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100 years ago, Americans talked about Catholics the way they talk about Muslims today


47of74
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Just saw this 2017 article this morning

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About a century ago, millions of Americans feared that members of a religious group was amassing an arsenal of weapons for a secret, preplanned takeover of the United States.

The feared religious group wasn’t Muslims. It was, as Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce wrote in a great piece in 2015, Catholics:

This may seem absurd today, but there was a real fear among Protestant Americans back then that Catholics were planning to take over the country. As Pearce reported, the fears led to serious violence: Lynch mobs killed Catholic Italians, arsonists burned down Catholic churches, and there were anti-Catholic riots. It was a similar sentiment to the kind of Islamophobia today that’s led many Americans to call for shutting down mosques, forcing Muslims to register in a national database, and even banning Islam.

The point of the comparison is not to say that the US faces the same problems today as it did a century ago, or that the discrimination toward Catholics back then and Muslims today is exactly the same. But when looking back at the history of the US, it’s easy to see a pattern of consistent xenophobia and fears of outsiders.

And many of the descendants of the Catholics and immigrants - Germans, Irish, Italians, and so on - who in theory should know much, much better, are the same ones who engage in hate speech towards non-Christians and immigrants.  Shaking my goddamn fucking head.

 

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I remember reading that people were afraid that if JFK were elected, the Pope would rule America.

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Until the postwar period (1940s or so), the United States considered itself to be explicitly a Protestant nation. Not vaguely “Christian” or “Judeo-Christian” but Protestant. American identity was as much about being “not Catholic” as it was about being “not black.” The Catholic Church was seen as an inherently undemocratic institution, and Catholic countries were considered to be hopelessly backward, meaning that white Protestants were alarmed by these Catholic immigrants coming in with their illiberal ideas under the pope’s marching orders. Jews weren’t really seen as a threat in the same way because there were fewer of them and were accustomed to being treated as a minority. This was also pre-Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Irish and the Italians were also considered to be of different races than white Anglo Saxon Protestants, so there was concern that their “degeneracy” would weaken the “racial stock” of respectable and established WASPs.

I think that the tensions between white Catholics and white Protestants lessened when they decided that feminists, gays, and assorted dark skinned others were scarier than each other, but there’s still a good deal of theological shade being thrown around (see the right wing concern about voting for Mitt Romney because he was a Mormon). However, I have noticed that conservative Catholics and Protestants are taking the worst aspects of each other’s theologies and culture. You see traditionalist Catholics into skirts only, home schooling, courtship, and survivalism, while fundegicals have become hyper natalist, anti-abortion, and have decided that religious schools are okay as long as it’s attached to a fundamentalist Protestant church they approve of. I guess the next logical step is for fundegelicals to embrace divine monarchy like Catholic traditionalists, since so many of them seem eager to bring back stoning.

Edited by Cleopatra7
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I know that anti-Catholic sentiment was very real and strong during JFK's bid for the Presidency. He had to make several statements addressing it and pledging to uphold the Constitution and the separation of Church and State. Penn Jillette has talked about a theory that once upon a time Americans didn't have so much a Christian identity as they had a denominational one. (For the record, neither Penn Jillette nor I are certain of how well that can be verified.) So the Episcopalians didn't trust the Baptists who didn't trust the Methodists who didn't trust the Lutherans and nobody trusted Catholics or Mormons. What brought opposing factions together in an umbrella group? Roe versus Wade. Now there was an issue to united on and form a Christian identity around. 

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9 hours ago, Pecansforeveryone said:

I know that anti-Catholic sentiment was very real and strong during JFK's bid for the Presidency. He had to make several statements addressing it and pledging to uphold the Constitution and the separation of Church and State. Penn Jillette has talked about a theory that once upon a time Americans didn't have so much a Christian identity as they had a denominational one. (For the record, neither Penn Jillette nor I are certain of how well that can be verified.) So the Episcopalians didn't trust the Baptists who didn't trust the Methodists who didn't trust the Lutherans and nobody trusted Catholics or Mormons. What brought opposing factions together in an umbrella group? Roe versus Wade. Now there was an issue to united on and form a Christian identity around. 

