Futility: Explaining Anti-Catholicism to an Anti-Catholic

Futility: Explaining Anti-Catholicism to an Anti-Catholic September 24, 2020

Peter Pike is a Presbyterian. He has been a Reformed Christian since 1995. Some of his favorite theologians are John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, James White, Greg Bahnsen, and A. W. Pink. His words will be in blue.


Since everyone who disagrees with you is automatically an “anti-Catholic” can I just call you an “anti-Calvinist” from now on?

Jason Cebalo, a Catholic, replied:

sigh If you’d bother to read what Dave actually writes, he doesn’t call everyone who disagrees with him anti-Catholic. He quite frequently debates Protestants of various stripes without calling them anti-Catholic. The reason he calls Steve Hays an anti-Catholic is because Hays does not recognise Catholics as Christians. By this logic you can’t call Dave anti-Calvinist [because] he accepts Calvinists as brothers in Christ. You can however, call certain extreme-trads anti-Calvinist or anti-Protestant, but Dave is (rightly) very critical of their attitude.

I made a clear distinction between anti-Catholic and Protestant in a recent comment on Triablogue (as I’ve done probably 300 times by now in many many papers). I also did in the post under which these comments were written: “. . . your anti-Catholic view (not Protestantism per se, but only the fringe anti-Catholic aspect of a tiny group of Protestants) . . .” — italics in original.

So you say that Steve is anti-Catholic because he thinks that Roman Catholics are not Christian. And yet Steve has said:

Still, it is possible for a Catholic to be saved, unlike a Muslim or Mormon or other suchlike.


Unlike the other three, it is possible for a Roman Catholic to be saved.

And . . .:

But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for a Roman Catholic to be saved.

So it’s obviously the case that Steve does think there are some saved Catholics. He does not believe all Catholics are damned.

How then does he fit the charge that he’s an anti-Catholic, based on your own definition?

That’s got nothing to do with it, because anti-Catholicism is the belief that the Catholic system is not Christian: the theology, not the individual person. He says that is “apostate.”

If an individual Catholic is saved (in this mentality), it is despite Catholic teachings, not because of them (that’s precisely why he has to play games with my own case and make out that I am either ignorant or opposed to teachings of my own Church). That’s classic anti-Catholic belief: most anti-Catholic apologists I’m aware of (e.g., White, Svendsen) think this way.

Would you not agree that any Calvinists who are saved are saved despite Calvinism?

We don’t think that way of Protestants. We think that they have errors and lack the “fullness,” but that saving grace is possible to obtain within Protestantism through baptism, Bible study, prayer, etc. We even believe that Protestant marriage is a sacrament. We say trinitarian Protestants are fully deserving of the title “Christian” and are members of the Body of Christ just as they are.

It’s a matter of “very good” and “best” rather than “bad” vs. “good”.

[responding to someone else] I doubt that it is any less offensive for you to call me an anti-Catholic than it is for me to say you might possibly be saved in Catholicism.

The term anti-Catholic is extremely loaded and prejudicial. You speak as if the Protestant side is equating it to a racial comment; but that is exactly what you do with your anti-Catholic terms too.

I can just as easily say that anyone who uses the term anti-Catholic deserves no more of a hearing than a KKK member too.

* * *

You are correct that you have not called me such; Dave Armstrong, however, has called me an anti-Catholic before (although I doubt he remembers it — we had a discussion on Kerry Gillard’s e-mail list back in 1998 or 1999).

In any case, the Council of Trent anathematized me when it said in Canon 9 (among others, which need not be quoted at this point):

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

I do believe in justification by faith alone based on God’s eternal election. Indeed, this is the very heart of Calvinism. So am I to suppose you consider me to be an anathematized Christian? (How, exactly, would that work?) Or do you disagree that the Council of Trent was authoritatively binding?

But here is the thing to consider. I believe Justification is the heart of the Gospel. Furthermore, Trent has anathematized my position. Therefore, Catholicism has pronounced a curse on what I believe is the heart of the Gospel. In what way could I consider an institution that curses the heart of the Gospel to be Christian?

