Why is this non-Catholic scholar debunking "centuries of anti-Catholic history"?
by Carl E. Olson
An interview with Dr. Rodney Stark, sociologist and author of "Bearing False Witness"
Dr. Rodney Stark has written nearly 40 books on a wide range of topics, incuding a number of recent books on the history of Christianity, monotheism, Christianity in China, and the roots of modernity. After beginning as a newspaper reporter and spending time in the Army, Stark received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He later was Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington; he has been at Baylor University since 2004. Stark is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and he has won a number of national and international awards for distinguished scholarship. Raised as a Lutheran, he has identified himself as an agnostic but has, more recently, called himself an "independent Christian".
His most recent book is Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History (Templeton Press, 2016), which addresses ten prevalent myths about Church history. Dr. Stark recently responded by e-mail to some questions from Carl E. Olson, editor ofCatholic World Report.
CWR: You begin the book by first noting your upbringing as an American Protestant and then discussing "distinguished bigots". What is a "distinguished bigot"? And how have such people influenced the way in which the Catholic Church is understood and perceived by many Americans today?
Dr. Rodney Stark: By distinguished bigots I mean prominent scholars and intellectuals who clearly are antagonistic to the Catholic Church and who promulgate false historical claims.
CWR: How did you go about identifying and selecting the ten anti-Catholic myths that you rebut in the book? To what degree are these myths part of a general (if sometimes vague) Protestant culture, and to what degree are they encouraged and spread by a more secular, elite culture?
Dr. Stark: For the most part I encountered these anti-Catholic myths as I wrote about various historical periods and events, and discovered that these well-known ‘facts” were false and therefore was forced to deal with them in those studies. These myths are not limited to some generalized Protestant culture—many Catholics, including well-known ones, have repeated them too. These myths have too often, and for too long, been granted truthful validity by historians in general. Of course secularists—especially ex-Catholics such as Karen Armstrong—love these myths.
CWR: The first chapter is on "sins of anti-Semitism," perhaps the most divisive and controversial of the topics you address. How have your own views on this issue changed, and why? Why do you think there continues to be a wide-spread belief or impression that the Catholic Church in inherently anti-Semitic?
Dr. Stark: When I began as a scholar, “everybody” including leading Catholics knew the Church was a primary source of anti-Semitism. It was only later as I worked with materials on medieval attacks on Jews that I discovered the effective role of the Church in opposing and suppressing such attacks—this truth being told by medieval Jewish chroniclers and thereby most certainly true. Why do so many ‘intellectuals,’ many of them ex-Catholics, continue to accept the notion that Pope Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope,” when that is so obviously a vicious lie? It can only be hatred of the Church. Keep in mind that it is prominent Jews who defend the pope.