There was much stronger denominational identification in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, but it didn’t lead to physical or rhetorical violence in the same way as Protestants vs Catholics. In the early republic, there was some disagreement about teaching Calvinism vs Arminianism in the schools, but it didn’t get violent like the Philadelphia Bible riots that occurred when a Catholic boy refused to read the KJV Bible in school in 1844:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia_nativist_riots

ETA Until the mid 20th century, the KJV Bible was actually considered a secular document in the US because it was something that all Protestant denominations could get behind. Thus when Catholics complained about the use of the KJV in public schools as an attack on their religious identity, most Protestants genuinely didn’t understand why this was the case (famous educational reformer Horace Mann was one). Secularism in 19th century America meant that one could be any flavor of Protestant that you wanted, and no denomination or theology would receive special favors, but just don’t be Catholic.

Edited by Cleopatra7
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On 5/31/2019 at 1:19 PM, Pecansforeveryone said:

What brought opposing factions together in an umbrella group? Roe versus Wade. Now there was an issue to united on and form a Christian identity around. 

Even that is pretty recent though - abortion and contraception was still seen predominantly as a Catholic issue in the groups I circulated in in the 80s, and was just starting to gain traction in  evangelical groups the late 1980s. Certainly mainstream Protestant groups didn't have it on their radar (well not here anyway!)

On 5/31/2019 at 1:01 PM, Cleopatra7 said:

there’s still a good deal of theological shade being thrown around 

Oh my yes. Some of the fundie Catholic memes I've seen have triggered surprisingly strong responses in me - I had no idea that I could feel so Protestant when I haven't been to a service in about a decade.

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Fair enough. I mean the anti-Catholic sentiment expressed towards Kennedy is still within the lifetime of the baby boomers. It wasn't that long ago. The Pope as anti-Christ sentiment is even more recent and ran pretty deep in some evangelical circles. 

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7 minutes ago, Pecansforeveryone said:

Fair enough. I mean the anti-Catholic sentiment expressed towards Kennedy is still within the lifetime of the baby boomers. It wasn't that long ago. The Pope as anti-Christ sentiment is even more recent and ran pretty deep in some evangelical circles. 

That was still pretty common when I taught in a Christian school 20 years ago. And the history textbooks from A Beka, published by Pensacola Christian College, were extremely anti-Catholic. 

The school was housed in a building that was formerly a Catholic high school. They were buying it on a land contract from the local archdiocese. When they were going broke, the archbishop personally allowed them to stay in the building without making their payments (over the objections of his financial advisors). They would literally sit in morning faculty prayer meetings and trash the archbishop multiple times a week. 

I recently had dinner with that archbishop who is now retired. Evangelicalism came up and I told him I worked in that school. He shared that three members of the board came to meet with him about the building at one point. They spent the entire time explaining to him that he was not a Christian and trying to convert him to their theology. 

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I'm from a southern Italian family ( calabrese)  that came through Ellis Island in the late 1800's. My grandparents and various aunts and uncles and their friends.  I remember clearly them talking about what it was like back then. To be darker skinned, Catholics entering America.  It wasn't pleasant. The men would encounter job postings with mention that Italians need not apply. In my grandfather's words " we were treated worse than the Irish but better than the blacks."  Basically,  they stuck to themselves.  Formed a close knit community. Only patronized Italian owned businesses and worked for themselves in some trade or another. (I grew up in NY and moved to SoCal at 22. ) The Mafia is kinda beloved to this day for " pulling us out of that hole" and gaining respect for us. Whether you were affiliated or not. We were called dirty, greasy, untrustworthy, put a curse on you ( ok, in all fairness, they kinda did do that, the hexing. Northern Italians called us Calabrese witches. Strega) and sometimes the N word, according to those elders I mentioned above.  They were all Catholics but did cling to " the old ways" as well.  Old ways do fit nicely with Catholicism.  See Santeria, as an example in Hispanic communities.  Hoodoo in southern black communities. 

