Robert Tilton, the flamboyant televangelist who promises to heal your ailment if you first prove your faith by sending him a big wad of cash, has moved his broadcasting facilities to San Diego. He also has moved himself here, his post office box being in posh Rancho Santa Fe, our equivalent of Bel Air.
This Rock is preparing a feature on Tilton, who is dangerous not because he woos Catholics from the Church, but because he gives religion as a whole a bad name. He brings bitterness to people desperate for solutions to very real problems, and he is a wonderful weapon for non-believers who want to strike out against Christians of any stripe.
The March 8 issue of Awake! magazine, published by the Jehovah's Witnesses, takes aim at the Catholic Church in Spain. Four anonymously-written articles . (which quote anonymous "authorities" such as "a professor of contemporary history at the University of Deusto, Vizcaya") paint Spanish Catholics as either wicked or stupid. "'John XXIII? The name sounds familiar. Was he a king?' said Cristina, a Spanish teenager, who had never heard of that popular pope."
Much of the attention focuses on the Spanish Inquisition. This topic simply can't be handled in a few paragraphs -- particularly by people disinclined to give the Catholic Church a fair shake.
No mention is made, for instance, of the riots which broke out in Spain when the Inquisition was abolished in 1834. The Spanish people preferred the Inquisition's court's to the Crown's, since the Inquisition maintained procedural safeguards, not unlike those enshrined in our own Bill of Rights. A historical footnote, perhaps, but an indication that the picture of the Inquisition is complex and can't be painted in black and white.
Beware the specter of Catholic apologetics! It's throwing some people for a loop. As an example, these comments from the newsletter of Christians Evangelizing Catholics:
"While ecumenism is rampant...there is a new counter-attack starting in Roman Catholicism. It is a resurrection of the old Catholic apologetics of Rumble, Carty, O'Brien, Gibbons, and Conway.
"It admits that there is a Fundamentalist offensive to be beaten back, and that it is starting this fight on the defensive. The Catholic Church freely admits that its foe on the battlefield for souls is biblical Fundamentalism.
"She admits that more traffic is moving away from Catholicism than to it. The efforts we have seen for these apologetic groups to portray a Christian becoming a Catholic are pitiful.
"One tape recently released by Catholic Answers told of an ex-Southern Baptist, who went forward at a Southern Baptist meeting many years ago but never exhibited real Christianity, becoming interested in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and, because he could not find any Southern Baptist friends who warmed up to this philosophy, decided to become a Roman Catholic."
The former Baptist captured on tape by Catholic Answers is Deal Hudson, professor of philosophy at Fordham University and an expert in the writings of the Thomist Jacques Maritain. Why was it that Hudson "never exhibited real Christianity"? Why, because he ended up becoming a Catholic, of course. (Real Christians never "pope.")
And did he abandon his Baptist beliefs (and his position as a minister) because no one "warmed up" to his new-found Thomism? If you believe that, you haven't heard his tape ["Baptist Preacher Becomes Catholic," available from This Rock for $7.00, which includes shipping].
The Christians Evangelizing Catholics newsletter continues:
"We must be concerned that Catholics are being given weapons with which to try to discourage personal evangelism. Some of these weapons are self-destructive, like Karl Keating's suggestion that a Catholic meet his Fundamentalist friend with an open Bible to discuss spiritual truths from the Word of God."
(If that's "self-destructive" for Catholicism, why is the writer "concerned" about it?)
"But some zealous personal workers will themselves be asked questions they cannot answer [so that's why!], so one of the emphases of groups that evangelize Catholics will be to instruct Christians how to meet this new counter-offensive."
God's Message, the magazine of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Filipino Church of Christ), asks, in its September-October 1989 issue, "Is the Pope Infallible?" (At least we know Iglesia isn't. The magazine refers to "the Second Vatican Council (1870).")
Chief among the authorities cited by Iglesia is Archbishop Josef Strossmayer, one of the fathers of Vatican I, who is quoted, at length, as giving the Council the lowdown on papal errors. The Strossmayer quotation is lifted from Henry T. Hudson's Papal Power, perhaps the most exhaustive recent attack on the papacy. Henry T. Hudson-not to be confused with Deal Hudson (no relation) - is a Fundamentalist, not an Iglesia member.
The final 17 pages of Papal Power purport to be a transcript of the speech Strossmayer gave at the Council. Hudson, whose book claims the papacy gained temporal power through the adroit dissemination of forgeries, doesn't defend this speech against charges that it is itself a forgery. He doesn't even imply that he knows of such charges.
He would have known exactly that had he turned to the Catholic Encyclopedia and looked up the article on Strossmayer. But Hudson wasn't too concerned about accuracy, and the Iglesia writer, Feljun B. Fuentes, wasn't either. He found something he liked in an anti-Catholic book, and he printed it.
