|A Full-page Anti-Catholic cartoon in Harper's Weekly, September 30, 1871|
It was during my pastoral studies that things started turning around for me. I was the zealous type that would never settle for just textbook information. I always wanted to dig deeper. For example, I knew Jesus was Jewish, so I fully explored the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, even to the point of celebrating the Passover Seder meal and other Jewish feasts. I also wanted to dig down into the earliest of all Christian roots, so as to understand the "mind" of the early Church. I read several history text books, but these always seemed a bit dry, and failed to produce what I was looking for. I did notice however, that all of these history books cited writings from early Christians as sources, dating all the way back to the early Church period. So I decided to read these writings for myself, and wow! did I get an eye opener! Once I was exposed to original source documentation from early Christians, my entire worldview was turned upside-down. These early Christians were a lot more "Catholic" than I would have ever thought. In fact, based on the history I previously learned, they weren't supposed to be Catholic at all. Well, you can guess what happened next. My Fundamental Evangelicalism died out rather quickly. I spent some time in The Episcopal Church for a while, and identified myself as an "Anglo-Catholic." Then as I began to see the writing on the wall of the coming demise of the Anglican Communion, while I simultaneously continued to explore more Church history from original source documents, I came to understand the Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Jesus Christ and built on Peter the "rock." My wife and I were received into the Catholic Church simultaneously on the Easter vigil of 2000. We were both about thirty years old when we received the sacrament of confirmation.
The subject of this article is not really about me. I only cited my religious history to establish my credentials. The subject of this article is actually about "alternate histories," and it's something that I happen to know a thing or two about.
You see, it was Cardinal Henry Newman, and Anglican convert to Catholicism, that said "knowledge of history is the end of Protestantism." He was right. A sound understanding of historical Christianity puts all of Protestantism on it's deathbed, and this most especially applies to Evangelical Fundamentalism. I can attest to that personally. So, one of the ways Protestantism continues to survive and flourish is through a propaganda tool I like to call "alternate histories," and no form of Protestantism does this better than Evangelical Fundamentalism.
This is how it works. Fundamentalists see history as a problem - a big problem - that if their people were exposed to, it would result in the loss of their followers. So how do you deal with such a problem? Simple. You just "change" history. That's right, you change the story, to make it fit your purposes. This is what they do, and they've been doing it for a very long time. They didn't start it you see. Their spiritual forefathers started it centuries ago. The first one to do this was Martin Luther of course, the father of the Protestant Reformation. His "alternate history" was really very simple, and it wasn't really a retelling of "history" at all. Rather it was a labeling of sorts. He simply labeled the institution of the papacy as the "Whore of Babylon" written of in the Book of Revelation. It was a clever little strategy that helped him win a few more converts, and politically portray himself as the lone hero standing up to the "colossal tyrant" of Rome -- a classic "David and Goliath" comparative. What Luther started, others would build on centuries later. The Protestant English crown was adept at twisting current events to villainize the Catholic Church. The history of the Spanish Inquisitions, as reported by the English, is a classic example of this kind of propaganda. Reports of abuse were exaggerated a thousand-fold to produce the desired effect among English Protestants. This propaganda was recorded in history books, for school children to learn for generations, until just recently (in the last 20 years), when the accounts were revisited by academic historians and found to be shockingly inaccurate. Then of course, by the 1700s, English Protestants began to intermingle with Freemasons, an alliance perpetuated to this day among all branches of English Protestantism. This intermingling resulted in a far more organized form of anti-Catholicism that spread to the English colonies in America and played a large role in the early political parties of the United States. Yes, Americans have been subjected to tales of alternate histories from the very beginning of this once great nation. American history is riddled with anti-Catholicism from the early colonial period, all the way up to the presidential election of 1928. However, the apex and pinnacle of anti-Catholic alternate histories is encapsulated in Presbyterian minister Alexander Hislop's book "Two Babylons" (learn more here) written in 1853 through 1858 and published in 1919. It is a masterpiece in propaganda and constitutes the greatest conspiracy theory of all time, citing an alternate history to implicate the Catholic Church as a continuation of Babylonian Paganism disguised as Christianity. Though historians and scholars of all stripes have repudiated the book as diluted fantasy and factually inaccurate, it remains a hot item on Protestant bookstore shelves across North America. The book can be read for free online here, brought to you by your friendly neighborhood anti-Catholic website called "BibleBelievers.Com." Go ahead and visit the links if you dare, but be warned, they're likely to elevate your blood pressure and expose you to some very inaccurate information based on ignorance and bigotry. Herein lies the zenith of Protestant alternate history propaganda.
