Would you like to know what it is that really sets the Catholic hierarchy apart from other systems of religious leadership? It is the tendency to consistently trample on religious freedom in almost every country where it’s been possible for almost all of its history. This, at least, makes you unique among Christians.
Utter nonsense. Name me the church that has had the power to do this and hasn’t done it. Anglicans have done it, Lutherans have done it, Orthodox have done it. Conservative evangelicals do it these days insofar as they get the chance. Try being a Wiccan or an atheist in the Bible Belt, or even, in some areas, a Catholic.
Certainly, as in the first question (i.e., the ability of a church to provide moral clarity to a society), different churches do it differently. But just as all churches can do this to some degree, given the chance, so pretty much all churches historically have tried to establish some kind of religious monopoly, given the chance. The churches with the best record are the ones from whom this temptation has been withheld.
The other thing that makes you unique is your reticence to look at your past and see anything bad.
Again, nonsense. All churches produce romanticized, whitewashed versions of their own history. Free-church evangelicals are less invested in doing so for particular institutions because they are less invested in particular institutions, true. But they still want to believe that there have been “true Christians” who have somehow not done the nasty stuff that “professing Christians” have done.
Given the heavy investment Catholics have in the authority and continuity of the visible Church, it is striking how much honest historical scholarship has been done by Catholics. You won’t get a lot of that on this forum, true–folks tend to prefer apologetics masquerading as history. But Catholics can look at the dark side of their past plenty. You don’t actually seem to have much knowledge of Catholicism outside the rather narrow right-wing version prevalent on this forum.
That better thing is freedom of religion- better on the whole, even if it does render us all incapable of deporting the members of Westboro or arresting them or burning them at the stake or whatever else it is you used to do.
I agree that freedom of religion is, on the whole, better than the repression of heresy. But it’s not perfect, either, and it’s probably an intrinsically incoherent concept. You really can’t have complete freedom of religion–you have to draw lines somewhere, and the lines have to be drawn based on some conception of the good. So you will always have a societal consensus about which “heresies” are tolerable and which aren’t. (For instance, I think we all agree that freedom of religion excludes human sacrifice.) In short, while a high degree of relative freedom of religion is definitely good, absolute freedom of religion is simply impossible. And insofar as Americans are committed to the idea of absolute freedom of religion, they’re committed to something incoherent.
Again, there was some of this from early Reformers- Servetus is the prime example, although the involvement of Calvin himself tends to be overestimated
Overestimated how by whom?
Calvin accused Servetus of heresy to the Genevan government, with the express purpose of having the government execute him. Calvin did not run the government, and did not run the court that condemned Servetus, but he did have a lot of influence over the government. He wanted Servetus beheaded, not burned, for what that’s worth. But his involvement was pretty heavy. Servetus would almost certainly not have died when and where he did if not for Calvin.
- but the thing is, Protestants can look back on that as something awful that we should never return to.
So can Catholics. You’re right that some Catholics would like to see religious persecution return, but (at least if we’re talking about the execution of heretics) they are a tiny minority–a loud but still relatively small minority on this forum, which is an extremely conservative one, and practically invisible in the larger Catholic population. As I said, religious liberty is a relative concept, so sure many Catholics would like to see some things that some folks would consider religious persecution (for instance, many people in our society would say that maintaining a heterosexual definition of legal marriage based on your religious beliefs is a form of religious persecution).