Matt Forney
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America’s Four Hundred Year War Against the Catholic Church

NOTE: This article was originally published at In Mala Fide on February 21, 2012. I’m re-posting it here as the site is now defunct.

At the new Orthosphere blog, Proph muses on liberals’ sudden seething hatred of the Church, as shown by Obama’s failed attempt to force Catholic institutions to provide free birth control to their employees:

Things are a little worse than that, though. I’ve noticed a pronounced radicalization among my leftist friends since the start of Obama’s war on the Church. They really want it beaten, subjugated, and destroyed, and they don’t care what absurd and evil lies they have to manufacture. Perhaps it’s just that their latent insanity has been stirred to action by an opportunity to express it with social approval; more likely, it’s that people of average intellect are basically sheep and that the nature of American identity politics is such that they will always be radicalized by the leaders of the parties they follow. (Remember the remorseless, unprincipled shriveling of nearly every mainstream “conservative” in America during the Bush administration?) The fangs have come out. Give it another four years and they may well be dripping with blood.

To this I ask, “Where have YOU been, man?” Americans and the American government have always been hostile to the Church.  Obama and his supporters are just the latest manifestation of a centuries-long trend. Anti-Catholicism in America predates this country’s founding because anti-Catholicism is a fundamental plank of America’s ruling ideology: Calvinism, or more accurately, Puritanism.

A few people have critiqued my description of Calvinism as the source of America’s ills, even though I’m far from the first person to argue this: I figured it out from reading Mencius Moldbug, who famously characterized modern America as a “Puritan theocracy.” Moldbug himself cobbled this thesis together from a couple dozen sources, including George McKenna’s Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, an excellent summation of the whole problem. McKenna writes in the Introduction:

In the eighteenth century, the heirs of the Puritans played a key role in the American Revolution. “Puritanism,” notes the religious historian Mark Noll, “is the only colonial religious system that modern historians take seriously as a major religious influence on the Revolution.” In the generations following the Revolution, Congregationalists and Presbyterians from New England carried their campaigns of evangelical Calvinism into the upper Midwest and other areas of the Puritan diaspora, and by the 1830s their voluntary organizations of evangelization and moral reform had combined budgets larger than that of the federal government. They brought with them their distinctive brand of “moralistically inflected republicanism.” “Wherever you go, you will be a polis”: the watchword of the ancient Greek city-states as they created new colonies could also apply to the Puritan polis, whose people brought with them their own matter-of-fact assumptions of moral rectitude and cultural superiority. A writer in the proslavery United States Democratic Review in 1855 paid rueful tribute to the Puritans in language that almost mirrored the motto of the ancient Greeks. Referring to what he called “the New-England hive” established by the Puritans, he wrote, “No class of people are so prone to emigration… But wherever they go they are sure to combine together, and act in concert for the furtherance of their own peculiar opinions and interests.” Harriet Beecher Stowe said the same thing but more admiringly: “New England has been to these United States what the Dorian hive was to Greece. It has always been a capital country to emigrate from, and North, South, East, and West have been populated largely from New England, so that the seed-bed of New England was the seed-bed of this great American Republic, and of all that is likely to come of it.” Despite sometimes fierce resistance from Catholics and Midwesterners, by the outset of the Civil War “the Puritanization of the United States” had become a fact of life throughout most of the North, and the war itself marked the beginning of its century-long march into the heart of the South.

This next statement is going to blow your mind, so make sure you’re sitting down. Ready? Sure? Here we go:

Puritanism is inherently progressive.

This is important, so I’ll repeat it:

Puritanism is inherently progressive.

One of the Great Lies of our time is that Puritanism and Calvinism were right-wing or conservative in any way, shape or form. It betrays a basic ignorance of American history. The Puritans were the free-love, hippie-dippie pinko commies of their day. The whole reason they settled in America was not because of “religious persecution,” as the revisionists would argue, but because they felt that the Protestant Reformation had not gone far enough in England. The Puritans recognized that Anglicanism was (and is) nothing more than ersatz Catholicism, with the Queen replacing the Pope, and they sought to extirpate all Catholic influences from their lives. Even after formal Puritanism faded away, the attitudes and beliefs it inculcated stayed behind, and define America as we know it. The American Revolution was birthed in Calvinist New England; virtually every progressive social movement in American history, from abolitionism to the temperance movement to the civil rights movement, either began in New England or had significant support there. Which state was the first to legalize gay marriage again? Oh, that’s right, Massachusetts.

