As a Catholic, I can’t get mad at Bob Jones University, except
in the sense that I’m mad at Martin Luther. True, it’s
not nice to call the Pope the Antichrist, but there are more important
things than being nice.
The claim of the Catholic Church is that the Pope is the successor
of Peter, the Vicar of Christ. Quite a claim. If not true, it’s,
to say the least, presumptuous. I believe it’s true. But if I
didn’t, I’d have to believe something like what Bob Jones
That’s what the Reformation was all about, and any literate
person must recognize the position of Bob Jones as standard Reformation
polemics. Unlike most contemporary theology, Bob Jones is still arguing
about fundamental differences between Catholics and Protestants as
if they mattered. From my own side of the Catholic-Protestant divide,
I respect that.
I respect it more than I do the ecumenical spirit that tries to ignore
basic differences for the sake of politeness. I certainly respect Bob
Jones’s fundamentalist passion more than I respect the urbane
evasiveness of, say, Father Richard McBrien of Notre Dame or the journalist
Garry Wills, neither of whom seems to believe the papal claims any
more than Bob Jones does, but who still insist on calling themselves
Catholics. Their god may not be dead, but he is awfully limp, and it
would be hard to pin the Ten Commandments on such a tolerant, undemanding
The liberal god isn’t into commandments. He forgives everything;
or rather, he doesn’t have to forgive anything, because he never
condemns anything in the first place, except perhaps sexism and homophobia.
One imagines Mr. Wills making his confession to Father McBrien: “Bless
me, father, for I have sinned. I have committed homophobia.” “How
many times, my son?”
An age that despises theology is bound to be theologically illiterate.
Consider Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.
Mr. Foxman declares himself “saddened and disappointed” — translation:
mad as hell — that Pope John Paul II, in his Lenten prayer for
forgiveness of the historic sins of Catholics, “stopped short
in addressing specific Catholic wrongs against the Jewish people, especially
Mr. Foxman seems unaware that, being a prayer, the Pope’s plea
was addressed to God, not to the Anti-Defamation League, and that Catholics
still make a distinction between the two. For Mr. Foxman to criticize
a Catholic prayer is as presumptuous as it would be for me to demand
alterations in the Kaddish or the Kol Nidre. Not that he is one to
let that stop him from telling us Catholics how we ought to worship.
It also seems to have escaped his notice that the Holocaust was not
a “specific Catholic wrong against the Jewish people.” It
was the Nazi government of Germany, not the Catholic Church, that persecuted
the Jews during World War II. In fact the chief rabbi of Rome, Israel
Zolli, was so deeply moved by the efforts of Pope Pius XII to protect
Jews that he converted to Catholicism, taking Pius’s baptismal
name — Eugenio — as his own. When Pius died in 1958, Golda
Meir and other Jewish leaders paid tribute to him with unstinting gratitude.
They would be shocked by Mr. Foxman’s malicious libels. It is
enough to say that if he were a gentile, he would make an excellent
My estimable friend, the respected sociologist of religion John Murray
Cuddihy, has shown how America’s “civil religion” — a “religion
of civility” — mutes and domesticates the shocking claims
at the heart of every religion. Jews, Catholics, and Protestants have
toned down their ancient claims to be the Chosen People, the One True
Church, and the Only Way to Salvation. Even theology yields to “good
manners.” But religion, thus liberalized, loses its urgency,
its logic, its raison d’être — its original and animating
Religion, in its essence, is a matter of falling in love with the
divine. Like other passionate loves, it tends to excess. It can easily
become fanatical, which is especially frightening to people who have
never had the experience. But I do know this: the human without the
divine is never fully human.
Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on March 16, 2000.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
Learn how to get a tape of his last speech
during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
To subscribe to or renew the FGF E-Package, or support the writings of Joe
Sobran, please send a tax-deductible donation to the:
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
or subscribe online.