Thoughts on the Eucharist: Mystical, Not Magical, and Everyone Is Included

Thoughts on the Eucharist: Mystical, Not Magical, and Everyone Is Included July 25, 2017

From time to time, folks ask me about my views on the Eucharist (or communion), particularly the question of who should be allowed to participate. And there’s also been a bit of buzz recently about the Catholic Church’s refusal to allow gluten-free wafers. So I thought I’d share some thoughts on the sacrament in general.

Eucharist
Image credit: RobertCheaib, Pixabay.com.

In my earlier years, I held to an extraordinarily low-church view of all sacraments, including Eucharist. That is, I saw them as merely symbols, reminders, or public declarations. In fact, I would have balked at even using the words Eucharist or sacrament. All such things just sounded to scarily Catholic to me.

However, the longer I’ve walked with Christ, and the more I’ve come to appreciate the universal church, the less I’ve been able to maintain such a low view. This is not something I can necessarily explain, nor certainly do I intend to defend it, but I can simply no longer believe that the sacraments are only symbolic—that nothing else of greater significance is going on behind the scenes.

That said, I also can’t quite accept the way that many (not all) high-church folks present them. Though they would never describe it this way themselves, they end up presenting the sacraments almost as if they were a form of magic.1 Consider, for example, the Eucharist in a Catholic Mass:

  • It must be administered by an ordained priest.
  • The right ingredients must be used for the bread and wine.
  • The right words must be spoken.
  • All those partaking must have already been initiated via baptism.
  • And if all these things are done correctly, then Christ is really present.

I’m not meaning to pick on my Catholic friends; I just can’t get around this perception. I don’t buy the idea that Jesus has a checklist of requirements that must be met before making himself present. I don’t believe God cares who administers, what ingredients are used, what words are said, or what prerequisites the participants have met.

What I do believe is that the sacraments were made for people, not people for the sacraments. What matters is that we are gathering to celebrate Christ, and that we are choosing to intentionally remember him in the bread and wine. So long as this happens, Christ is present. He is present in a real and mystical sense that transcends our understanding, but not in a magical sense requiring adherence to a formula.

One of the most meaningful celebrations of Eucharist I’ve ever experienced was when my son and daughter (three and two years old at the time) spontaneously decided they were going to administer it, and the wonderful church we’re a part of gladly agreed. The presence of Christ in that room—and in that gluten-free bread and grape juice—could not have been more real if the pope himself had administered it.

The kingdom of God belongs to such as these, and I’m to believe they can’t administer Eucharist because they aren’t priests? No, I can’t believe that.

For Whom?

Then there’s the question of who gets to partake. Do they have to be baptized? Can baptized Christians from other denominations join? Do they have to be rebaptized if they were first baptized in a different denomination? On and on the rules and requirements go.

All these things do is exclude people. But why would we exclude anyone? Even non-Christians—if they wish to celebrate Christ with us, why on earth would we stop them? What a powerful witness it would be, demonstrating that they are already loved and included, and that the body and blood of Christ are for them too.

Is not the Eucharist a continuation of the incarnation? Is it not a reenactment of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? And did he not become incarnate, live, die, and rise again for all people?

And when Jesus first introduced the meal with his disciples, did he not dip his bread for the very one he knew would betray him? If even Judas was included, then surely all must be included.

But Paul!

Some confusion has come from 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, wherein Paul discusses how the Corinthian church had been abusing the Lord’s Supper. For reasons that continue to bewilder me, this has passage has long been used as the standard justification for excluding certain people from partaking. But that’s literally the exact opposite of what Paul taught.

He was quite straightforward about the problem at hand, and it had nothing to do with the wrong people taking part. He saw “divisions” and “factions” in the church. These groups went about the supper independently of each other, some getting drunk and others going hungry. In particular, this ended up excluding the poor.

Paul’s solution was simple, “wait for one another” so that everyone may be included. The exclusion of certain people was the very problem Paul addressed. His instruction to “examine yourselves” so that you do not partake “in an unworthy manner” has to be understood in this context of inclusion and exclusion.

Accepting the Eucharist while excluding others is precisely what it means to partake in an unworthy manner. Everyone is included. Everyone is welcome!


1 On using the word magic, I must acknowledge that pagans who actually do refer to their craft as such would not necessarily exhibit the behaviors I’m here describing. My use of the word has much more to do with its association in fantasy than in reality.

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  • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

    Partaking of the bread adn wine (both to be ‘unleavened’) are not for everyone. Especially shouldn’t be though it is fine for nonbelievers or merely curious ones to partake of the emblems representatvie of the one who gave his life to give us life and forgivenss of sins. This being the case, ppl are to be profession Christians that show this by the act of ‘baptism’ ‘in the name of the FAther, Son and Holy Spirit'(Matt 28:19)

    It is true that this night of Jesus instructing the disciples to ‘do this in memory of me’ Judas was ther. BUT Judas had left before this part of the night to go and betray Jesus to the Jewish leadership. And the point of Jesus dipping bread and handing it ot Judas could have been a way of Jesus showing kindness to Judas to keep Judas from betraying him. Apparently Judas dismissed all these ‘little things’ an dstill sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.

    The matter of 1 Corinthians is indeed about not only some of those points made of the poor brothrs/sisters and the not so poor having and the other not having. Paul did tell them to commemorate Jesus together. Also that none of them should be taking of this bread adn wine of the sacrifice of Jesus for ‘sinner’ ‘unworhily’. Truly this has nothing to do with the way they were currently behaving but to chek themselve sor te ‘sin’ they were perhaps committing and then coming into the house of God as though they were ‘clean’ and then eating of the sacrifice ‘unworthily’ due to the other things Christians are to be living by. To go and live in sin adn then come in basically saying ‘I am clean’ is a lie, is it not? Is telling lies not also a ‘sin’?

