Friday, September 5, 2008

Eucharistic Crimes and Misdemeanors

About two weeks ago PZ Myers, a biology professor from Michigan, carried out his threat to desecrate the Holy Eucharist and then bragged about it on his blog. He sent a nail though it and then tossed it in the trash along with a few pages of the Koran. (I’ll give him points for daring — desecrating the Koran has become a risky business lately.) I’m not one to quibble with him either, as some have done, he probably did get his hands on a bona fide Host. Given the laxity of liturgy in most parishes nowadays, it would be a simple thing for someone to accept Communion in the hand, palm the genuine Host and, by simple ruse, appear to have consumed it.


This just makes me sad and confused.

Sad, not only for Jesus whose sufferings have been compounded by this sacrilege, but sad for a man so consumed with an hatred for religion that he feels compelled to pull such loathsome stunts.

Confused, because when I was godless, I never had any quarrel with religion. Nor did any of my atheist friends. Most of the people who seemed to have a real issue with religion were self-identified “recovering Catholics,” or ex-Evangelicals or Pentecostals, all of whom had either a lingering belief in God or professed that “my problem isn’t with God it’s with what men do to him.” These people were not genuine atheist and Mr. Myers is behaving like them, not like the genuinely disinterested godless, which leads me to suspect that Myers is really angry at a God he claims not to believe in.

Meyers professes an hatred for religion because of its alleged baneful effects upon society, yet any objective analysis would have to conclude otherwise. Churchgoing has long been associated (especially in the Black community) with high levels of temperance, clean living, and a good work ethic. Most of our hospitals and universities were founded as religious institutions. Charitable giving is highest among the churched, and, unlike Islam and other proselytizing faiths, most Christian churches have always associated works of mercy with their evangelical efforts. Christianity has worked for the abolition of slavery not once, but twice (at the end of the Roman Empire as well as after its reintroduction by Moslems in the fifteenth century). Christianity was the first belief system that accepted women as being of equal worth with men, abolished human sacrifice wherever it encountered it, and postulated that rulers had moral obligations to their charges.

So what does he say about his actions?

He begins by mentioning that the Forth Lateran Council saying that “This is the event where many of their important dogmas were codified, including the ideas … that the Eucharist was the sacrament that only properly ordained priests of the Catholic church could give, and that the Jews were a pariah people, who could hold no public office, had to pay a special Jew tax for their right to exist, and were required to wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians.” This statement is both false and misleading.

It is false because it had always been the case that only ordained priests could confect the Eucharist. The actual work of the council was in affirming that Transubstantiation is the mechanism of confection (as opposed to Consubstantiation or simply being an incomprehensible mystery).

It is misleading for two reasons, the first being that he implies, without actually stating, that belief in the Real Presence was an innovation brought in by the Forth Lateran Council and represents a “change” in doctrine. In point of fact, before the Protestant “Reformation,” every Christian denomination believed in the “Real Presence.”

Furthermore, Catholic doctrine on matters of faith and morals can never change, so it is disingenuous to equate this theological definition with a change in mere practice, which he does by mentioning the injunctions against the Jews in the same sentence.

For the record, we should also point out that these injunctions against the Jews were a Christian incorporation of Moslem practice. Moslems had since the days of the Prophet segregated every society they controlled by forcing non-believers to wear distinctive badges, hats, or medallions, and it was only for a brief time that the Church required this.

Myers then goes on to accuse the Church of inventing “stories of Jews and witches taking the communion host to torture … None of the stories were true, of course,” which makes one wonder of Mr. Myers has ever met an adolescent. From rolling your joints out of Bible pages to fornicating with the pastor’s daughter in the choir loft, profanity and sacrilege have always been one of the reliable tropes of adolescent pranks. Is it really beyond Mr. Myer’s imagining that no one, from 1215 to the present day, has stolen a consecrated Host and defiled it for mere amusement or to prove to his companions what a daring reckless fellow he was? And what about the petty ways that oppressed peoples strike back at their oppressors. Just as blacks in segregation days probably spat in the food they cooked for whites, or called them “honkey” behind their backs, or subverted the system in a thousand petty ways, I am absolutely certain that Medieval Jews from time to time stole the Body of Christ and defiled it. Why not? Even if it meant nothing to them, it was a cheap and easy way of getting back at the Goyim. And when you put these two trends together? What makes more sense than a teenage Jew desecrating the Host to impress his buddies? [Furthermore, it is axiomatic that anyone doing the Devil’s work is a de facto witch. Thus, anyone desecrating an Host is, ipso facto, that thing secular humanists like to insist don’t exist, a witch.]