Does this make me an anti-Catholic, or does it just make me a consistent Protestant?

* * *

Dave, after all, cannot answer my specific question: “Would you not agree that any Calvinists who are saved are saved despite Calvinism?” He knows that if he says “Yes” to it, then he must by his own definition be an anti-Calvinist; but if he answers “No” to it then he is agreeing that Calvinism is true.

But Layne, you typify the problem with using the term “anti-Catholic.” It’s a convenient label that lets you avoid all discourse. It’s like saying, “Oh, you don’t have to listen to CalvinDude. He’s an anti-Catholic. Why bother answering his questions? He’s a blinded bigot.”

If it makes it easier for you, go for it. It’s not going to ruin my day any.

* * *

All I have said is that the point that I consider to be the heart of the Gospel, Justification by Faith Alone, is specifically cursed by the Council of Trent.

Apparently, you consider adherence to the Trinity and baptism in Christ to be the heart of the Gospel.

At this point, I can say we disagree; yet I have not anathematized your position, like Trent has mine. At this point, the furthest I would go is to say that not knowing your view of Justification, I would have to be agnostic towards whether you are saved or not. I would not necessarily conclude you are damned.

Trent, on the other hand, doesn’t give me this option.

I do wonder why you guys don’t follow Trent here if you consider it an authoritative Council.

You said:

Dave makes it a point not to argue with people who do not accept the Catholic Church as a Christian Institution, and that’s why he has not answered you.

That might be the excuse he uses, but the bottom line is that answering the question in either way is bad for him (as I demonstrated above), so the only thing he can do is ignore it.

The truth of the matter is that I didn’t, of course, ignore it at all. Pike seemed to have thought there was too long of a gap in my answering, so he concluded that I either couldn’t answer or was too scared to, or both. He asked the question at 1:45 PM, by the time in the comments. It so happened that this day a very good friend came by, who lives out of town (Protestant, by the way), and we always play chess, so I was delayed a bit.

Pike stated twice in the interim that I couldn’t answer his question and so had to ignore it. But nevertheless, despite the company, I did reply to the question by 7:43 PM, a little under six hours later (when my friend was playing chess with my youngest son). So much for Pike’s prognostications. Nor was this supposedly tremendously difficult question all that hard to answer.

* * *

Would you not agree that any Calvinists who are saved are saved despite Calvinism?

Whoever is saved is saved by the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on his behalf. The dispute here is: what is Christian and what isn’t, and on what basis?

Trent condemned the absolute separation of faith and works. I don’t see that even John Calvin did that. He thought (and so do most Calvinists) that one is saved by “faith alone” but not a faith that is alone and that any saving faith will necessarily show forth the works that will inevitably flow from it if indeed it is true saving faith. [see: John Calvin: Good Works Manifest True Saving Faith (9-4-08) ]

So there is your cooperation with God; hence that aspect of Calvinism was not, I believe, condemned by Trent. I think what is condemned there is more like the extreme faith alone position that John MacArthur opposed in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus (i.e., the opposite of Lordship salvation). But that is not classic “Reformation” teaching: it is Anabaptistic or Baptist thinking (even then, one must look at the particular strain of Baptist theology).

For the 753rd time: “anti-Catholic” is currently in use by hundreds of scholars: by historians and sociologists and various religious scholars. If you don’t like my use of it, take it up with them. My use is entirely consistent, but it is James White and Eric Svendsen who apply double standards, since they object to “anti-Catholic” while they freely use “anti-Calvinist” and “anti-Reformed.”

“Why bother answering his questions? He’s a blinded bigot.”

My use does not necessarily imply any such thing at all. It simply means “one who denies that the Catholic theological system, or the Church, is a Christian institution.” Period.

Now, it does seem that many who are anti-Catholics do have a personally bigoted view of Catholics (from my long experience and how I myself have been treated by such folks), but the word itself does not include bigotry as part of its definition at all.

