Last Remaining Prejudice? Not Hardly!

by Jimmy Akin

in Apologetics, Current Affairs

Cartoon-2You sometimes hear Catholics express the opinion that anti-Catholicism is the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice in America.

For example, in a recent piece defending Archbishop Dolan, James Farrell of Irish Central writes:

Archbishop Timothy Dolan has come out swinging against The New York Times, accusing it of anti-Catholic bias in two recent articles.

He is right.

Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice it seems to me in America. If the same comments that were made about Catholic religious figures were aimed at Rabbis, immams [sic] or Dali Lamas there would be widespread outrage.

The substance of what Farrell says is quite true, and I’m glad to see him stepping up and adding his voice to Archbishop Dolan’s. You can read Archbishop Dolan’s original piece here.

Nevertheless, the claim that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in America is incorrect.

It is certainly true that people publicly say things about Catholics they would never say, for example, about religious groups like Jews or Muslims—or about particular racial or ethnic groups.

It’s also understandable that many Catholics would perceive anti-Catholicism as the last remaining prejudice since it may be the only one they personally experience, the only one many of them feel.

And, indeed, anti-Catholicism does have a long history of social acceptance in the United States, as illustrated by the accompanying 19th century cartoon by Thomas Nast, which features one of his trademark ape-like Irishmen carving open the goose that laid the golden egg (the Democratic Party), to the delight of an avaricious priest.

But anti-Catholicism is far from being the last socially acceptable prejudice in America.

What are some others?

To a degree, it depends on what you mean by “socially acceptable.” What’s acceptable in one social circle is not acceptable in another, and there are degrees to the phenomenon of social acceptability. If you define your group small enough, you can find some social circle in which it is acceptable to say any arbitrary thing you want. If you define your group large enough, you’ll find someone in it who will object to the same arbitrary thing.

Nevertheless, it is possible to find prejudices that are given voice, without immediate censure, in a wide range of contexts, both private and public.

For instance, there is anti-Evangelicalism/anti-Fundamentalism. This is hostility towards conservative Protestantism. Many Catholics tend not to be aware of this prejudice because they are not the object of this kind of hostility, but those of us who are converts from conservative Protestantism have vivid memories of the way the press and other elements in modern culture would mock and look down upon our beliefs.

For us the equivalent of the priestly pedophilia scandal was the 1980s televangelism meltdown. The televangelists had always been an embarrassment to many of us, but they were the most visible faces of the movement, and when the financial and sexual scandals erupted, we were subject to the same kind of searing public criticism that the Catholic Church would be subject to a few years later.

Then there is the more general anti-organized-religion prejudice that is hostile toward anybody who takes their faith seriously, or at least anyone who takes a western religion seriously. You can find this among the people who say that they are not religious but “spiritual” and from militant atheists like Dawkins and his crowd.

And, if we want to be frank, there are some anti-Muslim sentiments that get expressed in America without being automatically censured. (I’m talking actual, undue hostility toward Muslims as a group, not prudent caution—though this is far less than the raging anti-Americanism and anti-Christianism harbored in the worldwide Islamic community.)

Prejudice in America goes beyond religion, though.

That will be the subject of our next post.

What are your thoughts?

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bill912 October 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Our separated brethren who take Christianity seriously generally agree with us on certain moral priciples that the Anointed find inconvenient to their lifestyles, including abortion and sex outside of marriage.

Kathleen October 26, 2010 at 6:42 am

Jimmy, “not hardly” is a double negative, which of course makes it a positive.
Love the article, though.

Maureen October 26, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Actually, in pretty much all Indo-European languages including English (and Latin), a double negative is an intensifier of negativity. Going into triple, quadruple, quadruple negatives and so forth is perfectly correct.
OTOH, formal modern English stylists have eccentric views about double negatives, and we like to humor them.

Jimmy Akin October 26, 2010 at 7:03 pm

Indeed. It turns out many of the minor grammar rules that English teachers foist on students–including the idea that double negatives cancel out–are due to a particular Anglican clergyman who catered to the posh set in England and thus gained disproportionate influence for his grammatical eccentricities.
Or so the story goes. :-)
Good catch on “not hardly,” though!

Jimmy Akin October 26, 2010 at 7:06 pm
The Pachyderminator October 26, 2010 at 7:47 pm

As the post Jimmy linked says, to say that a double negative makes a positive is correct only in the context of formal or symbolic logic. The vast, vast majority of the time – for many people, all the time – formal logic is not being used, even when a logical argument is being made, and negatives can be interpreted intuitively, not mathematically.
It is true, however, that in English, unlike some other languages (I understand), double negatives are generally perceived as colloquial and therefore usually inappropriate in formal circumstances. (Note: “formal” in this paragraph has a different sense than in the paragraph above.)

Jeb Protestant October 27, 2010 at 4:20 am

In the post above one of the isms is “fundamentalism” that the catholics are attacking. The left and Catholics are constantly attacking us Bible-believing prots. Isn’t that the last prejudice?
-J. Prot.

