Play it Again: Desecration as Discourse

The giant comment thread at “Is it so hard not to desecrate a Eucharist” has been heating up again over the last few days, and I want to do a recap of why I think P.Z. Myers’s stunt was bad instrumentally for atheism and bad ethically for any individual atheist.  Here’s the rundown:

There’s no way to get your hands on a consecrated wafer for the purpose of desecration ethically

This is a pretty prosaic point and was the focus of the original post, but it keeps coming up, so I’ll go through it again.  A consecrated wafer starts off in the possession of the Catholic Church.  They don’t just ‘give it away’ as some commenters have claimed.  People receiving communion are required to be baptized Catholics and they need to consume what they take.  If you go up to the rail with the intention of pocketing and desecrating the wafer you are given, you are committing fraud.  The fact that the priest handed you the wafer ‘willingly’ signifies nothing, since his actions were premised on your deceit.  This is no more licit than using a fake id to buy booze, and the fact that your deception succeeded does not mean your victim deserved to be tricked.

It’s possible to avoid deception by simply stealing consecrated wafers from a church, but, unless people object in the comments, I’m going to assume I don’t have to prove that stealing is unethical.

There are circumstances where theft and/or fraud might be the least bad option, but I think the remainder of arguments in this post puts paid to that contention.

You’re not proving anything to Catholics

People in the comments threads have argued that Myers’s was somehow striking a blow against Catholic truth-claims.  That is simply not true.  Here are the two allegedly shocking truths Myers illuminated:

  1. The Eucharist can be damaged/looks like bread instead of flesh/doesn’t bleed/etc
  2. Non-Catholics don’t feel bound by Catholic ideas of the sacred

The first point I addressed in a standalone post (“Debunking a Debunking“), but it’s also answered in part by the main disproof of the second point: Myers was not being original.

People have been desecrating the Eucharist since the practice started, without much of an adverse effect on Catholicism.  My boyfriend’s confirmation name is Tarcisius — a third century saint who was killed trying to protect the Host from a crowd.  No one is surprised that their holy object is not respected in the same way by nonbelievers, but Catholics may be surprised by your aggression.  After all…

You’re acting with deliberate intent to harm

You can’t be deliberately trying to get a rise out of people and not understand that they get angry because they feel upset/hurt/assaulted.  Some atheists who endorse this behavior wouldn’t feel good about destroying people’s sentimental keepsakes or hurting someone’s best friend, but the subjective pain a Catholic feels when a Eucharist is destroyed is certainly comparable.  Pain experienced as the result of false beliefs is still pain, and your compassion shouldn’t be dampened because you think your victim is deceived.

If you want to defend this behavior, you’re free to persuade me that the benefits outweigh the harm, but you’ll get no sympathy from me if you have no empathy for your victims or regret that your actions were necessary.

You’re ceding the moral high ground in the debate

If it’s clear you’re causing pain to others (and especially if you don’t seem to care), it’s hard to look like the good guy, even if the other side behaves badly.  Responding to extreme provocation (the harassment of the boy who originally stole a wafer) with extreme action may seem fair to you, but it just makes both sides look like jerks to the people not affiliated with either side (your ostensible audience).

When atheists are already slammed as amoral and untrustworthy, I don’t want people on my team deliberately hurting others with little persuasive payoff.  Myers’s gleeful excitement plays particularly badly, no matter how violent or angry his opponents are.

