Dialogue: Does the Term Anti-Catholic Employ an Unreasonable Double Standard?

Dave Armstrong vs. Matt Perman (mperman@uswest.net)

This is an exchange with a Reformed friend of mine. I have previously dealt with this subject in depth twice, in my paper about (Reformed Baptist anti-Catholic writer) James White: (section: The Debate Over the Terminology of Anti-Catholic. Is it Slanderous and Unfair? Does it Entail a Double Standard?), and in a dialogue with Reformed apologist Tim Enloe (section: Definitions of Christian and Objections to the Term Anti-Catholic). For the somewhat related "flip side" of the terminological issue see my paper with James Akin: "Roman Catholic" vs. "Catholic" (Proper Titles). Matt's words will be in blue:


I have noticed that people are sometimes referred to as "anti-Catholic,"
James White being a case in point (below).  I'm curious about your (and the
other Catholics who do this) reasons for doing so.  It gives a sort of
"fundamentalist" impression and appears to imply that it is "impolite" to
disagree with Catholicism.  I know that this is not the intention, so I'm
wondering what the intention is.  Even if this is a label that is reserved
only for those that you take to actually be impolite in their mode of
disagreement, it seems to come close to "going down to their level" and, on
top of that, appears to rope you off from all disagreement, not just
impolite disagreement.  (Note that in saying this I am not implying that
James White is one of the people whose level you don't want to stoop to; I
think he is full of integrity.  But I acknowledge that there are indeed
people who dialog at the wrong level.) Can you help me out here?

Hi Matt,

Thanks again for writing. I always appreciate your letters.

Thanks a lot for your further clarification.  I thought you might value some input on it, in the event that it might be helpful to you in preserving harmony in Protestant/Catholic dialog.

Sure.

My assumption is that you deem it important, for the purposes of preserving harmony, to know how certain things come across to Protestants, in this case one who has no personal vendetta against Catholics.

Yes, but I still think your opinion here is wrongheaded, with all due respect. I think you're missing the forest for the trees.

And as you'll see, I'm not mainly writing about how you came across . . . I used to have the perspective "well, at least Catholics do not have a tendency towards a fundamentalist/combative/distortive-type spirit."  Upon reflection, it seems to me that I'm sure you'd readily admit that there are some Catholics like that and that it was naive of me to think otherwise.

Between (notable anti-Catholic) Dr. James White and someone like Norman Geisler or yourself there is a world of difference in approach. And it is no coincidence that Geisler regards us as Christian. That tends to foster a better attitude and mode of dialogue and critique (though not necessarily).

In addition, the "tit for tat" mentality that James Akin spoke of [in the jointly-written paper cited above] ("You stop using a mode of speech which offends me; I'll stop using a mode of speech which offends you. What could be a more even exchange?") seems to me to be generally contrary to the spirit of grace that Christ wants to uphold. In other words, doesn't Christ want us to NOT treat others in a way that reflects the (sometimes bad) way they have treated us--that is, not "stoop to their level"--but rather exhibit grace and gentleness?

Yes, ideally. But James Akin (rhetorically, to make a point; not ethically) was playing James White's game of immaturity and disrespect in refusing to address people by their preferred titles. What he was addressing pointedly was the double standard: viz., that James White refuses to call us simply "Catholics" even while he bristles at our description of him as "anti-Catholic." Both James and I are happy to call him a Protestant apologist as well. But he is also in that sub-group which is anti-Catholic. It is a minority group within Protestantism; hence the qualifier, so that people will know what the deal is.

He refuses to call us "Catholics" (let alone "Christian") but we don't refuse to call him a Protestant or a Christian or Baptist or Reformed Baptist; whatever he likes. We are simply qualifying when we add "anti-Catholic" because he is against our Church to the extent that it is not just mistaken (like the Arminians) but the Beast, the Antichrist, etc. You're still not dealing with the actual reasoning that James Akin and I have offered. No Protestant who has objected to this has, as of yet, and I wish they would.

On a more important level, though, James Akin did not address the main issue, at least to my mind.  He says that it is OK to disagree with the Catholic Church; that won't earn the label anti-Catholic.  And then I thought he would say that if you disagree in a mean-spirited way you earn the "anti-Catholic" label.  That I can understand, although I still wouldn't agree with the practice.

