Student “Kidnaps” Eucharist: Catholic Controversy Conundrum

As Webster Cook, a student at the University of Central Florida, tells it, he was attending a Catholic Mass with a friend, was given the communion wafer, and wanted to show it to the friend in order to help explain Catholicism. He was accosted as he attempted to walk back to his seat with the wafer uneaten, and in defiance decided to leave the service with it (he later gave it back). Church officials tell it differently: Cook was never physically restrained, and he basically absconded unprovoked with what they believe is the body of Christ, holding it hostage just to make point about the public funding of religion (the service was held at a publicly funded school).

Worldwide controversy ensues. Bill Donahue calls his act “beyond hate speech.” The local priest calls it “kidnapping.”

PZ Myers has his usual blistering take of course, mostly agog at the seeming absurdity of the whole matter: it’s just a cracker!

I guess I have more sympathy for the outraged Catholics than he allows. What Cook did hurt them, plain and simple, and you shouldn’t hurt people for no good reason.

The thing is though, it’s very hard to sustain that sympathy for too long in the face of the way many proud Catholic warriors are acting. Cook has received actual death threats, and it goes without saying that countless people seem to think that he will justly be consigned to hellfire for his actions (a promised threat that’s far more sickening and over-the-top than even death threats, in my opinion). And then there’s the assertion that the act is criminal, rather than an immaterial dispute over belief: that it should result in Cook’s discipline or even expulsion from school.

In short, critics seem to be doing everything they can to demonstrate that they are incapable of simply disagreeing with Cook’s actions and condemning his conduct as insulting. Instead, they want metaphysical blood, incarnated in endless prostrations and severe judicially imposed consequences.

Take this fellow at Vive Christus Rex, who rubs his hands with Scientologist-level glee at the idea of the Catholic League destroying powerful companies and now going after a young man. He even has a handy guide for how Cook can try to make it all up him, maybe.

Maybe this is supposed to make sense only to Catholics, but this fantasizing about someone prostrating themselves in front of you looks unseemly and embarrassing from the outside. I’m very much reminded of Father Cantalamessa, who seemed to believe that the only intellectually legitimate or honest atheist was one writhing in apologetic agony at his feet over how terrible it was for them not to be Christian.

Now I certainly think that Webster Cook was insensitive for doing something that would so deeply offend the Catholics at a Mass he was attending (the question of whether he was fully just a “guest” there is more complex, as the school was publicly funded).

I don’t have to agree with people’s elaborate metaphysical reasoning about why something is wrong to know that they believe it’s wrong, and that, reasonable or not, it upsets them. I don’t believe in pushing people’s buttons, especially not just because I think those buttons are silly or oversensitive. That’s the worst, and least productive, way to try and make any sort of point.

But honestly, what Cook sparked off was a dispute over a faith-based ritual. Catholics may believe that the physical body of Christ was at stake, but no one is obligated to believe what they believe when gauging how wrong his actions were in terms of the law, either for the school’s disciplinary proceedings or even morally.

Cook was also not, as some have claimed, violating anyone’s rights to practice religion as they see fit. There was no ban established barring them from practicing their religion. There was a single scuffle. They gave him the wafer, and his taking it out of the church did not prevent them from believing whatever they want about how sinful his conduct was, or conducting their services any way they wanted in reponse. Cook clearly disrupted things (wittingly or unwittingly), but this was apparently the first and only incident: they did and still do have the power to kick him out then or not let him participate in the future.

No points to Cook, certainly, who has plenty to answer for personally. But I don’t think the reactions he stirred up are to anyone’s else’s credit either.

Anyhow, my curiosity was piqued a little at this last quote of one article, in which a priest describes the apparent wrathful anger of God not just at Cook, as might seem potentially reasonable, but at the entire congregation.

Gonzalez said intentionally abusing the Eucharist is classified as a mortal sin in the Catholic church, the most severe possible. If it’s not returned, the community of faith will have to ask for forgiveness.

“We have to make acts of reparation,” Gonzalez said. “The whole community is going to turn to prayer. We’ll ask the Lord for pardon, forgiveness, peace, not only for the whole community affected by it, but also for [Cook], we offer prayers for him as well.”

Concede for a second that Cook really is nothing more than an arrogant little git trying to thumb his nose at a church practice, and that he walked off with a piece of God’s spiritual body instead of consuming it.

This God, apparently, is not a being who’d laugh it off as some little adolescent display. This God isn’t a being who’d snort derisively at it. This God isn’t above it all. This God is, in fact, supposedly as vein-poppingly outraged by this act as Bill Donahue: so much so that he’d demand that people utterly innocent in the incident beg his forgiveness. Indeed, this God is tame compared to Bill Donahue: for this God, this was not merely a hate crime, but as bad or worse than murder, and punishable by the worst imaginable of all punishments.

I don’t know about you, but I find such a being very hard to imagine or relate to.

Update: Catholic League firebrand Bill Donahue has now turned his rage at PZ Myers, who’s been soliciting communion wafers so that he can defiantly defile them online. Myers was pretty obviously trolling for this reaction, and he got it, of course. Donahue, as is his shtick, is seeking to destroy Myers in his rage. Myers is, of course, enjoying it immensely, noting that his employers’ guidelines for conduct don’t quite apply to this situation:

When dealing with others, I must be respectful, fair and civil. Hmmm. Doesn’t seem to say anything about when dealing with crackers.

True enough. But I wish Myers would at least appreciate that in dealing with these particular “crackers” he is, in some sense, dealing with people. Whether or not he thinks the things Catholics invest in communion wafers are silly, the plain reality is that they do care about them, and it is a matter of insulting them. I think Myers is probably okay with doing just that, of course, because he thinks that insulting their beliefs, in words and actions, could make them, or at least somebody, reconsider things. Jury’s out on that one, but as noted with Cook: I’m pretty skeptical about that method producing anything constructive.

55 Responses to Student “Kidnaps” Eucharist: Catholic Controversy Conundrum

  1. Grendel The Martyr says:

    Just another day in the wacky world of religion.

  2. rebeldreams says:

    As a Catholic, I find Cook’s action at the least misguided and at most horrendous; but further, I find the response of the supposed faithful who have spat venomous threats in his direction to be far, far worse.

