“Thank you, Protestants”

“Thank you, Protestants” July 22, 2010

Vox Nova has for years pointed out the negative influence Evangelical Protestantism have had on American Catholics, where such Catholics have engaged Protestant sensibilities, turning their back on authentic Catholic teaching. It is easy to see how many American political ideologies have become a part of the religious faith of Catholics, so that when discussing religion, they end up echoing American political screeds.

Now, I give you Hugh Hewitt, “There and Back Again: The Roman Catholic Church in America’s Next Decade.” In it we read:

The Roman Catholic Church in America owes a profound thank you to American evangelicals who, thoughout the last thirty years, stood in the gap created by a retreating Roman Catholic Church. In many ways they inspired and led the renewal in American Christianity while defending the teachings of the Gospel against the culture even as an enfeebled and wounded Church fell back in disarray.

This is rather absurd. Protestants have not stood any gap; they are not to be thanked for helping to encourage ideologies which run contrary to Catholic teaching. But there is more. We are told the future is bright because of these Protestants and their ways are now entering the Church! It’s not that they have to think and become Catholic — no; the enfeebled Church needs to become like them! And that is exactly what Hewitt is promoting; just look at the converts he praises:

Beckwith’s story was certainly high profile, and so were many other conversions or returns to Catholicism in recent years. From within the Beltway alone there were the stories of Senator Sam Brownback, Judge Robert Bork, and journalists Laura Ingraham, Larry Kudlow, and Robert Novak.

It’s easy to see the developing picture. He is happy that Protestant sensibilities are being used to push political agendas. The reason why we had an  “enfeebled church” was  because the Church didn’t hold to Protestant and secular-American ideologies. And now it is all good because we have leaders who do so. Of course, other leaders, who also fall for this sensibility, include those who mock Catholic social doctrine in Papal Encyclicals and those who think intrinsic evils, such as torture, is fine:

Catholic public intellectuals like George Weigel and Kathleen Lopez, backed by scores of Catholic bloggers, the reviving lay leadership, and the burgeoning memberships of organizations like Knights of Columbus and Legatus are recreating a Catholic culture that once again will nurture young Catholics as they set out to serve God and country.

Yes.  I get it. The people who Vox Nova have consistently pointed out have been influenced by Protestants really have been. And we should be thankful, since Protestants alone, it seems, are the ones who have saved us.

"Being an German, where Greta Thunberg has a large group of followers and is all ..."

Greta Thunberg as an echo of ..."
"I don't think they are calling for medieval wars to arms ourselves with weapons and ..."

The Church is not an Army, ..."
"Thank you for this interesting comparison. Though I must admit I find perhaps a bit ..."

Greta Thunberg as an echo of ..."
"Thanks. I didn't know he was 11 years old. ;-)"

A Christian Interpretation of the Mahāvākyas

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’m a Protestant convert. I have nothing against Protestants converting to Catholicism. The problem is when they half-convert, and then try to influence the Church with their ideological hold-outs, which often are cultural and influenced by the Protestant heritage in the US. That Protestant heritage continues to be used to misread Christianity, but because it is the culture at large, Catholics who do not know better readily accept it and fall for it, which is why it becomes difficult to discuss with them basic, traditional teachings of the Church which runs against our Protestant culture.

    Converts who want to take leadership roles should acknowledge their background and how it can still continue the way they think. I know I do. It shouldn’t cause outrage when people question them and wonder whether or not their ideological hold outs are influencing Catholics the wrong way. Humility is needed.

  • Chris C.

    I don’t believe this article reflects a fair reading of the Hewitt piece. Most who leave their faith tradition for the Catholic Church do so after long, prayerful, and often painful consideration, as well as much study. Francis Beckwith is a case in point, and Hewitt spends much time on his story.
    Among converts, those I have known in many cases, have a deeper and more profound appreciation of our Faith than many life long Catholics who sometimes take the Faith for granted. To reduce Hewitt’s article to a matter of political implications fails to do it justice.

    • I find Francis Beckwith to continue to be Protestant in sensibility through and through. He is another prime example. The “deeper, more profound appreciation” is not true. They have a Protestant, literalistic reading of the faith, which might seem profound, but it is far from the Catholic sensibility when it comes to dogmatic and social doctrine. Catholics who don’t know the faith are easily swayed by such charlatans.

      Nonetheless, the article is clearly about the politicization of the faith — the examples he brings forward as those who are helping the Church out of being “enfeebled” are political examples, often representing rather reprehensible ideas (Lopez? seriously!). And it is this which he clearly is looking to as how Protestants are helping us. They are making us follow questionable Protestant social sensibilities which leads to an engagement of politics from a Protestant vision. Not good at all; no thank you.

  • Rodak

    Nationalism triumphed over international socialism a century ago. What makes you suppose that the Church should fare any better? The world always holds sway over the aggregate. Salvation is available to the individual, alone with his God.

  • I think they are speaking of “life issues”, which still, if you really take things into consideration, hasn’t really mattered all that much. All they have done is taken one part of the Catholic middle class and bound them eternally to the Republican Party. For me, the whole system is broken, and there is no sense defending Obama or anyone else in terms of these life issues. But the real problem for these people, as I have said before, is that my Catholic mother still votes Democrat, as does most of my family, because the Republicans are seen as not being welcoming to minorities in particular.

