The secret is out: the Catholic Church is now the number one enemy of American liberalism. This is confirmed both by the increasing volume of public opinion and by the growing track record of intolerance towards the Church that the U.S. ruling class is racking up, especially around the contentious issue of abortion.
Some authors have pegged the Church as one of the leading sources of funding for anti-abortion activism, with the insinuation that such activity runs counter to the liberal principle of “separation of church and state.” Others have tweeted angrily that the Catholic Church in the U.S. bears all the blame for the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson. In a column for the New York Times, Maureen Dowd laments that, after Dobbs, the Catholic Church now has more influence in the U.S. than it does in Ireland.
More tellingly, James Carroll writes in the New Yorker that the Dobbs decision aligns with the Catholic Church’s historical opposition to the liberal values of Americanism. The Biden Administration’s continued persecution of the Little Sisters of the Poor for their refusal to provide coverage for contraceptives begs to be mentioned as another striking example, this time on the part of the government itself.
But perhaps the most telling case is the response which liberals directed toward San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, after his decision to block Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving Holy Communion. Back in May, Cordileone publicly declared that Pelosi’s position on abortion makes it immoral and scandalous for her to receive the Eucharist, according to Catholic discipline. Subsequently, liberals everywhere have reacted by calling out Cordileone’s un-Christian intolerance and obvious political motives. An editorial at the San Francisco Examiner, published before the final Dobbs ruling was released, stated that “Many women will die if the court goes through with this decision. That will apparently be just fine with Cordileone, who prefers to pick partisan fights rather than make the church a place that welcomes people of all political backgrounds and all faiths.”
The editorial also asserts:
It is Nancy Pelosi, not Archbishop Cordileone, who reflects the true spirit of Christian care in the City of St. Francis. For the Catholic Church to continue to thrive here, we need a leader who opens the church’s doors to all, not a small-minded man who locks out his political adversaries.
What are the origins of these and so many other examples of anti-Catholic discrimination, which seem to be reaching new heights of fervor in recent years? The common conservative narrative, that America is falling prey to a radical Marxist aberration from the founding principles of American classical liberalism, is an attractive explanation, to be sure. Yet today, on the 390th birthday of John Locke, I suggest we need only look as far as John Locke himself, one of the foremost defenders of the type of society that “welcomes people of all political backgrounds and all faiths.”
In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke puts forward his picture of the ideal liberal society — nay, the ideal Church: “I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church.” He hues on to condemn all who lay claim to orthodoxy in their religious beliefs, since all such claims entail intolerance of the beliefs of others; and moreover, all such claims signify no more than an underlying desire for power:
For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or of the pomp of their outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith — for everyone is orthodox to himself — these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another than of the Church of Christ.
Locke’s stipulations about the chief characteristics of the true Christian Church contain many such not-so-subtle hints about which churches do not meet his requirements: i.e. the Catholic Church. With the same censorious tone that one recognizes in the pages of the San Francisco Examiner, Locke ruthlessly condemns those churches who teach “that faith is not to be kept with heretics,” or “that kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns and kingdoms”; or “who upon pretence of religion do challenge any manner of authority over such as are not associated with them in their ecclesiastical communion.”
Then comes the startling assertion, which might not have been expected from that much-lauded defender of religious freedom: “I say these have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate; as neither those that will not own and teach the duty of tolerating all men in matters of mere religion.” In other words, Locke sees no place for the toleration of the Catholic Church, or any church that claims for itself the right to censor and excommunicate those who do not adhere to its teachings; nor any church that claims the right to question or undermine the authority of public leaders who do not adhere to its teachings. In a tolerant liberal society, there can be no tolerance for such intolerance!
It’s as if those who have condemned Archbishop Cordileone for his intolerance of Nancy Pelosi’s position on abortion could be quoting Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration. In any case, they are operating straight out of his playbook. The anti-Catholicism of the current “woke” regime and its propagandists in the media is not some Marxist aberration from the original classical liberalism that is supposed to be embodied in the American founding.
On the contrary, it is the exact consequence of classical liberalism, as expressed clearly in the words of Woke John Locke. Happy birthday, Locke! You got what you wished for.
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