    I find myself in *slight* disagreement with your assessment of Gonzalez’ comments; after laying out a throrough groundwork as to supporting the rights of those to believe what they wish, if it is in Catholic catechism (as it is) to believe descration of the Host is a mortal sin, then the response must be commensurate with that belief.

    The Catholic God is not a wrathful one, but Cathlics are respectful to Him. It’s like a child who took, say, a cookie from the jar without permission (to use a rather irreligous metaphor!) and believes his parents are going to be MAAAAAD at him. The parents (if they are loving at all) will not beat the child senseless for taking the cookie, but would prefer it if the child admits their wrongdoing, and demonstrates that he understands what he did, and why it was wrong.

    Now say the cookies were for terminally-ill Aunt Gladys in her hospital bed; the transgression is much more serious, but the parents (again, if they are reasonable and good people) are not going to extract horrible vengeance on their child; but since the value of the cookie is proportionally greater given its meaning, the act of contrition must be greater, and the demonstration of understanding what that transgression means ot the parents must be, of necessity, a little greater.

    But a good post, and it does serve to demonstrate that many people of faith (regardless which brand-name) do not in any way practice what they seem to reserve the right to beat others over the head with.

  3. Terry says:

    Okay… this is going to hurt. I know I’m going to be ridiculed for attempt to explain the Catholic faith in a forum like this.

    The Eucharist is of central importance to the Catholic faith. There is nothing more valuable to the faith than the sacraments, and the Eucharist is the most revered sacrament of them all. The sacrament is considered so sacred that we hold it in adoration, because we believe that it is the most perfect union with God that we can achieve on this earth.

    We orthodox catholics are often accused of not knowing the difference between imagination and reality. I would posit that not only is that not true, but we regard imagination as key to our doctrines and practice. Catholic orthodoxy holds that human beings are not telepathic or possess extraordinary senses. Therefore, one comes to know God through attempting to understand him. This is accomplished in a numbers of ways. One is through God’s revelation (Jesus and prophetic sources), which is trusted by faith and interpreted through reason. Another is metaphysical philosophy that logically follows from physical philosophy (ie. what qualities would being have without existing in space or time). The third is through imagination, which is why we have sacred spaces, rituals, times, objects, and prayer. These are all done to attempt to focus our minds on something ineffable and mysterious, yet still active in our lives.

    The way we relate this to the Eucharist is through the Doctrine of Transubstantiation. Simply put, it is the belief that the substance of the bread and wine have changed to the body and blood of Christ. If you don’t know your Aristotelean or Neo-Thomist philosophy this will require some unpacking. We do not believe that the host and the wine have changed empirically. Nor do we believe that the host has changed under the surface in any way that can be detected. At a cellular and molecular level nothing has changed, and it is still the same bit of unleavened bread it always was. It is however through the ritual action of the priest and the faith of the gathered community (which is why non-catholics are not allowed to receive it) to have become the body and blood of Christ. Through the act of eating the host (and drinking the wine) we engage the body, mind, and spirit in an act of solemn prayer and communion. The sacrament has accomplished in fact what the sacrament symbolizes. In fact (and many people don’t seem to make this connection) being excommunicated simply means that you do not take communion with the rest of the church faithful.

    Why do we insist on calling something as something other than it is empirically? I guess the closest analogy is when secular leaders take an oath of office. Mr. President doesn’t become Mr. President when he is elected. He becomes Mr. President when he takes the oath of office and is invested through a ritual with the power of the executive branch. Without the ritual, the protocol, and the title, he could not command the respect the office requires and thus wouldn’t function in fact as the President. In fact, the esteem which must be given to the office of the Presidency and its current holder is so great that they remain Mr. President until their death and their death would be considered to be such a blow to national prestige and power that they are given official protection until they die as well. The President has become the “host” if you’ll pardon the pun, of the intangible notion of executive power.

    So yeah, when something that is essential to my family and cultural history for a thousand years, and something that is of greatest importance to my faith is denigrated and desecrated we get angry. I myself when I first heard this story had a little twinge of sorrow, though PZ Myer’s incitement to continually insult and harass people who I have fellow-feeling with and practise non-violence and pay their taxes like everyone else is what really angered me.

    But PZ Myer is a Phil Donohue of the atheists. a self-appointed insult monger who exists to feel aggrieved and provoke a fight. Whatever anger they have a right to feel has long since rotted away into gluttonous pleasure in expressing hate and contempt. The others you mentioned also suffer from this too-human deficiency. If I might say anything in defence of my faith, all of the people you mentioned there isn’t anyone who has been given the proper authority to speak on behalf of the Church, save one.

    It is the quotation of Father Migeul Gonzalez that I would like to clarify to you. I think you are uncharitable and uninformed about the community requiring prayer and forgiveness, and thus you mistake our motives. It isn’t a hurried rush to attempt to make peace with a big man who will blast us with thunderbolts. The sacrament of the Eucharist is a profoundly communal act, and the ritual of the community has been disrupted. The same type of spiritual action would also occur for an assassination or a church burned to the ground. Prayer and forgiveness is a chance to restore the reverence of the Eucharistic ritual, as well as calm the mind and forgive the trespass. Is it not understandable that forgiveness and prayer is required to restore the sacred?

    I’ll watch this blog for a few days for any responses that come about on this topic. If you treat me as someone rational to talk to, I’ll respond. If you insult me or try to make me feel your contempt for me I’ll ignore you.

  4. Hugo says:

    I get the point of rituals and symbolism but at the end of the day in this real world it is a cracker and those rituals and symbols deal with imaginary things.
    And anything done contrary to those imaginary actions can be criticized but should never elicit real world actions, what if my 2yo daughter finds a batch of those crackers and has a tea party with them? will she be punished for that? what if some religion thinks walking in front of them is a mortal sin, should we all bow to those beliefs?

    rebeldreams your analogy needs some tweaking, it is like a child who eats a cookie and a friend says to that child that it was a special cookie and this friend tells the child that his parents will be really mad and that this friend is on the phone with the parents and the friend has to punish the child in the name of the parents, nobody has really seen the parents but someone wrote a book about them and they do seem like the type to be mad about something like that …

  5. Bad says:

    rebeldreams: I get your analogy insofar as Webster Cook, but not so much for the members of the church. We aren’t children in the sense that we do or should have immature notions of wrong and blame. None of the people in that church did anything wrong that they need forgiveness for. Someone else stole the cookie, against their explicit will and best efforts to prevent it.