Due out in June, from Prometheus Press, is George H. Smith's Atheism, Ayn Rand, and other Heresies. We can hardly wait to get a copy. Smith is the author of Atheism: The Case Against God and is a regular contributor to Reason magazine. He classifies himself as a libertarian.
The blurb for his forthcoming book says that Smith "analyzes atheism and its relevance to society today." It's ironic that the book appears just as officially atheist regimes crumble.
No matter how loudly atheists profess their rationality, atheism is at root an irrational position because it is contrary to reality. It isn't surprising that states built on an ideology of atheism can't produce either freedom or potatoes.
In America atheists are few in number, but they're stubborn, and they pride themselves on "not being like the rest of men." Special evangelistic techniques are needed if atheists are to be reached. More on those in upcoming issues.
Since 1984 the number of Mormon wards and branches (local congregations) has increased by a seventh -- in just six years! In some of our largest dioceses we've seen, in that same span, a comparable decrease in the number of churches. There are many reasons for church closings, but how many (or few) would have gone under if we went door-to-door as the Mormons do?
Loraine Boettner, author of Roman Catholicism, the "Bible" of the anti-Catholic movement, died January 3 at the age of 88. Christianity Today, in noting his passing, mentioned his work on predestination and premillennialism. No mention of his anti-Catholicism, for which he is best known nowadays.
Roman Catholicism still sells well, nearly three decades after its first publication, and it will continue to sell because the burgeoning anti-Catholic movement has nothing close to it in scope or length. It seems to be a thorough refutation of Catholicism, even though it's full of errors and non-sequiturs.
For a critique, see pages 27-50 of Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism.
The same issue of Christianity Today that reported Boettner's demise also reported on what goes by the name of "megachurch," those arena-size churches that pack in thousands at each service and which have parking lots extending over three counties.
Lyle E. Schaller, who is on the staff of the Yoke fellow Institute in Richmond, Indiana, lists two dozens reasons why megachurches are popping up all over. Reason 7: "the recent rapid increase in the exodus of people born since 1945 from Roman Catholic churches into evangelical and charismatic Protestant congregations."
Given the high proportion of Evangelical converts who are ex-Catholics, perhaps this should have appeared as Reason 1.
Each year the Jehovah's Witnesses publish detailed figures on how many hours they spent evangelizing (166,312,728 in the U.S. in 1989; 835,426,538 worldwide) and how many baptisms they performed (48,358 in the U.S.; 263,855 worldwide). They now have 60,192 congregations, called Kingdom Halls, and last year they held 3,419,745 Bible studies.
"Dear Friend: If you are a member of the false Church -- the Harlot Church described in Revelation 17 -- leave it!" So begins the January/February issue of The Conversion Center's newsletter, which goes out to the choir, not to folks stuck in the Catholic Church.
"Find a true, Bible believing Church -- ask God to lead you. The Church of Rome is the Harlot Church, but she has many daughters -- beware! Telephone us for help. A great many have."
Yes, and that's a pity. You won't get much reliable help from The Conversion Center, the director of which is the Rev. Donald F. Maconaghie. The organization has its "international headquarters" (and its only office) in Maconaghie's house in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.
A while back a couple of us dropped by to say hello and found no one home. But the windows to the conference room were uncurtained, so we did the only proper thing: We looked inside.
The room was unusable, only half finished, with construction materials propped against the walls, and it looked as though no one had been doing any work there for months - even though The Conversion Center, by that time, had been trumpeting the imminent availability of the room for a year or two.
Lack of money? Maybe so. The fact is that The Conversion Center exists not so much to turn Catholics into Fundamentalists, but to be a focus of anti-Catholic sentiment. It gives anti-Catholics something to contribute to, however modestly, and somewhere to gather at least once a year, when The Conversion Center holds its annual meeting at a nearby church. Even then, only a few dozen people show up.
Maconaghie is no longer a young man. When he goes, The Conversion Center goes. The same can't be said of other anti-Catholic organizations; they aren't all one-man operations. But they will all, in the long run, disappear in the mists.
"'In our territory,' said another Witness, 'a woman who is active in the Bible study program of the Catholic Church commented: "If before with just their comments and their magazines [the Witnesses] left us speechless, now that they are opening the Bible at the doors, we are lost!" So reports the January 1 issue of The Watchtower in an article about the Jehovah's Witnesses' work in Mexico, where a change in legal status has allowed them, for the first time, to take Bibles with them as they go door to door. "This had an immediate impact. In two months, the number of publishers [proselytizers] jumped by over 17,000."
Call no man your father, atheist version: Biblical Errancy's February issue includes this quip from a correspondent: "The reason believers capitalize 'Bible' is for reverence. It is like calling a priest 'Father.'