Therefore…

I don’t think these attacks are advisable or ethical, and I wish atheists would stop endorsing/defending them.  At the very least, I want atheists to acknowledge this tactics are intended to harm people, and, consequentially, they require a more robust justification than has been offered to date.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    As you've said, it's nothing new, especially in the early Church (like prior to 400 CE). It's not only Catholics that are offended — it's Episcopalians, Lutherans, Orthodox, as well.And as you've mentioned, it just makes you look like a jerk and proves nothing toward what you want to prove.Oh… and the hair dryer thing (basically unbaptizing Christians) is pretty useless as well. To Christians, baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. For those who practice infant baptism, refusing to be confirmed is about the most effective way to announce your rejection of the faith because Confirmation is (at least to us Lutherans) the affirmation of the baptismal vows made by your parents on your behalf. Refusing to be confirmed is saying that you don't affirm those vows.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    There is no harm. It is all in the mind of a believer.It is like when you drive your Hummer, people feel pain because you're killing the Polar Bears, but you're really not.I don't like doing analogies for this, but frankly people have to understand what harm actually is. Are there less Eucharists to go round? Is anyone denied a Eucharist because of it? Is there a financial cost? Is there any legal interpretation that would make it fraud – please answer this because this is important to your point and you are 100% wrong on this.And, most importantly, did you not read Brian where he wrote that whether the cracker was consecrated or not is irrelevant because it is the symbolic nature of the act that strikes at the heart of the Catholic belief system that hurts(?) him!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @jen: The hair dryer stunt always seemed ridiculous to me, since, as an atheist, I don't think baptism has any effect to remove.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @March Hare: Do you believe that pain caused by a false belief is subjectively not experienced as pain in the same way as pain caused by a true belief? That seems like the consequence of your arguments. I agree that analogies are imperfect, but here's mine. If I falsely believe you broke my friend's arm (as the result of a misunderstanding, prank, etc), my anger and pain is the same as the feelings I would have if my belief were true. You can't ameliorate the pain experienced unless you convince your victim that the belief in question is false. Since you said in the original thread that you didn't expect the stunt to deconvert true believers, you must expect that their pain will persist unabated. Even if you have contempt for their false belief, you ought to have empathy for their pain.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @March Hare: in re the fraud point, I really can't speak to the legal definition of fraud. It's possible that depriving me of property through deception and with deceptive intent is sufficient as a definition of fraud, without reference to the value of the property, in which case this would definitely be fraud. I have no idea.I'm not making a legal case but an ethical one. Regardless of whether I am subject to prosecution, I ought not to defraud other people, all other things being equal (or ceteris paribus, to use up all my knowledge of legal jargon in one shot).

  • Patrick

    I still think that its not… complete… to discuss an act of political protest without ever mentioning, even in passing, the thing that was being protested against. Surely that's relevant. For example, it would let you add this to the truths PZ illuminated:3. Death threats, acts of physical violence, attempts at ruining people's careers, and the filing of false police reports will not result in the effects the people who utilized them desired. Instead they will lead to backlash.You can argue that isn't good enough, but for crying out loud, its relevant. It was the whole point!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Thank you for the post. I was a Protestant when I first heard of P.Z. Myers' action, and I honestly found it sickening. I was particularly disturbed by the manifest glee of certain militant atheists when they defended him.Ironically, Myers' action had for me the opposite effect he intended. It led me to realize that the Eucharist is truly and meaningfully sacred, and it was that realization that led me to examine Catholic theology in more depth. I'm currently in RCIA, and I'll probably become Catholic at the end of it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    - Re. stealing: I basically agree, but want to add that it is permitted to use a pyx to take communion from Mass for another. Here's an interesting question that just occurred to me: how would you rate this compared to signing up for something to get the promotional benefit offered while knowing full well you will not continue participation? Or more analogously, signing up with fake credentials because you really like the stress ball or pen that person on the sidewalk is offering to signer-uppers.I guess what I'm trying to get at is the theft argument, in my read, has to center around the subjective value attributed to the object, not the value. I'd assume you'd say it's not encouraged to sign up falsely either… but would you react as strongly to that as to a thieved Eucharist? Both are being offered under a certain set of premises, and both offerers have been deceived.Given that the monetary value is the same, I have a hard time buying that this argument is really about theft, proper. I think it's about the weight of the two sets of premises and your reaction toward the theft of something considered sacred.I'm not attacking that stance, just trying to poke around to see if you agree that it's more about the beliefs held about the thing stolen rather than the fact that it's actually stolen. I think my analogy illustrates that, but feel free to rebut.