    • reyjacobs says:

      Correction, they gave him the cookie. Just instead of eating it he put it in his pocket. That’s his choice. Once they gave it to him, its his now. DNA test that sucka and prove its just bread.

  6. […] Bad has a look at some Catholics in the leagues of the Perpetually Indignant. […]

  7. Terry, why is the Catholic imagination so much more important than the reason and law of the larger society? To wit: actual death threats were received, and far worse – an eternity of torture. (so much for not beating the child senseless for snitching the cookie) Now you can threaten me with hell and I’ll just laugh at you but the minute someone threatens to kill me it is a different matter altogether; it is a very serious crime. For that matter the minute anyone lays a hand on me without my consent it is assault – also a crime.

    The Catholic church seems to have difficulty understanding that it is subject to secular law.

  8. I think you’ll getta BIG BANG outta my first post, pal — God bless you, decrepit. Be at peace. IN HOC SIGNO + VINCES: Crux Sacre Sit Mihi Lux!!

  9. Terry says:

    The death threats haven’t been confirmed, but I wouldn’t doubt he received some. This case garnered a lot of publicity. The internet is filled with immature morons, and there would have been a blowup of temper from the people Cook was trying to provoke. I will still say that the diocese acted responsibly by simply asking politely for it back. The diocesan authorities are the only ones who really have the authority to speak on behalf of the community. If you’re going to try and prove that I should feel ashamed that fellow believers act like jerks or are media sluts then you’re tossing stones from a pretty big glass house. After all, the “new atheism” is pretty much an intellectually inferior version of the old atheism with a more vulgar attitude and hefty side helping of tribalism.

    As for the eternity of torture crack, it is very hard to talk to some people about hell. If you reject the notion of original sin (the idea that humans are incapable of not being fallible) then you’ll reject the notion that human beings require grace. That grace must be freely given to preserve free will which is why the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation and Eucharist were instituted. The theologian Origen for example believed all people upon their death had the sins were shucked off them like mud on a rope when the rope was pulled through a tight hole. This was rejected by the wider church for a very simple reason.

    We are not separate from our sins. Our foibles and our flaws are integral to our personalities and what we do fundamentally changes who we are. If we simply were “made sinless” through divine fiat, we essential would lose our individual identity. Not to mention that in such a system we wouldn’t truly have free will.

    Hell for its part is the willful separation from God, which is believed to be an absolute torture for the soul, and the loss to inconsolable evil. Communion with God is considered to be essential for well being of someone’s spirit. Therefore, the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the mechanism God chose for saving us from the natural consequences of our sinful nature. Everyone among the living is considered to dwell in God simply by living amongst his creation, which is why you don’t feel particularly tortured by not enduring mass every week.

    This is the current understanding of Hell accepted by most theologians. However, the notion of hell is a very flexible one within the church. Are the flames of hell real or metaphorical? Is hell a real place or a state of the soul? Does God choose to redeem people from hell? What exactly does eternal punishment mean without material existence and thus without linear time? The church largely shrugs its shoulders at these questions because nobody has gone to hell and come back with the DVD. Largely all we can really say for sure is that hell (and purgatory) is a place where the damned are punished for their wilful rejection of God based on scriptural revelation.

    Do you have to believe this? Of course not, it is a free country. Should this become part of secular law and governance? No, that is very messy and leads to institutional abuse. However, if you are going to criticize the belief, you should at least be properly informed about what belief is. I am very, very tired of people psychoanalyzing (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and their internet fanboys) what my beliefs supposedly do to me without actually knowing the basics of what my beliefs are.

    Finally, I’d like to make an analogy. Imagine if a young man had been invited to a party, and someone is passing around a photo album for people to look at. Rather than looking at the photos and passing it on, the young man takes a photo of a deceased or missing family member and puts it in his pocket. When people try to get the photo back, they resort to physical force to try and wrest it from his grasp. He eludes them and leaves the building, holding the photo ransom in a specially prepared photo sleeve for the purpose. The family has a digital copy of the photograph, so they can easily reprint it for a few cents, but the young man is threatening to hold it hostage because he doesn’t like the family and will only return it if the family makes concessions.

    Sure, the family shouldn’t use vigilante action to break into the the young man’s dorm room or threaten him with physical harm. But doesn’t the outbreak of temper seem a little more understandable now? In this metaphorical case “it is just a photograph”, just like the Eucharist is just a cracker. However, it is a case of essential dignity, respect and privacy for both the person represented in the photograph and for the family themselves.

  10. […] student kidnaps Christ and provokes death threats. […]

  11. Jesus says:

    oooooohhh no! you guys have to be kidding me. I am not a very religious person and I have real difficulties understanding or accepting the weight that some people put on their fate.

    Only reason I read the big book, was to piss off my religious friend who takes the bible just a tad bit too literally or seriously. So in essence I just got some ammunition from it. Don’t get me wrong I think its a great piece of literature that has survived for centuries, and I think its awesome that it will help someone reach inner peace when surrounded by the challenges of the modern day, but in the name of all that is good isn’t this thing blown out of proportion.

    I would compare the complete incident and its repercusions very similar to the Mohammed cartoons in the Danish newspapers, that caused an immense and a ridiculous response. Well this incident hasn’t reached wuite those proportions, yet, but nevertheless in my books it hits the same level of absurdity.

  12. rebeldreams says:

    Hey Bad…

    I accept your point on the “communal” aspect of blame inasmuch as it relates to this story; I think that Terry laid out the point regarding the Catholic response eloquently and thoroughly. (NB I mean Gonzalez’s comments NOT the death threats!)

    In response to both your points (well made and well taken) and decrepitoldfool’s; I again reiterate that as a Catholic I am appalled by the death threats and harrassment that Cooks has received, and utterly repudiate them.

    To add to Terry’s analogy (far better than my “cookie” one; I doff my cap to him) the person who brought the photo album to the party would almost certainly seek his family’s forgiveness for putting the photos in a position to be taken in such a way. It is not his *fault*, in the sense that he personally took them, but he would still, I am sure, feel some sense of personal responsibility for the taking of the photo.

