U.S. President George W. Bush has just gone to the Vatican where he was welcomed warmly by Pope Benedict XVI. That is, an evangelical leader of the free/WASP/non-Catholic world (perhaps that’s giving a lot of credit to Bush, but allow it for the sake of comparison, please) has met with the Pope, the spiritual leader of the world’s billion or so Catholics.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to not the sixteenth century.
Now, of course, pope’s and U.S. presidents have been meeting for years now, and the Catholic Church and the Protestant world (though it isn’t so easily grouped in a unified way as Catholicism) have long since made amends…effectively. I for one, would like to state quite clearly how awesome that is.
We really take for granted in our day how wonderful it is that there is a relative amount of unity, a high degree of peace and a general disregard for the differences between Catholics and Protestants. The Christian world is pretty much A-ok on an inter-denominational basis. Sure, the Christian and Muslim worlds are effectively at war (though I neither believe that it is as ubiquitous as I have made it sound nor as dichotomized as Christian v. Muslim), but it’s great that Catholic-Protestant relations are at the height of their strength. Why am I harping on this issue, you ask?
Well, it really wasn’t like that for a very long time. The Puritan roots of this country can be traced back to a need to escape the Anglican Church because it was too close to and corrupted with popery – or Catholicism – Puritans claimed. People in the colonies hated, persecuted and banned Catholics in various places for a very long time. Life as a Catholic in America wasn’t easy for a while. Now, can I blame Protestants (back-in-the-day Protestants, that is), for being terrified of and hating Catholics? Considering the Church’s history and the way it treated dissenters, no, I really can’t, but let me be frank: relations never had to normalize.
Wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe were on an unimaginable scale, comparable to parts of the crusades, in certain areas of Europe killing up to a third of the population (sometimes more deadly than the Black Plague), and many people believed that Catholic and Protestant countries would never be at peace with one another. Slowly but surely, however, countries realized that interests other than religion set them at odds with one another and unified them with each other, and today, in our post-industrial, post-Cold War, newly hyper-globalized world, issues like whether you are a Protestant or Catholic country are really not the issues at hand. And that’s spectacular.
But then again, we’re not talking about countries, per se. The Holy See may be a country, but at the end of the day, it’s the Roman Catholic Church through and through, and I still think it’s awesome that an evangelical Protestant leader and the pope can greet each other warmly and genuinely, get along, discuss their common goals and interests (even if, unfortunately, some of those happen to be banning abortion and stem-cell research and continuing to promote abstinence – issues we will get to in due time, I’m sure), and be so friendly. It’s important, and not what one would expect after a few centuries of animosity and wars. If in the seventeenth century you’d asked who a Christian’s biggest enemy was, he’d say, a Catholic – never a Muslim, a Democrat or Oprah Winfrey or anything like that (don’t you love topical humor!).
So, that’s my thouhgt: we shouldn’t take for granted that the Protestant and Catholic worlds are effectively at peace (save a few small pockets of course), and when U.S. Presidents and Popes are hanging out together, we should appreciate that we’ve come a long way since the Thirty-Years War.
Note about tomorrow’s post: I will be posting in the afternoon because tomorrow is Movie/Book review day and I am going to see a matinée of The Happening. I have pretty low expectations but a close friend is a screenwriter of horror movies so we’re going – let’s see if it can break the low bar I’ve set. Check back tomorrow afternoon for the review of The Happening.
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