  • http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/alexknapp Alex

    Doesn't this whole argument just boil down to:"Don't be an asshole." ?

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    @Alex: pretty much.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    @Alex: Yes.But then you have to determine who is being the asshole…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Leah: "Do you believe that pain caused by a false belief is subjectively not experienced as pain in the same way as pain caused by a true belief?"That is a VERY interesting question that goes way beyond the scope of this discussion.As a simplistic answer I would say that we can empathise (patronise?) the very real feeling of suffering that people have but we should not respect it or go out of our way to avoid it. Which is not to say we should necessarily go out of our way to cause it either, unless that can be shown to have a positive effect! Basically treat it like a phobia – we don't avoid showing spiders on TV but we may alert people that we are going to show them so they can avoid it if they wish to."You can't ameliorate the pain experienced unless you convince your victim that the belief in question is false."Probably, but since we need a common understanding of pain, and reality, we cannot assume that their delusion is real (even if it turns out to be) so we must treat all things as if there is no supernatural component. That is how science works, that is how humanity progresses. IOW treat such a strong religious belief like we would a phobia. (I am starting to like that analogy.)As to your second point, I refer you back to Brian's point that it matters not whether the bread was consecrated, it is the symbolism that causes pain and suffering. e.g. (had to do it again) if you show a rubber spider to an arachnophobe it doesn't matter that it's a fake spider the fear and panic is just as real.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    March Hare, you said "[S]ince we need a common understanding of pain, and reality, we cannot assume that their delusion is real (even if it turns out to be) so we must treat all things as if there is no supernatural component."I don't really see that it matters whether a false or delusional belief is connected to supernatural beliefs or not. It sounds like you are arguing that, as long as you have a reasonable level of certainty that someone's beliefs are false, it would be wrong to lend legitimacy to their delusion by making allowances any pain they suffer that is premised on their false beliefs. Although it would generally be preferable not to cause pain, it is worse to countenance these false beliefs.Am I reading you correctly?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Almost entirely. However, it is not necessarily the fact that it is worse for a person to have their probably false belief pandered to that is bad, more that we should not go out of our way to make allowances for their belief.Which wouldn't be an issue in 99.9% of circumstances except, as has been repeatedly pointed out by Patrick and others, it is the Catholics who take their belief into the public sphere using the legal system and violence (a tiny, tiny minority to be sure) to protect their belief that causes a reaction to reassert secular rights.While I happily rail against having horoscopes in newspapers and laugh in the face of anyone professing a belief in astrology I, and most people, feel no need to do anything about it because astrologers are not asking for special protections or limits on what non-believers can do based on astrological beliefs. If the religious would keep their beliefs to themselves and/or not have such a big influence on public life no-one would care what they do/believe.As I put on another post, why should the Eucharist be protected but not a cow? Do Christian beliefs trump Hindu ones?

  • http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/alexknapp Alex

    @March Hare -It's really not that hard to figure out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    @March Hare: If you take out the supernatural component, you're denying Catholics the very reason why we hold the Eucharist to be sacred: because Christ is divinely present in it. Also, the Eucharist and horoscopes are not comparable, and neither are protecting cows for Hindus. No one is slaughtering a cow and then making the Hindu eat it. The Eucharist, on the other hand, is ONLY consecrated during the Mass. It is ONLY meant for consumption by Roman Catholics. If it is taken away in a little container for someone not at Mass (i.e. ill and thus, cannot be present), it is being taken to that person for immediate consumption. It's not going to sit around for a couple hours.Your comment of "If the religious would keep their beliefs to themselves and/or not have such a big influence on public life no-one would care what they do/believe." is interesting– we do keep our beliefs to ourselves. But when people trespass, steal a Eucharist (which we consider to be the Christ present in the wafer) and then desecrate it (harm against our Lord, whom we love and adore), you're going to believe we're going to get upset.Fine, this sounds silly to you. Silly Catholics! But at least concede that going into our sphere, intending to harm something we hold sacred, is wrong. We're not going into your area and hurting your loved ones. Doing something and knowing you are going to cause another emotional pain is wrong. Take, for example, the action of taking a doll from a little girl. To you, it might be a dumb doll, but to her? To her it's her best friend or baby, whom she likes to cradle and dress up. What is it to you that she enjoys her doll? Where is the harm factor?@Leah, great defense. I appreciate it and you make excellent points. In terms of legal action, I actually have heard of a case where a lady and her daughter were charged with trespassing after they went into a Church, took the Eucharist, and the daughter stamped on it in the parking lot. It was considered stealing and vandalizing Church property.