    I wuld like to say to “Jesus” (the poster, not the Man Himself!) that the thing has been “blown out of proportion” in the sense that the deatht threats were issued, but would you, for example, also suggest that CIA operatives in Guatanamo allegedly flushing the Q’ran was “blown out of proportion”? I mean, Jeez, it’s “just a book”, after all…

    Fact is that something holy to ANY religion should be treated with respect, and if it’s not the entire community feels denigrated by that act. To put it in other terms; if someone took the Constitution (the atual document, rather than the idealogical entity) and wiped their nose with it, would you be calm about it? (I don’t want to start a debate about whether or not Bush has done just that! I promise! :) )

  13. Robert says:

    To Terry,
    Do you have a blog? You have a very good understanding of Catholic teaching and I’d be interested in reading more. Good job.

  14. Grendel The Martyr says:

    The Constitution and a communion wafer hardly equate. One is purported by those who believe it to be the literal body of Christ. The other is a 200+ year old historical artifact, albeit of huge import. However, one may take the Constitution at face value – it is precisely what it appears to be. The wafer takes a whole lot of indoctrination to become anything beyond a bit of cereal product.

    It doesn’t do well to look at this sort of event too closely… of course the Church is upset. Of course the congregation is upset. But, backing up the camera a couple miles till these small events fade from view, what I see is the exact sort of dark ages thinking and believing that allows extremists – a category that always exists and always accompanies organized, doctrine-driven religions – to turn a purloined wafer into an event worthy of death threats and presumably worthy of killing offenders.

    It doesn’t mean they didn’t occur, but I do not recall reports of rank and file Catholic Church members making death threats against the hundreds of pedophile priests and the hierarchy which protected them and knowingly moved them around to victimize others again (excluding the victims of the sexual abuse). But a stolen wafer earns death threats? I fully understand the beliefs, but that is just insane.

  15. Bad says:

    Oh I think they have every right to be personally upset with him, and would even if they thought the host was only symbolic. It’s the line between personal offense and claims of real harm that I don’t agree with. Not that they cannot believe that he caused real harm. But they cannot expect other people, let alone the law, to agree.

    As for the Constitution, I definately would be upset, and in that case there is grounds to call it a crime: damaging property of great monetary and historical value. There really isn’t a fair comparison to the wafer: they gave it to Cook intending never to get it back: intending that he would destroy/consume it. At that point it was his to do with as he pleased (he even put it in his mouth at one point). But of course, doing what he pleased had consequences: hurting and angring people. Which he was wrong to do.

  16. Terry,
    No one said the young man deserved a medal. But for you to refer to my objection about hell as a ‘crack’ shows you are so immersed in your imaginary world view that you can’t concede that it may not be real. I would laugh at you because I don’t believe there is any such place or state of being as hell. No one has demonstrated, apart from theologians yapping about such things, that any such state or place of being exists. And the theologians have precisely nothing to go on other than that they’ve convinced themselves it’s true.

    Steal a family photo that I can make another copy of? I won’t like you anymore (“Oh noes!”) but I certainly won’t threaten violence and I would disavow any such threats if made by anyone else. I wouldn’t call it a hate crime. Beating someone senseless for being gay is a hate crime.

    Catholic theology goes into this whole thing about how the wafer is somehow ontologically Jesus even though it’s atom-for-atom a cracker, and you want intellectual respect?

    “After all, the “new atheism” is pretty much an intellectually inferior version of the old atheism with a more vulgar attitude and hefty side helping of tribalism.”

    You just don’t have a clue, do you? There’s no “new atheism” – that’s a creation of magazine writers – but we’re tired of being asked to apologize for not respecting delusional nonsense. We’re tired of people claiming their spirit in the sky gives them the right to dictate national policy.

  17. rebeldreams says:

    Again, Bad, I accept your points completely; I am not certain that they necessarily expected other people (non-Catholics) to *agree* with them. I am also somewhat flabbergasted by any calls for some legal remedy, since, as you point out, the Host is certainly not a “legally recognized artifact” by any measure.

    Again, I repudiate the actions of some in issuing threats of harm to Cooke.

    I think what I was taking issue with was the lst part of your post regarding Gozales’ comments; after eloquently setting forth why Catholic beliefs should be respected, I was a little taken aback to see the comments about those very beliefs. But, again, I do accept your points, and I do certainly respect your rights to your beliefs (being a Catholic of the “born and raised”, then lapsed, then Ex, then atheist, then Catholic again variety…) ; I was not so much challenging your words as, perhaps, expressing a sense of some inconsistency in the post.

  18. mandrellian says:

    As is often said in matters of free speech and religion – everyone has the right to believe & think & say what they want, but *noone* has the right to not be offended. While what this kid did was disrespectful & silly, the reactions thus far from Donohue and his cohorts should be a source of shame to any self-respecting Catholic or any Christian of a moderate, reasonable disposition. Some kid stole a wafer – deal with it. Sigh with pity for his soul and ban him from coming back! PZ heard about the reactions and got on your case about it? Deal with that, too! He’s unapologetically gleeful and a bit bloody-minded about kicking hornets’ nests but hey – you can be the bigger man and not take the damn bait every time he has a crack at you.

    If someone’s belief system is so fragile that it can be rocked & threatened and their sensibilties so gravely offended by something as stupid as a kid stealing a symbolic wafer, I don’t believe that system is worth a great deal of respect, even if it does provide someone’s entire life’s playbook. However, if people actually do believe the wafer turns into the literal flesh of Jesus upon consumption, well, I feel no compulsion to give that belief any more respect than some astrologist telling me what I’m like based on the alignment of the planets when I was born. Hell, if I told you my morning toast turned into splinters of the cross in my mouth after I prayed over them, you’d think I was a bloody idiot. How is the doctrine of transubstantiation any different?

    You’ve seen the Islamic hysteria over naming a teddy bear after the prophet (which cost a woman her job and almost her life) – how is this nonsense any less insane? People are not only calling for expulsion and threatening this kid physically, people are chortling with glee over the prospect of him burning in hell forever!

    If your beliefs can’t handle a challenge or a stupid little joke, then you should examine them closely and ask yourself why you even hold them. If all it takes to release the hounds is a missing biscuit, you need to ask some serious questions about your faith and the reasons for subscribing to it.