    I am always more aware of this issue from a cultural perspective, wherein I see the dangers of what Cardinal George calls “cultural Calvinism” (I prefer “cultural Puritanism”, since the former term I feel is an insult to Calvinists, who are not all like this). In this very American religion, natural success and prosperity are thought to be marks of godliness. I do not have to elaborate here how dangerous such an ideology is. All this entails is the prosperity gospel slightly modified: if we only follow “the Church” (i.e. whatever we say the Church is / the Vatican through the eyes of a rightwing think tank) and “natural law” (which, mirabile visu, is best embodied in the Constitution drafted by the deist Founding Fathers), then we will have temporal blessings on earth, and eternal blessings in heaven, while we witness the brown immigrant criminals, the welfare queens, and the socialists in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth…

    Of course, to do all this, one has to lie through one’s teeth: about the nature of American religion, history, foreign policy, etc. My favorite is the recent Inside Catholic essay by the puerile John Zmirak where he praised the “natural virtues” of evangelicals when others had to point out to him that he had no idea what he was talking about. The one consolation, one that I keep bringing up over and over again, is that this convert trend is one part fairy tale and two parts hype. They may have converts coming in from some quarters of the right wing intelligentsia, but numerically these are negligible. Far more people are leaving than entering, and the only demographic factor that is keeping the Church afloat for now is the birth of brown, non-Republican babies. At some point, someone is going to point out that the NeoCath Republican emperor has no clothes.

  • digbydolben

    I think that Arturo nails it; my own experience in the American Southwest and then my expatriation abroad (in both Asia and Europe) tell me that he is absolutely correct about the general trends in American, as opposed to world Catholicism. The only caveat I’d add to what he’s stated is that those Protestant converts have much more money than the “brown” parents producing all those babies, and American money continues to talk–for at least a while longer–in Rome. Obviously that American money is running out, and obviously the axis of influence and power in Rome is shifting to the Third World. After the Benedict disaster, I think an American or a European cardinal will be absolutely un-electable at the next papal conclave. Americans and Europeans will soon have to get used, I predict, to a brown or a black face–with decidedly more sympathy for “liberation theology”–in Peter’s chair.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    At the risk of being flippant, there is one area where Catholics should be grateful to evangelical Christianity: Christian rock. My tastes are old school and shaped by my rebellious teenage years: headbangers, glam metal, though I listen to a number of new hard rock and alternative bands.

    And after years of searching, I have given up looking for Catholic musicians in these genres. All the Catholic “rock” I can find is bubblegum pop that sounds like an electronic version of the Yahweh music of the 70’s. For Christian rock and metal I turn to evangelical Christian bands who are doing a much better job of what Catholics used to do: christianizing the secular culture and turning it towards higher ends.

  • Chris from Maryland

    Vox Nova, like many “Catholic” blogs focusing on the public square, seems primarily a political blog dressed in “Catholic” vestments. It seems aimed at (1) trying to assert the rectitude of its political preferences via “Catholic” rationalizations, and (2) steering the Church toward their preferred political menu – in VN’s case – progressive politics. In other words – it filters the Church through a political lens, rather than what it claims to do – filter politics through the Church’s lens.

    Example – Arturo – you dress your comment in Cardinal George’s statement, and simultaneously distort it from “cultural Calvinism” to “cultural Puritanism.”

  • ron chandonia

    Chris from Maryland has it right, and not just about this blog. It seems to be the fate of blogs that profess to discuss politics from a faith perspective. Before long, “faith” becomes window dressing for partisan propagandizing. In Vox Nova’s case, that is especially sad because it began in a much different spirit.

  • Rodak

    Oh, please. The Church, as a human institution, is political and always has been. And politics is always partisan. Catholics have been willing to vote for war and torture as against abortion. They got war and torture PLUS abortion for their efforts. Catholics have been collectively HAD by the neocons with whom they’ve formed an unholy allaiance. That’s the issue, if you want to talk about it in concrete, real-world terms, rather than throwing around vague phrases pointing to non-existant ideals.

  • Mark Gordon

    Good piece, but the challenge for converts is to keep pushing, beyond the entire edifice of American civil religion and establishment political consensus, into the heart of the Church’s critique of the social order. To stop halfway – at the Democratic Party, for instance – is to embrace yet another Protestant-American political ideology that contradicts both the spirit and letter of the Gospel. What many of us have come to realize, often after years of deep struggle, is that being Catholic puts us in direct, radical opposition to the whole social and political order. Laura Ingraham and Larry Kudlow don’t get that at all. But sadly, neither do a couple of the bloggers/commenters here.

    • One of the things I keep seeing people say here is that VN somehow is a blog (in one fashion or another) that is working for partisan politics via the Democrats. That we only use faith for the sake of such politics.

      I wonder how many people saying that have really explored in depth the theological and spiritual works which are put on VN. When I write them, they represent the foundations of my thought, and the source from which my own practical engagement of the world can be found. More importantly, the same people who keep making this claim really do not know the people they are talking to — just assuming things in the dualistic partisanship of American politics and think “if against the GOP, then you are DNC.” I have been told many times how I’m liberal, how I support Obama, and the like. No matter how many times I point out to the contrary, that I didn’t vote for Obama, that I have written critiques of Obama since before he was elected President, and that many of the others on here have done the same thing — it still returns “you are just supporting Obama and don’t care about abortion.”

      What we see is defiled minds misreading others and projecting their own dualism upon others and not really engaging what is being said here.

  • Catholic Joseph Sobran wrote a much better piece — Protestant America.

  • “Example – Arturo – you dress your comment in Cardinal George’s statement, and simultaneously distort it from ‘cultural Calvinism’ to ‘cultural Puritanism.'”

    You seem to not like my nomenclature, but you don’t refer to the actual substance of what I was arguing. How is calling “cultural Calvinism” “cultural Puritanism” a “distortion”? I simply think the latter is more accurate, as it would fit more our situation, and distinguish it from seventeenth century Geneva, for example.