No, precisely because the title is not intended to refer to emotions or bigotry or hatred; it is strictly a descriptive - virtually sociological - title for one who opposes the Catholic Church-as-Christian in the way White does. Why is this so controversial? It means "anti-Catholic (Church)," not "anti-Catholic (persons)" in the sense of personal animus or as in "anti-black" or "anti-homosexual" or "anti-Semitism."

We use it in the sense of:

anti-abortion
anti-lock brake system
anti-theft device
anti-Communist
anti-disestablishmentarianism
anti-trust
anti-aircraft missiles
anti-bacterial medicine
anti-climax
anti-depressant
anti-oxidant
anti-slavery
anti-histamine
Does being "anti-abortion" mean hating abortionists or women who abort? Of course not. Did Ronald Reagan or William F. Buckley (or even JFK) personally hate Communists? No. The dictionary defines "anti" as:
a person opposed to some policy, proposal, action; against, hostile to; counteracts, acts against; opposite, reverse.
True, it does mention "anti-Semite" in this particular dictionary, so it is perhaps necessary to plainly explain what we mean. And I have, over and over in my papers: it means one who opposes the Catholic Church as a non-Christian institution. This may or may not be accompanied by hostility, derision, malice, etc. But that is not part of the definition. In my experience, nevertheless, negative attitudes and bigotry are much more often than not present as well.

So what is the objection to the term as I have defined it here? Is not James White "anti-Catholic" in that sense? In this same exact sense I would describe myself as "anti-Mormon" or "anti-Jehovah's Witnesses." I have indeed referred to myself as a "counter-cult researcher" for many years. A synonym for that might be "anti-cult researcher." I am "anti-heretical." I do not regard these groups as Christian (I think they claim the title falsely). James White, Dave Hunt, William Webster, Eric Svendsen, Bart Brewer, James McCarthy, John Armstrong, and all the rest do not regard us as Christian.

What words or title do you suggest we use in order to differentiate a Geisler who opposes many of our beliefs within what I call an "ecumenical outlook" and a White who fights the Catholic Church as a mortal enemy of the Christian faith and as an infidel institution? I fail to see the difficulty.

But, instead, he seemed to say that anyone who thinks that the Catholic Church is not Christian is anti-Catholic, even if they disagree on this point with a gentle and good spirit.

Yes, exactly, because it has nothing to do with attitude; it is doctrinal and sociological all at once. Again, what would you call a ministry which is devoted to opposing the Catholic Church as an entity deliberately designed to lead people to hell? Contra-Catholic? It may sound nicer, but there is no actual difference in literal meaning. Oppositional Protestants? I suppose (sounds silly and awkward to me). Non-ecumenical Protestants? Then you have to explain what ecumenical means every time - sort of like "apologetics" which everyone thinks is saying sorry. You tell me! PLEASE!!!!!!

This seems to me to be special pleading.  It says "You can disagree with us, but only this far."

No; it simply calls a spade a spade. This is how we describe someone who denies our very definition; the fundamental definition of what we are: Christians. No Catholic who understands what his Church teaches can ever think that of a Protestant; our Church doesn't allow it. The Feeneyite error which sought to do that was not approved by the Church. Protestants are Christians by virtue of their baptism, first and foremost; secondly by their agreement with us on many central matters of the faith, such as the Trinity, death and resurrection of Jesus, grace alone, God as Sovereign and Creator and Judge, heaven and hell, sin, the Fall, the devil and the angels, acceptance of the Bible as God's written revelation, etc.

I recently learned that even Calvin accepted the validity of Catholic baptism:
Calvinist Confusion and Contradictions Concerning Election, Valid Baptism, and Whether Catholics are "Brothers in Christ" or Slaves to Satan. I've had at least two Calvinists recently tell me that, so I looked it up myself, and sure enough it is true. But tell that to your average Calvinist out there today, and see what happens. The prominent 19th-century Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge also held that the Catholic Church was Christian, in an 1846 article for the Princeton Review (Is The Church of Rome A Part of the Visible Church?).

That simply cuts off genuine exploration and, for those who have come to conclusions, honest discussion.