  19. Terry says:

    I guess the question is why I should be held accountable “as a catholic” for what a few extremist crackpots think about something, but then the atheists aren’t held accountable for their delusional crackpots. If the diocese authorities had issued death threats or organized vigilante action, then you might have a point. However, this was just people who got upset at being insulted and magnified it through the Internet. Why should I feel more shame for being a catholic and admit that my thinking is more primitive or violent when PZ Meyer or Cooke can talk about deliberately provoking and harassing people but it doesn’t reflect badly on atheists? After all, in both cases all you have to do to be a catholic or be an atheist is say “I’m a Catholic” or “I’m an Atheist”.

    Instead, why not call it what it really is? A provocation and an angry outburst because of the provocation. Why not say it is people being people, rather than try to generalize and stereotype this event as typical of “our way of thinking”.

    > But for you to refer to my objection about hell as a ‘crack’ shows you are so
    > immersed in your imaginary world view that you can’t concede that it may
    > not be real. I would laugh at you because I don’t believe there is any such
    > place or state of being as hell. No one has demonstrated, apart from
    > theologians yapping about such things, that any such state or place of being > exists. And the theologians have precisely nothing to go on other than that > they’ve convinced themselves it’s true.

    Theologians haven’t really convinced themselves of anything, because there is no argument to establish the existence of hell. It is only through scriptural revelation that the existence of hell is known to anyone at all.

    As for the fact that I can’t distinguish the idea that all of my beliefs might be false. Of course I can. I’ve argued the fact that this all based on trust in an authoritative text or church. I’ve also argued in other threads that the Catholic faith is not based on empiricism. Perhaps you have some problems with your reading comprehension.

    The reason I talked about hell is because this basically a huge thread about psychoanalyzing Catholicism’s primitive way of thinking, and how it leads to violence over nothing. If you want to criticize and debunk my beliefs systems you should probably figure out what they are. Especially if you want to claim you are an authority on my faith. It doesn’t require that you believe it, but you should be at least well informed about it.

    Now if you just want to be a good little logical positivist and say “anything that can’t be verified by empirical sense perception and experiment is simply gibberish that doesn’t deserve to be acknowledged” simply say that. No study of the Catholic faith is required, and it will certainly shut down any argument for why one should study or acknowledge the Christian faith. Plus, as a bonus, you can appreciate the scholastic tradition that birthed British Empiricism and thus the scientific method. It will be especially good if it leads to a rejection of Continental philosophy which buttresses current political thought and systems. I really, really hate Continental philosophy.

    Atheism is really much stronger without the Hegelian-Marxist-Freudian crap which Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are rehashing. Of course, without these ideologies people would have to give up a sense of cosmic struggle to progress to a more enlightened way of thinking. Instead, they would have to acknowledge that atheism is older than Christianity, and that largely Catholicism and Atheism still have the same things to say to each other. Of course, without this sense of cosmic struggle to build a religion-free utopia, there wouldn’t be nearly as much reason to blog something insultingly nasty.

  20. Bad says:

    You weren’t really talking to me I think, Terry, but I agree: you shouldn’t be held accountable for anything other than your own opinions, and your own understanding of your religion, not anyone elses.

    And for myself, I have little real problem with non-empirical beliefs unless they trespass into universal truth claims or assertions that they expect other people to believe in or act on. I’ll certainly argue with them philosophically if I think they are unjustified, but I’m well aware that this is a specialty interest, not something everyone is, or has to be, interested in doing.

    The fact that some people are religious is, ultimately, no different to me in a fundamental sense than the fact that some people enjoy watching sports. I don’t really watch sports, and I’m not religious. But that other people do is no skin off my back unless it becomes an actual material/political issue.

  21. apollo says:

    Terry, I was sympathetic until your crack about Continental philosophy. It strikes me as just as petulant and ill-informed as the remarks about Catholicism you’ve rightly been rejecting. The issue here is surely not the Church, or the student, or the University, but Donohue and his so-called Catholic League. As far as I can tell, this guy is a radical right-wing publicity hound. He’s been treated as an expert by other right-wingers, especially on Fox News (big surprise), when in fact he is and has long been an embarrassment to most Catholics. The point for all of us is not to be stirred up by rumors on the Internet, but to investigate, reflect, and act in a deliberate manner: which in general this thread seems to be trying to do.

  22. Terry says:

    Bad> Separation of church and state is a very good thing. It leads to a better state and a better church. Of course, people should also realize that separation of church and state doesn’t mean that people should not follow their faith when they engage in political action or governmental lobbying. Of course they should be able to engage in their rights as citizens. What separation of church and state means is that the state doesn’t try to dictate dogma and beliefs of the church, and the church doesn’t have legal jurisdiction over people or territory (ie. it can’t have judicial, executive or legislative power that is enforced by state authorities).

    And yes, I wasn’t talking to you Badidea, my anger is directed elsewhere. I’ll have to be

    Apollo> I’m sorry, but as a B.A. in history and philosophy, I just can’t countenance Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and all the stream of thought that came afterwards. Hegel’s history is horrible and he makes assumptions about human behaviour and societal thinking without any empirical evidence whatsoever. In his footsteps are Freud, Jung, Marx and Durkheim who have all been discredited thoroughly by the scientific community. Only in the fields of the Humanities and Sociology do they still have any truck at all.

    Dawkins is the worst offender. When is meme theory going to be consigned to the pseudo-science junk bin alongside intelligent design and phrenology? It isn’t biology at all, it is just a re-branded version of Hegel’s theory of zeitgeist, and continental philosophy’s theory of dialectic (material or otherwise).

    As for Phil Donohue, yeah he’s an arse with a big megaphone and a soapbox and makes a very comfortable living being a victim. He is has not been given authority by the church to act on their behalf but he hasn’t done anything that merits excommunication. He has no duties to restrict, no teaching or preaching credentials to revoke. He’s just a jerk that looks for offences then insults and threatens people.

  23. BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) says:

    Well I think BILL (it’s Bill not Phil) Donohue is a really cool guy. What I like about him is he doesn’t take crap form anti-Catholics. Bullies often hate 7 fear the one big guy on the play ground who takes it upon himself to stick up for the weaker kids.