    In this regard many ‘Christians’ ‘judge themselves’ in the sight of God for the unholy conduct they commit day after day and then come to Him and take of the body of Jesus as though it is a ‘small thing’ not deserving of self examination and knowing the purpose of why Jesus came and gave his perfect life as a blood sacrifice for ‘atonement’ of ‘sins’ in the first place.

    Indeed, Jesus did come to the earth to give life to all who come to him in faith. But for those who do not accept him as the Savior, the Messiah from God, there is no reason for them to partake of what they don’t accept to be true, is there?

    • jekylldoc

      This objection to the “merely curious” reminds me a bit of the debate over cultural appropriation. I guess I would draw the line at any charging of admission to watch others take communion, but short of that, the more the holier.

      • Gary Roth

        One of the best books I’ve read on this, and which helped me to see this a bit differently, is “Take This Bread” by Sara Miles. She happens in to an Episcopal church where communion is being served, and is invited in to participate. Thus begins her faith journey. Jesus’ call is always invitational, not a checklist – that would be totally against the Gospel, the “good news” of God’s hospitality toward us. People come to Jesus, and in the coming, are changed. Luther said, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” We do not need to guard the doors, to see who has an appropriate pass; the doorkeeper’s job in the church is to make sure that all have access to the one we believe to be “the way, the truth and the life.” Let us be like Andrew, who searched for someone who had food for Jesus to work with, not like the others, who wanted always to limit who got to see Jesus.

        • jekylldoc

          Thanks for this. I tend to think the exclusiveness was a power play by the official church, but I have learned over time that they took catechism for baptism very seriously, for example, wanting the new Christian to take it seriously as well. I no longer see policing communion as a vile, exploitative process, but I still think it is wrong-headed.

          • Fred Knight

            it is a way to maintain orthodoxy, it is not wrong headed or power hungry, that is the wrong way to perceive it. it is as often a sign of grace and pretty cool, as the modern age is “anything goes all the time”.

          • jekylldoc

            But Fred, I think the effort to maintain orthodoxy is wrong-headed, and using the means of excluding people is wrong squared.
            It is a strange proposition that refusing “anything goes” is an act of grace, but I can actually make sense of it. The problem is that it requires a much more comprehensive view than the person has who is being “guided.”
            Those who maintain orthodoxy by exclusion are clearly in no position to claim such a superior vantage-point. If the doctors of the church had been content with explaining their reasons, and letting people be persuaded as the Spirit moved, then they would have been following Christ. But instead they usurped the place of Christ, and acted in an un-Christlike way.

          • Fred Knight

            “But Fred, I think the effort to maintain orthodoxy is wrong-headed, and using the means of excluding people is wrong squared.”

            Hey Jekylldoc, I’m not sure if you are coming from a believer’s perspective or not. But the message of Christ and the New Testament is loaded with examples of exclusivity. (‘think not that I came to bring peace, but a sword”…”For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

            Has various groups been overzealous or wrong-headed over the course of Christian history? Without a doubt! But to say that “exclusion” in inconsistent with Christ or Christian teaching is just not true. In fact, look at the earliest examples of the Early Christian Mass – http://amzn.to/2vQzMF3

            From the First Apology of St. Justin Martyr, c. 155 AD
            “ No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he
            believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the
            regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless
            he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.” http://bit.ly/2vRgMWY

            Today’s typical parish who practices closed communion does so very carefully and graciously….

            I say this as one who is outside of Christianity, btw.

          • jekylldoc

            Hi Fred, Well, I do consider myself a believer, but my “belief” is not very important to me, and people who police that sort of thing would generally not accept my doctrine. I prefer to label myself a “follower” which is both scarier and less intellectually constricting.

            I am pretty clear that the church was intent on exclusion of outsiders and the heterodox from pretty early on, but I consider that goal to be inconsistent with claiming that Christ is present, since he was so intent on reaching out to people who were not accepted, not in agreement and not devoted.

            How do people carefully and graciously exclude people from communion? Is this the sort of “hand on the head with a blessing” method instead of handing them the host?

          • Fred Knight

            “and people who police that sort of thing would generally not accept my
            doctrine. I prefer to label myself a “follower” which is both scarier
            and less intellectually constricting.”
            I hear ya in spades on that.

            “I am pretty clear that the church was intent on exclusion of outsiders
            and the heterodox from pretty early on, but I consider that goal to be
            inconsistent with claiming that Christ is present, since he was so
            intent on reaching out to people who were not accepted”
            I evolved over time on my understanding on this. As an extremely big tent evangelical who believed it was only symbolic, I was, of course, for open communion (to all believers, but that is also exclusionary) When one begins to embrace a sacramental understanding of the “Real Presence in the Eucharist” the emphasis shifts….in a weird way, they want to protect those who might unknowingly “receive unworthily” – but I can assure you, I saw extremely little Catholic pride or exclusionary attitudes, in any way shape or form….(unlike evangelicalism)

            This is such a big and complicated subject and I’m one who is outside the tribe, so to speak (I could technically still go into a local parish and receive, but I would not do this, as I respect their beliefs, but also I no longer hold any faith in the supernatural.

          • jekylldoc

            I so agree about Evangelical “pride.” I hardly noticed it growing up, but we were constantly being told what was wrong with other groups. Catholics drink wine, Baptists believe in Eternal Security, Jews are obsessed with works of the law (which turns out not to be true), and on and on. I guess it should be obvious, that there would not be so many splinter groups if each one wasn’t proclaiming its correctness somehow, but I was, in my view, damaged by it. I find I am still insidiously preoccupied with correctness.