It does not, if rightly understood. But regarding me as a non-Christian is an extreme insult to me. So is continuing to call me a "papist" or "Romanist" when I repeatedly request the person to cease, as it offends me (as a Calvinist pastor recently did in a group e-mail exchange). That is his entire description of what I am, as a category, whereas "anti-Catholic" is a qualifier to "Protestant" or even "Christian" or "fundamentalist" or "evangelical," which are the primary categories and titles. This makes it entirely distinct in essence and intent from a ridiculous and highly-offensive pejorative such as "papist" or even sillier, more childish adjectives such as "Romish," "popish," "popery," "Babylonish," etc.

The implication is that it is a sin, and almost a hate-crime, to think that the Catholic Church is not Christian.

When all is said and done, it is a sin insofar as it is a lie, a slander, and bearing false witness. Hate has nothing to do with the title. Nor does sin, for that matter, though it is indeed a sin to routinely engage in such lying and slander by refusing to acknowledge us as Christian (I would argue that if we are not, then Protestants certainly are not as well, and could not possibly be, once the basic facts of Church history are known).

And it is a sin against charity, just as terms like "papist" and suchlike are. Most of all, though, it is just plain ignorant and misinformed, in my opinion. I think it is intellectual suicide for any Protestant to make this claim. And that's why I didn't make it when I was a Protestant. My perspective was almost exactly like that of Norman Geisler: strong and vigorous disagreement within an overall framework of respect and acknowledgement as brothers in Christ.

But surely one can disagree with the Catholic Church's status as Christian without hateful motives and without an "attack" mentality.

Of course. But there is a deep, deep bigotry among many (I would suspect most) of the people who believe this, the degree of which I had no idea until I became a Catholic. There is nothing like being a recipient of prejudice and bigotry, to feel the full force and wickedness of it. Even so, I never take it personally; rather I am deeply saddened over the attitude, the blindness, the ignorance, the unwillingness to learn and be corrected, and the sin against Christian unity that it entails. This is why the world is in the shape it is in: Christian division. Divide and conquer; Satan triumphs. Is it any wonder that we barely affect the culture at all? We're too busy lying about and dividing from each other to accomplish something so mundane as revival and cultural transformation: being the salt and light of the world.

Would someone who thinks that the Mormon church is not a true church necessarily have hateful motives towards the Mormon church, or the members of it?  I don't think so.

I agree; like I said, I am an anti-Mormon in that sense. I witness to Mormons. I don't witness to Protestants; I share with my esteemed Christian brethren that I believe my Church has the fullness of the Faith, and completely preserves apostolic Christianity. White, Webster, Hunt et al "witness" to us; they try to persuade us out of our Church like I would try to dissuade a devil-worshipper from continuing in his religion. The anti-Catholic feels he is rescuing us from spiritual darkness; when I do my apologetics, I view it as helping Protestants (and nominal Catholics) from fairly bright light to brilliant shining light without any admixture of darkness (error).

More significantly, isn't it possible for you to believe that certain of your friends are not Christians (because they don't believe in Christ) without having an "attack" mentality toward them but rather one of love?

Of course. But isn't this the point? Catholics believe in Christ (almost exactly as Protestants do); therefore they are Christians. You continue to not interact with the heart of my arguments and James Akin's arguments. If we are so wrong on this, surely you could point out the flaws in our logic, no?

My main point is simply this:  it only poisons the well and distorts the issues to define "anti-Catholic" simply as someone who doesn't think the Catholic Church is a true church.  It of necessity brings an "us vs. them" mentality to the discussion.

It doesn't bring it in. Those who believe in anti-Catholicism have already brought in the slandering and schismatic mentality. We are merely describing it for what it is. You confuse a description of a cause for the true cause and origin. It is like saying that describing someone as an "anti-Semite" fosters his sin, and his division from Jews (and that it is an innacurate title). Even Jesus said "he who is not for us is against us," right?

But if someone can disagree civilly and in love with, say, the doctrine of purgatory, one can disagree with just as much civility and love concerning the Catholic Church's status as a
Christian institution.