  • http://exultet.blogspot.com Roz

    With all respect, @March Hare, I find your comments an example of how something can be well-thought-out and logical but thoroughly incorrect. You said, "I don't like doing analogies for this, but frankly people have to understand what harm actually is. Are there less Eucharists to go round? Is anyone denied a Eucharist because of it? Is there a financial cost?"Since when has the value of something been determined by the perception of value by its destroyer? Or is value always calculated solely in terms of economics, scarcity, etc? Well, no.To take Leah's analogy, is harm done if someone steals the ashes of a loved one and emails them a video of the ashes being poured down a dirty toilet? There's no financial harm there. What's the economic or concrete harm in burning a cross on the village green? No harm was done, no explicit threats were made. Why was there an uproar when the South Carolina statehouse was topped by a Confederate Flag?It's because meaning matters. What other people believe about something matters. It was uncivilized for PZ Myers to pull that stunt, and it's disingenuous for people to plead for the act to be regarded as harmless. If it had been harmless, it would have had no shock value, and he wouldn't have done it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Great last graf, Roz! Well said.

  • Iota

    Hendy: "it is permitted to use a pyx to take communion from Mass for another."True, but AFAIK the conditions are rather stringent. 1) Under normal circumstances it's primarily the responsibility of priests. In places where there aren't enough priests, Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Communion may be appointed. An EMHC may be a "normal" lay person.2) There are rules on how distribution to the sick is carried out. The most basic rule is: go directly to the sick person and give them Communion. If for some reason that can't be done, bring the Communion back to the church. The Eucharist does not become the property of the EMHC (unlike a pen).If you BADLY wanted to make an analogy, an EMHC is like an appointed courier. But I suspect most people wouldn't think it ethical to impersonate a courier (even if initially that was just a mistake) and then dispose of the package in the wrong way. Even if, for some reason, the person handing the package out in the first place was negligent enough not to make sure that they were handing it out to the courier and even if (which, form a Catholic POV is not the case) the contents was rather unimportant.Reading:Who can distribute Communion to the sick?)Should a person who is taking the Eucharist to a sick person go directly to the sick person – look for the second question under the heading "Reservation of the Eucharist"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13113358989259865484 Robin Lionheart

