Friday, February 09, 2007

Anti-Catholicism on thin ice

Catholics are up in arms about Sen. Edwards. And rightly so. The line about the Father filling up Mary with the "hot white sticky Holy Spirit" was enough to make me want to suit up in my Crusader cape and tights. Couldn't find my damn morningstar though and that just took all the steam out of me.

Many Catholics right and left have made the point that the Edwards response would have been totally different if the blogonistas directed similar comments at Jews or Blacks.

But I think the problem we Catholics have is that we've never really, really been victims of serious anti-anything. In other words, anti-Catholicism, for all its stupidity, ignorance, and hatefulness, has always been relatively bloodless. Real anti-Semitism has historically included pogroms and the Holocaust. Real anti-black racism has included lynchings, whippings, raping, riots, pretty much everything that involves blood-spilling. And real anti-native racism of course has included de facto genocide. Anti-Catholicism at its worst has included a few sporadic riots and a few church burnings. Not pretty stuff, but nothing worse than what WASP Americans have done to each other, which I think is the real test for whether a minority gets preferential sympathy status.

Each minority group has to ask itself: Has America treated you worse than WASPs have treated each other? The KKK here does not define the center. The KKK and Jack Chick versions of anti-Catholicism have always been towards the extreme end. The relative violence score for anti-Catholicism among other anti-minorityisms is low. And that's why Bill Donahue of the Catholic League always looks a little silly when he does his bloody murder schtick, even when he's completely correct.

This Edwards debacle is all about political anti-Catholicism, which is very different from theological anti-Catholicism. The former is a useful playing field for genuiune anti-Catholics but it's thin ice for Catholics. We just won't get very far crying anti-Catholicism so long as our historical consciousness cannot come up with a single atrocity ever perpetrated against Catholics by non-Catholic Americans. Blaine Amendments got nuthin on Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson.

I may be particulary attuned to this because I'm Asian-American. We, like Catholics, have been victim of real anti-minority sentiment, laws, and violence. But never atrocities. The Korematsu case and the Japanese internment come close, but no dice. Those were violations of our dignity, primarily. Rounding it all out, Vincent Chin, Wen Ho Lee, Yellow Peril, anti-miscegenation laws, and Hollywood's traditional mockery of Asians, and that's pretty much it. There were the many personal incidents of being called "chink" or "chingchongching," which while offensive, also made the offender look like a idiot.

This is also why the homophobia as a hate crime issue will never amount to much. Matthew Shepard is to gays what Vincent Chin is to Chinese Americans. You can't build much of a case for systematic oppression from sporadic incidents of bovine white men who let their frustrations and inebriations get the better of them.

Therefore, Catholics cannot and should not expect Americans to "share our pain" over incidents like the Edwards campaign blog. As idiotic as Edwards' defenses were (voting for Kerry and going to a Catholic college means you're not anti-Catholic), public opinion will let him get away with it, since the political sympathy for Catholics is so low compared to other minorities. In other words, there is no moral equivalence between anti-Catholicism and say, anti-Semitism. We can't control how violent America is to us, but we can remain disciplined and clear-sighted in our skirmishes against those who would defame Mother Church and her teachings. Ah, found my bommyknocker.