Only with a warped and distorted definition of "Christian" which cannot succeed doctrinally, historically, biblically, logically, or any other way. It can't be done, so I challenge you to demonstrate it if you feel so strongly about this (if this has some meaning to you personally). James White never would (it was a large theme of our debate). No anti-Catholic ever gives me a sensible, coherent definition of Christian which includes all Protestants but effectively excludes Catholics (not to mention Orthodox).

But again, I am talking about doctrinal/biblical and rational definitions, not the attitude of love; I don't disagree with you about that. Nevertheless, I continue to say that it is not loving to lie and slander, and to the extent that those doing so can claim sincerity and invincible ignorance, I still say they are responsible for knowing better, and that ultimately they are without excuse and ought to at least shut their mouths and take an agnostic position on the issue (James 3:1-12).

Is it really fair to label such people--i.e., those who uphold gentleness and love and respect in all aspects of the discussion--as anti-Catholic?

Yes, just as one could be an anti-Communist and love Communists, and agree that many Communists are fine, upstanding people, or anti-abortion and love both abortionists and the most raving, radical pro-abort woman (I have done both myself). I am anti-Clinton but I don't hate the man. I feel sorry for him. I wish that he would repent so that he could experience the joy that I have experienced when I repent of sin. I want the best for him. That is love. I oppose his sin and his policies such as partial-birth abortion and reducing our military strength by 50%.

And isn't it a form of special pleading by saying "You can disagree with me only to a point?"

People can disagree all they want, and I will dialogue with them and place the dialogue on my website. But they better be able to back up their claims if they're gonna engage in dialogue with me. I've had entire debates on the question of whether Catholicism is Christian, and I don't think my opponents have gotten to first base in explaining their viewpoint. It's a pack of lies and ignorance. I would hope that you are no longer in that camp. If you are in it, let's debate it! :-)

Well, Dave, I those are my thoughts.  I hope that you find it helpful to see how this all comes across to a representative of at least one of the groups that your apologetics are probably aimed at convincing. And so I hope you find it valuable.

I do, even though I disagree, obviously. I've said all I can say on this topic. I don't know where else to go (except to debate the definition of "Christian" itself). My opponents on this have to give true counter-replies to our arguments, not just largely emotional objections based on a mis-definition of our term and how we use it (as if we are using it like "anti-Semite" is used). They have not yet done so.

And, of course, I welcome any further thoughts from your end and hearing any of your disagreements.  I hope that my voicing my perspective only works towards greater harmony, and not divisiveness.

I understand where you are coming from, in the sense of seeking for more harmony. You think the term is divisive and therefore oppose it. That is a worthy motive, and one which I try to strive for myself. But in this instance I disagree - with all due respect - completely with your reasoning.

Thanks for your helpful reply.  This has been a very good exchange.

Good! I think so, too.

We are making progress. I think we have spoken past each other on the main issue, though.  And so here is how I address the main arguments you present. Yes, you are technically correct that one who thinks the Catholic church is non-Christian is "anti-Catholic."  But I don't think I've made it clear enough that this has not been my point of disagreement. Words have not only definitions, but connotations.  I disagree with your use of the term because of its connotations, not because of its definition.  The definition is right, it seems to me.  But that does not justify using it.

I see the point you are trying to make, but I ultimately disagree with it, as I will try to explain. Secondly, your same point applies with much more force to the continued Protestant use (in some circles) of "Romish," "Romanism," "papist," etc. Those terms are patently offensive, whereas "anti-Catholic" simply states (granted, when rightly understood and received) that one is against Catholicism. Why won't a scholarly type like James White refuse to use "Romanist"? Does he think that is an objective, charitable term of address?

Why?  Well, some examples might illustrate this.  I hope that I truly do love Jehovah's Witnesses, all the while believing that their church is non-Christian. So, technically, I am "anti JW."  But if I love JW's and want to make any progress, I won't want to be called that.  Why?  Because it poisons the well.

But the point is that you don't refer to yourself in that way, generally. You call yourself a "Christian," or "Calvinist," or "Reformed," or "Presbyterian" (as the case may be). But the Jehovah's Witness could refer to you as an "anti-JW" due to your opposition of their teaching, in the same exact sense that I use the title "anti-Catholic." I don't see any ethical impropriety here.

