When you grow up in the Bible Belt going to a Southern Baptist school and a Presbyterian church, you learn a lot of things about Catholics, none of which are true. Much of it I learned through osmosis: there wasn't an "Anti-Catholics 101" class or anything, but anti-Catholicism is part of the culture. At school it was pretty incidental, but at church and home it was quite purposeful as well, partly for historical reasons.
You see, back in the day when Europe blew up in what is called the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, tolerance was not exactly the top priority. There was no such thing as separation of church and state, and the heads of state in most countries were absolute monarchs. Live and let live was not an option because a difference in religion meant an upending of all life. It's hard for modern Americans to even fathom what it was like, but the closest analogies are places like Central Africa Republic. In that country Muslim extremists took over the government and terrorized the country, and now a Christian group has retaliated are engaging in ethnic cleansing of Muslims. (That is a really simplistic summary: check out the BBC for more in-depth information).
English history is fascinating because you get to see how it went down when Henry VIII forced a very Catholic-styled Protestantism on the country, followed by the very Protestant Edward VI, followed by the lovely debacle of evangelical Jane Grey and "Bloody Mary" and mid-way-but-who-really-knows-because-she-was-just-creating-a-middle-way-national-church Elizabeth, and later the coup of Cromwell and the beheading of Catholic King James. (Seriously, English history is amazing, but I digress. Henry VIII's multiple wives and children really threw a monkey wrench in the royal succession). Point being that religion was life and death, and countries went through a debilitating and neck-wrenching back and forth between Protestant and Catholic monarchs, not to mention all the different Protestant sects that didn't play well with each other. And the poor Quakers just got hated on wherever they went. Lots of blood, lots of political coups and intrigue and religious wars.
My family is proudly of Protestant vintage. We know which Scottish clans we had members of (MacMillan, McDuffy), and I grew up going to an annual get-together of descendants of Scottish ancestors who created a Scottish Presbyterian church in the Deep South. I had Dutch Reformed ancestors and survivors of the Saint Bartholomew's massacre in Paris France. Pretty much all of my ancestors on one side were from staunchly Calvinist European countries, and as they say, blood is thicker than water. Calvinists are big on tradition and family history, so I was reared on the mythology of good saintly Protestants persecuted by evil Catholics. Until college I didn't realize just how damned confusing the reality was outside of Fox's Book of Martyrs and Pilgrim's Progress.
As a result of this history, Catholics were Those Papist Oppressors Who Persecuted Our Ancestors. We weren't as extreme as what you see in modern-day North Ireland, but close enough that when I visited there in college I wasn't completely shocked. After all, I had always heard that "Catholics could be Christians, but it would be hard because there was so much baggage to get past."
What baggage? I'm glad you asked. Well for starters, everyone knew that:
- Catholics thought baptism saved you
- But that somehow they believed in works-salvation too
- But that's not surprising since they didn't want their members to read the Bible
- And really it was a big cult because they worshiped the Pope and thought he couldn't sin
- Not to mention all the Hail Mary nonsense, and the fact that they put Mary almost on equal footing with Jesus
- Not to mention that they prayed to saints and disobeyed the second commandment by having graven images in their churches and were rife with superstitions
- Not to mention that they added things to the Bible and were slaves to man-made traditions -
- Like having to confess your sins to a priest when the Bible clearly says "there is one mediator between God and man" -
- And having priests when we are all a royal priesthood -
- And calling those priests "Father" when our only Father is in heaven -
- And calling certain dead people "saint so and so" when all Christians are saints*
- And it's actually idolatrous to go to a Catholic church since they bow down to bread and call it God
- And it's sad how they think that these trappings will get them into heaven, although -
- Most Catholics are just cultural anyway and they only go to church on Christmas and Easter so clearly they don't really believe anything
And then there's general American pop culture about nuns and Catholic school girls, so there really wasn't anything positive to say except that at least they were anti-abortion.
Certain Catholic practices are making a come-back in Protestant churches. For instance, many churches do some form of Advent now - shoot, even my church did an Advent wreath. (My grandmama was very unhappy with this development because it was compromising with the truth and becoming too Catholic). Mainline churches have adopted Lent in various ways, and more churches are doing weekly Eucharist or the Lord's Supper. The Episcopal church is definitely more Catholic in its liturgy than it was mid-20th century, mainly thanks to the 1979 Prayer Book, but Episcopalians are odd ducks and not really representative of Protestants as a whole. The "new perspective on Paul" (which isn't new at all) threatened to break my childhood denomination in two before the elders clamped down because, and I quote, "this is a Catholic heresy and not part of the historic Christian faith." This is also political in part: some evangelical Christians are willing to join with Catholics in order to elect Republicans, although there are those who keep a firm separatist approach like good ole RC Sproul.
Now all y'all Catholic readers can take a nice calming walk, deep breaths, in and out.
* Fun fact: all Calvinists call Augustine "Saint Augustine," but they see no contradiction in this. Probably because they claim him as one of their own.