    No, not all consecrated wafers start in Catholic churches, and wafers are not only ever consecrated by Catholics for Catholics. Protestants and Mormons take Communion too. And not all priests deny Communion to members of different denominations.Even if you don't count ordained heathens like me happily consecrating your entire pantry, you must know there are lots of denominations of Christianity with lots of different doctrines regarding Eucharists.Some hysterical Catholics accused a Florida student who left a service with a consecrated wafer (after assaulting him and trying to pry it out of his hand) of "stealing", "fraud", "hate crime", and most ridiculously, "kidnapping". Now you, too, lightly make similar baseless, hyperbolic charges, and call for empathy with "victims" of a victimless act.Argue that obtaining consecrated wafers for desecration is mean, or unethical, or bad PR, but to refer to it as a criminal act is just over the top.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @Robin: I'm not talking about all forms of communion. The open table practises of some Lutherans and Anglicans doesn't change the fact that, at a Catholic church, there is a clear expectation that the only people eligible to receive the Host are baptized Catholics who are free of mortal sin, and they may only receive it for the purpose of immediate consumption. If you don't meet those criteria but try to obtain it, you are deliberately tricking the priest into giving it to you against his will.Whether or not that meets a legal definition of stealing is really beyond me, but it's certainly fraud and it's certainly unethical.I don't know enough about hate crimes to have any idea whether that charge would stick, but I can see why people would throw the phrase around when people deliberately and illicitly obtain objects considered sacred by a religious sect for the purpose of desecration that, in Myers's case at least, was clearly intended to upset as many people as possible.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    Is harm done if someone steals the ashes of a loved one and emails them a video of the ashes being poured down a dirty toilet?Roz: Was harm done when the Knights of Columbus took the lead in persuading Congress to replace the word "indivisible" in the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "under God"? Is harm still being done by the Knights in defending "under God" before the courts? Or should we atheists just put on our big girl panties and our big boy boxers and suck it up?Suppose Congress changed the words "under God" to "under no God" or "under no pope." Would harm be done? If the words were so changed, and you were asked to say the Pledge of Allegiance in the new form as part of a public ceremony, would you do so?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    On the contrary, Robin, Protestants don't believe in transubstantiation and therefore don't "consecrate" anything. I'm just now coming over to Catholicism, having grown up Protestant, so I ought to know the difference. For Protestants, communion is simply a memorial of the Last Supper, an "ordinance" rather than a "sacrament."Only priests in the Catholic and the Orthodox Church are able to consecrate the Eucharist, and both of these churches have pretty strict regulations on handling them afterward. Leah's point stands.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13113358989259865484 Robin Lionheart

    So, Publius, is it Catholic doctrine that when a Catholic attends a Protestant service, and a priest who is not Catholic or Orthodox says the magic words, the wafers do not become the body of Christ?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    One of the Catholics in the thread can corroborate, but I'm pretty sure that Catholics don't believe wafers can be transubstantiated except by a priest who was ordained by a priest who was ordained by a priest… …who was ordained by one of the original apostles (see Apostolic succession).Keep in mind that Lutherans and other Protestants don't claim to do the thing Catholics do. They practice consubstantiation, not transubstantion and it's my impression that each side thinks the other practice is insufficient/impossible/silly, based on casual conversation I've had with people in both traditions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13113358989259865484 Robin Lionheart

    Leah, that has implications for your pantry, since my personal chain of ordination can be traced back to Pope Paul IV.

  • http://exultet.blogspot.com Roz

    Leah, you're exactly right about the Catholic understanding of the means of transubstantiation and how seriously it's regarded. In my opinion, the key point isn't so much the fact that it was wrong to take the consecrated host, though I believe it was. It's that PZ Myers chose to do and took delight in doing the very thing that would be the most offensive to Catholic believers for no productive purpose that I can ascertain. If you'll forgive me, it reminds me of the affinity that junior high boys have for potty humor — most of the fun is in sharing the shock value with other junior high boys. The fact that presumably well-meaning, civilized, and adult atheists are defending it is puzzling to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13113358989259865484 Robin Lionheart

    Roz, It's not that hard to understand if you know the context.Catholics held a service in the UCF student union, then persecuted Webster Cook for taking a communion wafer back to his seat. They threatened him with censure and impeachment from student Senate and expulsion from university and filed false police reports and made death threats, all for fear that Webster might commit a nefarious act of wafer desecration. PZ Myers stuck a nail in a wafer and threw it in the trash to exercise his freedom to commit sacrilege and disrespect wafers, like burning a flag to defy those who would ban flag burning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Roz, theft is theft. The Eucharist was not stolen. Which is irrelevant – as Brian pointed out the symbolism of desecrating a Eucharist, whether Jesus was present in it* or not, is what is important.If someone misplaces the ashes of a loved one and I pretend to have them and pour them down a dirty toilet on YouTube is that harm? Consider this carefully.I also have no problem with insulting Catholic believers. This institution's power is based on the inaction if believers in the 1st world who do not follow its teachings but nonetheless financially and politically back the very real evil** it does around the globe. If desecrating a Eucharist made even one person question their faith then it was a worthwhile exercise.* Seriously, read this and tell me it's not insane!** Banning the use of contraception, banning life saving abortions, being in favour of anti-homosexual laws etc. etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11092730975259196019 Reggie Perrin