Isn't it practically self-evident here that it simply biases the issue and is unfair?

No . . . People get offended for a variety of reasons; some good, some bad. But if we change the English language to cover every offense, there won't be much left. At some point one must maintain a definitional rigor and principles which tie into one's worldview, in the final analysis.

Let me defend this more.  For one thing, "anti-any religious institution" will first of all conjure up the thought that those so described hate the people in the church of which they are anti.  I just don't think that can be denied.

For some people it will, but I don't think much can be done about that, because those people are not likely to be reached through reason. The classic case today is the stupid epithet "homophobe." This is a butchery of the English language (and to me, quite humorous), because it means, literally, "fear of sameness." Apart from that, it presupposes the relativist idea that opposition to a practice or lifestyle is the equivalent of hating the person. I say that is the fruit of philosophical relativism, where no idea can be opposed on principled or logical grounds because they are all allegedly equal. Therefore, to oppose an idea boils down to (in their mind) to a personal opposition and hatred, which is nonsense.

I always say that a true tolerance comes from one who actually believes in absolutes, disagrees with someone, yet still loves them and desires their best. It's easy to be "tolerant" when you accept relativism whole-hog and therefore think it is improper to ever disagree with anyone (sort of like arguing about whether chocolate or vanilla ice cream is the "best"). I think you have bought into some of this postmodernist thinking without being aware of it.

It is indeed much like the term "anti-semite."  Technically, I agree that this should not be so. But due to associations with terms like "anti-Semite," terms like "anti-Catholic" or "anti-JW" wrongly bias the issue.  This is the imperfect world we live in, and we must live accordingly.

I don't deny that this is a factor, but I don't think it is enough of a factor to warrant dropping the term, because I lean in favor of objective meanings of words, rather than how they will be received. People who are what I call "anti-Catholic" have not been exactly models of rationality and compromise whenever this discussion has come up, anyway. James White hasn't even shown me that he understands our argument here, let alone interacting with it and being willing to change his own patently offensive terminology. But that's his problem. The term still has much practical usefulness in differentiating for the Catholic (the main visitor to my website, where I use the term) a sort of Protestant who has a high stake in opposing the Catholic Church, and in being decidedly unecumenical, exclusivistic, etc.

You still haven't told me what alternate term for this purpose would satisfy you.

Now, let me defend that (i.e., that we must live accordingly, on this point at least).

Well, you're giving it the old college try (which I always appreciate); I'm just not convinced; sorry........

First, the principle of charity is very relevant here.  We both accept that principle of debate, right?

Of course.

You must paint the opposing view in the best possible light?

One must be accurate and fair-minded and as objective as possible without denying one's own principles and beliefs. The very fact that anti-Catholics as a whole do not care about those things when it comes to Catholicism, supports my contention that the term is merely descriptive, not pejorative in and of itself. As I wrote before, their central premise is a flat-out lie which cannot be supported for a second from Church history, Scripture or reason. They begin with the grossest of insults towards a person like myself, and my Church. I could think of many accurate names I could use to describe such a person, believe me (<GGG>), so - all things considered - I think "anti-Catholic" is pretty mild. :-)

I admit there are some exceptions--but not that justify large divergences.  Sometimes it is OK to paint the opposing view as bad if it comes across bad.  That MIGHT justify using "anti-Catholic" for those who are mean-spirited.  But it doesn't and cannot justify it for those who are NOT.

I disagree. The offense and the lie here are intellectual, and they do involve a lack of charity already (which might be equated with "mean-spirited"), because to lie about someone is not to be loving at all, let alone fair. In other words, anti-Catholicism is intrinsically wicked in our eyes. We merely call it what it is, by a very objective, even boring terminology. They, however, routinely call us far worse "names," such as "idolater," "Pelagian," "papist slave to Rome," etc. None of these names have even a shred of truth to them, whereas our title has to be wrongly understood to even be considered offensive at all, in my opinion.

For those who disagree in love with the Christian status of Catholicism, calling them "anti-Catholic" wrongly connotes that they are malicious (or, at best, lacking sincerity of love) and therefore is contrary to the principle of charity.  It is, therefore, inappropriate to use the term "anti-Catholic" for those who disagree in love with the Christians status of Catholicism.