Forward to today and tbh, I still don't fit in with wasp croud. Not that I'm trying. Lmao. The ones who run PTA ,for example.  They would exclude my mom. This was in the damn 80's! As a kid, I wasn't invited to the wasps sleepovers, none of us darker, thick haired Italians were. Again, we started clinging to each other.  Now, I don't see much difference here in Cali.  Idk if I'm imagining this but, some blacks and Hispanics, once they ask what I am ( and they do ask because there is not a community of southern Italians here in SoCal, so they don't know where to put me. Lol) and find out I'm Italian, we get friendly fast. The chatting starts, the questions and comparisons. The wasps are polite to me but not as friendly like or care to know about me and we really don't have the similarities like I do with Hispanics. It really pisses me off how my family talks about the Mexico situation.  Like, hey assholes, we were there not too long ago!  Suddenly,  my great grandmother learned English.  Really? Cause before now it was known she only spoke Italian and was illiterate.  She signed her papers with a shaky X. I've seen it. My great grandfather could read and write on a basic, good enough level. If they lived where I do now, they would see how totally similar we are with Mexicans.  My Mexican friends and I joke that I'm an east coast Mexican and they are west coast Italians. Did I even have a point here? Just sharing for the sake of sharing on the subject, I guess. That's been my experience.  

Also, Italians can be very racist against blacks. I'm not 100% why. I always kind of assumed it's because they were the ones Italians could point a finger at instead of that finger being pointed at them. Idk. My generation and our kids aren't racist like that. At least in my family.  As far as I know. Now that the older generation has died off, I don't hear that nasty talk anymore.  They could be thinking it though. Idk. I know I'm not, nor are my kids. My kids are half German and at the park when they were little all the blonde moms would ask me very slowly if I was there mom. Like, wtaf? I usually hung out with the nannies when I wasn't playing with my kids. People are fn weird about all this nonsense.  We're all humans.  When will we learn this and stop self segregating?  Enough already.  

Edited by Beermeet
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@Beermeet I just finished reading "The Black Hand: The Gripping True Story of the Origins of the Mafia in America, A Deadly Secret Society and A Detective Who Gave His Life to Stop It" by Stephen Talty which has a really interesting history of southern Italian experiences migrating to the US in the late 19th and early 20th century. I had no idea how excluded and exploited that group was - my impression of NYC was that it was all Italians and Irish in control, not that the Italians had to fight the Irish so hard to get a share of anything. (Then again, I'm coming from a late 20th century, other-side-of-the-world, TV/movie based perspective so...)

On 6/2/2019 at 2:46 AM, Pecansforeveryone said:

Fair enough. I mean the anti-Catholic sentiment expressed towards Kennedy is still within the lifetime of the baby boomers. It wasn't that long ago. The Pope as anti-Christ sentiment is even more recent and ran pretty deep in some evangelical circles. 

I think that's part of why I was shocked I had triggers - sectarianism is something I associate with my grandparent's generation (my grandfather had Catholic friends but still refused a gift of spoons with green handles), and something my parents fought to not pass on. The anti-Kennedy thing was another thing that really surprised me when I found out about it - that some Americans cheered when they heard about the assassination still shocks me.

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9 hours ago, Ozlsn said:

The anti-Kennedy thing was another thing that really surprised me when I found out about it - that some Americans cheered when they heard about the assassination still shocks me

I was shocked by things like this when I was a teen but not anymore. With every single major change that took place in the US (even popular ones), I always assume there are a group of dissenters. So when I think of things like women getting the right to vote, I know there were a lot of extremely vocal dissenters. It’s more evident nowadays because of facebook. 40 years from now, young people may be surprised there were so many against gay marriage being legalized. But there are. And their hateful opinions live on on social media. We will have proof many years from now that there were lots of hateful ignorant assholes that were against gay marriage. I hate to see the hate. But maybe a long time from now we can look back at all the hate spread and learn something from it. I honestly think history can gloss over those details. I don’t wasn’t that. I want the reality of it. I want the future to know how hateful these groups are right now. I don’t want it to be forgotten. 

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@JermajestyDuggar I think it's because the received narrative here until relatively recently was that whether you voted for him or not he was the President and therefore Americans respected him and most definitely did not agree with shooting him. Lincoln it wouldn't have surprised me - the US was obviously divided and the wounds were still raw, but the narrative for Kennedy was Camelot and America strong together. So yes, even knowing about a lot of the divisions - not all, and not the full extent of them obviously - I was shocked.

Sometimes I think history is the study of the infinite ways people can be arseholes to each other.