    I don’t like much of the tone of this blog either: it wastes too many pixels on the Democratic Party, which is just another head of the American political hydra. And to be perfectly frank, I don’t care much for “Catholic social teaching” as this seems to change with the direction of the wind. But insofar as you critique much of the idiocy of the Catholic blogosphere, I still find it an interesting read at times.

  • digbydolben

    What many of us have come to realize, often after years of deep struggle, is that being Catholic puts us in direct, radical opposition to the whole social and political order.

    Absolutely–but Rodak is also right: in this realization, there’s also an obligation for US to create a new kind of politics.

    May I suggest that Dorothy Day should be our avatar?

  • Chris C.

    Agree with Chris from Md. and Ron. This column and some of the responses to it, such as Arturo dreaming about the next Pope and his openness to the heresy known as “Liberation Theology” suggest a decidely leftward political bent with Catholic trappings thrown in for good measure.
    It is unfortunate that the focus in Henry’s articlewas on the political leanings of evangelicals as opposed to the joy of welcoming home brothers and sisters in Christ. Even if one thinks they have some “baggage” don’t we all? Why not welcome them with open arms and allow them the freedom to grow into the fullness of The Faith in time? That is what all of us do as practicing Catholics anyway. Our Faith is an eternal journey.

    • There is a big difference between welcoming people, and then turning people who have only half-way converted into leaders who then influence Catholics into following non-Catholic ideologies. No one is upset that people convert. What is the concern is when people who have not perfectly converted are put on a pedestal and used to counter Catholic principles. As for my “focus”– I focused on exactly what was the focus of Hewitt’s article.

  • Mark Gordon

    May I suggest that Dorothy Day should be our avatar?


  • Mark Gordon

    One of the things I keep seeing people say here is that VN somehow is a blog (in one fashion or another) that is working for partisan politics via the Democrats.

    Henry, you bring an independence and integrity to blogging that I recognize and appreciate. You do not identify yourself with either political party, and your posts are, in my opinion, rigorously non-partisan. I find the same is true of of M.Z., Kyle Cupp, markdefrancis, and others. My critique of partisan blogging/commenting here is not a blanket indictment of Vox Nova. It is instead directed at two or three voices – bloggers and commenters – who are transparent shills for the Democratic Party.

  • M.Z.

    The most important thing to some people is for what party a contributor is pimping. Because of this, they get upset that any and every argument isn’t premised with “I agree with the Democrats [or Republicans] here.” That is your problem, not mine. As I’ve said from the start, if I had to say, I would call myself a former Republican. If you call me a progressive or a liberal, I will deny it, because I’m not one. That I don’t maintain a party membership at this point doesn’t mean I lack interests. On economic issues I am more aligned with the Democratic Party. On social issues I am more aligned with the Republicans. On foreign policy, I am very distressed at trends in the GOP intelligentsia. And at this point, I’m not going to pretend the Republicans are respectable when they are doing things like voting against jobless benefits. They are making their choices; I’m not forcing them to do anything.

  • Chris C.

    Henry, there is no such thing as a “half way convert.” When one is properly instructed in the Faith(RCIA) and makes a proper profession of faith he or she is welcomed as a member of The Catholic Church. If he or she is not so instructed and does not make a public profession of faith, they are not.
    I don’t think we have to worry about converting Protestants leading other Catholics away from the Faith. It is the dissidents who attack our Faith from within that should concern us. Sadly there are some whose faith is no deeper than it has to be to influence the next election cycle.

  • Mark G

    I think we will disagree on some of who you label as shills, and I think many of them are also being confused because of their interests, not because of their party affiliations (or lack of them).

  • You could move Dorothy Day’s picture closer to the head of the VN banner. How about swapping her position with Martin Luther?

  • Pinky

    Frank – Are you confusing Luther and More? They wore similar hats.

    As for Hewitt’s article, I could agree with most all of it except for the paragraph that Henry quoted. I don’t know the people whose depth of conversion Henry questions.

  • Pinky: You are right, I’m grateful that you pointed out my error. Now that I know it’s actually More, I can stop worrying about Luther’s Protestant influence on VN.

  • jh

    So Brownback who the Cardinal of Boston said was the best person running for Prez in 08 that represented Catholic Social Doctrine has only half converted?

    I have followed Beckwith for some time and I am not sure what the problem is with him. By the way Beckwith is not really a convert but a “revert”. He returned to his Catholicism that he was raised in.

    Of course Protestant Evangelical culture is a lot more diverse than is let on and that goes in political leaning too even among the lets say self labeled conservative groups. I mean one of those people he mentions (Novak) was never Protestant but was a Jew.

    Hewitt is in politics and is a conservative . So I expect he brings up people that he is aware of and has interacted with in the years.

    In the end there is a quite a bit of legitimate diversity in Catholic thought and these people represent it.

  • jh

    “Far more people are leaving than entering, and the only demographic factor that is keeping the Church afloat for now is the birth of brown, non-Republican babies. At some point, someone is going to point out that the NeoCath Republican emperor has no clothes.”

    Actually Hewitt does allude to the immigration factor in his piece.

    I do agree the Convert thing can be overblown. We do have more leaving the Church and staying but I am glad to see the Holy Saturday numbers this year. They seem to be improving . Of course as a Convert myself I wish the Catholic Church would be much much much more aggressive in these efforts. In fact it has to be. It needs to find why certain Dioceses are having success

  • Pinky

    Henry, are you saying that it is un-Catholic to dispute evolution or to call for English as a national language?

  • jh

    Henry as to Brownback I think any fair judgment of him would be as one that actively tries to put Catholic Social Justice thought into practice. this has been admitted even by those on the progressive side. Brownback has been open to immigration reform. In fact those issues that you cite him voting against would be gone anyway (Sanctuary cities)and the Some fencing would be included under the deal the Bishops endorsed.

