18 July 2008

Host-Age Crisis, or: Mass Hysteria

I considered avoiding comment on this one, but the pun was too good to pass up.*

So some kid smuggled a sanctified wafer out of Mass, a bunch of angry Catholics tried to ruin his life, PZ stood up for the kid, Bill Donohue took notice, and then the Internet exploded?

Like PZ, I'm absolutely sickened over what happened to Webster Cook. For committing a bit of harmless blasphemy, his life and academic career have been threatened. Let's not forget what this affair is originally about.

PZ doesn't need me to defend him, but I need to vent my spleen here. I'm fed up with the arguments levied against PZ. And I'm not just talking about the ones coming from angry Catholics; I'm including a number of prominent bloggers and journalists who have denounced the death threats but have taken the opportunity to scold PZ for being "rude" to Catholics. (I'm not even going to touch on Matt "Scienceblogs.com Would Be Better Off Without PZ" Nisbet.) So at the risk of drawing this fiasco out further by adding another blog post to the mix (ah, no one cares what I'll say anyway... so, sorry in advance for ranting and rambling):

First of all, yes, it is just "a [goddamn/fracking] cracker." Jesus.

But this is not about proving that it's a goddamn cracker. Those who think PZ's threat to desecrate a communion wafer isn't productive because it doesn't address the scientific merit of transubstantiation are missing the point. It isn't about the belief itself, it's about the free expression of disbelief and the right of everyone to their own blasphemy.

And I'm sick of comments to the tune of, "Sure, it's just a cracker, but Catholics think it's the body of Jesus so you need to respect the emotional trauma they could go through if you mock them!" Uh huh, because Catholics are so weak and stupid that they need shielding from any criticism of their beliefs. If I were a Catholic, I'd probably find that more insulting than anything PZ said.

PZ is not a bigot; you can respect a person and their right to their beliefs, without respecting their beliefs.

Defiling the Host is not a hate crime, as that would require some criminal act to be committed.

Was PZ tactless in his defense of Cook? The Catholic League and its backers threatened a kid with death and expulsion, over a sliver of dough. Fuck tact.

Yes, this is just like the Danish Muhammad cartoon foofaraw. (I'm looking at you, Andrew Sullivan!) A radical group is attempting to force their definition of (and ramifications for) blasphemy upon someone who is making a peaceful statement.

Sneaking off with a Host is neither theft nor disruption of the service. It is not akin to stealing Torah scrolls or smooshing a child's birthday cake (both real examples of poor analogies I've seen). I know this, because palming a wafer does not in any way, shape, or form deprive the little old lady next to you from taking and enjoying her communion. Contrary to what Thomas Foley believes, PZ never asked anyone to "accost a priest" to get a Host.

And hey, riddle me this: if the Hosts are so precious, why do they hand them out to any schmuck who walks through the door and knows how to ask for one?

That's what PZ's challenge is about: demonstrating that Catholics don't rule the world, that there are people out here who don't cotton to the idea of transubstantiation, and that we have to share the same space. So Catholics have to either be more careful with their toys, or lighten up about them.

The only charge that can be levied against someone who merely removes a wafer from Mass is that they accepted communion under false pretenses. And the only applicable punishment for such a transgression is excommunication (literally, "no communion for you!"). That would be perfectly fair and well within the rights of the Church. But there is no excuse for threats against a person's life or livelihood.

*deep, cleansing breath*

At least some good came out of this: thanks to PZ's challenge, we get to meet Josh (who, fittingly, speaks in red letters).

You know, I'm contemplating going to Mass this Sunday with an aim to misbehave. Depends on whether Ben (a recovering Catholic) can accompany me as a guide, and whether I feel like spending a Sunday morning in an uncomfortable church pew for no good reason.

I don't reckon I'll take a wafer home with me, though. I wouldn't know what to do with it. I wouldn't want to go all "Aristocrats" on it, that would be crude and unimaginative. Having never been a Catholic myself, I have no personal history with the Host, so it wouldn't be satisfying to just keep it. And I don't know any of the evil secret Jewish rituals that make medievally-minded Catholics so paranoid. So if I go to Mass, I think I'll just perform a simple and grave blasphemy.

I'll take, eat and take, drink. No sleight of hand necessary, just foreknowledge of how the act goes down, which Ben was kind enough to provide:
It's reeeeeal easy. Unless you're taking it in the mouth(hee hee), you just:
-walk up
-stop in front of the priest
-hold your right hand under your left, palms up
-he holds up the cookie, mumbles, puts it in your hands
-you say "amen"
I think I can manage that much.

I wouldn't disrupt the service at all. I'd sit through the service most politely. I'd kneel, sit, and stand when I was s'posed to. I'd eat the wafer on the spot, as expected.

But, oh, I wouldn't be Catholic (not even ex-Catholic). And it's a most heinous no-no to administer communion to a non-Catholic.

I wonder what ol' Donohue would say about that.

* Seriously, is "Crackergate" the best they could come up with for this? The "[Scandal]gate" template has been done to death, and it's so doggone lazy...