It is a mistaken connotation, as I have tried to explain, by use of several analogous terms. Being "anti-Catholic" is no more necessarily hateful than being "anti-Communist" because in both cases it ought to be understood that the person is opposing a system; not an individual. One is ethically and Christianly free to hate a system, but not a person.

I could go on with more arguments here, Dave, but you probably have enough feel now for where I would go and how I would respond to objections.

I would like to see you reply directly to many of my arguments, and suggest an alternative term which fulfills your criteria for non-offensiveness, fairness, and accuracy.

So here is one last illustration.   In the abortion debate, would you find it acceptable to call the "pro-choice" position "anti-life" or even just "pro-abortion"?

Yes, having been a pro-life activist and having thought a lot about the question of terminology here as well.

Let's face it, it really is anti-life, even if that is not the intent of the people involved, and it really is, technically, "pro-abortion."

Not just technically, but very practically, in end result, I would say.

But those who hold that view do not like those terms because of what they imply--namely, that they don't care about life and that abortion is the main thing to them when freedom of choice is really their burden.

Again, this accepts the terms of the opponent and ultimately involves compromise of principle. We are not obliged to ever do that simply in order not to offend someone. By the same token, Jesus was quite guilty of intemperate language with the Pharisees, wasn't He? By your criteria, He failed utterly in the attempt to "sensitively" deal with the Pharisees, and exercised terrible public relations and apologetic strategy in calling them "hypocrites," "whitewashed tombs," "vipers," et al.

We don't buy the whole anti-life mentality and change our terms, when ours are accurate. We know that the abortionists and proponents of this wickedness are uncomfortable with terminology precisely because its objective meanings and use expose what they advocate: child-killing; wanton destruction of innocent human life, etc. We don't change our description and accept theirs simply so they won't be offended! Arguably, this prolongs the same mentality and denial of what is going on, by granting inaccurate terms.

"Pro choice" is itself a ridiculous use of English, for the question immediately arises: "choice to do what?" E.g., people speak of educational "choice" with regard to vouchers. But everyone knows that choice of schools is the "choice" referred to. Likewise, the "choice" in abortion involves an intrinsically immoral "choice" to kill a preborn child. We merely point out that our opponents ought to be accurate in what they desire.

They want legal abortion, free access to abortion, license to have sex and not bear any responsibility for its consequences. If they were truly for a "woman's right to choose," as they say, then why do they invariably oppose Crisis Pregnancy Centers, informed consent laws, and requirements to have abortion fully explained to them before having one? Therefore, all of the foregoing suggests that they are much more accurately described as "pro-abortion."

Besides, their chosen term for us is "anti-abortion." I have said many times that I don't mind that, as it is accurate. I am against abortion. What I do mind is the double standard routinely employed by the media and politicians, and academicians. They call us that, but insist on "pro-choice" for themselves. Besides the deficiencies outlined above, this applies a double standard by suggesting that they are primarily for something, while we are merely against something (i.e., the connotation of positive vs. negative). They don't want to say they are "for" killing, so they use the innocuous, very American- and libertarian-sounding word "choice." This was a conscious, deliberate strategy on their part. But I say that the accurate parallel would be:

"anti-abortion"  <--------------> "pro-abortion"

This would show that one party opposes abortion, while the other "espouses" it in the sense that they think it should be legal, and that there is nothing ethically wrong with it.

Or, another fair use would be:

"Pro-Life"  <--------------> "Pro-Choice"

At least this would call both sides their own preferred title, even though "pro-choice" is a ridiculous, sloganistic butchery of the English language, especially when referring to savage child-killing.

Or:

"Pro-Life"  <--------------> "Pro-Abortion"

One side favors the protection of preborn human life; the other does not. That is an objective fact, especially for those who also oppose the death penalty (since that objection comes up so often).

But that's not good enough. These people have to pick their own chosen term for us (rather than our self-title), and use their own name for themselves. That is the double standard, and I utterly despise such tactics. We see the same sort of thing in historiography, which is suffused with anti-Christian and anti-Catholic bias. The Christian-dominated periods of history are referred to as "The Dark Ages" (where such "dark" things as hospitals, capitalism, universities, glorious cathedrals, and printing were developed).