America’s history is the history of Calvinists exterminating everyone who posed a threat to them. The first major example of this is the Civil War, as McKenna notes above. Aside from their mutual hatred of Catholics, the neo-Roman, Anglican South always stood in opposition to the Calvinist North, always seeking out new lands to colonize. The Civil War was a decades-long cultural conflict coming to a head, a war the Confederacy had lost long before Fort Sumter; the Northerners had greater numbers and a superior, industrial economy, which is how abolitionist Abraham Lincoln was able to win election without carrying a single Southern state. The civil rights movement was the culmination of this process. The Calvinization of the South that began under Reconstruction ended when it ended, leaving Southerners only half-assimilated. The end of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the final bullet in the head of the Old South. While the origins of the movement were with Southern blacks, anyone who thinks that Martin Luther King et al. would have gotten anywhere without massive support from Northern whites is insane. The South won’t rise again because there is no South anymore, just a neutered extension of Yankeedom impotently waving around the Stars and Bars every April 12th.

Anti-Catholic hysteria is an ever-present reality of American history; just check any textbook. The Puritans historically painted themselves as victims of Papist oppression, always on watch for a Jesuit army invading and dragging them all back into the fold. It was totally ridiculous—nobody in the Vatican cared about a bunch of Protestant weirdos eking out a miserable existence in a godforsaken spit of mud like Massachusetts—but since when did rationality stop the Crowd? If you examine anti-Catholic prejudice in the U.S. throughout the ages, you’ll notice a common thread: the Protestants always wrapped themselves in the cloak of victimhood. The Know-Nothings and other anti-immigrant movements of the 19th century claimed Catholics would be a fifth column; John F. Kennedy was savaged in the 1960′s because it was feared that he’d be taking marching orders from the Pope. No matter how weak, divided or nonexistent Catholics were, American Calvinists have always lived in fear of the big bad Catholic Church coming to oppress them. This Calvinist cult of victimhood continues all the way to the present, as shown in this anti-Catholic poster Proph dredged up:


No matter how you feel about the birth control issue, you have to agree that this is ridiculous. The Catholic Church resisted a government-enforced mandate to violate their religious beliefs, and they’re the boogeyman here? Am I just out of touch? Did Catholics gain a monopoly on the job market when I wasn’t looking? Are there legions of women who have no choice but to work for Catholic institutions if they don’t want to starve?

Up until relatively recently, anti-Catholic sentiment on the left was suppressed for two reasons:

  1. Catholic immigrant groups, mainly the Irish and Italians, formed an integral part of FDR’s New Deal Coalition.
  2. Catholics themselves are largely left-wing on economic issues.

Recently though, as the descendants of Catholic immigrants have assimilated into the white middle class, Catholics have progressed from being a reliable Democratic constituency to a swing blocBush won the majority of Catholics in 2004. As liberals abandoned their commitment to the working class back in the early 90’s with the rise of libertarians like Bill Clinton and Mario Cuomo, social progressivism (abortion, gay marriage etc.) is now the organizing principle of the American left, and the Catholic Church stands against this. Much has been written about how Obama’s reelection strategy explicitly involves disregarding the middle- and working-class whites in favor of wealthy SWPLs, blacks and Latinos (for whom race trumps religion), and his throwing Catholics under the bus is part of this. Liberals tolerated the Papists only so long as they were useful; now that they’re no longer willing to shut up and blindly vote blue, they’re out of the club.

No, there’s nothing new about the left’s hatred of Catholics; this is just a new battle in an old war. The liberals frothing at the mouth over the contraception issue are the heirs of the Know-Nothings and every anti-Catholic movement in American history going back to the Mayflower. Instead of stereotyping Catholics as dirty degenerates with too many kids (read: they have sex more than once a month), lazy (read: they enjoy life and don’t want to slave all day for a pittance), idol-worshipping (read: they appreciate beauty), and disloyal (read: they have greater principles then mindlessly worshipping the state), they rage about how Catholics violate today’s orthodoxy of pseudohedonism and non-judgmentalism. I say “pseudohedonism” because liberals only tolerate hedonism along certain approved paths. They claim to be for freedom until you want to have a cigarette, buy a handgun, or be a man and not a wussy, feminized doormat. “Do what you want, unless you make choices I personally disapprove of.”

Evangelical Christians don’t inspire the deranged, manic hatred in leftists that Catholics do because evangelicalism is the moderate wing of American Calvinism; America has no conservatives, just liberals and libertarians (right-liberals). Evangelicals have the gall to call themselves “conservative” when they bend to every whim of secular society, whether it’s their Mammonite worship of capitalism (“God helps those who help themselves”) or their chosen art form, Christian “rock.” To liberals, “conservative” Protestants are the equivalent of annoying cousins; they may not like them, but they’re still family. Catholics are foreigners, outsiders, the enemy, good only to be leashed or shot.

That’s the sick joke here: liberals may praise rationality to the skies and profess their atheism, but they are nothing more than Puritans, working to turn America and the world into Calvin’s fabled “city of glass.” God may be dead, but Christianity lives on.

Read Next: Civil War Among the Rabbits; or, Chanty Morris, the Men’s Rights Movement and Fighting Fire with Fire