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Posted by on Jul 10, 2008 in religion | 31 comments


This is a very strange story. Death threats issued to student who smuggled a cracker out of Eucharist….


  1. I’m actually not surprised, which is somewhat depressing itself!I wonder what the church did with the blessed cracker when they got it back- how could they respectfully dispose of it? And does it really matter if someone has some of the “body of christ” in his house? I mean, bits of the body of Christ must have been scattered about everywhere in faeces, and when Christ was alive (did Christ’s toe nails never fall off in the street? Did he never shed dead skin?). And more over, the talk of the cracker as a helpless hostage is just ridiculous; I reckon the Lord can probably manage to defend himself again Webster Cook. And how is a CRACKER the body of Christ anyway?! I mean, it’s physically exactly the same as it was before it was blessed. All Cook took was that physical cracker.Any catholics out there care to explain reasonablness of the kerfufle?

  2. actually, the current catholic theological paradigm says that changing the bread and wine into body and blood is the first epiclesis. when either is consumed, the ‘consumer’ is the second epiclesis in the body of christ paradigm. one might think that if we are willing to honor and revere the consecrated host, if the same folks truly believed in the second epiclesis, they would be willing to kiss each other’s feet, or at least forgive catachesis idiosyncrasies.

  3. I can’t seem to post a comment on P. Z. Meyers blog. But I was not impressed with his post. I think death threats are appalling. The Lord God Almighty can surely handle himself. But Meyers ‘ post doesn’t concentrate on that. It concentrates on “it’s only a cracker” (at least six times). Ok, let’s suppose it is the body of Christ. Should someone be killed for taking it? No way! Ok, let’s now suppose that some people think it is the body of Christ, but it isn’t. They have a special place (that they pay for) where they claim to turn things that are “just a cracker” into the flesh of Christ. They do this every week and this is very important to them. Should they? Why in anything’s name should they not? “I find this all utterly unbelievable. It’s like Dark Age superstition and malice, all thriving with the endorsement of secular institutions here in 21st century America. It is a culture of deluded lunatics calling the shots and making human beings dance to their mythical bunkum.”So what? Apart from the malice, what the **** has it to do with Meyers? Extract the death threats and nothing remains in that passage to get annoyed about. Let’s just run it through once again. The death threats are bad, vile and evil. What should have happened is that Webster Cook was taken to one side and given a jolly good talking to about just how insensitive he had been. These people had welcomed him into their own, private, ceremony. A ceremony that had huge meaning to them. They had prayed to their God with him and on behalf of him. They had extended a hand to him in symbolism of friendship and fellowship (this is quite literal – there is a “sign of peace”, where it is customary to shake hands with someone sitting close to you, within each Mass). It is not a culture of anybody “making human beings dance” to anything. It’s a culture of people who want you to respect them when you are on their turf and, if you can’t respect them, stay away.“These people are demented fuckwits”. Fine, Meyers thinks they are demented fuckwits. And? His point is? “These people are threatening murder” I can readily see. “I think these people’s beliefs are idiotic” I cannot. But Meyers doesn’t go on about murder, he go on about holding a set of beliefs that he finds stupid.What’s bad here is threatening to kill people. What is not bad is “disagreeing with P. Z. Meyer”. Disagreeing with P. Z. Meyer is fine, it’s dandy. There is nothing wrong in thinking that P. Z. Meyer is wrong. We could make an argument that disagreeing with God was wrong. But, of course, P. Z. Meyer is not God. We could make an argument that disagreeing with evident truth was wrong. But, of course, disagreeing with P. Z. Meyers does not entail disagreeing with evident truth. Unless, of course……

  4. Funny how all these religions make a big thing out of forgiving isn’t it?How do Catholic vegetarians get on? Or aren’t there any?

  5. Well, they’d given him a cracker and he did abuse that gift, yes. But they aren’t just acusing him of being insensitive, they’re abusing him of “hate crime” and kidapping Christ etc, leading to death threats and so on. Both sides acted inappropriately, but I find the church’s reaction far more worrying and unreasonable.

  6. Tony – it’s Myers, not Meyers.And “These people are threatening murder” I can readily see. “I think these people’s beliefs are idiotic” I cannot. What do you mean? That transubstantiation is not an idiotic idea? Obviously Cook was an insensitive idiot, but the response was just slightly out of proportion.Myers also barks a little too loud on his blog, but personally I’m glad someone dares to. The day the kind of response Cook got goes unremarked… well, long may that day be in coming.

