by Jay Johansen | Sep 6, 2021
I was reading an article about politics a few days ago and I came across a statement that John Kennedy and Joe Biden both faced challenges in winning an election because they were Catholic, and many Protestants feared that as Catholics they would be beholden to the pope and give the pope too much influence on American government.
If you're a Protestant, perhaps like me you find that statement stunning in it's total ignorance of what American Protestants think.
I'm a Protestant. I know a lot of Portestants personally. I get a lot of mail from Protestant organizations. I read Protestant magazines and websites. And never once did I hear any Protestant say that they were concerned because Joe Biden is "too Catholic". In fact, pretty much exactly the opposite: I heard many Protestants express concern that Mr Biden was not Catholic enough. Conservative Protestants generally oppose abortion and gay marriage. The Catholic Church also opposes these things. But Mr Biden is enthusiastically for them. Almost all Protestants I know would love to have a president who, as a devout Catholic, took a strong stand against abortion, homosexuality, and other moral evils. Sure, Protestants disagree with Catholics about many theological issues, but we don't expect to see the government passing a law requiring Americans to believe in Purgatory. I suppose one could imagine a super-zealous Catholic president pushing some Catholic doctrine down Protestant's throats. But the idea that Mr Biden would do that is laughable. I'm not going to try to judge the man's soul, but it is abundantly clear that his policy positions are not in any way influenced by Catholic doctrine.
That brought two further thoughts to mind.
One is probably a moot point these days. Kennedy ran for president when I was 1 year old, so I wasn't paying very careful attention to the race at the time. I've heard all my life that Protestant's at the time opposed Kennedy because of this "as a Catholic he'll be beholden to the pope" reasoning, and I've always just accepted that it was true. Now suddenly I wonder. If Democrats were saying that Protestants opposed Biden because of religious bigotry when I know for a fact that that is nonsense, maybe it wasn't true about Kennedy either. Maybe it was propaganda back then, too. The question isn't relevant or important enough to me to do a lot of research, so for the moment I just wonder.
But more important, it's an example of a lot of what people think about politics. I often hear statements from liberals about what conservatives believe, or from foreigners about what Americans believe, or from atheists about what Christians believe. And as a conservative, Christian American, I know these statements are completely wrong. Sometimes they might be honest misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Sometimes I can't see any explanation other than lies and propaganda.
And I wonder: Do the people who say these blatantly false things believe that they're true? Is it all propaganda and they hope that other people who are gullible will believe it?
Or is it just insults people shout to make themselves feel better? Like a child on the playground yelling at another kid, "You're a moron!" He doesn't really think the other child is of abnormally low intelligence. He doesn't expect to convince other children that this child he is mad at is of low intelligence. It's just a meaningless insult.
If they really are trying to convince the gullible, it at least sometimes works. After all, I believed it about Kennedy until yesterday.
It makes me wonder about false narratives. Going back to the "anti-Catholic bias" example, as a Protestant with a lot of Protestant friends and who reads the writing of a lot of Protestant leaders, I instantly knew it was nonsense. But a Catholic whose friends are mostly Catholic or an atheist whose friends are mostly atheists or a Jew or a Muslim or a Buddhist or whatever would not instantly know that it was nonsense. They might believe that it's true.
Which further leads me to wonder: Have I been told nonsense things about other people that I blindly believe because I don't know better?
Have you been told nonsense things about other people that you believe because you don't know better?
© 2021 by Jay Johansen
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