            For instance, on the supernatural. Once I concluded there probably is not anything supernatural going on (really, I am pretty radical on that – believe me) it took me a long time to get my head around the fact that I can worship with people who think there is, and the same spirit can move us both. (A spirit is not necessarily anything supernatural.)

            Gradually, I am peeling the cold dead fingers of correctness off the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.

          • Fred Knight

            “I guess it should be obvious, that there would not be so many splinter
            groups if each one wasn’t proclaiming its correctness somehow”

            Once one has stepped outside the insulated bubble, then it does become obvious, but be careful, that first step is a doozy! That’s why it takes so many of us so damn long to ask those hard questions (that we dared not ask.)

            ” but I was, in my view, damaged by it. I find I am still insidiously
            preoccupied with correctness.”

            I’m going to agree with you on that, even after all these years, there’s an occasional irrational pang of guilt or narrowness of thought that creeps into my consciousness. In spite of the genuine (over the top) level of sincerity we held those views, one doesn’t even get to be human without feeling somehow vaguely bad about it…it’s a killer. As I moved away from fundamentalism that got a lot better.

            “For instance, on the supernatural. Once I concluded there probably is
            not anything supernatural going on (really, I am pretty radical on that –
            believe me) it took me a long time to get my head around the fact that I
            can worship with people who think there is, and the same spirit can
            move us both. (A spirit is not necessarily anything supernatural.)”
            Wow, I find that extremely interesting and encouraging that you said that. I came to very similar conclusions, and in the end, the best move for me was to gracefully exit the Church. I still on rare occasion attend Mass or a religious service, and ironically, I’m almost always edified by the goodness of the folks there – even, as you said, I don’t see it as supernatural, I can join in the same “spirit” it’s intended.

            Of course, we are both heretics for suggesting and discussing these things.

          • jekylldoc

            I’m a happy heretic. I hope the same for you. Why should I have to reject “the goodness of the folks” which is a river of life, in my experience, just because I see the theology differently? Theology is blind men with an elephant, as some sage observed (Rumi? maybe). Well, I am not going to second-guess your conclusion that exit was the best alternative. You know you better than I do.

            But let me encourage you to look into alternative interpretations. Kierkegaard’s philosophy was a big help to me, though frankly it is a tough slog. There must be user-friendly presentations out there of “non-supernatural” religious thought – Bultmann comes to mind, with his formulation that we are to see God as acting “in” events and not “between” events. Just reflecting on that opened whole new vistas for me.

          • Fred Knight

            “I’m a happy heretic. I hope the same for you. Why should I have to
            reject “the goodness of the folks” which is a river of life, in my
            experience, just because I see the theology differently?”
            good conversation, bro…been thinking a lot about the ironies on how we can often arrive at a similar place from very different angles. it’s ironic to me that I’m perhaps more at home with “hippie heretics” and yet I came to my views by following traditional, orthodox path…never hardcore, but still.

            I’m right now jamming to Blind Willie Johnson in my earbuds, but I’m also a Robert Johnson fan, I never saw any of this as dichotomous. (as a believer or a non-believer)

            I don’t consider myself any kind of happy or even reluctant heretic, I’ve simply followed the Truth wherever it may lead, but yet I find myself in good company with all that you are laying down, god bless!

            Feel free to share freely, I’m enjoying it…I’m getting pretty tired of absolutes poorly defended at this point. 🙂

          • jekylldoc

            “absolutes poorly defended” sounds kind of arrogant, but it is the truth. Like the emperor having no clothes on, or the lady who doth protest too much: once you see it, it’s hard to unsee it. Hard to avoid the inference that people who struggle to get the absolutely correct conclusion just can’t tolerate the idea that they may be wrong. And yet, we are usually talking about the nature of the supernatural – as if anybody knows anything about that.

            On the track of understanding (as opposed to the important track, of life) I am currently chewing on the notion that doctrine needs to be seen as a means, not an end in itself. If we ask what a doctrinal proposition does, and what it is for (and what it was originally for) we get a lot more insight than by asking what the evidence is for that proposition being true. I’ve seen similar things said by others, but I find that actually asking the question and working with it is highly rewarding.

            Your (former) path of orthodoxy, for example, does well in the world for reasons, many of which are good reasons. Once I ask what it is for, and why it answers some good purposes, it suggests some ways we might protect against the more unfortunate sides. Well, enough on that – I am just enjoying the exploration.

            Just taking up the guitar, in my retirement years, and I stand in awe of those old blues musicians.

          • Fred Knight

            “absolutes poorly defended” sounds kind of arrogant, but it is the truth.

            I don’t mean it to be arrogant, but I suppose even the argument for moderation is also a claim for truth. Seems it all is exclusionary to some degree. The old, “you are intolerant of my intolerance!” argument.

            “Like the emperor having no clothes on, or the lady who doth protest too much:once you see it, it’s hard to unsee it. Hard to avoid the inference that people who struggle to get the absolutely correct conclusion just can’t tolerate the idea that they may be wrong. And yet, we are usually talking about the nature of the supernatural – as if anybody knows anything about that.”
            You are not the first to suggest that to me in recent weeks, the other person used the term “supernatural theism” – how both the religious true believers and the atheist true non-believers get hung up and harangue on that point, they both tend to ignore a significant portion of liberal Christianity as well as milder form of agnostic non-belief.

            “On the track of understanding (as opposed to the important track, of life) I am currently chewing on the notion that doctrine needs to be seen as a means, not an end in itself.”
            That is a huge point. One that’s not missed by the “I’m not religious, I just love Jesus” or “it’s a relationship, not a religion” – (a bit simplistic for my tastes, but there is certainly Scripture that affirms that notion. But I would also give a nod to the balanced, well-meaning orthodox believer – they don’t see the rules as an end unto themselves, but reflecting the logical conclusions of an All-Loving, Wise Creator. and emanating from His Loving Nature…good people with good intentions pretty much get it right in the bigger picture.