  7. Well I don’t think it’s a hate crime because I don’t think there was any intent on the part of Webster Cook to cause offense. If there was then it would be. Meyers compares what Cook did to murdering someone in order to claim that “hate crime” is inappropriate. That’s not really the issue though: that’s a question of how bad a crime it is. “Hate crime” covers, rightly, expression. It is fine for us to discuss the Invisible Pink Unicorn (may Her shoes never be shod) but if you and I were to stick posters of her all over a Sikh temple then we would be guilty of a hate crime. We would also be guilty of a hate crime sticking “God hates Fags” posters all over a gay-youth drop in centre. Apart from the level of offense Meyers appears to be arguing that it can’t be a hate crime if you are attacking something stupid. The underlying assumption is that you have to justify what you do and believe before anyone should respect it. I would agree that you would have to justify something (and that they cannot justify it) in order to impose it on anyone, but not to be entitled to do your own thing in your own church. I think the priest’s words were an attempt to explain just how offensive he found it. Clearly he’s failed, but I think that’s what he was trying to do. I do think he should come out and say that “these death threats are not on, you know. Anyway, we’ve a nun on the case and the whole thing is sorted”. Without that then he seems to be complicit in the over-reaction. But, then again, he might well have done that and it not been reported. If he hasn’t done it then his fault is one of inaction. “I find the church’s reaction far more worrying” I don’t know. Inaction in the face of over-reaction or a supposed defender of reason making it plain that “reason” is “agreeing with me”? The Catholic Church is supposed to be irrational: Meyers is not. But more, if the Catholic Church should control those in its fold who act badly (the death-threat merchants) the rationalist community ought to act against its members who resort to positively anti-rational, arrogant pontificating.(Just as people dislike Islam because of the Islamic terrorists people dislike rationalism because of the authoritarian “militant-atheism” that Meyers has shown.)

  8. Hi Papilio (I cut and pasted your name, so I wouldn’t miss-spell it like I did Myers!)”What do you mean? That transubstantiation is not an idiotic idea?”No – that I cannot see it as of any importance whatsoever that it is (or isn’t) an idiotic idea. I don’t think the issue is with the volume of P. Z. Myers’ barking. It’s with the target of his wrath: it’s the over-reaction that is the problem, not the ideas.

  9. I wonder what the church did with the blessed cracker when they got it back- how could they respectfully dispose of it?Sally, I imagine that they would “respectfully dispose of it” in exactly the same way as they normally do – by eating it.Apparently kidnapping God is an unforgivable offense, but eating him – well, that’s just what you do with God, right?

  10. In my youth I read “Walt Disney’s”: “Our Friend The Atom”. (It was a nice piece of pro-nuclear propaganda. I expect a lage team of Authors was involved) 🙂 In a chapter trying to vizualise/conceptualise the small size and large numbers that are characteristic of the atomic scale, a fairly interesting example was presented. The authors had calculated the stunning number of individual atoms in each of your breaths that Leonardo Da Vinci once also had inhaled.It has struck me that this example could have been elaborated much further and braver, and with possible relevance to the Eucharist issue. I suggest a similar calculation could be made for e.g. carbon, and a number could be presented for how many carbon atoms in you body that was part of any individual at 0 AD. So if you believe that there existed ONE historical Jesus, your body do in fact contain a substantial number of atoms that also was present in Jesus. And please note, a belief in bodily resurrestion and physical translocation does not have much implication for this calculation. The carbon in a human body is turned over several times through the life-span of a human.Apparently no need for wafers and old cannibalistic rites. CassandersIn Cod we trust

  11. Tony – well, over-reaction seems to be a worldwide phenomenon: there are vicious circles everywhere…Cook stole the wafer and that was bad. Then a church leader “came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand,” Cook said, adding she wouldn’t immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.Then Cook files a complaint on the assault. Then the Church files a complaint on the disruption. Then Cook receives death threats. Then Myers ridicules the Catholics. Then the Catholics issue death threats to Myers, and try to get him fired. When the heat has died down, maybe the underlying idiocy might remain imprinted on a few memories.”All it takes for idiocy to triumph is for intelligent people to look away,” to corrupt a well-known phrase.One could argue the extent to which offence must be avoided.

  12. Cassanders:Someone told me when I was a kid that every time I breathed I breathed two atoms of Hitler’s last breath (I don’t know why Hitler – it didn’t occur to me then but occurs to me now that if it was true of Hitler it would be true of anyone dead for a reasonable length of time). I have considered doing the calculation, but chasing down all the figures is too much like hard work. There are plenty of assumptions – the carbon cycle for instance, because most of Hitler’s last breath might actually now be at the sea bottom.You could come up with a very rough average, but the confidence limits would be huge.