    His no vote on Comprehensive reform only came after our current President did a cynical move to sink the whole thing trough a poison pill and making it politically devastating to vote for it.

    As to Beckwith I realize he has his views on intelligent design. To me that is not a big deal because a Catholic have many different views on the subject. I actually bore of the subject because in the end both sides are talking past each other and often use terms that have different meanings to different people.

    • JH

      I didn’t mention Beckwith on evolution; the post was on Brownback on evolution. And I would say some of the things Brownback has said on the immigration reform issues have not been promising and indeed, shows the cultural influence. Sure, one can say he tries; that would be good if it is as far as it went. The problem with his position is when it is used to suggest to others, see here is a good Catholic response, and it then helps build more hostility to the Catholic position itself.

  • Pinky

    Henry, I’ll grant you that a convert may have a faulty perspective on the Faith, but so can a cradle Catholic. I don’t say that flippantly, either – every human culture, including Catholic ones, carries its own perspective and its own potential distortion of the truth. Are you talking about more than that?

  • jh

    “Sure, one can say he tries; that would be good if it is as far as it went. The problem with his position is when it is used to suggest to others, see here is a good Catholic response, and it then helps build more hostility to the Catholic position itself.”

    I am not sure how Brownback’s position toward immigration produces hostility.

    Again this is a area of what should a proper immigration policy and of course the million dollar question what to do with the people here where they can be a lot of legit Catholic views.

    After trying to getting immigration reform through twice it is apparent to me that the American people are open to Pathway but they want to see some major efforts on enforcement first so they don’t have to go through this in another 30 years. Of course enforcement itself brings up all sort of thorny issues.

    I actually think if we put major resources now in border enforcement in a time where the economy is down and illegal immigration is down that when the Economy picks up again the Govt can point to look at here , here, here, and here and what we have done and thus make Pathway to Citizenship acceptable to the American people.

    Regardless there is no chance it is going to pass this year while we are in this recession

  • John Zmirak

    So Mr. Vasquez’s mother and family vote without shame their racial self-interest over the sanctity of human life…. And he boasts about it, shifting the blame for their racist and unprincipled behavior to… the majority population of the country where they live? Pardon me for not giving a damn about their feelings, refusing to pervert my country’s political and economic system to cater to their sensibilities, and fighting like a patriot to keep my country from descending into the chaos, poverty, anti-clericalism and tyranny that characterize the country the Vasquezes seem to love so much.

    I’ve no patience for blinkered, bigoted Irish Democrats in Boston, and I won’t be mau-maued into applying a different standard to Mexican nationalists who vote for pro-abortion, pro-gay, pro-socialist politicians. The sin is theirs, not mine.

  • Kurt

    Given that English already is the national language, I think the calls to make it so are nativist and bigoted. And I would hope bigotry and nativism is unCatholic.

  • ben

    I must say that I think Arturo’s recent post (on his blog) on “committed Christianity” as well as the post he links to by Joseph Komonchak shed a lot of light on this topic.

  • Rodak

    Mr. Zmirak fails to share an inventory of those sins that are his. That might prove to be even more interesting than his judgement of the sins of others.

  • digbydolben

    Guys, FEEL the hatred on Zmirak’s post–it’s personal and it’s deep. I’m surprised that you’ve let it through. Arturo’s post in no way merited such a response. I’m the last person to object to brutal polemics, but a little sensitivity to language should tell you that THAT is racism.

    • Digby

      There are a couple reasons I let it through. If Arturo wants it deleted, I will delete it. But I thought it best for people to see John’s comment and actions for what it is (at least for now). I often delete such diatribes, but when it is someone with a big following, I think it is important for their comments to be open and shown for what they are (up to a point — then I do delete).

  • Pinky

    Kurt, that comment didn’t make any sense to me, so I looked up the definition of nativism. It basically means bigoted, but also the tendency to preserve native cultures. Wouldn’t opposition to English be nativist? But I don’t see the connection between the language and bigotry otherwise.

  • Rodak

    Where would I be wrong, as an interested outside observer, in having the perception that an individual’s capacity for hatred and bigotry intensifies in direct proportion to the degree of conservatism characterizing his Catholicism?
    I am in no position to take a position on the question of whether a truly “good” Catholic is a true virtuoso of targeted venom, and that this is orchestrated by his devout attention to the messages he receives via the Magisterium. I just don’t know.
    But I do know that I’ve seen and heard the equivalent of Mr. Zmirak’s outburst above previously among white segregationists in this country and elsewhere who are threatened by the encroachments of “the Other.” It is fear triumphing over love. I don’t see how it is characteristically “Christian.”

  • Henry writes:

    I find Francis Beckwith to continue to be Protestant in sensibility through and through. He is another prime example. The “deeper, more profound appreciation” is not true. They have a Protestant, literalistic reading of the faith, which might seem profound, but it is far from the Catholic sensibility when it comes to dogmatic and social doctrine. Catholics who don’t know the faith are easily swayed by such charlatans.

    I feel the love. 🙂

    Ironically, my Protestant friends, for years, accused me of being too Catholic when I was a Protestant.

    The fact is each of us has a story of our journey of faith. There is no template, no one size fits all. I came back to the Church via Protestantism, and I am grateful for that. Of course, I wish I had never left to begin with, but you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube, as the saying goes.

    As for a “literalistic view of faith,” I have no idea what that means. If you mean to say that faith is real, I certainly believe that. In fact, I would say that my view of the epsitemological quality of faith is along the lines that Cardinal Ratzinger penned in his wonderful book Truth and Tolerance, a tome that a profound influence on me.


    • Example of over-literalism which causes problems: Dioscorus with the writings of St Cyril of Alexandria.

