also."

Akin also quotes Matthew 5:39: "Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

"This advice is meant to be applied situationally. It does not mean that we need to be doormats or that we should not protest outrages against the faith," Akin said in an email to the Register. "We can use legitimate means to defund such outrages or refuse to do business with those who sponsor them. Ultimately, how to respond in a particular case is a judgment call. This is the point made by a couple of verses that are right next to each other in Proverbs."

Akin notes that Proverbs 26:4, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself," is followed directly by: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes."

Wayne Laugesen

writes from Colorado.

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