    But that is my opinion you are free to hold your obviously incorrect ones.:-)


  24. rebeldreams says:

    I think Donohue in small doses can be “useful” in the sense that he often elucidates areas of Catholic doctrine not widely known to non-Catholics, and even some Catholics who do not follow areas of canon law and doctrine that closely (yes, there are quite a few of them!)

    The problem is that he tends to go WAY overboard in ascribing every action that he perceives as “against the Church” to be part of that infamous “vast left-wing conspiracy” against religion in geneal, which it isn’t.

    This incident was NOT an “attack on the Church”; it was a fool doing something rightly perceived as offensive (from the Church’s perspective) and which (again from their perspective) as damaging to himself and the community at large.

    Donohue actually does more harm to the Church by continually claiming that the second-largest religion in the world (well, largest, if you parse Islam into the various groups it falls into, which are every bit as schismatic as those Christian groups) is in some way in mortal danger from every ill-advised action or percived wrong “perpetrated” against it.

    Of course, this goes down well amongst the Fox New crowd (and lest we forget, Gelnn Beck, on whose show he is a regular fixture) who have this idea that religion is besieged on all sides, and the world is going to hell in an atheistic handbasket, but as a Catholic, I find his approach abrasive and actually ill-informed in some areas.

  25. Steve P. says:

    Ha, yeah, because the largest religious body in the world is weak and persecuted and needs Bill Donahue’s protection from that big bully of a biology professor. Hilarious.

  26. It’s amazing how many catholics hypocritically call PZ’s words as “vile”. Newsflash! Your religion is vile, catholics.

  27. Bad says:

    It’s worth pointing out that as insensitive as what Cook did was, it wasn’t Cook that publicized the case to the national media. It wasn’t Cook that heads up an organization that relies on people being as outraged as possible to fund its efforts. It wasn’t Cook or PZ Myers that was so bombastically silly that they got a Congressman to agree to give the RNC convention more “security” just because Myers lives in the same state as the convention: 150 miles away, all so that they could brag about it to their donors as a demonstration that they had somehow “won.” And apparently the only real Catholics are Republicans, per Donahue’s actions.

    Pink Unicorn: do you really think that Catholicism is vile, at at least any viler than any other human institution? Why? What’s vile about free exercise in and of itself, regardless of whether or not you think the beliefs are silly?

  28. rebeldreams says:

    Yeah, the publicity surrounding the case is massively overblown. In the past, certainly in my home country (England) we *might* hear of something similar through the grapevine, but unless it happened in our own parish, it would not be a huge deal, and the parish involved would seek to deal with it internally.

    The Bishop might get involved if it turned out that there was some sort of “other motive” to the act (I’m not citing a real example here, but, off the top of my head, if a “Satanist” took the Eucharist for some ostensible “Black Mass”) but it wouldn’t really excalate, and there woulld not be a huge media frenzy except if the details were truly sensational and salacious.

    I was not aware of the RNC’s actions… WOW! Apparently, the RNC is *really* trying to get the Catholic vote these days…

  29. Sarah says:

    Catholics and everyone else have a right to believe whatever they want no matter how crazy it is. If you want to worship crackers fine do that you crazy nuts but if your priest puts one in a kids mouth and he walks home leave him alone!

    If you want to get all outraged and make threats to him and try to get him kicked out of school then the sane people will have to step in and remind you fruitcakes it’s a fracking cracker and you need to rage in private because the public thinks you’re ridiculous.

  30. Sarah says:

    Hey Bad I also think Catholicism is vile. How is it NOT vile?

    They teach people they are ‘fallen’ but don’t worry if you worship our imaginary friend and do our rituals and pay our churches the big guy will forgive you! And if you don’t we’ll break your kneecaps. Actually I just made up the part about the kneecaps. Christians are MUCH worse than the mob. They threaten you with eternal torture which is FAR worse than kneecaping you.

  31. So a Host was held hostage for a week, forced to dwell in a plastic baggy.
    What about the kids who were held hostage by priests who RAPED them?
    Where was the Catholic outcry when those stories broke?
    Instead, we got apologetics and pleas for more money to help pay off the lawsuits.
    Le sigh.
    As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I find the equating of the incident of
    the Host Heist with hate crime to be especially offensive.


  32. Bad says:

    There was considerable and ongoing Catholic outcry about the abuse scandals. Indeed, the Pope is giving a major address on that topic this week, and far from the first time he’s done so. While the church has much to answer for in regards to its conduct, the fact that it did something wrong doesn’t really have anything to do with this incident.

    I agree though, that calling this a “hate crime” is asinine.

  33. Crackers…

    I agree that P.Z. Myers’ hijinks with a communion wafer is pointlessly rude….

  34. Really? says:

    A) At least one death threat was substantiated. Ms. Melanie Kroll was fired from 1800Flowers because her husband, Chuck, used her email account to threaten P.Z. Myers with among other things to “…get your brains beat in.”

    B) The sacrament is the body of Christ? What other cannabalistic rites do they have in the catholic church. Are there any other people that Catholics can eat? The idea of any religion having a specific rite where they pretend to consume human flesh and blood is beyond bizarre! Really, think about it objectively.

    C) The Catholic Church continues to minimize, obfuscate and deny their history of serial pedophilia. They continue to cover-up and be less than forthcoming about what happened and who was involved. I thought confession is good for the soul. Why has the Catholic Church been disinterested in owing up to their moral and legal perversions?

    Drop the dogma and try and look at how these events affect actual people rather than the theoretical ones.

  35. Bad says:

    A) Technically, this would be a threat against Myers, not Cook. But it does show how perfectly plausible getting death threats is, which makes Shea’s bombastic insistence that Cook must be lying a little silly.

    B) Lots of rituals and beliefs are pretty bizarre, true. But cannibalism generally involves taking flesh off a dead body, not the transformation of something into a, well, whatever it is supposed to be when it transforms (Jesus’ “blood/body” in “reality” even if not empirically).

    C) Irrelevant to this controversy, really, other than that it’s sort of offensive that Donahue apparently ranks not destroying a consecrated wafer as worse than child abuse.

  36. TMLutas says:

    I’m a bit late but I’ll take a bit of a crack at explaining some of the problems of what Cook did and how it could cost religious Catholics in the real world. I’m coming from an Eastern Catholic perspective and not entirely catechized and educated in the US mode.

