As a young Catholic I was unaware of the amount of irrational hatred that was directed toward the Catholic Church and Catholics themselves. Growing up in Los Angeles I was not subject to the Fundamentalist “tracts” being placed on my family car while we were at Mass as I would have been had I lived in the “Bible Belt”. My exposure to people of other faiths was frequent and always positive. The majority of my friends growing were Jewish as were the girls whom I had the honor of dating. My babysitter growing up was Mormon, as was my Paternal Grandfather. My Paternal Grandmother is a Methodist and my Father was an atheist for most of his life. My Maternal Grandfather was a Presbyterian from a family that produced many deacons. However, my Maternal Grandmother was an Irish Catholic and thus my Mother was a Catholic and therefore we were raised Catholic. None of this was seen as a conflict. None of the above people in my family ever acted as though anything was “wrong” with my siblings and I being raised Catholic.
In my college years I essentially fell away from the faith. I still called myself a “Catholic” but had no particular belief in any of the dogmas that makes one a Catholic. I just knew that I was of Irish ancestry and thus was “Catholic”. My beliefs were for the most part agnostic. I thought that true believers were absurd (I included both theist and atheist true believers as absurd).
While in college I heard all about how the Catholic Church was responsible for the Dark Ages, the destruction of the Native Peoples of the Americas, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, pimples on teenagers, Milli-Vanilli and just about everything else that negatively effected anyone anywhere at anytime everywhere. I learned how peaceful and wonderful Muslim societies were and how Christians lived very well under Islamic rule. And how the Crusades were an evil move by a corrupt Pope to throw off that wonderful balance and have a huge land grab for greedy Churchman and Nobles. I heard how nothing good happened in the Christian world and no good men were produced in the Christian world until Marin Luther and later “the Enlightenment”. I look back now and marvel at how I remained a Catholic even if it was in name only. All my history professors with their fancy PhDs thought Catholicism was a force for evil in the Western World who was I to disagree? Of course I just went along and got good grades and degrees not really challenging the idiocy that I was being taught.
There I was just a young guy going through life not contemplating the great issues of life and certainly not contemplating being a Catholic when I had the misfortune to meet a Rabbi that was a friend of my wife’s family. During our discussion, the rabbi told me about things that Christians “buy into” like the Trinity and the fact that Jesus was God. I was told that I could never understand Jews and their suffering at the hands of Catholics. I was told that I “would never know what it is to be a Jew or how it feels to have your children forced to sing Christmas carols (oh the horror! the horror!)”. I would never know what it is like to look at someone like me and see the Inquisition and the Crusades. Now, anyone who is not a self absorbed bigot would know that talking to a person who is half Irish and Catholic knows a little something of prejudice and persecution. My ancestors could not own land in their own country. They had to pay taxes to a foreign English master and support his foreign Church that was a parasite on their own land. They had real persecution. If they could have gotten off with simply singing Church of Ireland songs rather than pay taxes to and be persecuted by the British, I’m sure they would have gladly accepted. But why look past ones on victim-hood in order to see truth, when victim-hood is so much more of a commodity in our modern society.
At that point I made a commitment to understand my faith. I would never let someone attack the beliefs of my ancestors as this rabbi did without making a strong defense.
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