            “If we ask what a doctrinal proposition does, and what it is for (and what it was originally for) we get a lot more insight than by asking what the evidence is for that proposition being true”
            I agree with that. I’m on the outs with most atheists I’ve been running into lately over these very points.

            “Your (former) path of orthodoxy, for example, does well in the world for reasons, many of which are good reasons. Once I ask what it is for, and why it answers some good purposes, it suggests some ways we might protect against the more unfortunate sides. ”
            It’s very good that you see that, in many ways, being a “wilderness” Christian or a “happy heretical Christian” sets you up to be empathetic for those who don’t fit in the well defined categories. I suppose that’s my story as well. It’s forced me to look beyond the literal and look to intentions or meanings instead of the words or doctrines people choose to frame them in.

            “Just taking up the guitar, in my retirement years, and I stand in awe of those old blues musicians.”
            awesome, I stand in awe as well, music tends to cut across party lines and speak heart to heart.

          • jekylldoc

            “how both the religious true believers and the atheist true non-believers
            get hung up and harangue on that point, they both tend to ignore a
            significant portion of liberal Christianity as well as milder form of
            agnostic non-belief.” Yeah, the folks who get labelled “anti-theists” are generally “anti-supernatural” in my experience. Although there is also an “anti-piety” element which is kind of understandable but certainly irritates me.

            I’m not sure what’s up with the contempt the extremes hold for those of moderate views. “True believers” and “true non-believers” for sure, and so they will be bothered by those who don’t take a stand on their issue, but I sense a deeper opposition based on values. Evangelicals tend to be disgusted with me precisely because I reject an authority-based Christianity. Anti-theists seem to react to agnostics who recognize some good in religion as selling out the primacy of evidence and reason. It’s interesting.

            ” “I’m not religious, I just love Jesus” or “it’s a relationship, not a
            religion” – (a bit simplistic for my tastes, but there is certainly
            Scripture that affirms that notion.”

            I find I get along well with people who take those maxims seriously. And I think they generally base it more on experience, common sense and a willingness to make up their own mind than on scriptural references. Which I guess is where I am coming from.

            But the “relationship not religion” version has also made its way into evangelical talking points, often seeing it as opposition to Catholic and Orthodox “cultural Christianity” and you can get some very interesting conversations going by pressing them on the nature of the “relationship.” They spout catch phrases, but don’t want to admit that the God they relate to takes form in their head.

            “But I would also give a nod to the balanced, well-meaning orthodox
            believer – they don’t see the rules as an end unto themselves, but
            reflecting the logical conclusions of an All-Loving, Wise Creator. and
            emanating from His Loving Nature…good people with good intentions
            pretty much get it right in the bigger picture.”

            I broke from that view long ago over the issue of theodicy – how to explain a loving God allowing suffering and extreme evil – but now that I am not trying to argue out evidentiary issues, I can see the connection between “giving problems to God” and moving forward to the things a person can actually do something about. It is a healthy view, even if it isn’t mine.

            There are some matters where I have mainly decided to set aside issues of belief or non-belief in the interest of good practice. Prayer is the most obvious one of these. I have a carefully constructed version of what prayer “really is” and how it “really works”, but find that I need to just do it, and it doesn’t really matter if I am entering into the mindset of my six-year-old self doing prayer as imagination. For me that is both easier and more effective than Buddhist contemplation, and I gradually move my prayer time toward contemplative “letting go” rather than intercession.

            “being a “wilderness” Christian or a “happy heretical Christian” sets you up to be empathetic for those who don’t fit in the well defined
            categories.” For sure. There have been times when I designated myself as “greeter to the atheists” at our church, knowing that if they toss in a random barb or objection, I would not get flustered. The concern I would have about exiting church is the loss of community – I promoted book clubs with my church-resistant sons, because it is one practice that at least gets people to think together about meaning and purpose.

          • Fred Knight

            “Yeah, the folks who get labelled “anti-theists” are generally
            “anti-supernatural” in my experience. Although there is also an
            “anti-piety” element which is kind of understandable but certainly
            irritates me.”

            they’re often proudly anti-theist and also proudly anti-pious – given that the rather weak claim that “atheism” simply postulates there is a lack of positive evidence for a god (ok, gotcha, me too), but why all the venom and hate? I continue to press them and they continue to dodge, oh well. The irony is that is precisely what a True Believer would expect of them, irrational hatred of anything godly.

            “and so they will be bothered by those who don’t take a stand on their
            issue, but I sense a deeper opposition based on values. ”
            you are onto something there, keep following the trail….

            “Evangelicals tend to be disgusted with me precisely because I reject an
            authority-based Christianity.”
            This is an interesting comment, coming from my vantage point, Evangelicals have a huge problem with authority. Perhaps they simply claim it as their own and chaff when others question how exactly they came to be in authority themselves. A rather humorous anecdote was when Luther lamented at all the heretical sects that rejected his brand of orthodoxy. Not a nice guy. Him and Calvin were ruthless on those who dared question their orthodoxy.

            “Anti-theists seem to react to agnostics who recognize some good in religion as selling out the primacy of evidence and reason. It’s interesting.”

            I’m seeing a lot of humanity in all this, I’ve been around the block in more than a few circles and some patterns do emerge.

            “but now that I am not trying to argue out evidentiary issues”

            that is a huge point, what caused you to move past them? Time? Wisdom?