  • Oh, apparently some here are confused on my views on intelligent design. Here they are, if you are interested in the truth:


  • Henry writes: “Example of over-literalism which causes problems: Dioscorus with the writings of St Cyril of Alexandria.”

    Interesting, but what does it mean? Since I don’t recall ever commenting on St. Cyril (though I did quote another Cyril [of Jerusalem] in my book), I’m not following you. I’ve written an awful lot over the years. So, refresh my memory and explain where in my writings I run afoul of this rule of faith that you seem to think I have violated.

    • Francis

      I did not say that was an example of your writing; you said you had no idea what a “literalistic view of faith” is, so I gave an example from history, so you will know what I mean by such words. Thus, I pointed to Dioscorus on St Cyril of Alexandria. To be clearer: St Cyril’s one incarnate nature becoming the means by which Dioscorus rejected Chalcedonian dual nature theology. The issue, of course, was he misunderstood the truth being pointed to by St Cyril’s writing by being overly concerned with the letter of Cyril’s writing.

      Now how that connects to your writings — will leave that for another time, another day — if you are really interested in this. The issue mostly is that I get that kind of sensibility with Protestants when it comes to propositions and many former Protestants as they become Catholic continue on with that way of looking at them (I even had it when I first converted). As to when, I have to say, it might be a few months from now. But, because I brought things up earlier, I think you deserve an explanation as to why I am not doing more right now:

      Next week, I move, and so finalizing my packing this weekend. Moreover, my father’s health appears to continue to deteriorate and I am praying and focusing on that a great deal. The same day the movers are to come here, he now has to go to the doctor; it’s still unclear as to what. He was diagnosed with pre-leukemia, and has been doing tests every couple weeks. He had one yesterday, and just a couple hours ago, was told to go in on Monday. We (my family) are not too sure what it means, but it sounds like he will be going to the people who did his bone marrow tests, so it sounds like it could be very serious this time — which means it might have gone to acute leukemia (we do not know) and perhaps talking more about what options are left.

      So, in other words, my focus is off, I have a lot of work going on right now, and it would take time to go through texts to demonstrate why I get this sense from what I’ve read of your writings.


  • jh

    Well Henry I will keep your dad in my prayers. Thankfully I have never had to go even through a ninor sickness with your parents.

    So I do think you have to take care of what is most important.

    I do hop though that you and Francis keep in touch because (yes to some Vox Nova observers) thought I might be labeled as as some neo cath I think both of you are are men of good will that perhaps can have a conversation that does notg o into tte Catholic gutter

    So I look forward to it.

  • jh

    Thanks Dr Beckwith for the links on your position on ID and what your position is in on the debate. That should on here hope to eliminate any confusion and have indeed cleared up some misconceptions I had

  • Henry. I am sorry to hear about your father. He will be in my prayers.

    JH: Thank you. As I note in the BioLogos series, ID and its history is a bit more complicated for some of us, especially for those of us who did not grow up fundamentalist and have no “creationist” past.

    • Thank you Francis, and everyone else, for the prayers and support.

      Francis: let me just say one thing — I probably should not have used the word charlatan for you. So I hope you accept my apology. There are some who I do believe that is the case, but, especially as you commented here, the strive for constant conversion indicates a different attitude than those who I find that label fits.

      We still have strong differences, and I do believe a lot of the Protestant influences remain in what I see you write (I still believe they are in what I write even).

      I am not against converts, for obvious reasons. But I do think many converts quickly become “stars” long before they have had any chance for a change of sensibility and that stardom actually halts such changes. It is not that they should have no voice, but I think all converts, myself included, should be willing to admit that their thoughts need to be tried and tested and purified if need be (even non-converts, but again, many a convert seems to have a false conception of the Church which they try to use to force non-converts to follow). It’s an issue of humility instead of self-promotion which I see as a necessary way to get through one’s big hold outs (which can be ideological, but it can also be a way of thinking).

  • I would be cut to the quick, if I had not long ago concluded that the politics of this country is a complete farce (as is the politics of all countries, but I digress). I don’t defend anyone voting Democrat, but I don’t necessarily see the condemnation of certain bishops as damning one’s soul for voting one way or the other. But then again, Mr. Zmirak knows all about condemning and not listening to bishops he doesn’t happen to agree with. People in glass houses, and so on and so forth.

    I suppose it will never happen, but it would be nice if people would acknowledge that their Platonic idea of “America” as a shiny city on a hill with a great big wall around it is nothing but a pernicious myth. In spite of the dysfunctional nature of other governments (don’t these people spend 90% of the time complaining about the dysfunctional nature of our own?), I have found that other countries don’t deify their form of government to the point that all of its sins are absolved. If I wanted to deify America, I’d become a Mormon: their tabernacle is in Salt Lake City, not in Rome.

  • Henry–
    Could you explain what a “literalistic view of faith” is in a contemporary, “Protestant” context?
    Other than not being Catholic, is there some characteristic, or set of characteristics, that you perceive as being shared by all Protestants in the same way, perhaps, that mutual fertility is definitional of all members of the same species?
    I am continually hearing the word “Protestant” bandied about as an epithet, without having any clear idea of all that is implied by such usage in the Catholic mind.

  • digbydolben

    Rodak, Arturo Vasquez (above) has a blog. You should take a look at it. It’ll give you a fairly good idea of what are the intellectual effects of being steeped in a distinctly non-American Catholic culture. Arturo may not acknowledge it (because he’s decidedly unconvential and somewhat unorthodox) and he may not know it (because he hasn’t lived outside of the United States for as long as I have), but the flavour of his Catholicism is precisely what I’ve found it to be all over the world, among people untouched by Protestant Biblical “literalism.”

