Yesterday on Twitter as some of my friends were batting around thoughts on Pope Francis’ climate change encyclical, which is being released today, I observed that we might see some old conservative evangelical prejudices against Rome reemerge:
.@sarahposner .@jbview .@stevebenen I think Francis could revive some old-school anti-Catholicism by association with nature-loving “pagans”
— Ed Kilgore (@ed_kilgore) June 17, 2015
I didn’t get many “amens” for this particular prophecy, and I can understand why. Conservative evangelicals have long buried the old Reformation Era hatchet with the Roman Catholic Church, and differences of opinion over issues like climate change (or Israeli-Palestinian relations) are not these days typically attributed to theological error but rather to “secularist” influence or the over-stepping of proper papal boundaries. Besides, any evangelical anger at Francis is being eclipsed by that of “traditionalist” Catholics.
On the other hand, there is a very, very old Protestant tradition of accusing Rome of excessive coziness with, and regular cooptation of, pagan nature-religion observances and attitudes. Since it’s become a habit among some conservative evangelicals to associate environmentalism with paganism as well, it would be the most natural thing in the world to connect the dots and suggest that the Pope is letting the Church fall into some bad old habits.
But even I didn’t expect this, per RightWingWatch:
Yesterday on “The Savage Nation,” Michael Savage lit into Pope Francis over his encyclical on climate change, calling him “a danger to the world” who wants to impose “global tyranny.”
“The Pope is a Marxist,” Savage said. “He is a wolf in pope’s clothing, he is an eco-wolf in pope’s clothing, he’s a stealth Marxist in religious garb.”
Savage continued that Francis “sounds just like the false prophet in Revelation, an ecumenical spiritual figure directing mankind to worship the Antichrist.”
If you actually listen to Savage’s ravings, they are full of old-school anti-Catholic memes about the Vatican’s wealth and the Pope’s false humility and even–in a passage that sounded like it was lifted from Protestant warnings about John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1960–the Pope “mixing politics and religion in my country.”
Yes, Savage is a wingnut and a fringe character–and not religious himself, or even so far as I can tell a Christian–but he has an immense audience, and if he’s Going There with insinuations that the Pope is the Antichrist or is working for the Antichrist or is in league with the Antichrist (Obama! Obama!), he’s almost certainly not the only one. So get ready for some vintage, Ku Klux Klan and Know-Nothing curated anti-Catholicism in the immediate future, trading on prejudices that have been repressed recently but that do go right back to the Sixteenth Century.