            “balanced, well-meaning orthodox believer… It is a healthy view, even if it isn’t mine.”

            sadly, it’s no longer mine as well, it does bring a certain amount of peace to have your I’s dotted and T’s crossed…it makes sense to me, I affirm it’s basic good intentions, but do I literally believe it any more? no.

            “There are some matters where I have mainly decided to set aside issues
            of belief or non-belief in the interest of good practice. Prayer is the most obvious one of these.”

            There is so much room in all of this…my personal journey was one out of fundamentalist charismania non-denom into a more nuanced Catholic view – including the likes of Thomas Merton, who advocated strongly for acceptance of Buddhist practices of meditation – the great mystery is that Christianity, if taken on the whole, was quite accepting indeed of good ideas, no matter the source.

            “For sure. There have been times when I designated myself as “greeter to
            the atheists” at our church, knowing that if they toss in a random barb
            or objection, I would not get flustered.”
            Super ironically, (I’m saddened to admit this), as a Christian, I was always popular and a true friend to the atheist, advocating, extending every benefit of the doubt, now that I’m an agnostic non-believer/atheist, when I try to bring about the same level of fair minded charity, the level of vitriol is off the charts. (as a Christian, I was gently chastized as a “closet atheist” – I was not….now I’m seen as “Christian troll” – laugh out loud.)

            “The concern I would have about exiting church is the loss of community – I promoted book clubs with my church-resistant sons, because it is one practice that at least gets people to think together about meaning and purpose.”
            may I ask where you fellowship? you are the kind of Christian I could hang out with. Thank you for exchanging with me so freely on a public forum. 🙂

          • jekylldoc

            “why all the venom and hate? I continue to press them and they continue to dodge,” Between attacks on the World Trade Center and persistent homophobia and transphobia, I find the reasons for venom to be sufficient. Making the simplistic equation “religion = irrationality” doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to me. It just doesn’t hold up to careful examination, in my view. Not because religion is terribly rational, but because irrationality is everywhere.

            I teach economics. One of the things we do is simulate oligopoly with a repeated game of cooperation (a Prisoner’s Dilemma setup, basically). In 50 to 75 simulations I have run, only one has managed to achieve sustained cooperation even though I carefully make it in their interest to do so. The one that succeeded was probably because I strongly pushed them in the direction of a message that would “sell” the rational approach.

            “…I sense a deeper opposition based on values. ”
            “you are onto something there, keep following the trail….”

            Well, in addition to the insistence on evidence and rationality, there is often an assertion of individual prerogative, especially about sexuality. “God doesn’t care what I do in my bedroom.” (It makes a strange combination, now that I think about it, but it is a strong association in my experience.)

            I have some sympathy with that idea. I view the Judeo-Christian character “God” as a symbol for Love – the urge and cultural mandate to be nurturing to each other. But even defined like that, I think God cares about whether we cheat on partners or betray promises. Insist on conformity? No. I don’t think every taboo and bit of prudery represents nurturance and mutual concern. I think there are better and worse ways to do sexuality (and which choices are better often varies from person to person) but we don’t lay down rules about those mainly from nurturance.

            “but now that I am not trying to argue out evidentiary issues”
            “that is a huge point, what caused you to move past them? Time? Wisdom?”

            In some sense I moved past them at a deep level before I recognized it myself. I knew that the experience I had with my church youth group was a kind of salvation. There was a moment of catharsis that came when someone looked into my soul and made a commonplace, ordinary observation, and it could have been straight out of a therapy session with a highly educated, highly paid analyst. But that moment was the conscious tip of a very big unconscious iceberg (of warmth, hmm, metaphors getting out of hand, here) in which the mutual concern and generosity of spirit was clearly genuine and liberating and supportive. We cared about each other. Still do, too.

            So when I went looking for answers on the intellectual side of things, it was with a bias toward trust in that experience. Still, it took me 30 years to let go of the idea that I needed to be right, understand things inside and out, and to help everyone else see my point of view. I suppose that also came from the “irrational” side – the insights of Fr. Richard Rohr and non-dualism helped tremendously because they reminded me that what I care about (and what Jesus led us to care about) is the ability to be on working terms with life, without the toxic urge to be better, and safer, and stronger than others.

            “my personal journey was one out of fundamentalist charismania non-denom into a more nuanced Catholic view – including the likes of Thomas Merton, who advocated strongly for acceptance of Buddhist practices of meditation”

            Just out of curiosity I wonder what led you away from charismatic worship. Many of my friends from youth group ended up going to Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa (we were in Southern California) and speaking in tongues on a regular basis, but most of them have since left that scene. A friend in Britain had an electrifying experience of being “slain in the Spirit” and went from benign atheist to deeply involved Christian as a result. None of that ever affected me, but I have always wondered how anyone would let go of such a powerful emotional experience.

            “may I ask where you fellowship? you are the kind of Christian I could hang out with.” I always strongly recommend the United Church of Christ, a rather intellectually oriented, generally politically progressive denomination. There are places, especially in the midwest, where the UCC can be somewhat traditional theologically, but in Boston and Washington DC my wife and I were very happy with it. Inclusive language (God is not always “he”), open and affirming to LGBTQ people, appreciate good music. Tends to be weak on the Sunday School side, though the teachers are caring and supportive. When we moved abroad, UCC was not available but we found a Lutheran church where we fit right in, and when we recently stopped in at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “House for All Sinners and Saints” in Denver, we remembered how the liturgical Lutheran approach could be very moving. For those who don’t want to listen to traditional language, e.g, God, resurrection, salvation, eternity, soul, Bible readings, prayers) I recommend Unitarian Universalists. If they do use such language it is with a self-consciously expansive understanding of the references.