  • digbydolben

    It is probably wrong to call what is infecting American Christianity orthodox “Protestantism.” I would suggest that everybody on this thread should some day take a look at this book by Harold Bloom:


    In it, Bloom pretty much succeeds in proving that ALL forms of American Christianity have become infected by a form of Gnosticism that is a mutation of Calvinism. Bloom insists that even American Catholicism is influenced by this heretical and highly politicized version of Christianity.

    In some ways it’s a frightening tome, because Bloom detects a millenarian yearning for the Apocalypse in this politicized American religion, which, he insists, has the same temper as Islamic fundamentalism. In fact, according to him, Islamic fundamentalism is its mirror image, its complement and its nemesis.

  • digbydolben:

    Well, I lived two years in Argentina, and spent most of my childhood in a bilingual barrio, so I think I am pretty aware how different my Catholicism is from most people in the U.S. The legalism, clericalism, and unimaginativeness of American Catholicism is something that I find suffocating at times, though I acknowledge that they are traits of modern Catholicism in general.

    I agree wholeheartedly that Islamic Wahhabism, evangelical fundamentalism, and “NeoCatholicism” all share things in common: a paranoia about “the correct religion”, blind devotion to institutions or charismatic figures (mullahs,televangelists, Popes, etc.), and a penchant for excluding others as not even belonging to the same faith (“liberals”, “Catholics in name only”, idolaters”). Really, the ideological superstructure for a new Christian fascism is coming about slowly but surely.

    I could say more, but I already have:



    And at the risk of overstaying my welcome here, I leave you with one of my favorite renditions of the Urdu poet, Mohammed Iqbal:

    When in a vision I saw
    A mullah ordered to paradise,
    Unable to hold my tongue,
    I said something in this wise:

    ‘Pardon me, O Lord,
    For these bold words of mine,
    But he will not be pleased
    With the houris and the wine.

    He loves to dispute and fight,
    And furiously wrangle,
    But paradise is no place
    For this kind of jangle.

    His task is to disunite
    And leave people in the lurch,
    But paradise has no temple,
    No mosque and no church.’

  • Digby–
    I wasn’t interested in what American Catholicism isn’t, but what (in Henry’s opinion) “Protestantism,” as a generic term, is.

  • I guess that we all know the Sinclair Lewis line:

    “When facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

  • grega

    Thank you Arturo for your wise comment
    it made my morning.
    What calms me enormously these days is the believe that nothing is gained or lost within years or even a generation.
    That point has been again driven home for me recently after reading a wonderful little book “The Way of the World” By Nicolas Bouvier. The book describes Bouviers and a friends journey from the Balkans to Afghanistan.
    The author observed 60 years ago very much the kind of religious/societal/cultural issues we still deal with today in that region.
    Same is true for our religion – it is a very slow march – one should not despair.
    And yes of course at any given time in history you can find folks that lustily step right into the footsteps left behind by the pharisees.
    Every religion has those people – bean counters really -these people of course will never recognize what they really represent and assume that they are soo very ‘unique’ and soo faithful – oh man.

    I love the fact that the folks behind VOX Nova patiently attempt to give voice to a sustainable, more peaceful and calmer path for our religion.

  • Pinky

    Rodak, I don’t always understand or agree with the way people on this site use words. That being said, I think the gist of “Protestantism”, as most of us would use it, is a reliance on Scripture alone rather than Scripture and Tradition. This tends towards an elevation of one’s own interpretation of the Bible over any historical understanding of it. I think in this thread it also means Biblical literalism.

  • So “literalism” is being used as synonymous with “sola scriptura?” If so, I would see that as a misuse of “literalism.” I would take literalism to mean, for instance, a belief in the historical reality of Adam and Eve. That kind of fundamentalist attitude toward scripture is certainly not universally “Protestant.”

  • Pinky

    I think “Protestantism” is being used synonymously with “literalism” in its actual meaning. “Literalism” isn’t being used as a synonym for “sola scriptura”. I think that historically, sola scriptura is more likely to result in literalism, but the concept of sola scriptura isn’t at play in this thread.

  • digbydolben

    However, Pinky, I think that the extremely pessimistic temper of Protestantism regarding salvation by faith alone, as opposed by the Catholic notion of salvation by faith AND works is, indeed, “at play in this thread.”

    Historically, that Protestant heresy has contributed to a theological justification for an over-confidence in the chaos of the “marketplace” because, to Protestants, it has almost seemed “blasphemous” to attempt to build “the Kingdom” in this “vale of tears.” The mystical teaching of Christ, that the “Kingdom” is “within you,” and “spread out before you” has been replaced–particularly in the preachings of Protestant evangelicals to the desperately poor of the Third World–by what I like to call “pie-in-the-sky-after-death,” and a patient acceptance of enormous social injustice as the price of “salvation.”

    Orthodox Roman Catholicism has never fallen–at least not theologically–for such radical dualism, and is, paradoxically enough (especially for Zionism-loving “dispensationalists”) much closer to the spirit of orthodox Judaism than to Gnostic heresies deriving from Greek philosophy.

    Much of the heresy of the so-called “Protestant Reformation” was–particularly in its emphases–just recycled Gnosticism–as was Islam.

  • “Sola scriptura” is “a reliance on Scripture alone rather than Scripture and Tradition.” On this much, we agree. But at 11:33 you said that sola scriptura was being used as synonymous with Protestantism. At 12:55 you then said that Protestantism is synonymous with “literalism.” Therefore, literalism is synonymous with “sola scriptura” according to your analysis. I disagree. But, if you can define “literalism” for me, maybe I will understand where you’re coming from.

  • Pinky

    Ah, Rodak, I understand. You mentally translated my comment about “Scripture alone” into Latin. (That’s a good Catholic reflex, by the way.) I wasn’t talking about sola Scriptura specifically – I don’t know you, and I didn’t know if you even knew that term. I was talking generally about the importance of Scripture among Protestants. I only meant that the emphasis on Scripture tends to encourage literalism toward Scripture.