    Great post. I think that this is something that you either get or you don't get.As an ex-Catholic, I well understand why someone would want to campaign against, say, the anti-gay or anti-abortion stances of the church. I'm all in favour of responsible, ethical campaigning, and I try to raise awareness of some of the darker aspects of Catholic teaching myself on my own blogs. But being a dick is still just being a dick.It's counterproductive too, because the person concerned just comes across as being angry and having issues.Finally, I don't know much about US law, but I'm an English lawyer, and obtaining a communion wafer from a church by deception (i.e. presenting yourself as a Catholic communicant) would certainly be illegal over here.

  • Benji

    New reader to the blog. Found my way over from Daylight Atheism.I think that there's an aspect to this that's not being considered. Obtaining a eucharist, or a piece of unleavened bread that has also had magic words said over it, is not something that we need even parse the ethics of stealing, as they are commercially available:http://www.kingdom.com/Unleavened-Communion-Bread-500-Pieces-p/B.htm500 pieces for a little under 8 bucks, plus shipping.It absolutely removes any question about whether or not it is an act of theft of fraud obtaining crackers from a site such as this, at which point the desecration, disposal, chanting of a magic spell and administering to a social club, or whatever use they could be put is entirely the discretion of the purchaser.The point of desecrating a cracker, which I'm told horribly, horribly offends Catholics, Orthodox, and other Christians goes back to those pesky ideas about free speech. I cannot be told that I cannot make an act of speech by driving a nail through a cracker I own and throwing it away, no more so than I can be told that I cannot draw a stick figure of a guy named Mohamed. The religious are entitled to believe whatever they wish. They are not entitled, however, to make me respect their taboos. I react very badly to attempts at coercion, and don't mind admitting that there's a bit of an iconoclast in me that delights in provoking such a furor over a cracker. Over a stick figure. It's silly and perhaps a bit childish, but again, isn't that the point? Am I not entitled to point my finger and laugh at the Emperor crooning over his new clothes when I can plainly see that he's naked?Isn't mockery and laughter a perfectly cromulent took in my toolbox for dealing with the religious?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Benji, there have been a number of posts on this here and elsewhere, but there is a profound difference between the Protestant understanding of communion and the Catholic understanding of communion. This applies to the difference between a consecrated host and the unconsecrated wafers being sold on the website you provided. You can get such wafers any time. To get your hands on an honest-to-God consecrated wafer, would require taking it by force or fraud from a Catholic Church. Ergo, theft.As for your second point, I would merely point out that no one here questions the legal right to desecrate a legally obtained host. It's just that 1) it wasn't and couldn't have been legally obtained, so that point is rather moot. Moreover, 2) just because you have a right to do something doesn't mean it's a necessarily wise, moral, or socially decent course of action. There's a difference.

  • Benji

    Publius, I am unconvinced that had PZ desecrated a commercially purchased cracker from a website such as the one linked to, or an actual communion wafer that had had the correct magic words intoned over them, that the response would have been any different.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    I come from a Protestant background, where communion is merely a memorial meal. Do you know how many communion wafers are left over after the end of a service? Perhaps they're reused, or thrown away, or left as snacks for the youth group. Yet how many Catholics do you see protesting outside of such churches on communion Sundays? Where is the outcry? The response is different, tangibly and reliably so. Does that clarify?