            “Thank you for exchanging with me so freely on a public forum.”

            Well, I don’t use my real name, do I? Actually, it is my wife’s identity that I am protecting. For myself, I am happy if people know what a heretic I am, even if it means they would not really want me teaching their Sunday School class (I teach pretty traditionally.)

          • Fred Knight

            “Between attacks on the World Trade Center and persistent homophobia and transphobia, I find the reasons for venom to be sufficient. Making the simplistic equation “religion = irrationality” doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to me.”
            This is interesting, you seem to be accepting of the “other” perhaps a bit too far. You seem to be arguing your opponents’ view on this one. I could make crazy good Christian arguments to your point. Perhaps we are both playing devil’s advocate to a degree?

            “It just doesn’t hold up to careful examination, in my view. Not because religion is terribly rational, but because irrationality is everywhere.”
            I suppose that is my main point.

            “Well, in addition to the insistence on evidence and rationality, there
            is often an assertion of individual prerogative, especially about
            sexuality. “God doesn’t care what I do in my bedroom.” ”
            I’m a moderate/libertarian on the personal morality issue – but the “anti-piety” and “God doesn’t care” has some of the same utility – my issue is what society at large condones, getting one’s personal freak on, I don’t give a rip…but ideas matter….when a society as a whole sees no problem with every single person getting their freak on and it’s absolutely great! – that is not healthy….and is self-serving on the part of the freaks who demand that everyone affirm all is equal and it doesn’t matter. (see, I’m still somewhat socially conservative, even though I affirm personal liberty)

            “Just out of curiosity I wonder what led you away from charismatic worship…. None of that ever affected me, but I have always wondered how anyone would let go of such a powerful emotional experience.”
            that was the height of my true believerism, and to be honest it brings back embarrassing memories….more zeal than wisdom….and yet, at not any point before or since have I ever been more happy, secure and blissful in the comforting arms of truth. I was somewhat more conservative, but Jesus Camp http://imdb.to/2dtqmc7 made me blush and cringe.

            “There are places, especially in the midwest, where the UCC can be
            somewhat traditional theologically, but in Boston and Washington DC my
            wife and I were very happy with it. Inclusive language (God is not
            always “he”), open and affirming to LGBTQ people, appreciate good music.”
            While I clearly hear what you are saying, and I’m not in opposition, believe me, The LGBTQ/inclusive language are not things I’m interested in…again, I largely come to the same basic conclusions, but through traditional means. I don’t oppose those things, it’s just that I think there is a healthy balance and I’m doubling back again on some of the social liberalism that is going forth unchecked.

            “When we moved abroad, UCC was not available but we found a Lutheran
            church where we fit right in, and when we recently stopped in at Nadia
            Bolz-Weber’s “House for All Sinners and Saints” in Denver, we remembered how the liturgical Lutheran approach could be very moving.”
            Very cool. I’ve always been very ecumenical….in all my phases.

            “For those who don’t want to listen to traditional language, e.g, God,
            resurrection, salvation, eternity, soul, Bible readings, prayers) I
            recommend Unitarian Universalists. If they do use such language it is
            with a self-consciously expansive understanding of the references.”

            I’m very compartmentalized. I get each one on it’s own values. I can be super traditional, super liberal, secular, or other by drawing deeply upon my human experience and the “truth” that each one emphasizes. It’s not super consistent, to be sure, but it’s real. I try to be faithful to each one in it’s context.

            “Well, I don’t use my real name, do I?”
            At this point, nor do I, but I’ve fought the good fight to an embarrassing degree. Sharing openly for all to see.

            “For myself, I am happy if people know what a heretic I am, even if it means they would not really want me teaching their Sunday School class (I teach pretty traditionally.)”
            As did I, I never openly embraced “heresy” though, that to me is not something I’d joke about. The moment I no longer honestly believed, I backed out.

          • jekylldoc

            Fred – nice to read your engaged response.

            “You seem to be arguing your opponents’ view on this one. I could make crazy good Christian arguments to your point. Perhaps we are both playing devil’s advocate to a degree?”
            The particular passage you quoted was more about fleshing out the “irrationality” argument than taking a side. I am trying to get over my addiction to arguing, and one of the paths out for me is to give a fair representation of the “other side’s” point of view. Sure, it’s a kind of devil’s advocacy, but the purpose is to move toward thought and away from, well, irrationality.

            I don’t know if you have ever encountered a real “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” case, but it can be a life-changing experience. Suddenly it becomes obvious that we all have an inner Donald, mugging for the camera and pulling at every division to rip it open. It’s a bit humorous to watch people who swear they are all about rationality, foaming at the mouth in its defense.

            “I don’t give a rip…but ideas matter….when a society as a whole sees no problem with every single person getting their freak on and it’s absolutely great! – that is not healthy…”

            I recall an incident in which I was given the cold shoulder for suggesting there was something wrong with a teacher having an affair with their student (while still teaching and evaluating them). I am not quite sure what you have in mind when you say we should see a problem with every individual “getting their freak on” (partly I am just not hipster enough to know what that phrase means, except in vague terms) but I have no problem affirming monogamy even while affirming LGBTQ identities and relations. I think most people flourish best in long term relationships of commitment and mutual support, and I don’t mind saying so but also accepting those who are having trouble finding that sweet spot.

            “it brings back embarrassing memories….more zeal than wisdom….and yet, at not any point before or since have I ever been more happy, secure and blissful in the comforting arms of truth.”

