Book Review: Catholicism and Fundamentalism

I started this book a few weeks ago while on retreat and finished it up tonight. It’s essentially written in response to anti-Catholic fundamentalists. One thing that surprised me when reading this book is how many prominent non-Catholics repeatedly misrepresent church teaching. (Jerry Falwell is repeatedly cited for doing this; the book was written in 1988.) In the final chapter, Keating quotes Bishop Fulton Sheen as saying “Few hate the Catholic Church,. but millions hate what they. mistakenly think is the Catholic Church”. This is certainly true of those who get their ideas of what the Catholic Church believes from anti-Catholics.

For example, my now ex-girlfriend (the Baptist) once showed me an article written by an author claiming to show ten fundamental errors in Catholic theology. A few of these points misrepresented Church teaching to begin with and many others selectively quoted the Bible, ignoring verses that support the Catholic position. Had I been inclined, I could have shown her the verses that refuted the claims made in the article, but it was dinner time and I didn’t have the reference materials I needed to find the verses. (I’m generally awful at identifying citations by chapter and verse from memory. Plus, it was time to eat.)

Keating shows the errors made by the anti-Catholics by quoting liberally and frequently from their works, showing their misrepresentation of Catholic belief, whether intentional or otherwise and in fact shows that many of the errors are due to too heavy a reliance on Loraine Boettner’s work Roman Catholicism, which is still the “bible” of anti-Catholicism in many ways. Falwell, for example, despite promising his readers that he personally verified every claim he makes about Catholics in one of his works, repeated almost verbatim an error made by Boettner in his work.

This brings up another point Keating and others I’ve read make: Many Protestants don’t really know the Bible; they know the verses that support the position that their pastor taught them. So they sound impressive when they cite chapter and verse, but they can only do that for about 30 verses; outside that, they’re in trouble. Keating claims that when you start asking them questions and reviewing the Bible with them asking intelligent questions, they often pull back and return to their pastor.

Again, this lines up with my experience: I was walking to the adoration chapel at St. Ann’s once Saturday morning when I bumped into a Jehovah’s Witness standing on the sidewalk while another one was approaching a house. The gentleman on the sidewalk stopped me and asked me if I thought my children were safe at school. I told him I didn’t have any children, so he asked about my nieces or nephews. I told him I’m an only child. (He was a little amused at that point.) He then asked me if I was aware that the Bible foretold that there would be immorality, war and violence right before the Second Coming. I told him I was, but that was true of all time periods. He then flipped to one of Paul’s letters, I guess to show me the verse in context in his Bible. Knowing that the Jehovah’s Witness Bible contains some mistranslations, I broke out my Bible which I was carrying in my bag to read while at adoration. When he saw that, he lost interest in talking to me. He clearly wasn’t prepared for someone who could respond.

This book gives a good overview of Catholic thought and responses to claim by fundamentalists. It concludes by giving a brief overview in how to defend the faith charitably and honestly when approached by a fundamentalist and also provides reading lists to help Catholics get up to speed on knowing their faith. It’s definitely worth reading, and I’ve heard a number of former Protestants state that it played an important role in bringing them home to the Catholic Church.