From this source, "Two Babylons," derives a plethora of modern anti-Catholic propaganda shared by Protestant Fundamentalists and Progressive Liberals alike. Each having their own reason for using it, these opposing groups see the Catholic Church as the common enemy. It's a classic case of the mindset that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend -- for now." It is unclear just how much of a role Freemasonry has in all of this, but suspicions run high, especially in Europe. Hundreds of anti-Catholic books and pamphlets have been published during the 20th century, citing "Two Babylons" as their primary source of information. These texts often build on Hislop's work with their own conspiracies and tales of alternate history. The United States remains the largest producer of such anti-Catholic material which is heavily laced with American nationalism. Sometimes when reading such literature, one would think the United States itself is the Church. Of course, probably the most notorious producer of anti-Catholic alternate history is the comic book retailer "Chick Publications" which again cites "Two Babylons" as it's primary source for information on Catholicism, along with the testimonies of alleged Catholic clergy and religious who claim to have left the Church because of this "valuable information." It should be noted the Vatican has no record of many of these people. When I say "no record," I mean no record of them even being Catholic, let alone a priest or a nun. So make of that what you will.
The alternate history these people rely upon basically goes like this. If you're an Evangelical reading this, it may sound familiar. Here it goes in a nutshell. According to the propaganda, the Church established by Jesus Christ and the apostles went into hiding after the first century and never emerged until the Protestant Reformation 1,400 years later. During the interim period, Christians were first persecuted by the Pagan Roman empire. Then in 312 AD, Emperor Constantine had a brilliant idea, so the propaganda goes. He thought, "if you can't beat em - join em!" So he brought together all the Pagan priests of Rome and told them to start imitating the Christians, mixing Pagan worship with Christian rhetoric, thus creating a new hybrid religion called "Catholicism." (In addition to Protestants, you would be shocked to learn how many Catholics have actually bought into this nonsense.) Thus the secret Pagan religion of Catholicism was born, and of course the pope serving at the head of this new "Babylon" religion, must be none other than the "Antichrist" himself. As you can see this retelling of history is heavily dependent on ascribing certain motivations to dead historical figures who are no longer able to speak for themselves. For example, the heroic act of Emperor Constantine that legalized tolerance of Christianity in the Roman Empire in 312 AD is turned into something negative and villainous. Christians who suffered for their faith in the late third to early fourth centuries are maligned as "traitors" to the gospel. While every faithful Christian who has served the Church for over a millennium thereafter is made out to be an evil servant of the devil. The propaganda goes on to imply that "real Christians" (modern Evangelical Fundamentalists of course) remained in hiding during this time, only to be martyred by the Catholic Church whenever they revealed themselves in public. This of course explains why there is no historical record of them. That is until Martin Luther, and the other fathers of the Protestant Reformation, made Europe safe for "true Christians" to finally emerge from hiding and begin public worship for the first time since the first century AD. Of course, the United States of America would eventually become the "promised land" of all "true Christians" everywhere.
Now fortunately, this alternate history is no longer taught in many Protestant churches. Yes, some Protestant Fundamentalist churches still teach it, but the majority of Protestant churches have dropped it. Even many Baptist, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have dropped it entirely, recognizing it's poor scholarship and outright lies. Unfortunately, in the absence of the propaganda, many pastors no longer teach on Christian history at all. Thus the result is a rather large portion of the Protestant population in the United States has no knowledge of any Church history between AD 100 - 1517, a collective memory gap of some 1,417 years! This is nothing short of spiritual amnesia! But it is in many ways what keeps Protestantism alive and well.
Now most Protestants simply go through life content with this 1,417 year gap in history. Some however are not, and I think it's safe to say that about 90% of those who actually start reading real history to fill in the gap, end up turning Catholic eventually. I myself am fond of original source documentation, written by the people who were there and lived through it. The following website contains some excerpts from writings of early Christians. They are categorized to specific early Church doctrines. The website is here. However, you can read all of the writings in their full context here. Enjoy!