            Well, obviously it was not just “truth” in the sense of confidence in doctrine that gave you security and even bliss then. Once in Cambridge MA I heard a sermon by a charismatic UCC’er (if such a thing can be imagined – I actually met him) in which the physiological nature of glossolalia was spelled out and the guy went on to tell what a connection it gave him to the Holy Spirit (groaning too deep for words, etc.) It’s sad, really, that charismatic Christianity squanders such a gift on the insistence on supernatural interpretations. Our friend who converted because of her dramatic experience clings tightly to the interpretation that her church gives it, even though she is fairly rational about most things (for a while she worked as a legislative aide to a British MP who went on to become Prime Minister).

            “I’m very compartmentalized. I get each one on it’s own values. I can
            be super traditional, super liberal, secular, or other by drawing deeply upon my human experience and the “truth” that each one emphasizes.”

            Since I grew up in California, that perspective comes naturally to me. Yet, because I also have a certain obsession with thinking myself right, I have trouble with the compartmentalizing part. Rather I am aiming for the “non-dual” framework in which non-judgmentalism moves up to actual embrace and affirmation. I don’t have to decide that anyone is right (or wrong) because there is a deeper connection that matters more than rightness. Or so I now believe.

            “The moment I no longer honestly believed, I backed out.”

            This may be an unfortunate side effect of compartmentalizing. If you always want to take people on their own terms, then you can’t tolerate the observer of the Sabbath who pulls their donkey out of the hole on the Sabbath. The supernatural language is a pre-scientific way of talking about deep issues of the human condition. I don’t feel I need to take the language seriously in order to accept the people and their ways, and in fact I learned, over about a 10 year span, to use the language as I believe it was intended to be used – to signify, rather than to reveal, declare and define.

            It’s a real revelation, moving to that place. Suddenly much of Paul makes sense, that didn’t before, because the way he uses language is recognizable based on experience. Just as a really basic example, one can recognize “principalities and powers” in the basic human urge to dispute and choose up sides.

          • Fred Knight

            “Fred – nice to read your engaged response.”
            much to think about…your response makes me wonder how far we have to go, even with deep good will.

          • Fred Knight

            “Suddenly it becomes obvious that we all have an inner Donald”
            sadly you interject politics into the equation, and I’m wondering wtf? since I’m a Trump supporter, that suddenly causes a crisis of conversation….a deal breaker?

          • Fred Knight

            I’ll be honest, I’m shut off to all that you have to offer at this point.

          • jekylldoc

            Oh well. I was enjoying the conversation, but there will be others. If you change your mind, I will not have gone away.

          • MNb

            Sorry about all the recent drama, Fred. All in good fun. Sometimes the blowhards need to be knocked off their soapboxes.

          • Fred Knight

            Hey LE, I’m not entirely sure you’re aware of the level of drama I’ve been experiencing (certainly not on this thread, this is tame!) – ironically, my issue is with fellow atheists who push too hard and claim too much…at this point Christian “heretics” are a breath of fresh air! 😉

          • Fred Knight

            “Just taking up the guitar, in my retirement years, and I stand in awe of those old blues musicians.”

            love me some blues, but I do want to make clear that I was drawing deeply from my experience and observation over the years….Blind Willie was a crazy level talented Gospel Preaching Delta Blues preacher…as hard core as you can get, Robert Johnson (Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, etc.) supposedly sold his soul to the Devil to gain his awesome talent….how does one embrace both equally? I guess we don’t buy the supernatural bullshit but embrace the very best…..and for us dumb ass folks, we just like the music and don’t give a care on the mythology….ok, I’m stretching comfort levels by speaking plainly!

    • David Cromie

      What is ‘unleavened’ wine?

      • MNb

        It’s what you give to young boys in order to ruin their lives to satisfy
        your own sick perversions.

  • My favorite line from a song a couple of summers ago goes:
    “Chemist, homeless, diplomat, bartender, pimp or priest,
    There’s a seat for everyone at our Savior’s Feast”.
    I like the inclusiveness.

  • John Purssey

    You would like this, I think.

    http://gordonatkinson.net/rlp-archive/open-communion

    My local Catholic Church has invited other Churches to join them in celebrating their 100 anniversary. I shall see if they let me commune in the Mass.

    • I hope they do!

      • Anthony Leeson

        As a Catholic I really hope so too, BUT sadly I doubt it!

        • John Purssey

          I went to talk to the deacon this morning (they have no priest t present) and he said that the church rules would not allow it because a person has to believe in transubstantiation to take mass. I think he is an ex-Anglican and would be more uncomfortable than a born and bred Catholic in straying from the strict line. At other Catholic places I have shared communion. They either took a don’t ask don’t tell approach, or thought openness trumped rules. The deacon is a good person and was obviously a bit uncomfortable. He probably can’t afford to go down the path that took St Mary’s in South Brisbane to being St Mary’s in Exile.

          • Fred Knight

            they have to be true to authentic tradition…I’m an ex-Catholic, but I support the idea of closed communion…when we say “Amen” we affirm all that is entailed in Holy Communion…what is wrong with that?

          • John Purssey

            I don’t know what you intend by adding the adjective “authentic”. And the rest of your post may mean something to you but does not communicate anything to someone who does not already know what you are talking about.

            I just note the cognitive dissonance over the church wanting others to share in their anniversary, but not being able to share their central celebration. The explanation was not that “this is what we believe”,but “these are the rules we have to follow”. From an outsider’s view they are affirming exclusion while wanting others to share. I hope they think about the contradiction they are living out. I go to Christian meditation held in a church room of theirs on Wednesdays, and I will ask the other meditators their views.

          • Fred Knight

            “I don’t know what you intend by adding the adjective “authentic”. And
            the rest of your post may mean something to you but does not communicate
            anything to someone who does not already know what you are talking
            about.”
            I can appreciate what you are saying as it truly does take a lot of in depth studying to understand their perspective. I don’t count those years as a loss, but a benefit to my overall education and am grateful for it. I can say with honesty that while I’m no longer a believer, it was not for me a “rejection” of anything good (for sure) as much as it was realizing I no longer believed it was supernatural, but rather a cohesive set of naturally developed human ideas, sometime the very best of, sometimes not.