"He is not my father, but if he can get me to call him that he is halfway home to credibility and respect. (I usually call him 'Mister.') It's not that I would never respect a priest, but he should have to earn the respect before I will automatically assign it."
Each issue of Challenger, the newsletter of Mission to Catholics International, features a "personal testimony" under the title "Another Ex-Catholic for Biblical Christianity."
The stories are hard to differentiate from one another there's a sameness in the Catholic-to-Fundamentalist transition that seems to be missing in the reverse journey, but that may be just our prejudice - but valuable points are brought up.
In the January 1990 issue, for instance, Steve Bellendir reports that one day, while still effectively an atheist (having abandoned Catholicism some years earlier), he picked up his girlfriend's Bible and "found it interesting to learn such things as the fact that Mary had other children -- that meant she" was not a 'perpetual virgin.' "
Poof! There was the answer, and it was an anti-Catholic answer. That, no doubt, made it especially palatable. Then there was Catholic reality: "I'm convinced that with all their religion, Catholics don't really believe what they claim. Their lives would be entirely different if they did."
What can we learn from this?
(1) People alienated from " Catholicism will find especially attractive any position which undermines what they were taught as Catholics. They will tend to accept uncritically whatever makes the Catholic Church look mistaken. They want to blame the Church for their alienation - they don't want to take the heat themselves.
(2) The Bible can be accepted too readily. By that we mean people without spiritual moorings, such as former Catholics who now classify themselves as atheists (even though they may well believe, secretly, that God exists - or at least may hope he exists), will adhere to the first interpretation that gives them something solid to believe in.
(3) Catholics may be judged more harshly than Fundamentalists. The ex-Catholic will concentrate on the foibles of Catholics, overlooking the fact that his new-found co-religionists suffer from foibles of their own.
If Catholics drink or swear too much, Fundamentalists may be Pharisaic, judging others too much. ("I thank you, God, that I am not like the rest of men" [Luke 18:11].) Are there priests who don't keep their vows of chastity? Sure, and there are Fundamentalist ministers who are adulterers and who get arrested for child abuse.
But this balanced view isn't often taken by people joining Fundamentalism, and we need to know that. Of course, it isn't enough to use the "So's your ol' man!" school of argumentation. Our faults aren't justified by their faults.
But converts to Fundamentalism need to be reminded that sanctity doesn't begin at the door to Good Book Baptist, nor does it end at the door to St. Miscellaneous's.
The Church in France may be in a bad way, but not all is lost. Emmanuel, a charismatic community based in Paris, has taken to the streets. No, not to protest, but to preach.
The group has 4,000 members, most in France, and many of them are on street corners proclaiming the gospel and singing its praises. They prepare for their work by prayer and daily adoration of the Eucharist.
Passersby at first presume they're Protestants - after all, Catholics don't go public with their faith, do they? - but the icon of the Virgin soon dispels that idea. Then curiosity takes over and conversations (and conversions) begin.
If you don't mind some unfriendly stares, try doing this in the most public area of your city, say once a week for three months. Make sure you have complimentary literature to pass out, and wear a smile. Let us know what happens.
Tony Alamo is still at it. His latest broadside is titled "Nailed!!" It describes an amazingly contorted plot by the Catholic Church to "attack all religions in the world…
"The Library of Congress and the Congressional Record both bear witness that the Catholic Jesuits, in order to destroy other religions, will infiltrate them by representing themselves as Jews, born-again Christians, denominational Protestants, Huguenots [are there still Huguenots?] for the purpose of demolishing them until Catholicism alone is left....
"These Jesuits (Roman Rabbis) have actually infiltrated into Israel's Knesset (the Parliament). This is why Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches appear everywhere in Israel, an advantage that could not have existed if they had not, like termites, bored their way into the very fiber of Israel's government."
The story goes downhill from there, ending with self-praise. "They all know that Reverend Alamo and our church have been the greatest asset to America and the world. The proof is that we have no drug problem at any of our churches, no teenage pregnancies, no adultery or fornication, no gangs, no murder, no rapes, robberies or killings...no economic problems, no aid of any kind; we believe in giving to the world, not taking from it."
Hmmm...and perhaps that's why the California Attorney General is after Tony Alamo child labor, violation of wage and time laws, various tax charges and perhaps that's why Alamo and most of his followers fled California for the security of Arkansas. No, the Holy Alamo Christian Church, as it's called, is no danger to believers, but it is a danger to impressionable young people, many of them raised in nominally Catholic homes, who are looking for the security they couldn't find on the streets.
Under Alamo's tutelage they'll end up resolute anti-Catholics. They may not long buy his weird imaginings, but they'll carry with them residual anti-Catholicism that will be hard to cut away. For that reason people like Alamo need to be opposed, and where his literature is distributed we need to distribute our own.