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Publick Occurrences 2.0

May 13, 2008

The “Great Whore” No More

Filed under: 2008 elections,Conspiracy theory,GOP — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 11:49 am

That maxim about Democrats falling out and Republicans falling into line never seemed truer than today, at least the second part, as Pastor John Hagee tosses out huge chunks of his own evangelical Protestant theology, preached by him on countless, often televised occasions, because its open anti-Catholicism might hurt John McCain’s campaign. Josh Marshall’s headline says it all: “Hagee: Just Kidding! ” Here is most of the Wall Street Journal‘s report:

Washington Wire – WSJ.com : McCain Backer John Hagee Apologizes to Catholics
McCain Backer John Hagee Apologizes to Catholics

John Hagee, the controversial Evangelical pastor who endorsed John McCain, will issue a letter of apology to Catholics today for inflammatory remarks he has made, including accusing the Roman Catholic Church of supporting Adolf Hitler and calling it “The Great Whore.” (See a copy of the letter PDF.)

“Out of a desire to advance greater unity among Catholics and Evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful,” Hagee wrote, according to an advanced copy of the letter reviewed by Washington Wire. “After engaging in constructive dialogue with Catholic friends and leaders, I now have an improved understanding of the Catholic Church, its relation to the Jewish faith, and the history of anti-Catholicism.”

In the letter, addressed to Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League and one of Hagee’s biggest critics, Hagee pledges “a greater level of compassion and respect for my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Hagee met with 22 Catholic leaders in Washington on Friday to apologize for his comments, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Despite the McCain’s condemnation of Hagee’s anti-Catholic remarks, the campaign had no role in that meeting or Tuesday’s apology, according to the source who said it was something Hagee did because he felt it was necessary.

Donohue is expected to release a letter in response today, accepting Hagee’s apology. The Catholic leader slammed both Hagee and McCain in February, releasing a statement titled “McCain Embraces Bigot.”

“For the past few decades, [Hagee] has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church,” Donohue wrote then. The Catholic League also compiled a bullet-point list on things they object to about Hagee titled “Veteran Bigot.”

Hagee’s letter explains some of the harsh words he has used when describing the Catholic Church. “I better understand that reference to the Roman Catholic Church as the ‘apostate church’ and the ‘great whore’ described in the book of Revelation” — both terms Hagee has employed — “is a rhetorical device long employed in anti-Catholic literature and commentary,” he wrote.

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March 4, 2008

Catholics and Evangelicals: Never in McCain shall they meet?

Filed under: 2008 elections,Conspiracy theory,GOP — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 7:07 am

For the perspective of an early American historian, one of the more glaring facts about American politics and culture is the hostility between Catholics and evangelical Protestants. From Pope’s Day to the Charlestown convent riots to the Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk to the Know-Nothings, anti-Catholicism was part of the fabric of American life from colonial times through the Civil War and beyond, especially in the North.

Confessional identity was also perhaps the most durable faultline in American politics, rivaling and often trumping slavery and other issues. Immigration became controversial chiefly to the extent that the immigrants held non-Protestant religious views; hence nativism emerged as a potent political force in the 1840s when Irish Catholics, driven out of their homeland by the potato famine, began arriving in large numbers and made Catholics a major U.S. demographic for the first time. The Democrats generally welcomed Catholic voters and preached tolerance of their cultural particularities, the Whigs and Republicans (the GOP), with their base among northern evangelical voters, not so much. Temperance and other evangelical efforts to impose middle-class Protestant lifestyles on immigrants and laborers were among the most bitter aspects of this early partisan “culture war.”

However, American anti-Catholicism went well beyond the personal habits of Irish workers, and beyond even the obvious theological differences between Catholics and Protestants. It was also a political belief system predicated on idea that the Vatican was an evil, tyrannical institution would never rest until it had destroyed religious and political liberty wherever it existed. Most particularly the Church was thought to be bent on subverting and conquering the United States: the millions of new Catholic voters were feared to be under the absolute control of priests and bishops who were preparing for the day when their legions could vote democracy and Protestantism out of existence. In this view, it was particularly sinister that Catholics were raising money and rapidly founding churches, schools, and colleges in North America, especially in the west (the present Midwest). These activities were seen as creating the infrastructure of the new Catholic America intended to supplant or dominate the old one. In this context, the appointment of a Catholic postmaster general (James Campbell during the Pierce administration) was seen as the beginnings of an attempt to seize the communications system. Telegraph inventor and leading citizen Samuel F.B. Morse, a rabid conspiracy theorist in addition to his other accomplishments, laid it all out in the many editions of his book, Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States, a conspiracy favorite even today. The influence of anti-Catholic conspiracy theory can be seen in this perfectly mainstream political cartoon from 1855:

Obviously much has changed in American politics since the 185os. The modern Republican party, exploiting the abortion issue and other forms of reaction against the post-1960s revolution in gender relations and sexuality, has managed to cross or blur the traditional politico-religious boundary and attract significant numbers of Catholic votes to go along with its evangelical Protestant base. A very different breed of evangelicalism, with its heartland in the South rather than New England, is the bulwark of the GOP base. This new alliance depends on the two groups, Catholics especially, overlooking or forgetting the long heritage of American anti-Catholicism. This is not too difficult. In my experience teaching early American history and the history of conspiracy theory to Missouri undergraduates, many, many of them out of Catholic high schools in the St. Louis area, “forgetting” anti-Catholicism seems to be the norm. It genuinely seems to come as news to the Catholic kids that their religion was once so heavily hated and feared.

A more serious obstacle to continued alliance of Catholics and evangelical Protestants, is the apocalyptic theology of the most conservative and politically active modern evangelical groups. Modern evangelicals don’t openly embrace Morse-style conspiracy theories, but, as prominent GOP supporter Pastor John Hagee explains in the film clip I linked to earlier, they do cast the Catholic Church as one of the major villains — the false church or “Great Whore” — in their favorite end times scenario.

This all hit the news, at too low a level, last week. Apparently in response to the innuendo about Barack Obama’s non-relationship with the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, the conservative Catholic League has suddenly noticed that presumptive nominee John McCain, along with virtually every other major Republican candidate, has shared stages with and accepted the active, fulsome, and lucrative support of virulent evangelical anti-Catholics, like Pastor Hagee.

I am not sure where this will all lead, but it is interesting to have such an age-old faultline reassert itself in a new form after so many years away.

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