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar

    @Hendy,Use of a pyx is typically restricted to ministers of Holy Communion, either ordinary or extraordinary, so that they may transport the Eucharistic wafers to recipients not able to come to Mass without desecrating them in the process. So, I think your analogy comparing the Blessed Sacrament to a loss leader is deeply flawed. Here are some I think work better.One of the charitable laws of Deuteronomy was that you did not pick up fallen grain after you harvested a field. Rather, you left it on the ground for widows, orphans, and homeless people to pick up. Your suggestion is closer to gleaning another's field, even when you have plenty for yourself.An even better analogy would be asking, "What's wrong with keeping The Green Bike? The donors gave them away, and it's not like they expected to ever get it back."@Leah,God can do whatever He wants, including transubstantiate wafers for Protestants who don't believe what they are getting is the Body and Blood and soul and divinity of Christ. HOWEVER, we have no reason to believe He does. We DO know that He does so for Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) priests.@March Hare,seriously, I think you'd have done better to pick Fred or Velma as your avatar — Scooby was always pretty credulous. Then again, I don't know if you're just presuming that the prevailing wisdom of atheist/secular culture is right, or if you've carefully investigated the reasoning behind Catholic moral law and found it wanting.Take the so-called evils you cite ("Banning the use of contraception, banning life saving abortions, being in favour of anti-homosexual laws etc. etc."), whether they are in fact evil is a matter of debate, on the basis of general revelation (i.e., without reference to Scripture or Sacred Tradition). Take homosexual acts, for example. Even before the advent of AIDS, men in the Gay lifestyle typically had life expectancy reduced by 20 years, but even so, we dare not ever suggest it is wrong. I know of nobody who takes issue with teaching kids it is wrong to smoke or have a poor diet, because of the negative impact on health of each. The Pill is only available by prescription because taking it entails serious health risks, which suggests to me that the morality of controlling its use is already ceded, and the degree of control that is prudent is a matter for debate. You also appear to accept the unfounded presumption that sexual promiscuity is harmless, and enabling it is likewise harmless. Don't base it on Coming of Age in Samoa; that's been debunked as a hoax.Abortion is only not evil when you presume the nonhumanity of a certain member organisms of the species Homo Sapiens based upon location and/or stage of development, which I regard as irrational. And lifesaving treatments other than directly extracting and killing the human embryo/fetus which nevertheless result in embryonic/fetal death are entirely acceptable in Catholic medical ethics.@Benji,those ARE just crackers. Leah is discussing the desecration of CONSECRATED hosts. If you want an understanding of how precious we Catholics hold the Blessed Sacrament, watch the Mass broadcast on EWTN some time, and notice how careful the priest is to make sure that every leftover wafer is locked back up and every leftover drop and crumb is eaten at the end of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

  • Benji

    Not really.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    You said you were unconvinced that the Catholic response would have been different if PZ Myers had attacked a non-consecrated host.I responded by pointing to the almost weekly widespread "desecration" of non-consecrated communion wafers.I fail to see how you can remain unconvinced. Considering you deride Catholics for their belief in "magic spells," at least give them the credit for meaning what they say.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Publius, it is what the destruction of the Eucharist represents that would make the Catholic (and others) reaction different in the case where PZ Myers destroyed a 'fake' Eucharist and the situation where out of date unconsecrated wafers are disposed of. What PZ did was seen by many as much as an attack on the Church as an attack on a Eucharist.In other news, Muslims in Afghanistan are upset because Terry Jones burnt a Qu'ran. 24 dead so far.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09239576472889126413 MCPlanck

    The only reason you can write this post the way you did is because generations of atheists have already paved the way.Descrating the Eucharist used to be a death sentence. By descrating one, and not being killed, PZ is physically demonstrating the Catholic Church (and by extension the Catholic God) has no power.If you think that we don't need to remind people of this; if you think the world is significantly educated that everyone in it already knows the Catholic Church (and by extension the Catholic God) has no power; then you need to get out more.As long as people truly believe, it will be necessary for us to demonstrate the falseness of their beliefs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09239576472889126413 MCPlanck