  13. How is this different from going to a cafe (as a patron) and pocketing one of those little sachets of sugar for later? Well its not theft surely because I could have poured it into my coffee at the cafe.It doesn’t contravene alcohol licensing laws or anything like that.Its not a hate crime unless I do something like wave it at the proprietor as leave and shout “Ha! See! I take your sugar because I am racially superior to you!”No violence is used in the taking.So what is the problem with the sugar?In the case of the cracker it would seem that the difference is simply the house rules. “All crackers must be consumed on the premises.” Is this reasonable? Yes. Nonsensical and illogical maybe but easy to comply with and harmless.Did Cook know he was acting against the house rules? Difficult to say. He knew at least a bit about the ceremony which suggests that he did but on the other hand he did not at first attempt concealment. The response? Childish at first, becoming hysterical. What would we expect an adult to do on discovering this sort of behavior? Death threats in exchange for refusing to play along with pretend games.

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  15. Well…First off, people might like to read this post and follow the link through to .I want to disagree with one aspect of Myers’ post. He writes: “It’s like Dark Age superstition and malice.” Now I’m not certain of his meaning, but I think he means that the Roman Catholic beliefs lying behind this story are a product of the Dark Ages. If that is his meaning then he is incorrect.The phrase ‘the Body of Christ’ can refer to three things – 1. the body of Jesus of Nazareth before he was crucified; 2. the community of believers; 3. the bread consecrated during the Eucharist.In practice we can ignore 1 as it never figures in debates like this. What is significant is the way in which the other two senses have been understood in Christian history.Let’s call those two senses of ‘the body of Christ’ ‘the church’ and ‘the host’.In Christian understanding, one form of the body was ‘real’ or ‘true’. In other words it was something that could be touched and handled, and was therefore worthy of reverence and immense – total! – respect. This was called the ‘corpus verum’.The other form of the body was only perceptible to the eyes of faith, it could only be received and understood mystically, in the context of prayer and worship. This was called the ‘corpus mysticum’.For the first thousand years or so of Christianity, the ‘corpus verum’, the body that could be touched and handled with reverence, referred to the church, ie the community of the baptised. So, your neighbour in the community was worthy of reverence and respect. Harming your neighbour, eg murder, wasn’t just immoral, it was blasphemy. Correlative with that, the ‘corpus mysticum’ – that which could only be perceived with the eyes of faith – was the host, that which was consumed in the context of Eucharistic worship.In the course of the twelfth century, in the Western church, these meanings were reversed, with awful consequences.To begin with the more trivial, the ‘corpus verum’ began to be used to refer to the bread used in the Eucharist. Instead of this bread being something that could only be seen as holy by the faithful (and which didn’t have a particular tangibility as the body) the host became _itself_ the object of worship. This can be seen through the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in the mid-thirteenth century, and the associated development of eucharistic devotions, eg exposition, seen through the use of the monstrance – the Body of Christ is being _demonstrated_ in this rite.I happen to see this as a profound distortion of Christianity, but I needn’t detain you with that, for the really malefic consequences of this shift came with the other side, ie that instead of all the baptised being the ‘corpus verum’, now the baptised were the ‘corpus mysticum’ – which had the consequence that church membership was no longer something public, it was something private, and only accessible to those with the eyes of faith. Of course, those ‘eyes of faith’ became identified with the institution, so, whereas harming a baptised believer would once have been utterly unthinkable theologically, with this shift in understanding you end up with the Inquisition – abuse of the body to try and establish the state of the soul. You also lay the seeds for the Reformation, and the whole gamut of western history that sees faith as something ‘private’ and personal, rather than public and visible.It would be no exaggeration to say that everything that has gone wrong with Western Christianity since the 1200s can be traced to this shift.And it’s because it is traceable to the 1200s that Myers is incorrect to link this with the ‘Dark Ages’. In the Dark Ages they had a different theology.

  16. @papilioHitlers last breath was some o.5 liters (assuming normal tidal breath volume). If we integrate up for a lifetime breathing for e.g. Jesus ( say 30 min -1 * 60min *24h *365d * 30y = 473040000), methinks the number gets large enough to possibly be of some significance :-)CassandersIn Cod we trust

  17. “It’s like Dark Age superstition and malice.” I took this to recall incidents like the one in 1243 at Berlitz, near Berlin, where, as a consequence of “torturing a wafer”, all the Jews of Berlitz were burned on the spot.What insanity! The insane beliefs that led to the massacre of Jews is unchanged to this day.

