Nations and his peers begin with hostility to the Church. They look at her with a hermeneutic of suspicion. They assume that no matter how the Church acts in public, she’s up to no good. Being the Church of the Borgias and the Jesuits, she’s really good at looking good while being bad. Nations and his peers see (they think) through the Church’s pretensions.
The other reason is the appeal of being in the inner ring of the enlightened. Everyone else may be fooled, but you and your gang, you know what’s really going on. This we also know. The feeling drives many a dinner party conversation.
People like Nations think the real history of the world is happening out of sight. Only those who can connect the few dots that slip into sight and figure out where all the other dots must be will truly understand it. Thus the whole Catholic/Freemason/Muslim conspiracy.
A byway, the Nations/Swaggart view, and crazy, as I say, as a bedbug. Besides perhaps being interesting in itself, the Nations theory of Catholicism’s secret diabolical plans point by contrast to something more hopeful.
We all can understand just being snobby or snotty or unkind in another way when speaking of, or even to, people on the other side of the Reformation divide. As a Catholic, I can understand Evangelicals repeating the old prejudicial stereotypes: Catholics don’t read the Bible, they worship Mary, they do bad things because they think confession will make it all right, etc. I trust they will understand when Catholics repeat the old prejudicial stereotypes about Evangelicals: Evangelicals are hicks, fanatics, racists, busybodies, etc.
Not ideal, but like two boys yelling at each other, “You’re ugly!” “No, you’re ugly!” “You’re uglier!” “If my dog had a face like yours . . .”. People on both sides throw out the old insults. “You’re an idolater!” “You’re a fundamentalist!” “Mary-worshipper!” “Snake-handler!”
But they’re the old insults. That’s the important thing. They’re getting worn out, frayed around the edges, long in the tooth. They’re losing their power as Evangelicals and Catholics grow in friendship and the world itself pushes them closer together. The two boys yelling at each other are two brothers. At some point, probably when someone else attacks one of them or both of them, they’ll stop yelling and start acting like brothers.
former executive editor of First Things
, is a senior editor of The Stream and columnist for several Catholic publications. His last book is