    1. When one enters a latin Catholic church and participates in the liturgy, there is generally a book, called a missalette which helps those participating understand what’s going on and how to not make asses of themselves. Generally on either the back cover or the first page there is set aside some space to explain who should, can, and cannot participate in the sacrament of the eucharist. Clearly Mr. Cook was in the can’t category and should have followed the plain english instructions and stayed in his seat during that section, just like any visiting Baptists, 7th day Adventists, or even Catholics who haven’t followed the rubrics to qualify for the sacrament.

    2. There’s a really big set of ugly history regarding poorly catechized christians using religious symbols as tribal badges. Most relevant to the US is the Anglican/english v Catholic/irish wars. The Bishop of Westminster condemns the anglican orangemen who march in Catholic neighborhoods and shout about “Catholic whores” as well as hurling other insults. His condemnations have never made much difference, much as Papal condemnations of Catholic outrages at the honor of Anglican women. Blood often flows in the streets at such occasions and these tribal traditions remain a serious threat to civil peace in areas where this sort of thing happens. Mr. Cook, all unknowing (or perhaps not, I don’t know the man) crossed a bunch of red lines and it is a simple fact of life that there are poorly catechized Catholics in the US. They acted as asshats and embarrassed the Church when they pose death threats and otherwise threaten bodily harm. Better catechized Catholics have an obligation to clean up after such messes and consider this note my bit for that particular cause. Their poor catechization remains a shame for the Church but at least you know now where it’s coming from.

    3. What is known as the Catholic Liturgy is two liturgies back-to-back, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Technically, if you are not on the ‘in’ list (Catholic, Orthodox, or any of the other qualifying impaired communion Churches) you’re supposed to leave after the Liturgy of the Word. This is logistically inconvenient and has been dropped in modern times in favor of trusting to good taste and shortening up things to their modern 1 hour time slots. Many Catholics would hate to lose these conveniences.

    4. For the historically minded, an awful lot of the criticism, even the stuff uttered in comments in this thread, is just warmed over libels first uttered by the Romans as they were gearing up for their periodic anti-christian genocide attempts. Do you think that reviving ancient pre-pogrom talk isn’t going to get noticed and get Catholics agitated? Cannibalism? You guys think this is original? Try going over to your institutions’ Sociology or Linguistics or History departments and ask how loaded and dangerous that kind of talk is about anybody. And for extra credit ask how excusable is it to claim ignorance about the dangers. You can derive from first principles that accusations of taboo behavior like cannibalism alienate the accused from normal society and make the accused the target of social disapproval, both in word and in deed.

    5. Authority in the Church is arranged orthogonally to anything you’re likely to be used to. Every consecrated priest has a personal calling from God. Disrespect that calling and you’re going to Hell. And this danger remains when the priest is otherwise a fairly worthless individual, a criminal, even a pedophile. God called them to do something, obviously not to diddle little boys but something and that has to be respected. At the same time there is this web of obedience that’s woven into the ritual of consecration for priests so there is real obligation upwards as well. It makes the mechanics of discipline, well, complicated. The Pope has moved, and he’s going at least as fast as it’s prudent and possibly a bit faster. For an intellectual greybeard he’s actually quite bold on the subject. It is possible that it’s been more than a century since a Pope publicly and repeatedly used the term “filth” when talking about his own consecrated priests and bishops. This Pope did. Unless you understand the reasons why this complicated authority web exists, it all looks pointlessly complicated but the real-world takeaway is that it cuts down on the bloodshed and we’d like to keep things that way, ‘kay?

  37. Bad says:

    You can derive from first principles that accusations of taboo behavior like cannibalism alienate the accused from normal society and make the accused the target of social disapproval, both in word and in deed.

    Look, I don’t think the cannibalism thing is much of a retort to the practice, as I said, but you’re just getting lame here in your long efforts to pretend that US Catholics are at serious or imminent threat of actual persecution and harm, even if Myers and his hordes do steal or lie their way into a bunch of hosts (an activity of which they’d quickly tire in any case).

    And frankly, just because a libel is old doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some merit. The reason people today, who are not in the Roman Empire, thanks, bring up cannibalism is that they suspect that Catholic theologians are basically trying to get away with all sorts of bold claims without confronting the rest of their implications. The only reason why cannibalism isn’t a good fit to the actual theology that the doctrine of the wafer and wine each turning into blood and body seems upon summary description is that the theology on this is nigh incoherent, and hence ultimately unintelligible. Otherwise, it would be a reasonable illustration of the absurdity of the belief, whether that particular connection be old or no, associated with past persecution or no.

  38. TMLutas says:

    Bad – I don’t think that we’re going back to the days of the night riders and strange fruit but that doesn’t mean I think it’s particularly ok to stamp on those particular nerves in the consciousness of the black community nor would I be surprised at any reaction when they got a bit upset about it.

    Since there is ample anti-catholic history in this country is it any surprise that Catholics viscerally understand and react to that kind of talk? We can continue on about the actual issue but please no more straw men.

    And Catholics are very well aware about how strange the Eucharistic celebration is to outsiders. The Bible chronicles that Jesus lost most of his followers on the spot when he unveiled the teaching prior to the events on Golgotha. It’s not supposed to be an easy thing to understand. And anything that’s lasted 2000 years and is this ridiculous on its face has got to have a great many defenses around it or it would not have lasted. A mere unenumerated suspicion, something with practically no specificity as to these unexamined implications does not get us very far.

  39. Bad says:

    Since there is ample anti-catholic history in this country is it any surprise that Catholics viscerally understand and react to that kind of talk? We can continue on about the actual issue but please no more straw men.

    When you cite logical fallacies, it’s important that you explain why something is a fallacy. Anyone can just accuse.

    And I don’t think your analogy holds in the least. “Strange fruit” is literally a reference to lynching people because of their race. Complaining that the ritual of communion is ridiculous because it’s akin to cannibalism if you actually take it seriously is a criticism of a specific belief, not a reference to any sort of threat. The fact that bigots once used it in the course of being bigots doesn’t in itself make it more or less accurate as a criticism.

    But apparently, as far as you’re concerned, it just gives you an easy out when criticism comes up. The question is whether or not you have developed easy outs against all criticisms period, and this is just one example.

    And anything that’s lasted 2000 years and is this ridiculous on its face has got to have a great many defenses around it or it would not have lasted.