I am anti-abortion, anti-homosexual “marriage”, anti-feminism, anti-liberalism, anti-terrorist. I’m not bigoted against any of the people who advocate these things. The homosexual activists, for example, would like to make out that being opposed to their lifestyle on moral grounds is bigotry, but of course you and I both know it is not.

The anti-Catholic’s main problem is colossal ignorance and a blind spot a mile wide. He starts with false assumptions, relentlessly builds upon them, and will accept no correction, no matter how minor. And his view is viciously self-defeating.

I wouldn’t compare anti-Catholics (not most of them today) to the KKK at all; my comparison would be to those who believe in a flat earth or the man in the moon. It’s not a matter of intelligence, but of gullibility and acceptance of false premises through environment, denominational requirement, etc.

The leading anti-Catholics are not unintelligent men. White, Svendsen, Hays, are all very intelligent. But intelligence itself is no particular indicator of a person holding a true or cogent position or not.

Here is one example from a scholar. James Davison Hunter, who is one of the leading Protestant sociologists of religion of our time, from his book, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, New York: HarperCollins, 1991:

[A]lthough much of the anti-Catholic hostility was born out of economic rivalry and ethnic distrust, it took expression primarily as religious hostility — as a quarrel over religious doctrine, practice, and authority. (p. 71)

That is the extent of the exchange on my blog (at least as of the time of writing). Pike later made a post on his blog. It looks like it was probably written before my responses were made, so he’ll get cut slack for that. But after he reads my comments on the blog and these present ones, I expect to see a modification of his blog post or else the refusal to modify it according to the facts of the matter shall be duly noted here:

Ad Hominem and Other Various Catholic Things

I had almost forgotten the joy that is internet Catholic apologists. Then, I asked one simple question and get the full wrath of them brought upon me.

“Wrath”? “Full wrath” at that? There may have been a little friction, but hardly anything this melodramatic. You came in with guns blazing away, and asked a question that I have answered many times on my website, so a few people (including myself) pointed that out and expressed frustration. But I carefully answered your questions, after this blog post of yours was written.

And it wasn’t even a doctrinal issue.

It is doctrinal, insofar as the definition of anti-Catholic is inherently a doctrinal issue.

Dave Armstrong has this interesting habit of labeling everyone who disagrees with his view of Catholicism as an “anti-Catholic.”

This is wrong, and stupidly, ridiculously, ultra-frustratingly so. You said you had interacted with me as long as seven or eight years ago. Am I to believe that you have never seen my website, and that you are unable to seek out my answer to this question there, to spare us all the aggravation of going over the ABC’s? Others had already explained carefully to you that this is not the case; so did I in a line in the post about Steve Hays that you were commenting under.

So you have no excuse for this idiotic comment even on that basis alone. But if you would trouble himself to learn the slightest thing about someone you want to go after on his own blog, you could travel to my Anti-Catholicism page (one mouse click away from my blog on the top right sidebar), hit the link in the index for ” ‘Anti-Catholic’: Definitional and Terminological Controversies” and see that I have many papers on this general topic alone.

If you navigated my blog much at all, you could and certainly would quickly discover that anti-Catholics by no means make up all the Protestants that I dialogue with: not by a long shot.

All of this massive evidence is readily observable. The anti-Catholics I know show no more signs of understanding this rather simple distinction now than they did eleven years ago, when I had my long postal debate with James White, even before I went online.

So I asked: “Since everyone who disagrees with you is automatically an ‘anti-Catholic’ can I just call you an ‘anti-Calvinist’ from now on?”

Dave decided to first ignore that,

This question I didn’t intend to answer at first (I did later), and the reason was as I explained above: I have answered it so many times on my website, that it is almost an insult to even be asked it again. So someone else offered an answer. Big wow.

leaving it to Jason Cebalo to charge me with not reading anything Dave writes (yeah, that must be why I see how many people he calls anti-Catholic; because I’m not reading anything he writes).