Much more accurate and non-pejorative would be famous historian Will Durant's term "The Age of Faith." That implies that subsequent periods have lost faith rather than gained extraordinary intelligence and wisdom which the medievals supposedly lacked, having been allegedly enslaved by the wicked Catholic Church. Likewise, with "Enlightenment." The lights came on in 18th-century France (while heads rolled down the streets like bowling balls, one after another). What a joke!

The same double standard applies to the anti-Catholics. They refuse to call us by our preferred name: "Catholics." They have to always use "Roman Catholic" (which is not immediately offensive, but which has an anti-Catholic pedigree, having originally developed in extremely anti-Catholic 16th-century England), or outright dumb terms like "Romanist." Yet the same people object when we say they are "anti-Catholics." As I said, we are also happy to call them Protestants, or Baptists, or evangelicals, or whatever they want to be called, but we refuse to stop using the qualifier "anti-Catholic" where it applies. A qualifier is different from a primary title. We grant all Protestants their own titles; many of them refuse to address us by our chosen title.

Anti-Catholic sorts of Orthodox are guilty of the same thing. On my discussion list we discussed this at length. They refused to call us "Catholics" because they thought that implied that we possessed a characteristic (universalism of the Church) that they feel they alone possessed. I pointed out that a title is just that, and that those using it (to refer to others) don't necessarily agree with its intent, and that Christians refer to "Orthodox Jews" without meaning at all to imply that their beliefs are "orthodox" in the literal sense of "correct doctrines." Catholics on the list were quite content to call them "Orthodox" but they refused to call us "Catholics" (or even "Christians" in the worst cases).

So I say it is basically a matter of courtesy to call people what they would like to be called. So I call a "Reformed" or a "Reformed Baptist" those terms (even though I think "reform" is loaded and pre-biased because it is already implying that Catholicism was "reformed" by the Protestants in the 16th century, which I deny). So why is it that the same people refuse to call me "Catholic"? Why is that so difficult? I have laid out my principled reasons for my own terminology above and elsewhere. What is theirs, I wonder? I've yet to see it. Meanwhile, when they oppose the Catholic Church, I say they are "anti-Catholic."

Now, however much I disagree with them and however much I want their position to be seen for the abhorrence that it is (as I'm sure you agree with me), labeling them things like "pro-abortion" or "anti-life" is not the way to accomplish this.  It is simply unfair because it communicates this truth simply by a label rather than by rational argumentation.

I disagree completely. I think the terminology as I discussed it above is the rational and fair way of going about it. Fighting abortion is not a Madison Avenue PR campaign. The pro-abortionists are the ones distorting the English language, and for the worst possible reasons. Why am I required to imply (very subtly) that I go along with their worldviews by using this warped terminology?

Arguably, that prolongs the practice of legal abortion, because we grant them their wicked categories of thought. All revolutions seek to change terminology in order to succeed. Thus Marxism had denigratory terms for capitalists and rich people. The Sexual Revolution turned debauchery, whoring, and philandering into "free love" and "try before you buy." The old "bad girls" or "loose women" became "sensible career women" and male lechers and sexual predators became simply "[sexually active] bachelors" and "single guys [expected to indulge]."

The abnormal became "normal"; the immoral "moral" or a "lifestyle choice" which no one can "judge." Naziism had a number of epithets for Jews. Bigoted white Americans had offensive terms for black people, and some blacks returned the favor. The goal now is to dehumanize the preborn child, so that the sin of murdering it is sugar-coated. And you want to grant them this goal of distorting terminology out of - in my humble opinion - a false sense of what "charity" is?

Or, if you disagree with that, there is another reason:  it just seems that grace calls us to concede here and avoid the terms this movement says unfairly characterizes them.

I deny that it is unfair, but I am willing to call them "pro-choice" if they will refer to us routinely as "pro-life." Or I will accept "anti-abortion" as long as they call themselves "pro-abortion" (which I believe is the most fair, sensible compromise). Likewise, I will call James White simply a "Protestant" and drop the "anti-Catholic" qualifier if he will call me "Catholic" and drop the "Romanist" nonsense. But he refused, so I will not bow to any double standard, especially when my term is literally accurate in the first place. That was a test case, and it proved that a prominent anti-Catholic was absolutely intransigent on the matter of titles, whereas I was quite willing to work out a mutually-agreeable compromise. Isn't part of charity bending and compromising a bit, where no principle is violated?