  18. I tend to try to err on the side of “you DON’T have the right not to be offended”.If I want to flush ten crosses down the toilet a day, you are free to be offended. But you should not be able to stop me doing it – even in public. After all, imagine how ridiculous I would seem if I tried to stop the Catholics eating their crackers, because it offended ME? Could I try to expel Catholics from universities if I were offended by their cannabalism?I think Stephen’s test is appropriate here: would anyone mount an indignant condemnation of a teenager who mocked Mrs. Thatcher at a Tory rally? Why the handcuffs as soon as it comes to religious topics?

  19. “Why the handcuffs as soon as it comes to religious topics?”Because the policies of our rulers towards religious nutters – especially Catholics and Muslims – is motivated by fear of the consequences if they don’t cave in to these peoples’ barmy beliefs. The latest instance is the alarming tribunal ruling in favour of the devout Christian registrar who refused to officiate at Civil Partnership ceremonies against Islington Council which, if sustained by a higher court, will drive a coach and horses through equality legislation and spark off a host of contentious claims to special privileges and exemptions at work and in public service provision the ground of religious ‘conscience’.

  20. anticant – Is it not also that our society has not worked out how to deal with intolerance while still remaining and regarding itself as tolerant?

  21. The hallmark of classic liberalism is to tolerate everything except intolerance. Things started going wrong during my childhood in the 1930s, when one lot of well-intentioned people who were frightened of communism and felt guilty over the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty made excuses for the Nazis as being a healthy antidote to Germany’s social turbulence, while another lot of well-intentioned people wrongly believed that Soviet Communism was the gateway to a brave new world. Both made the mistake of betraying liberalism by turning a blind eye to atrocities for which there was accumulating evidence.The issue is the same today, only most of the intolerance and persecution is perpetrated by religious factions who abuse our liberal tolerance by demanding ‘respect’ for their barmy beliefs and claim the right to do whatever they please because ‘Jehovah’, ‘God’,’Jesus’,’Allah, or some other fictional sky-pixie is telling them to.Surely it is the democratic task of philosophy to put these claims under the most stringent critical scrutiny, and I am glad that Stephen and some other professional philosophers such as A.C. Grayling take the trouble to do this. If we don’t combat this irrational nonsense, it may well be quite literally the death of us all – including those who spout it so recklessly.

  22. anticant – In “classical liberalism” of the pre-Versaiiles, non-angst ridden variety, what would be the preferred solution?rqfaxl

  23. Catholic League president Bill Donohue responded as follows: “It is hard to think of anything more vile than to intentionally desecrate the Body of Christ.”Yea, right.The way some German Catholics treated Jews and gays in the concentration camps wasn’t nearly as vile, was it?As a general rule, I think we have a moral duty to allow ourselves to be offended – even if it’s generally good manners not to offend other people unduly.

  24. Pre-1914, people were far more unaware about what was happening in other parts of the world than they are now, and politics was almost entirely Euro-centred [colonialism didn’t count]. For a devastating critique of the Catholic Church, See “Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church”, by David Ranan [available from Amazon].

  25. again, bill donahue misunderstands the ‘body of christ’ construct at it is currently explained. the consecrated wafer is an intermediary step (res et sacramentum). the real body of christ (as sam norton says, the ‘corpus verum,’ what aquinas calls ‘res’) is the individual people who are eating the host (one understanding), all believers (another understanding), or each and every member of the entire human race (yet a broader understanding). donahue’s comment (“it is hard to think of anything more vile than to intentionally desecrate the body of christ”) takes on a different meaning when the very people he would pillory over the wafer, are thought of as the very body he seeks to revere.but he is not alone. of the nine catholic priests i personally know, only two feel that the wafer is only an intermediary step to ward people making up the body of christ. the catechesis for this in the church itself, among clergy, bishops, and the average joe in the pews, is abysmally poor. and recent encyclicals only exacerbate the issue.peace–scott

  26. Alonzo’s post (link by anticant) suggests that the action was clearly theft as there was an implied contract that the cracker would be consumed on the spot, although the response was disproportionate. Does this imply that the cracker remains the property of the church in the same way that e.g. software remains the property of the manufacturer even though you have the CD’s ?

  27. I think the church should have sold the sodden wafer on e-Bay or somewheres and the proceeds could have been used to pay off some of the pesky lawsuits brought on by the folks who were sexually abused by (a minority of) Roman Catholic priests as youngsters.spike

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