Is it not reasonable to conclude that you have not done so, seeing that on the exact topic you asked me about, I have written seventeen papers, all listed together in their own category, on my Anti-Catholicism page? In fact, six of those are even on the topic of the terms anti-Calvinistanti-Reformed, etc. So I had already explained this. You claim you have read my stuff, you interacted with me as long as seven years ago, but you couldn’t locate any of those papers?What is so difficult about it, pray tell?

He claimed that Dave calls Steve Hays an anti-Catholic because Hays supposedly says Catholics aren’t Christian.

This despite Steve’s direct statements to the opposite that he does, indeed, view salvation as possible within Roman Catholicism.

I clarified exactly what I meant, so I expect this to be modified by you after having read my perfectly reasonable explanations (agree or disagree).

Thanks for showing so much consideration for my time and efforts that you couldn’t figure out my views on a topic after I reiterated them again, or by consulting any of my seventeen papers on the subject. But I’m a rude scoundrel (possibly expressing “full wrath” — as you described our replies) because I get fed up with repeating myself till I am blue in the face. I answered again anyway despite this frustration.

Armstrong continues:

I made a clear distinction between anti-Catholic and Protestant in a recent post on Triablogue (as I’ve done probably 300 times by now in many many papers).

Yet Dave’s “distinction” is this:

This distorts what I wrote, which was that Steve might reason himself out of anti-Catholicism, not Protestantism. The two are not identical. The vast majority of Protestants are not anti-Catholics.

But this doesn’t show us how Dave is distinguishing between the two. He is only mentioning that he does do so.

First of all, my many papers explain more in-depth. Go read them. Secondly, that remark alone is sufficient (no matter how much “distinguishing” it does) to put the lie to your claim that: “everyone who disagrees with you is automatically an “anti-Catholic”. To show that that is false, all I had to do was show that I don’t consider anti-Catholic a synonym of Protestant. In other words, plenty of Protestants “disagree” with me and I don’t label them “anti-Catholic” at all.

Therefore, this statement on Steve’s blog was more than adequate to refute your dumb claim about what I supposedly do and believe. I didn’t have to write a dissertation on it for you to know this. But if you want an in-depth examination, I offer plenty of that in my papers.

But we don’t know the inner workings of Dave Armstrong’s mind. How are we to know how he distinguishes between anti-Catholics and Protestants in general? The only thing we have are his words.

Indeed: hundreds of thousands of them out there on the Internet. So why are we discussing this at all? I’ve written on it literally for over ten years online. No one who knows how to read, knows the least thing about searching or clicking a mouse, or who knows the alphabet (to select in my list of topical pages on my sidebar), should be in the dark as to what I believe about this. If you had read anything on the topic that I wrote, you wouldn’t have asked the question; therefore, since you asked it, I concluded that you hadn’t read the stuff!

Based on other things he has written, it seems to boil down to this: if you object to anything Dave Armstrong says about Catholicism, you are an anti-Catholic; if you don’t say anything, you can still be a Protestant.

Is that so? I’d love to find out, then, what in the world of mine that you have read, to come to this asinine, ridiculous conclusion? Please, don’t keep us in suspense for a moment longer.

True Prots will just shut up and stay on the sidelines and not meddle with important folks, such as Dave Armstrong.

Is that why I have probably over a hundred dialogues with Protestants who aren’t anti-Catholics on the Internet? That really fits in with this downright stupid cardboard caricature of my alleged attitudes, doesn’t it?

What Armstrong and his followers don’t realize is that the term “anti-Catholic” is a very specifically designed term. It is their attempt to impute irrational bias onto the Protestant such that the Protestant is just a hate-filled, bitter person who is incapable of seeing the truth of Catholicism. Thus, he is forced to rage in his anti-Catholic pride, unable to see the light of reason.

That is not how I use it, as explained; this is not how many (Protestant) scholars use it, either.

[but remember, Pike’s comments here were written before I explained; again, let’s see if he modifies them; I’ll be monitoring his blog to see if he does or not. If he does, I’ll be happy to post any clarifying statements or retractions that he wants to make, alongside his original comments].

Armstrong never considers that maybe there are people who just disagree with him.

