What we learn from the Cracker InquisitionJuly 11, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
(Hat tip to Dustin for the term “cracker inquisition.”)
If you follow ScienceBlogs at all, you’ve probably heard about the vigilante Catholics out to get PZ Myers in retaliation for his threatened—not actual, mind you, but just threatened—abuse of a consecrated communion wafer. While I’m not going to comment on the wisdom and/or social graces pertaining to making remarks like that, I do think that the response of Bill Donohue and his cohorts is particularly revealing of a fundamental flaw in the Gospel.
You see, the reason they are so irate and so bent on vengeance is because, in their eyes, a consecrated communion wafer is not “just a frackin’ cracker,” as PZ puts it. When the priest prays over the wafers and blesses them, as far as Catholics are concerned, the “cracker” is the body of Jesus. Not just a symbol of the body of Christ, as so many latter-day Protestants would have it, but the actual flesh of Jesus’s body. It doesn’t matter that the wafer, after being blessed, retains the same crispy, crunchy wheatiness as the wafer before being blessed. Here in the most central and vital of Christian rites, we see clearly how Jesus taught his disciples to separate spiritual truth from physical reality. The “true” state of the body of Christ has nothing to do with its physical attributes. And that has major implications for the doctrine of the Resurrection.
A common argument you’ll hear from Christian apologists is that early Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead, to the point that many of them were willing to be martyred for their faith. It’s not a bad argument, because there were indeed a number of Christians who gave their lives believing that Jesus was truly risen from the dead. Not, perhaps, as many as the apologists might like us to think, but there were a fair number, plus a larger number who suffered lesser penalties for their faith.
The flaw in this argument is that, as the ritual of Communion shows, Jesus had taught his disciples that real truth, spiritual truth, was something divorced from the verifiable, physical facts. The communion bread does not need to suddenly transform into meat and bone and sinew to become the “true” body of Christ, nor does Jesus need to literally show up in church to “truly” be present wherever two or more are gathered in his name. And, as Bill Donohue demonstrates, believers really really believe that this stuff is genuine truth. If some evil magic transported Donohue back to the ancient Roman coliseum, and he was told he must admit that the wafer was just a cracker or face being thrown to the lions, I fully expect that he’d pick the lions (or at least feel like a traitor if he broke down and agreed it was not the true body of Christ).
The thing is, the physical reality of the cracker does not change. Only the believer’s concept of the cracker changes, and the believer deeply and sincerely accepts that change as The Truth. A lifeless corpse, cold, stiff and stinky, does no more to contradict the “truth” of the resurrection than the physical fact of a dry, crispy cracker does to contradict the doctrine of transubstantiation. Spiritual truth is not tied to physical reality, and therefore the physical body of Jesus does not need to literally rise any more than the cracker needs to literally turn to meat.
So sure, early Christians did claim that Jesus’s body rose from the dead, just as they tell us today that it shows up in the cracker whenever the priest blesses it. That they sincerely believe this to be true, no one doubts. The question is, what worth is a “truth” that feels no need to be bound to objective reality?