    I love this: if you have good arguments for something, and the doctrine makes sense, then you have good arguments. But if you don’t and if your beliefs don’t make any sense, well that just goes to show you how wondrously correct your beliefs are.

    I’d love to run in a marathon modeled after this form of argumentation, where I somehow win no matter whether I come in first or last place.

  40. Maargen says:


    I applaud you on your knowledge and understanding of Catholic dogma. Having attended 18 years of Catholic schools, I found your exposition of Catholic belief to be first rate. However, I do think that steeping yourself in the Catholic tradition has warped your sense of logic. For instance: when you say that the sacrament of Transubstantiation is akin to the President elect being “invested through a ritual with the powers of the Executive branch”. The Oath of Office doesn’t invest the President with any “powers”. It simply indicates his commitment to perform the duties of the office to which he was elected. I agree that he cannot act as President without making this commitment, just as I cannot use the services of many websites until I agree with the terms of service. Agreeing with the terms doesn’t invest me with any powers. And what’s this about the “intangible notion of Executive Power”?? The notion of Executive Power is spelled out in the Constitution! It’s about as “intangible” as my mortgage contract – subject to debate, perhaps, but certainly not a mystical, ineffable concept. It seems you’re much more cognizant of Catholic dogma than American civics. Or, as many atheists believe, that too much religion warps logical thinking.

    Also: comparing the eucharist to a family photo is really not an apt analogy. A family photo is not meant to be consumed. In showing you the photo, there is no expectation that the photo will be affected in any way. A better analogy, I think, is when a family member makes a dish to be shared with others. I’m sure many of us have had the experience, usually around the holidays, of attending a meal where someone has spent hours preparing a particular dish. Perhaps the dish is made in accordance with a generations-old family recipe. Perhaps it’s meant to specificly evoke the memory of an ancestor. Now, all of us can anticipate Grandmere’s reaction to a cavalier “no thanks, I’m not hungry – I’ll just take some home for later”, but in no way can it be argued that taking one’s portion away rather than eating it there is equivalent to taking a family photo. By the same token: there was no expectation of the wafer being left at the Mass after being served to the student. So why the hoopla over what he chooses to do with something freely given to him?

    The hoopla, some might say, is in the fact that others venerate this wafer. Fine. Those who do so should be very careful how they treat it. But I still don’t see what gives them the right to dictate the behavior of those who have different beliefs. It is understandably very important to you to behave in ways that will avoid pitting you into the state of existence that you define as hell. I find it absurd that those who don’t believe in that definition be expected to follow your prescribed mode of behviour. If you believe the wafer is the Body of Christ, you should certainly treat it like the Body of Christ. Why should I treat a wafer like anything but a wafer just because of your absurd belief? Maybe Cook just wanted his with a nice cheese dip.

  41. Bad says:

    Maargen: the point is simply that you cannot obtain a “consecrated” wafer without first somehow subverting a particular ceremony. Cook, however innocent or intentional his actions were, did certainly disrupt the ceremony by doing something you weren’t supposed to do (and you’re not even supposed to take communion unless you know what is expected).

    And certainly, if you did somehow come across one by accident anyhow, you aren’t expected to treat it with respect in and of itself. But I would think that the fact that you know other people care about it would at least give you pause.

    The American flag isn’t anything but a bit of colored cloth: nevertheless, plenty of people would still be upset if you used it as a diaper, and you, knowing that using it thus would give otherwise unecessary offense, would I think at least consider the possibility that you should avoid doing nasty things to it unless you had a really good reason. You don’t have to invest anything in the flag yourself to appreciate that other people care about it.

  42. RExTERYALIZER says:


    1Co 11:22 What? WHAT HE SAYS

    Paul says WHAT ? Like { Come on MAN. WHAT….}

    have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?

    they are comming to CHURCH to have a DINNER.

    People are eating before the dinner starts & being dis~respectfull to the others Who DONT have FOOD at HOME.. to bring OR EAT….

    The FULL people COME to CHURCH FULL ..& embarrass the hungry making them feel OUT OF PLACE & ashamed….

    Why do Catholics allways PURPOSELY Leave out the CONTEXT & the subject ?

    In every Catholic doctrine WHY DO U & THEY ALLWAYS leave out the main PURPOSE of the scriptures…

    NOTICE Paul IN just the VERY chapters ABOVE…..

    Paul is telling the ACTION of this PARTICULAR CHURCH.

    Why & HOW would ONE be bringing DAMNATION on themselves…

    WHY ? ?
    Lets READ the REAL BIBLE story.

    GO UP to 1Co 11:19 & lets look at PAUL TELLING

    this CHURCH that there are heresies among THEM


    When they come together people are filling UP on food before the OTHERS begin eating.


    Drinking & Getting DRUNK…

    & PEOPLE are Disorganized

    Not Participating in the purpose, MEANINGFULL Comunion of the CHURCH BODY OF JESUS


    WOW Paul wants to remind them THEY are there to REMEMBER as a MEMORIAL……JESUS

    THEY / THE CHURCH…are the body of Christ. & they are disrespecting in blasphemous damnation.


    1Co 11:22 What? WHAT HE SAYS

    Paul says WHAT ?

    have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?


    They are there To do some Serious eating & drinking.

    But paul tells them they are not there just TO GET ALL DRUNK….& disorganized & LOOSING the meaning.

    SIMPLE Thats what the BIBLE is saying……These catholics are inventing something That is IN NO WAY at all within the pages of scripture..

    Thay are LYING & IGNORING the obvious GLARING facts.


    1Co 11:17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, ..

    that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.

    1Co 11:18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you

    1Co 11:19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

    1Co 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

    1Co 11:21 For in eating, every one taketh before

    others his own supper:Greek 4301 prolambano¯ to take in advance, that is, (literally) eat before others have an opportunity;

    overtake, take before. and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

    1Co 11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?

    or despise ye the church of God, and shame

    shame them that have not?

    Dont be fooled by Catholic & islamic junk theology That is so full of lies….ONE has to LITERALY BE BLIND & unable to read a book OF GOD Called the BIBLE…….

  43. Hpytksmk says:

    pirate tattoo design,

  44. reyjacobs says:

    Every Catholic should “kidnap” the “host” and take it to a lab, DNA test it, and see for yourself that its just a stupid piece of bread. AMEN.

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