The Masked Chicken October 27, 2010 at 5:39 am

Jimmy, “not hardly” is a double negative, which of course makes it a positive.
But only just. It depends on the definition of hardly. Of course, one purpose of Jimmy’s article is to say that anti-Catholicism is not the last prejudice. Now, what exactly is the opposite of hardly? Is it, common, or very often occurring? It needs be, strictly speaking, only 51%. As such, that leaves plenty of room for other prejudices, which was the purpose of the article. So, I’m not entirely convinced that the use of not hardly is even a grammatical problem.
The Chicken

Joseph D'Hippolito October 27, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Jimmy, the last acceptable prejudice is anti-evangelicalism by…among other parties…Catholics!
As Captain Renaud would have said in some French colony bordering the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts in Africa, “I’m shocked, SHOCKED…!”

Joseph D'Hippolito October 27, 2010 at 2:24 pm

On an even more serious note…
I wish that Catholics would stop obsessing about the “last acceptable prejudice” and other areas of perceived victimization, and get busy trying to fight the pervasive corruption in the hierarchy.
This is coming from someone whose father could not get a job after WWII because he was Catholic. Not only was he a decorated military police captain in the Army but he graduated with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from NYU, an elite university. So anti-Catholic prejudice is something I understand. But when it gets used as an excuse to maintain an attitude of victimization, that’s when I lose patience.
My father eventually got a job in the space program working on various projects, military and civilian…including the Apollo and Apollo-Soyuz projects.
So for me, William Donahue is the white Catholic version of Jesse Jackson.

Mike Melendez October 29, 2010 at 5:50 am

@Joseph D’H: Right on, brother! or as I’m more likely to say, “Ese, ‘mano!”
@double negatives: Ain’t no way, no how. (with apologies to the Wizard).

Joseph D'Hippolito October 29, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Muchisimas gracias, Miguel! Que Dios le bendisca siempre!

Tim J. October 30, 2010 at 9:54 am

“Jimmy, the last acceptable prejudice is anti-evangelicalism by…among other parties…Catholics!”
That’s hilarious. I grew up Protestant and heard the Catholic Church, the Pope, Mary, the priesthood, etc… slammed on a regualr basis from the pulpit.
I’ve been a Catholic for about 18 years, now, and have heard from priests, the bishops and the Pope nothing but brotherly conciliation toward Protestants. In an apologetics forum, on the other hand, argument against Protestant heresy is to be expected, is it not? Or does that amount to “anti-evangelical prejudice?” in your estimation?
The ones who really hate evangelicals are the very ones who also hate the Catholic Church. By far most Catholics I know like evangelicals. Heck, most of my relatives are evangelical.
You’re barking up the wrong tree. Also, it’s funny that you would accuse Catholics of playing the victim card, and then turn around and say “Besides, we’re more victimized than you!”.

Linebyline October 30, 2010 at 12:11 pm

How about “not EVEN hardly”? That’s how I usually interpret it. “Hardly” isn’t a synonym for “not,” so in that sense it’s not the kind of double negative that makes a positive.
On the other hand, “I don’t know nothing” literally means “I know something.” That’s just what those words mean. Same for “I didn’t do nothing.” Using those to mean a negative only works for certain regional dialects. As far as I know, it doesn’t fly in SAE. At least, that’s how it worked in the one linguistics class I took.
And pretty much everyone who’s discriminated against claims that it’s the last acceptable prejudice. It would be much more accurate to say that prejudices of all kinds are acceptable despite our culture’s insistence on tolerance. The real last acceptable prejudice is intolerance of the intolerant, so if you can paint your opponent as intolerant, then you can discriminate all you like.
For example, “Old white men” seems to be synonymous with “intolerant, old-fashioned, and completely out-of-touch with reality.” Nothing ageist, racist, or sexist about that, since the whole reason old white men are so awful is that THEY are ageist, racist, and sexist. That’s not a hasty generalization or an offensive stereotype or anything! (Also: Sarcasm works SO well online! 😉 )
Also, I totally see what Mr. Akin says about “socially acceptable” depending on the social group. Examples: In some scientific circles, “creationist” is a rough synonym for “moron.”
Being from Appalachia, I can also vouch for what ChristopherY said in the NCR comment thread: Rednecks tend to get stereotyped as stupid, and the stronger the accent, the dumber they must be. My linguistics teacher actually said he used to have an accent (I THINK he said Appalachian) but he had to work hard to get rid of it because he was told at a job interview that he sounded like “a dang stump farmer.”

Joseph D'Hippolito October 31, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Tim J., I know what I’m talking about. A good friend of mine who is a devout Catholic has told me that he’d rather be an atheist than a Born Again Christian because of a lot of the nonsense concerning a literalist view of creation. The point doesn’t concern his views of Genesis but his willingness to marginalize fellow Christians who believe in the same Christ that he does.
I also remember the former communications director of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles saying more than 20 years ago on the radio that he would rather be an atheist than an evangelical.
I have seen many people on non-apologetical Catholic blogs and Web sites dismiss evangelicals out of hand as somehow spiritually inferior, especially because of such peripherals as music and worship style. The fact is that Catholics (and other Christians) can learn a great deal from evangelicals about committment to faith and understanding of Scripture.
Tim J., I don’t doubt that many evangelicals are prejudiced against Catholics and have stereotypical, nonsensical views of Catholic doctrine. But Catholics also have the same problems concerning evangelicals (and not in an apologetics context, either). Denying that is just being dishonest and holding to a mindless groupthink.

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