    "It was uncivilized for PZ Myers to pull that stunt"The truth is never uncivilized. Even when it hurts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    While I try to take religions at their word I still try to pull them back towards reality where possible. So in the case of Eucharist desecration I try to discover where any actual harm is, what changes there are when a wafer is consecrated etc. I could simply ignore it as not true, but I'd rather try to understand the other person's view.However, in some situations it is not only laughable from a materialist viewpoint, but is actually harmful:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8416104/Surge-in-Satanism-sparks-rise-in-demand-for-exorcists-says-Catholic-Church.htmlApparently people who are possessed can tell the difference between Holy Water and regular water. What about homeopathic water? But seriously, this idiocy is actually stopping people with problems from getting real help. Not to mention the evil things it justifies over-zealous people to do to remove the demon from mentally ill people.Perhaps deserving of a post Leah? I'd like to see the people defending the protection of The Host defend exorcisms.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    @March Hare- your whole first graf is riddled with confusion. You take them at their word, then try to pull them back towards reality. In terms of Christianity, our whole reality is based on the Word. In terms of Eucharist desecration, the actual harm comes from the fact that we Catholics believe the divine personhood of Jesus Christ is in the host. If someone harms the Eucharist (not the unconsecrated wafer, mind you), then they are intentionally harming our Lord. That is our point of view. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, as well as the greatest of the sacraments, and to cause harm to it is grave in the eyes of Roman Catholics, not to mention completely disrespectful.Also, I don't really see what is so funny, the Devil is real.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    (Not that I am trying to open up another huge can of worms, I am simply saying, from a Roman Catholic point of view, it is not ridiculous. We believe the Devil is real and we've been doing exorcisms successfully for thousands of years; Jesus did exorcisms too. People who are possessed and people who are mentally ill are not synonymous, either. Mental illness is a bodily disease and possession by an evil spirit is spiritual.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Iota/Arkanabar: the pyx example was hardly my main point. Leah said that those who receive need to consume what they take; I simply wanted to point out that there are exceptions — what I said has nothing to do with the debate, just thought I'd offer it up as more information.My grandma used to take communion to her mother, so I know it's not always restricted to EMs.Re. the analogy, I'm not sure that I see them as that "deeply flawed." In both cases, deceit is occurring in order to take something. In both cases, the "taker" is acting in order to get the "giver" to hand that thing over, and in both cases, the taker doesn't think the thing has much monetary value.I think taking the green bike, a communion wafer, and signing up for something just to get the gimme gift are all wrong. I just disagree with saying that "one of these things is not like the other" and treating the Eucharist as an exceptionally wrong act, as they all involve deceit (faking being Catholic, faking to sign up for product/service x, or faking "borrowing" a bike that you're going to keep) and all involve relatively similar monetary values.If anything, the green bike is the exception because it's worth more.

  • Iota

    @ Mars Hare – I'll get back to you on biblical interpretation in another thread (since I need a lot more free time for that), but just a quick note on something your wrote here:"But seriously, this idiocy is actually stopping people with problems from getting real help."Your unstated premise seems to be that exorcisms are used instead of psychiatric treatment. It may, or may not be known to you that known issues with mental health would be addressed first. See here:When and how does one contact an exorcist?@ Hendy"What I said has nothing to do with the debate."Roger that. My apologies for any avoidable misunderstanding.

  • Iota

    "Mars Hare" – whoops, typo. :-) No offence meant

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13113358989259865484 Robin Lionheart

    @Arkanabar“God can do whatever He wants, including transubstantiate wafers for Protestants who don't believe what they are getting is the Body and Blood and soul and divinity of Christ. HOWEVER, we have no reason to believe He does. We DO know that He does so for Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) priests.”DO you?A Protestant could say they have no reason to believe Jesus enters the crackers for Catholic priests and not for them.“those ARE just crackers. Leah is discussing the desecration of CONSECRATED hosts.”And scientific materialists could say they know that no matter what words anyone says over them, consecrated hosts remain just crackers.How do you know what you think you know?

  • Andrew Patton

    For the record, there are two types of priests: presbyters and bishops. Both can consecrate the Eucharist, but only bishops can ordain new priests. Bishops are successors of the Apostles, whereas presbyters merely serve as extensions of bishops. All priests start off as presbyters, but some are chosen to be ordained as bishops later.


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