Myers then goes on to give us a laundry list of persecutions allegedly brought on by specious claims of Host desecration that, naturally, he dismisses as “superstition.” What about xenophobia? Jews were, after all, a foreign element in European society and xenophobia is the normal situation for virtually every society on the face of the planet. Only in late, decadent periods (Egypt after the 18th Dynasty, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Hellenistic Greece / Imperial Rome, Han China, Carvakan India, Umayyad Spain, Modern Europe) are so indifferent to their own cultural heritage as to not be bothered with xenophobia. While not a good thing in itself, xenophobia is actually a sigh of an healthy society and should not be condemned in such an out of hand manner.

Myers concludes this list with the snotty observation “the last time a Catholic nation rose up to slaughter its non-Christian citizenry was a whole 70 years ago” thus blaming Christians for the genocide perpetrated by the pagan Nazis.

Next Myers deals with his critics many of whom have been writing in with hateful e-mails, letters, and pipe-bombs. Wait, no, there weren’t any pipe-bombs! Scratch that — I guess what I meant to say was prayers. Yes — Myers critics hate him so much that they are actually praying for him! Mark Sutton and Jim Nicholson both wrote letters cited by Professor Myers in which they have the effrontery to pray for him! Surely there must be some hate crime law prohibiting this loathsome sort of activity! This simply goes to prove Myers’ conclusion: “that religion breeds the most disgustingly vile haters in our country.”

Then he deals with poor Isaac who has the temerity to assert: “As a Christian it is an insult for anyone to call my beliefs stupid shit.” Myers goes on for a whole paragraph about how Isaac is somehow “closed minded” because he takes offence at his beliefs being called “stupid.” Now, last time I checked, “insult” meant “to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt,” and that’s just what Myers has done. And he’s free to do so. We live in a free country and he’s free to insult anyone he chooses. But, as the purpose of an insult it to offend, it is rather disingenuous of Professor Myers to then act as if he’s been a gentleman all along, don’t you think?

It’s just tiresome, isn’t it? Myers trying to “prove” that religion is false when the whole point of religion is faith — that which cannot be proven. Pity the poor man who will never understand the words of Saint Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney:

“I often think that even if there were no other life than this one, it would be enough happiness just to love God here and to do something for his glory.”
— The Curé d’Ars and the Love of God

3 comments:

Carrie said...

I read this recently in The Wanderer, that Albert Einstein said the following in the December 23, 1940 issue of Time magazine:

"Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly."

But I dunno, maybe Einstein's not intelligent or Jewish enough for PZ Myers.

John Jansen said...

For the record, we should also point out that these injunctions against the Jews were a Christian incorporation of Moslem practice. Moslems had since the days of the Prophet segregated every society they controlled by forcing non-believers to wear distinctive badges, hats, or medallions, and it was only for a brief time that the Church required this.

Maybe my memory is foggy on this point, but I seem to recall that Roman law (long before there were any Muslims) also ordered Jews to wear some sort of distinctive marking.

The Dutchman said...

Maybe my memory is foggy on this point, but I seem to recall that Roman law (long before there were any Muslims) also ordered Jews to wear some sort of distinctive marking.

Remember "Roman Law" remained in force right through the Middle Ages in most parts of France, Italy, and Spain, so even though "Roman Law" required distinctive clothing, it might not have been the Ancient Romans who put that through. None the less, this idea interested me and so I did a quick Google search. This is what I came up with:

As for the everyday appearance of ordinary Jews, ancient gentile writers know nothing of distinctive Jewish clothing or hair style. In Poland two hundred years ago, you could identify Jews on the basis of their clothing, but in Rome two thousand years ago you apparently could not: you had to wait till Jews (at least Jewish men) entered the bathhouse and took their clothing off.

That's from "Ancient Jews, Ancient Gentiles, and Modern Scholars: Current Issues in the Study of Early Judaism"
http://www.arts.mcgill.ca/jewish/30yrs/goldenberg/index.html