And unfortunately I think we are going to need the evidence to show how we got to there in the future - not least because people will try hard, very hard, to deny it and sweep it under the rug. 

Edited by Ozlsn
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My husband and I were both raised Catholic - he’s mostly Italian (Northern and Southern), while I’m mostly Irish and German. I haven’t really asked much about what his family might have experienced when they came over. His paternal grandfather came over as a toddler* and was old enough to be married and fight during WWII, so I would assume he and his generation were subjected to at least some of the hate mentioned here. I do know his paternal grandma was the niece of a well-known mafia boss though. Everyone hated her father (the boss’ brother) so much that when her mother requested a divorce the mob gave her a clean break with no strings attached, so she managed to get herself and her daughter away from that type of life. 

The only story I know from my family concerns my great-great-great-grandfather through my maternal grandpa. He was Irish and fought during the Civil War for the Union and helped start the first Catholic Church in his town by hosting services in his own living room. The only tidbit I know about him concerning religious prejudice is this surprising fact - he was the only Irish person in the town allowed to work at a local factory. My grandpa says he must have been well respected to have been, ”granted such an honor,” (she says sarcastically) because that was back in the days where the Irish faced pretty heavy persecution. 

*He was actually born in the states. His family returned to Italy when he was a baby for a work opportunity though and they returned to the states when he was a toddler. 

21 hours ago, Ozlsn said:

@Beermeet I just finished reading "The Black Hand: The Gripping True Story of the Origins of the Mafia in America, A Deadly Secret Society and A Detective Who Gave His Life to Stop It" by Stephen Talty which has a really interesting history of southern Italian experiences migrating to the US in the late 19th and early 20th century. I had no idea how excluded and exploited that group was - my impression of NYC was that it was all Italians and Irish in control, not that the Italians had to fight the Irish so hard to get a share of anything. (Then again, I'm coming from a late 20th century, other-side-of-the-world, TV/movie based perspective so...)

I think that's part of why I was shocked I had triggers - sectarianism is something I associate with my grandparent's generation (my grandfather had Catholic friends but still refused a gift of spoons with green handles), and something my parents fought to not pass on. The anti-Kennedy thing was another thing that really surprised me when I found out about it - that some Americans cheered when they heard about the assassination still shocks me.

My father has told me flat out he didn’t feel sad about Kennedy. He only remembers where he was when they heard about the assassination because he was sitting next to a hot cheerleader in school. My father was confirmed Methodist*, but I’m pretty sure that had nothing to do with his feelings towards JFK. He’s a lifelong republican and can be kind of an asshole - I’m pretty sure that’s more of why. 

*He was baptized Catholic as his mother wanted, but raised by his Methodist father and grandparents after they divorced. The Methodist Priest basically guilted him into getting confirmed by asking him how it’d reflect on his grandparents. Joke was on the Priest though because he agreed to give dad a take home exam and dad paid a neighbor girl to do it for him. He’s never taken religious seriously as I suspect he’s agnostic if not an outright atheist at this point.

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That is not surprising, can't speak for America but my parent's one Catholic the other Protestant. My mum has spoke about being outside playing as a child with the children in her street and that she could only knock on certain doors to see if they were coming out to play because some of the parent's would not answer the door to anyone of a different religion. When I grew up in the 90s that was not an issue, one of the elderly neighbours was always mean to a lot of us and not others and it wasn't till I was older and she had moved that my mum said she disliked all the Catholic kid's, the feeling was mutual, she used to pour water over all the chalk drawings we'd do in the summer, just to be mean, it was on the street nowhere near her house.

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 5/30/2019 at 11:01 AM, 47of74 said:

Just saw this 2017 article this morning

And many of the descendants of the Catholics and immigrants - Germans, Irish, Italians, and so on - who in theory should know much, much better, are the same ones who engage in hate speech towards non-Christians and immigrants.  Shaking my goddamn fucking head.

 

I have even heard that there has been an anti-Catholic conspiracy theory regarding the assassination of Pres. Lincoln .  {  https://thewandererpress.com/catholic/news/frontpage/was-this-a-joke-lincolns-death-a-grand-catholic-conspiracy/  ,  http://m.ncregister.com/blog/stephaniemann/a-jesuit-plot-to-assassinate-president-lincoln } 

Edited by Marmion
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