The abhorrence of their position can be seen through other means; we don't need to use labels to do that.  And, for the sake of harmony, we shouldn't use labels to do that.

Let them reciprocate, and I am willing, as I said. I will not use "pro-choice" until then because it is both inaccurate and incomplete, and represents the worst sort of cynical propaganda and unconcern for "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Well, what do you think of these arguments?

Not much, as shown. :-) But it stimulated my thoughts. I am fully willing to change my mind on this if persuaded, but you have not done so by these particular arguments. I think they actually create further problems of both language and principle, rather than solve the initial problem we have been discussing. I do know that you have altogether worthy motives, so that this almost becomes a difference primarily of strategy and approach. But I am always inclined to emphasize ideas and principles over against approach and "marketing," while always seeking to be as charitable and "presentable" as I can (1 Pet 3:15-16). Indeed it is a very fine balance, and not at all easy to accomplish.

In Christ,

Dave

I had to put off finishing our discussion of the term "anti-Catholic" for quite a while.  It seems like its been too long for us to continue that discussion anymore, but I wanted to give you at least some more brief feedback on your last email and make specific comments about two things.

You wrote:

Why won't a scholarly type like James White refuse to use "Romanist"? Does he think *that* is an objective, charitable term of address?
My answer is:  I wish he would stop using terms like that.

You wrote:

You still haven't told me what alternate term for this purpose would satisfy you.
I don't think that the validity of my arguments depend upon me being able to
suggest an alternative.  Some things are simply incorrect, regardless of
whether we can immediately think of another term.  I've only seen my role as
pointing out that "anti-Catholic" is inappropriate in certain circumstances.
What alternative to use is another issue.

My main point is that "anti-Catholic" is inappropriate when the person being
referred to treats Catholics respectfully and in love.  I am not saying that
it is wrong to use it in reference to those who fail to be respectful and
loving, though I still wouldn't advocate using it then either.  But we are
somewhat responsible not only for what our words mean, but how they are
understood by others.  Not always and not in all respects.  But when it is
clear that to most people a certain label will communicate pejoratively in
ways that you do not intend, that label should not be used.  Anti-Catholic
is a case in point.  And the reason is that most reasonable people will
interpret that to mean "the person being referred to is a jerk" when, in
fact, the person might not be a jerk but may be disagreeing with the
legitimacy of Catholicism's Christian status in love and with respect.

I wouldn't want to be referred to as "anti-Jewish" even though I think that
Judaism will not lead to heaven.  The reason is that so many reasonable
people would interpret that to mean that I was malicious and an anti-Semite.
Likewise, something more than simply disagreeing with the Christian status
of Catholicism is needed to warrant the term "anti-Catholic."  Otherwise,
you just won't be communicating accurately.   (And I am assuming here that
it is indeed possible to respectfully disagree on whether an institution
or body is truly Christian.  I like to think that I have been respectful,
for example, to the Mormon missionaries I have spoken with.)

I didn't see that anything you wrote adequately addressed that point.  Of
course we cannot totally alter our preferred ways of talking to the people
who are listening.  But if we want to communicate accurately, there is a
certain degree to which we must.  I cannot, for example, speak in technical
theological language to my Sunday School class.  Even though I would be
technically saying things accurately, nobody would be getting it.  And the
situation would be worse if it led to misunderstandings.

Of course one could respond that if I explained what I mean by the technical
terms, I could use them in my Sunday School class.  To a degree, yes.  But I
don't see Catholics explaining what they mean by "anti-Catholic" to clear
the air.  The term is just thrown out there.

Anyway, I suggest that we just agree to have not convinced each other and
leave it at that for now.

I feel that I have more than adequately addressed all of these issues already, so I will desist and allow Matt to have the last word.

Main Index & Search | Protestantism | Anti-Catholicism

Edited and uploded by Dave Armstrong on 23 November 2000, with permission.