  • Charles Lewis

    First, no one is excluded in the Catholic Church from participating in the Eucharist. What I mean is that anyone can become a Catholic. I did. I took around seven months of classes. Those classes gave me a deep understanding of what the Church stands for, It also opens the door for a true communion. If, as we believe, the eucharist is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, then I can’t see what’s wrong in only allowing those who have a full appreciation of the faith to take part. Next, the articles states the following: “I don’t buy the idea that Jesus has a checklist of requirements that must be met before making himself present. I don’t believe God cares who administers, what ingredients are used, what words are said, or what prerequisites the participants have met.” The author has.a weak understanding of church. We are a church that is part of the apostolic succession. From the apostles to right down to the bishops of today who in turn ordain priests. That is not only part of the NT but of Tradition (with a capital T). Christ left men and women to build his Church on the Rock of Peter. What we have today is a straight line from that event.

    • jekylldoc

      Crookedest straight line I ever saw. Jesus ate with the tax collectors and invited the prostitutes. We finely dice dogma to make sure someone is “worthy” of getting the means of grace which we pretend to have control over. This is wrong.

      How many can claim they have had a full appreciation of the faith from the time they first communed? Learned nothing of substance since then? Blind guides. How many can claim they know where the line belongs between those who sufficiently understand the faith and those who don’t? Blind guides. As if the command to see Christ in the “least of these” is limited to the unfortunates who need our physical care.

  • David Cromie

    Sorry, not into vicarious cannibalism! Of course the RC church, among other denominations, is very keen to recruit new dupes since the falling away of their flocks in recent years. No type of religiot BS babble will not convince anyone with any brains to return, or tempt anyone else to think of accepting your pathetic pleas to swell their depleted coffers!

    • Fred Knight

      thanks for weighing in with absolutely no substance!

      • David Cromie

        Can’t you read, or having read, fail to comprehend? If anyone is seeking ‘substance’, then the last place to look for it would be religion!

        • Fred Knight

          depends on what you mean by “substance” – I’ve argued for years with my believing friends that atheism is not buying into “scientism” or crass materialism. atheists of the sort you appear to be are overly cynical toward “religion” and enter into the anti-theist and anti-christian sentiment, failing to acknowledge anything good at all. perhaps it would be good if we didn’t play into that stereotype? But perhaps you are a crass literalist anti-theist materialist that believes that the hard sciences offer all the explanations everywhere and always, even in subjects such as the meaning of life.

          I don’t say this as an insult, truly I don’t, but as an honest question. Don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player!

  • Gary Roth

    Then there is also the practice of Jesus, which was always an open table. The feeding of the five thousand, for example, is always taken (and was meant to be taken) as a eucharistic text. Part of the point of that meal is that there is plenty for everyone. Paul, too, said that the chief evidence of the resurrection was not the reanimated body of Jesus, but the tearing down of boundaries etween people, and the reconciliation of various groups to one another in Christ. How can that be possible if the meal in which he is “made present” is exclusionary? Although the church made an exclusionary meal part of its practice rather early on, the evidence of the early church would seem to be against it, as well as its theology. Paul even skewers Peter over his exclusionary practices, when he and some other Jews eat separately from “Gentiles.” If “all are one in Christ,” then all should be included.

    • Fred Knight

      I’m currently outside of communion, but I don’t find closed communion offensive nor biblically wrong…early Christians also practiced closed communion.

    • jekylldoc

      I rather suspect that the texts we take as “closing” communion have more to do with the koinonia love feasts than with the eucharist. Of course people would sometimes come for the free bread. That is how people are. Policing that could even be seen as an effort to help those people who thought free-loading was clever. The eucharist has never been about the bread (though I have seen a few alcoholics who could not resist going through a second time to get a little bit more of the wine.)

      • Gary Roth

        I don’t know that the Bible really has texts closing communion. The only one I can think of is the one where Paul says we should not partake of it “unworthily,” which, for him, means not recovgnizing that we are part of a body. Corinthian Christians of means weren’t waiting for the poor to get off work, apparently, before they began eating, and were trying to outdo one another with sumptuous meals, while the poor got little to nothing. This was against Paul’s theology, in which all should share.

        I think the closed communion came later, wih the ritualizaion of the meal into what we do now – Word portion of the service, followed by Communion. Those who were not part of the community were excused before the Eucharist, after the proclamation of the Word. It was seen as partaking, with the disciples, of the Last Supper with Jesus, and as a “foretaste of the feast to come” for believers. In all that, the remembrance of Jesus’ open table was lost in favor of a “disciples only” meal, a New Testament Passover.

        As a side-note: In my last parish, it really was about the bread. I make sourdoughs, and would use a loaf each week for communion. If I was unabl to or forgot to bring the bread, they would have to use the wafers, and I would really hear about it! I had two little ones, a sister and brother, four and two years old, who came up one time when I forgot the bread. I gave the little girl a wafer. She looked puzzled, then ate it, and made a grimmace. Her brother looked at her and shook his head vigorously – didn’t want that stuff! I stopped over at their house later in the week with a loaf of bread. Later, their mother came up to me and told me how excited they were to have “Pastor bread.” She had asked them if they would like some, which they did. She got out the knife to cut it, and the little boy told her, “No mom, you don’t cut it, you tear it!” Kids paying attention!

        • jekylldoc

          Thanks for those helpful insights. Love the story about the Pastor Bread. I have felt like grimacing myself when wafers were used!