Let Jesus Contend with P. Z. Myers!

I have refrained from jumping into the discussions about the removal of a Eucharistic wafer (or “cracker“, if you prefer) from a church by another individual and then, in protest to the heated reactions from Catholics, once again by P. Z. Myers, outspoken atheist.

Myers has received threats and various other sorts of hate mail. But I think this case provides a wonderful opportunity for Christians to revisit the story in Judges 6:25-32 about Gideon (also called Jerub-Baal).

I will leave those unfamiliar with the story to read it. What I propose is to imagine that the story is shifted into our time, and it is P. Z. Myers’ father who responds to the angry crowds that have gathered at his door, asking for him to be handed over to be put to death:

“Are you going to plead Jesus’ cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Jesus really is God, he can defend himself when someone desecrates his body” (reworked from Judges 6:31, NIV).

Would that Christians would learn to listen to the stories in their Scriptures in a self-critical rather than a self-righteous way!

What options are open to the person who looks at both this Biblical story and this current event? One is that the God worshipped by Christians is no more active in the world than Ba’al. If that option is too much to bear, then there are certainly alternatives. What if Jesus is not interested in defending himself? What if the whole point of the cross was to express the idea of a God who is so far from like our human egotism and lack of self esteem that God feels no need to defend himself?

There is always a third option: that God is angry with Catholics, and has sent P. Z. Myers against them much as God is said to have sent the Assyrians against the Israelites. In that case, the appropriate response is to repend, not to threaten God’s messenger!

There are plenty of ways that Christians of various sorts might appropriately respond to this situation. I think that death threats and hate mail should be far further down the list than they are. But what this incident really goes to show is this: for most “Christians”, what Christianity is about, what the Bible says, what the Eucharist represents, all of that is irrelevant. Christianity is simply a tribe to which they belong and any insult to which they will respond to in a way that, ironically, is incompatible with much that has historically been felt to be central to the Christian faith.

In the mean time, I propose nicknaming Myers “Jerub-Jesus” from now on. Or you can call him “JJ” for short instead of “PZ”. Somehow I doubt he’d mind.

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  • Joe

    It is a little bizarre that any faith claiming to follow the betrayed and crucified Christ can suggest anything can be further said or done which is noticeably offensive.To me it speaks of a wide lack of understanding – which suggests that God is quite weak and is somehow contaminated by sin. I believe the exact opposite – God is like an antiseptic, dealing with the sin and transforming the sinner.

  • This is an interesting post and you make a great point about our tendency to see ourselves as the “in-group” in the Bible. I would also very much affirm the humility of God. But I think it rather unfair to generalize about what “most ‘Christians'” believe based on the tiny minority who send hate-mail. Even so, it does seem to be true that a great many self-identified “Christians” treat it as little more than a kind of tribal allegiance.BTW, you might find this funny, or at least relevant:PZ Myers Thinks Like a Bronze-Age Pagan, though I think you would agree that the “Pagan” qualifier is quite unnecessary, even misleading (cf. 1 Kings 18:16-46).

  • Tribal indeed! Then again so are many of the commenters on PZ’s blog. There’s an irony there. Not only do Christians do tribal hatred, but rationalists do tribal and unthinking atheism.

  • Interesting. I just commented on my blog yesterday about the issue of the Eucharist (antiquitopia.blogspot.com), but in a more friendly circumstance of an atheist partaking of the host at Tim Russert’s funeral (which the Catholic League took offense to). In the process, the issue came out that, according to the Angelic Doctor, Thomas Aquinas, a non-believer does not even have the ability to desecrate the host–Aquinas was responding to the possibility of desecration of the host if a mouse got into the tabernacle and ate it. He said no–because the mouse lacked faith in the transformation from bread and wine to body and blood, it lacked the ability to desecrate. So, in this sense, P.Z. Myers (the mouse) could not desecrate the host even if he wanted to–he is absolutely impotent to do so. I guess you have to have faith to be genuinely sacrilegious, at least according to Aquinas.

  • keiths

    Blasphemy and desecration against an omnipotent God raise lots of interesting issues. I commented along these lines here.

  • Doug: A point I keep in mind in the face of occasional Christian (and dare-I-mention-in-the-same-breath, Muslim) hysterics and those of Christopher Hitchens et al… These tribes we join can not change our true, human, nature. Much wrong has been done under the banner of God. Would evil not have occurred otherwise? Ludicrous! Would it have been lessoned? Doubtful. The evil comes from within ourselves not from some doctrine. Would there have been greater progress in health and commerce without a dominant Christian Church through out the centuries? Now, playing counterfactuals IS fun but it ain’t scholarship!

  • Jared: PZ, a mouse? That’s rough! That’s one heck of a squeek.

  • keiths

    Scott,Nobody thinks that evil would vanish entirely if religion disappeared from the face of the earth.Nevertheless, Pascal got it right when he wrote that “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”Stanley Milgram’s experiments showed how far humans are willing to go at the behest of a merely human authority. When they think they have the imprimatur of God himself, they are capable of almost anything.

  • don’t know, Keiths. Mao and Stalin did just fine without religious authority. Hell, chimpanzees kill each other.

  • keiths

    Scott,It appears that you overlooked the first sentence of my comment.

  • I still don’t “get” Catholicism’s view of the host.If the host wafer gets “trans-substantiated” does it stay “trans-substantiated?” Even when tiny portions of it, or molecules of it, are eventually pooped out the rear? (Flush twice for Christ’s sake.) Or does the remaining portion of the host get “un-trans-substantiated” at some point in the intestines? And what about all the E. Coli bacteria feasting on the host in the large intestines? Are they growing “holier and holier” and “filled with grace” as they munch on the host? Half of all fecal matter is E. Coli which has feasted on the food you’ve eaten.And why is passing God through your stomach and intestines viewed so positively? Jesus himself used to say that it isn’t what passes through a man — past his lips and out his rear end — that defiles him, because it all passes out the rear end in the end. Jesus might have added that it isn’t what a man swallows that makes him any holier either. Interestingly, I heard a Catholic Answers Program this week in which a Catholic convert was very sad that his Dad had stopped going to church, and that his Mom remained a stalwart Baptist who argues against Catholicism being true. The Catholic Answer man told the caller that everyone including his parents “need the Eucharist,” they need to become Catholics and enjoy the special grace of eating the host that only the Catholic church, out of all other churches on earth, provides. The Catholic Answer man added that there was still a chance that the caller’s parents might not be damned because their rejection of Catholicism might be due to something called, “invincible ignorance,” and not due to rejecting the Catholic church as it really is, but simply due to rejecting the Catholic church due to “invincibly ignorant” misconceptions of what it is and does. And so, the caller’s parents might wind up in heaven regardless of his fears. Though who really knows? The caller was simply told to trust God on that one. But of course don’t dare stop attending church and receiving the Eucharist himself.