It seems there are more than a few Protestant individuals who will strongly assert that Catholics, despite what they themselves say and believe, are actually not Christians at all! (That's right: they're not even *bad* Christians or *misguided* Christians - despite professing faith in and love of Our Lord, it seems to these fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants we're just not Christians *at all*.)
If one is to examine this question the first thing that would need to be done would be to come up with a definition for "Christian". As it turns out, by reaching this point we have already engaged in more thinking than these anti-Catholic Protestants do because in not one of the more than dozen tracts and websites I've looked at making this assertion have I seen a single one provide their definition of "Christian" in any specific terms.
But, before we look at the charge of "Catholics are not Christians" we must establish our definition. One thing is for sure: Protestantism has no "definition" for Christian that is in any sense universal (very little is universal in the whole of Protestantism). By any of the common definitions used by Protestants of various stripes Catholics definitely *are* Christians: followers of Jesus Christ, baptized believers in Him, believers in His divinity and His atoning death and resurrection.
The Auburn Affirmation that is the probably still the most important "creed" for modern fundamentalists asserts the following:
- The inerrancy of the Bible
- The virgin birth (and the deity of Jesus)
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus
- The authenticity of Christ's miracles
- The belief in both a literal Heaven and a literal Hell.
Of course, every one of these articles is fully supported by Catholic dogma! Even in all the wild anti-Catholic myths I've seen have I seen anyone not aware that the Catholic Church teaches all of these things.
Do Fundamentalists have a definition of "Christian" other than these? Is it logically possible that someone who believed fully in all five of the most critical points of their faith is not also a Christian? Of course not. Thus, it is clear at the outset that this charge of "Catholics are not Christians" is not only deliberately uncharitable and deliberately insulting but also incoherent by their own beliefs.
Which is not to say, of course, that these fundamentalists don't give their reasons why Catholics aren't Christians. The thing is, though, that even if every single one of their Catholic myths and misunderstandings were true Catholics would still be Christians by the criteria of their own "fundamentals" and their own common definitions! (Does this speak to the general culture of anti-intellectualism in the movement? Is someone who apparently cannot reason logically on such a basic question equipped to make *any* pronouncements on Christianity?)
Here are some of those Catholic myths explained:
Where did these myths come from, and how are they propagated? Ignorance of the facts is obviously a necessary part of the equation in any system of "myths" (in the sense of untruths). It becomes clear to anyone engaging in apologetics with fundamentalists (or just anyone passingly familiar with their teachings... or anyone who has not lived their life in a cave, I guess) that there is a massive amount of ignorance of the true teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, as evidenced above.
But simple ignorance certainly doesn't explain it all - if that was the case the myths would have retreated into the shadows long ago. Ignorance comes in two forms: innocent and willful, the latter meaning an ignorance that is actually intentionally maintained via a refusal to cooperate with the grace that motivates the intellect to seek truth and then motivates the will to accept it.
We might say that willful ignorance is caused by "prejudice" (to use a broad label). Whatever you want to call it, I know from countless debates with fundamentalists at very times that while some of them are open to truth and willing to use their intellect to pursue and consider new information honestly, some are not. Of course, that can be said about virtually any subject: nobody like to have their beliefs challenged, generally. Few people like to even consider that they are wrong about something very important and dear to them. That is just human nature, and while the tendency is certainly understandable, we are morally obligated to do better. Nevertheless, our human nature gives us an easy way to avoid truths we don't care for: rationalization. One should always keep in mind during debate (to avoid frustration) that there is no way to force someone to acknowledge something; that requires an act of the will on the part of the other person.
There is even more to the subject of the roots of anti-Catholicism, though. Something sinister - something preternatural - this becomes apparent to someone who studies the subject long enough. The enemy hates Christ's true Church more than all the offshoots of It; he concentrates his energies on destroying it and always has. However, as Tertullian pointed out long ago, the most violent persecutions of the Church serve only to strengthen it in the end. Christ's promise will hold and the Church will stand until the end of time. (And I am not intending to be so exclusionary here as to imply that Tertullian's famous observation concerned only Christians in full communion with the Catholic Church, because, whether they know it or like it or not, all baptized Christians are united to the Church to some degree. That's Catholic teaching.)
There is at least one more aspect to the commonplace rejection of Catholicism: it's hard. Properly practiced, being an orthodox (faithful) Catholic requires much more effort and results in many more restrictions on behavior than Protestantism. I do not mean to say that there are not many good, sincere, devoted Protestants who give their lives to Christ and accept many sacrifices; of course there are. However, it is a fact that only the Catholic Church:
- Still maintains the apostolic teaching against all forms of artificial contraception - sexual behavior closed to life is sinful, for procreation is indeed the primary purpose of marriage.
- Preaches sacrifice and detachment from the world very strongly and consistently. This is in strong contrast to commonplace Protestant "prosperity gospel" notions where worldly riches are celebrated.
- Maintains the sacrament of confession in accordance with apostolic (and Scriptural) teaching. It's little wonder that confession was done-away with by the reformers - who wants to constantly confront their sins, publicly? (But, of course, it's very good for us, in more ways than one. This is why public/priestly confession has always been the normative path in the Church, from apostolic times. It's why Christ gave his apostles the ability to forgive sins in the first place (something obviously completely unnecessary if we were supposed to "go directly to God" as Protestants contend) and why Scripture in the epistle of James orders us to seek confession.)
I could go on regarding "hard" practices and beliefs but that's enough.
In short, some people reject the authority of the Church because they don't like authority. This is the sin of pride at work. A Protestant recently commented to me that "religion has rules, but Christianity sets you free!" I can hardly imagine a more complete misunderstanding of what following Christ means: a good disciple is *slave* to Christ, and freedom is for hedonists.