  • Pinky

    Wow, Digby. I never would have made the association between the marketplace and pessimism. I think you’re way off the mark with that. If anything, the Puritan idea of God blessing hard work indicates a connection between financial success and holiness, thus a connection between the marketplace and optimism. That is why I think that Calvinism is much closer to historical Judaism than Orthodox Roman Catholicism would ever be. In fact, that comment of yours might be my Rosetta Stone for understanding VN.

  • digbydolben

    The contemporary American faith in “the market” is as much an Enlightenment heresy as Marxism was. Tony Judt makes that argument rather forcefully here:


    Radical trust in “the market” just as much signifies surrender to the determinism of “natural process” (in the form of irrational human consumerist whims and instincts) as Calvinism signifies surrender to the determinism of “divine election.” Neither privileges “free will” or man’s ability to rescue himself or his society from the chaos of fallen nature or the chaos of an inscrutable, unknowable and precociously “electing” Godhead.

    Faith in “markets” is faith in “nature’s law,” whereas faith in governments is faith in the capacity of man’s reason to order his world. Faith in Christian government is faith in human reason’s capacity to order is society according to the Beatitudes.

  • Pinky–
    The importance of Scripture among Protestants is not in dispute. But I am still waiting for a concise definition of “literalism.” Certainly it doesn’t simply mean interpreting the Scripture literally, since this is characteristic of only the fundamentalist fringes of the Protestant world. What, then, is meant by “literalism” as it is being used in this context. Does it mean something like “Scripturalism?”

  • Kevin


    In your theory how do you account for the fact that the two of the biggest social injustice issues that the world have faced, abortion and slavery, were and are being fought against by Protestants? With abortion Catholics do lead that fight against the ultimate social injustice. With slavery, Catholics were not at the forefront of the abolitionist movement.

  • I would have to say that Roman Catholicism has more to do with classical paganism than with orthodox Judaism, but that may have a lot to do with my bias. Catholicism, at least in its traditionalist and “folk” manifestations, is primarily fatalistic, not obsessed with upward mobility or social ideologies that will make us more “productive” citizens. Why is it that people like Zmirak write that Catholic societies are so “dysfunctional”? But with the high abortion rate, foreign wars we can’t win, and debt up to our eyebrows, what makes us think that we are any less dysfunctional?

    Still, I would not tar all Protestantism in this country with the same nasty black brush. The most original religious contribution of the United States to the world is of course the phenomenon of the black church, one that is characteristic of but at the same time most subversive to the whole “American” ideal. From music to politics to literature, no American religious phenomenon has influenced more people from Cape Town to Vladivostok. But even the roots of American religiosity tend to be more “charismatic” and even “ecstatic” than we are giving credit here. Ever read the first hand accounts of the “great revivals” in this country? They were essentially bacchanalias compared to anything in the “civilized” Catholic world. That is why I admire American blue-collar Protestantism on one level, and not for any of the reasons Zmirak and Co. do so. I am more for the hard-drinking bush Baptists, snake handlers, and black Pentecostal women in the ghetto shouting at the top of their lungs. Nothing “Gnostic” or “Puritan” about that.

    Really, in my line of study, both Catholicism and Protestantism have contributed to the “disenchantment of the world” described by Max Weber. In Protestantism, the list of proofs for this is obvious: iconoclasm, lack of sacraments, ecclesial egalitarianism, desacralization of space and time, etc. Catholicism, especially since the Enlightenment, has been plagued by clericalism, over-institutionalization, regimentation of the laity, fear of ceremony and excess, and so on and so forth. Even though I am a Catholic, some days I just see Protestantism and Catholicism as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb: Catholicism is only behind Protestantism by about a century, and closing fast. Indeed, some of my best drinking buddies have been magisterial Calvinists. Just as the evangelical right and the Catholic right have been making love eyes to each other, and the Catholic left and Protestant left have been indistinguishable since the 1960’s, the curmudgeons of all faiths like myself find more in common with fellow curmudgeons than with my supposed co-religionists.

  • jacobus

    “In your theory how do you account for the fact that the two of the biggest social injustice issues that the world have faced, abortion and slavery, were and are being fought against by Protestants?”

    Fought for and against by Protestants, actually.

  • digbydolben

    What would the world be without curmudgeons? Voltaire was a “curmudgeon,” but so was Waugh.

  • What a great thread!

  • digbydolben

    But where in the world did I get “precociously electing God” in my last comment above?! Sometimes my fingers hit the key before my brain is in gear: I meant “arbitrarily electing God,” of course.

    (Sheesh–and I’m supposed to be an English teacher!)

  • Alex

    To argue the following fully would take far too much space, but here is the way I think I see it:


    Frankly, the post-Vatican tendency has not been to “protestantize” the Catholic church, but to bring it closer to the Orthodox.

    But the Byzantine version of Christianity is abstract and inward-looking. Its one similarity to Protestantism is its intolerance of the little pagan touches that make this world what it is.

    Both of these factors are in no way catholic (long o). Thus it is no surprise that the Roman Christianity is in such trouble.

  • Alex:

    I don’t think you know Orthodoxy that well at all in that case. While the liturgical reforms of the 1960’s seem to add some “Byzantine-isms” (an explicit epiclesis, litanies, etc.), their ethos is far from anything that any Orthodox, no matter how liberal, would recognize as appropriate for divine worship. Just propose to a babushka that she should distribute Communion instead of the priest, and see what happens.