No kidding? Who’s the mind-reader now? You objected to someone doing that to you on my blog, and here you are making the most idiotic, ludicrous statements, that only make you look like an utter fool. I currently have 355 dialogues posted online! But it never occurred to me that people may disagree with me?! What planet do you live on?

No, if you disagree you must be disagreeing out of hateful spite. It must be because you’re an anti-Catholic, not because you’re confident of your own position.

Already dealt with above . . . Anti-Catholics are quite confident, just like anyone else. Ecumenical Protestants are quite confident. Of course; no big revelation there.

Calling someone an anti-Catholic is like calling someone an anti-Semite. The connotations are the same, and Armstrong fully knows that.

This is absolutely untrue.

Nor is Armstrong alone. He has much company in the internet realm of Catholic apologists.

And in the realm of Protestant historians and sociologists (per my papers linked above) . . .

If someone argues in a lousy way, that has nothing directly to do with me. There are plenty of people who use “anti-Catholic” in a wrong manner. I have written about that, too, and have those comments in my papers. I detest ad hominem attacks. I have written about this on many occasions. I criticize other Catholics when they need to be criticized. I have even specifically condemned personal attacks on Eric Svendsen and James White (I’ve done the latter several times and have paid him many compliments).

This is all a matter of public record. I even have a page devoted to links from James White that I agree with. Try to get him to link to anything I write, in a commendatory fashion, though!

Given recent history, the first Catholic response to this will be to say that I’m just a James White sycophant.

I don’t know who you are from Adam, so how would I know your history. I have no objection to your speaking out against personal attacks on White, because chances are I would agree with what you are saying myself. I’ve seen some of them and they are stupid and uncalled-for. There is a mountain of things wrong on White’s writings; why bother with personal stuff?

This despite the fact that White and I disagree on some very important issues (I, after all, am a Presbyterian, not a Reformed Baptist). No, I must be one of his mindless #pros drones (after all, I once was a constant feature in #prosapologian!). Thus, I am obviously just another one of those anti-Catholic, hate-mongerers . . . dismissed out of hand by the application of a stereotype that exists only in the minds of rabid anti-Calvinists, such as Dave Armstrong and his sycophants.

Think what you will. I think you are dead-wrong on this issue, but I make no accusations of hatred towards anyone.

I find it sad on both sides, actually. I would love to live in the idealistic dream-world where everyone listened to the strengths of the arguments instead of focusing on the personality of the proponent of the argument.

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Sometimes I think James White goes a little too far; but he’s downright restrained compared to the folks that write about him.

Perhaps, but he has a ton to account for as well in this regard. He gives out his share of personal attacks. I was accused of “hating” him myself simply because a friend of mine did a take-off on one of the caricatures of him that is on his blog. Have you seen all the bilge that anti-Catholics have written about me? White thinks he is attacked a lot? I’ll guarantee I can match his attacks. I’ve been called everything under the sun (and he himself is one of my most vicious, slanderous critics; utterly obstinate despite countless corrections of his errors of fact).

And White, at least, doesn’t say something without the ability to back it up with examples (thus, even when he engages in ad hominem (which is nowhere near as often as folks like Armstrong claim), his statements are still factually true). This is not the case in reverse.

I think many of the criticisms of him are ridiculous, but White has guilt in a different sense, because he knows better when he goes after people. He knows (judging by his condemnations when others do it) it isn’t right, but does it anyway.

Frankly, the state of internet Roman Catholic apologists is one of the best arguments against their position that I can think of.

You can make general statements (that are impossible to disprove by their nature) if you like. I have shown that the specific statements about my views that you have made are inaccurate, and inexcusably, outrageously so. If you are honest, and are reading this paper, your responsibility under God is to make the necessary corrections, in light of my explanations. If you don’t, then I’ll have no choice but to conclude that you wish to deliberately misrepresent me, and why anyone would want to do such a thing is for them to analyze and ponder in their own mind.


(originally posted on 9-21-06)

Photo credit: Cubmundo (10-7-11) [FlickrCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license]


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