Friday, 11 July 2008
Posted by Dave
I often hold up the Catholic church as an example of rational, modern religious organisation. They're down with evolution, have a good take on science in general and even occasionally say some sensible stuff about the bible. Oh sure, there's the whole contraception, women's rights, gay rights, abortion and original sin baggage, but on the whole they're pretty progressive for a Christian sect.
Then something like this happens, and you realise that they're just as batshit mental as the average jihad spouting Muslim. To cut a long story short, US student, Webster Cook, smuggled a piece of the Eucharist - a holy biscuit - out of mass to show his mate. He subsequently returned it, but this wasn't enough to appease the holy rollers. Now Cook is receiving death threats.
"We don’t know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was," said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. "However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it."
As you might expect, having had their biscuit kidnapped, the Catholics were incensed:
"It is hurtful," said Father Migeul Gonzalez with the Diocese. "Imagine if they kidnapped somebody and you make a plea for that individual to please return that loved one to the family."
I'd feel the same if someone tried to steal my custard creams and, like the Diocese, I'd probably bring in some of my toughest mates to protect my confectionary in the future:
The Diocese is dispatching a nun to UCF's campus to oversee the next mass, protect the Eucharist and in hopes Cook will return it.
An amusing storm in a teacup. Anyway, outspoken biologist and blogger PZ Meyers heard about this and, in true PZ style, blogged about it. It wasn't a very sympathetic blog, it was a tongue in cheek look at a massive over-reaction. Though, as usual, PZ goes one step too far, promising that if someone would send him some holy wafer:
I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare ... will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart.
Tsk, naughty atheist. Well anyway, the whole thing has gone global now and the US Catholic League has got hold of it and are calling for PZ's immediate dismissal.
Right, the serious part. I don't actually condone either Webster Cook's stealing of the Eucharist, or PZ's subsequent mockery of the Eucharist either. I think both were a little childish and ill-considered, and PZ is rapidly defining himself as being just as rabid and frothy as those he seeks to ridicule these days. But the point of the story is this: Catholics actually believe that the Eucharist wafer is the body of Christ.
This isn't some metaphorical, religious ceremony. They actually do believe that the transubstantiation is real and that they are literally consuming flesh. In that context, what looks like a ridiculous over-reaction takes on a slightly more understandable, if depressing, light. In fact, if you read around a little, you see that "host desecration" is about the worst thing that a Catholic can do. Webster Cook and PZ Meyers can probably think themselves lucky they didn't live in the middle ages:
The first recorded accusation was made in 1243 at Berlitz, near Berlin. As a consequence all the Jews of Berlitz were burned on the spot
I reckon I'd be pissed if someone stole my hob nobs, but burning every Jew in town seems a little... heavy handed. But that's the point, they don't believe they're losing a biscuit, they actually believe they're losing a chunk of the big JC - the obvious implication of this is that they actually believe they're eating, and subsequently shitting, a chunk of the big JC, but they don't tend to dwell on that much.
Maybe I'm missing something, maybe there's a hidden depth and use for religious ceremonies like this, but I can't see it. To me, this seems like a meme that probably started off 2000 years ago as something useful, but which has gradually mutated over the centuries into something ridiculous. And that those practising the rite don't see how inane it is because they've been indoctrinated from birth into believing there's a point to it, that there is a kind of holy biscuit that turns into flesh in their mouth.
Whatever the case, I know I'll think twice before scoffing a ritz cracker from the buffet table at the parish social.