    As for intolerance for “little pagan touches”, that seems more the observation of a Western religious tourist than anything else. Two books I would recommend: Karen Hartnup’s “On the Beliefs of the Greeks: Leo Allatios and Popular Orthodoxy”, and the more recent, “Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy
    in a Greek Orthodox Village” by Juliet du Boulay. Just because the Eastern Churches don’t have statues doesn’t mean that they are “less pagan” than the Western Churches. It seems to me that you are projecting your own prejudices to create a history that isn’t there.

  • Alex


    Three quick points — the rest really would take a proper essay.

    1. Funny you should mention babushkas. I invite you to investigate — though you do need Russian, so I’m not sure how able you would be to do it — the way the babushkas have been known to terrorize, not only younger and less literal-minded members of the congregation, but even the parish priests — for “errors” in the sacred litugical traditions. I submit the net effect of excessive conservatism is very similar to to the net effect of excessive liberalism: moderate churchgoers stay away, while remaining nominally believers, for census purposes. (This effect diminishes much of the apparent resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the last twenty years).

    2. I don’t know where you got the bit about statues from — paitings and statues are equivalently iconic — and iconoclasm is (had been temporarily) Byzantine and Protestant, never Catholic — but in any case that had nothing to do with what I perceived to be the pagan touch. Here’s what is, though, to a lesser or greater extent: certain aspects of the cult of the saints; certain traditional festivals, processions; certain beliefs in evil spirits when taken in a certain way; survivals of household talismans, burial cutoms, magic spells, and so on. The Greeks may have maintained many of these, but in much of the rest of the Orthodox space these have in the 100-200 years been purified away, to great rejoicing about the waning of superstition. The post-Vatican losses of Catholic tradition are closer to this Orthodox movement than to mainstream or evangelical Protestantism. That is, changes in the Eucharistic Canon reflect everything else!!

    3. I cannot begin to guess what you might mean in thinking I am a western religious tourist, or what prejudices you think I am projecting. Let’s not start making suppositions about each other’s head space.

    I finish up with this thought: Before the post Vatican-II Orthodoxizing of Roman Catholicism, the closest the Orthodox Church got to the Catholic post-Schism was during the late synodal period in Russia. With the abolition of the synod, the Russian Church became like all the other orthodox churches a NATIONAL church. And, post-Vatican, the split of the Roman oecumene into national councils of bishops — while paying the minimum possible attention to Rome — has proceeded apace.

  • I don’t find your response to my post as particularly coherent. You rail against the conservative dictatorship of the babushkas, yet you concede that they are the ones running the church. You speak against those who point out the “errors” in liturgical tradition, without mentioning that it is the ruling monastic caste as well as the horrid grandmothers who police these things. You speak of the change in church governance as being indicative of a “Byzantinization” of the Catholic Church, even though, as in the case of Russia, the church governance was lifted from the Lutheran model. In other words, I think you have assembled a number of points that don’t seem to mean what you want them to mean.

    As for the survival of “pagan superstition”, I have not seen any documentary evidence for what you are saying. You have already conceded that in the Greek world (and probably the Orthodox Arab world), what you are saying has never been the case. To this day in Greece, you have talismans against the evil eye hanging from icons and cribs. But the Slavs, you say, they are the models you are using to make your point. I am not sure how you can make this argument, as the Slavs themselves, especially after Peter the Great, were heavily influenced by Roman Catholic and German pietist ideas (as I have cited when speaking of church governance above). Ever listen to Russian church music or read the writings of Tikhon of Zadonsk? Not particularly “Eastern” if you ask me? But even then, one time when I was given a tour of a Russian Orthodox cathedral by a priest, the one thing he wanted to show me was the myrrh-streaming relics of the saints. A friend of mine was almost slapped by a Ukrainian man when pointing to one of his icons (“it’s rude to point to an icon!”). And I would not know what aspect of the cult of the saints in the East you would find more toned down: the name of the Mother of God is invoked about every minute or so in an Orthodox service, and the saints are all over the rest of the liturgy. (You have probably not seen Russians make three great prostrations to the relics of John Maximovitch. I have.)

    Perhaps what you are mistaking for “Byzantization” of the West is really just the “Westernization” of the Slavic East. If you look at the Greeks or even the Old Believers, you will find a world very similar to my “idol worshipping” ancestors down south.

  • Alex’s point “2” is very well taken. It doesn’t go far enough, but it hints at the essence of the issue.

    • Just quickly before I have to go — very busy — I have to say Alex’s perspective is rather odd and actually not true. Let’s look to his statements on icons. The West has had a considerable amount of iconoclasm, even in the Catholic West. One needs to look at initial reactions to II Nicea. Indeed, Protestant iconoclasm seems to be the result of a tendency in the West to misunderstand the full outlook of icons and their significance. To the West, it is just “reminders” to the East it is the presence. To the East, worship of an icon of Christ is the equivalent to the West’s eucharistic adoration.

  • alex martin

    “After the Benedict disaster”

    What has been disasterous about Pope Benedict’s Papacy?

  • Pingback: Letting in Protestants and Latinos « Whosoever Desires()

  • daledolenz

    Whatever the disputes about this or that individual, which Mr. Karlson perhaps now appreciates the pitfalls of getting into on the internet, I still find the general drift his remarks dead on. Thank you

    The Church now and then attracts sincere, talented but semi-converted people who sort of assume their capital, skill, authority etc. on one side somehow transfers well enough. While confusing some people they now lead with their partially Catholic interpretations. (With all due and deep respect for the genuine costs their conversion incurs.)

    I was very stuck a number of years ago at an Easter Vigil seeing a man received into the Church who had been an Episcopal minister. He was now absent his old career, and his family out of their old housing, with no prospect for anything near the security and public worldly respect in his new Church he had once had. Truly humble and un-presupposing man. Well, just a thought. Peace.