Sunday, July 13, 2008

On that fracking cracker thingy...

In high school we had a bonus question in one of our Chemistry exams that went something like this: During the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, when it turns into the body of Christ, is that change physical or chemical? Seriously.

The answer of course, is neither. The host is not physically or chemically altered in any way. Transubstantiation is trickier than that and is beyond the ambit of Chemistry. So my answer was something like: Neither. It is a symbolic change.

Which earned me full marks and convinced me that my brilliant Chem teacher (who passed away a few weeks after that exam) wasn't really a religious kook. It was a trick question since anyone who said that the host physically or chemically changed into flesh was wrong.

And that's why I find the case of Webster Cook so baffling.

The kid went to Mass, took communion in his hands, and kept the host for his non-Catholic friend to see. He was accosted by other people in the church, was physically assaulted and threatened. He then returned the wafer (in a ziploc bag) but still has problems with campus authorities and people accusing him of "hate crimes." (Persecution complex, much?)

Then PZ Myers writes about it in his usual sarcastic manner and all hell explodes. Bill Donohue exhorts his Catholic League to write to Myers's boss at the University of Minnesota to have him fired for hate speech. Which his lemmings -- few of whom have read Myers's' blog before and are only dimly aware of the facts of the case -- did in droves.

Myers (and then Dawkins, after) then tells his pharynguloids to send letters of support just to see how his university president would react (he's tenured so he needn't worry). Now they're breaking the internet and setting a world record on blog comments (6,500 and going on a single topic).

It's not about desecrating the host (which PZ threatened to do), it's about the overreaction over what in reality is just a piece of bread. All by Christians who supposedly follow the rule set by their founder, "love thy neighbor." At worst Cook pulled a tasteless prank, but threatening his life over it is just crazy. Myers was just being his usual self (and maybe trying to take heat away from the boy) and threatening his life over it is way over the top.

Blasphemy is not a crime, it's a quaint leftover of the times when we really believed in gods and that these gods actually cared what we lower beings thought. It's a reminder that religion was developed and used to explain things (it's since been supplanted by science and philosophy) and control the populace (still in effect).

Which leads me to this statement by Philippine bishops, saying they'd deny communion to "anti-life" politicians.

Cool. They legally have the right to enforce the rules of their organization. Don't any of these politicians (who listened to experts and to their constituents ) pander to them in any way. They're relics of a bygone age.

23 comments:

Jose Jean Paolo said...

A sticky situation. Sigh what a tangled web we mortals weave.

I sympathize with the kid ( I doubt he knew what he was getting into).

As for politicians and religious leaders, I say let em duke it out. They deserve each other. If you think about it, they dance to the same tune though the musician might differ.

starlitgrove said...

E diba nabibili na nga ang hostia sa Rustan's supermarket? Minemeryenda ko sya minsan, alternate with haw flakes...

missingpoints said...

@Jean
Re: the kid, yep, it was either an honest mistake or an ill-conceived protest action. But it did serve to show how militant even modern Catholics can get. Sinalo lang siya ni PZ.

@Tala
Dati merong nabibili sa amin na ostiyang durog na may asukal (parang sa bananacue). Weird. I guess yun yung rejected sa factory line.

Francis Ocoma said...

It's not about desecrating the host (which PZ threatened to do), it's about the overreaction over what in reality is just a piece of bread. All by Christians who supposedly follow the rule set by their founder, "love thy neighbor."

I think it's about both, actually.

Of course you're correct that Christians should "supposedly follow" the rule of love thy neighbor, but you deny them another rule they should supposedly follow, that of seeing the Host as something other than its accidents, just because you think it's superstitious*. You complain that a few people do not follow their religion, and then you deride them for following it. That seems unfair to me.

I think it would make more sense to criticize those who physically assaulted the guy (if they really did so) as well as the guy who most probably knew that he was disrespecting the God he supposedly believed in (placing the soul he supposedly believed in in danger)... As you said, an organization has the right to enforce its own rules. That includes the right to look down upon members who don't follow them.

Oh, but you're saying that sacrilege shouldn't concern anyone, right? Myers shouldn't be criticized for threatening an even greater desecration of the Host, right? But of course! Why should it matter at all that an enlightened, intelligent, scientific professor makes some idle talk about playing with a cracker that some utterly deluded know-nothing idiots worship? Ha! I mean, there couldn't possibly be any logical reason to even respect a religion that's been oh so convincingly supplanted by Science and Enlightened Thought, right?

Heh.

*I don't like superstition neither. But "superstition" shouldn't be defined as "something I don't believe in", but rather as "an irrational explanation of material events". The Eucharist cannot therefore be superstition because no material change is being claimed (only the "substance" is claimed to be changed, not the "accidents").

The truth is that this isn't about superstitions (because it doesn't apply), nor is it about Reason vs. Religion (because they don't clash). It's about you and Myers believing that there is nothing beyond the material world. And you know what? I respect that. I find some problems in materialist philosophy: There's the loss of a principled justification for morality, mercy, justice, etc. (in Pratchett's Death's words: "the Big Lies"), there's the inexplicable assumptions like Laws existing without a Law Maker. I also don't think anyone can be consistently materialist on an intellectual level without going crazy (think of everything you have to disbelieve! think of Nietzsche!). But nonetheless I respect that people can live happily while telling themselves that they believe in that kind of philosophy.

Maybe you could respect people like us, too, by not inventing false purposes for our religion (no, Christianity was not "developed" to explain empirical phenomena, outside the dogma that anything exists at all i.e. the dogma of Creation) just so you can claim that it has already been "supplanted" by something else. You can also try acknowledging that we may have valid philosophical objections against your so-called superior thought, that we're not just mindless sheep afraid of ending up in a furnace with horned, tailed reddish people with pitchforks.

missingpoints said...

How pansy-ass is your god that his honor needs to be defended by humans? :)) Anyone supposedly that powerful needs no followers to threaten to kill anyone for disrespecting him. Either that or we're really to small for him to mind.

Hey, I'll grant you for the sake of argument that there is something beyond the material world. What makes you so sure it's YOUR god that's there?

Anonymous said...

The host is sacred lang once it has been blessed(or whatever it is) sa mass. So kapag hindi pa, it's just a piece of wafer with designs na me and my classmates eat at school... minsan nilalagyan pa ng peanut butter, pang trip trip lang.

Gets ko yung Christians na medyo offensive yung ginawa ni Cook. Pero threatening anybody's life is just wrong. Any religion can attest to that naman siguro.

I do believe that there's a God out there, but i'm not into the religion, itself. Kahit anong religion. I don't need some set of rules to tell me how to live. For me, tama na yung konsensya. It tells you what's the right thing to do most of the time naman eh.

:X

missingpoints said...

"Pero threatening anybody's life is just wrong. Any religion can attest to that naman siguro."

That's one of my problems here. The Church has not stepped in to say that they condemn Cook but Catholics who threaten him with harm are also committing a sin.

"I don't need some set of rules to tell me how to live. For me, tama na yung konsensya. It tells you what's the right thing to do most of the time naman eh."

Actually, you do abide by a set of rules, they're called laws. I have no problem with laws as long as they're something society agrees on and they're not based on the claims of individuals who claim access to "the" truth.

Anonymous said...

^
Ay sorry... again, again, again...

Laws are fine by me kasi, usually, bawal siya dahil mali talaga (like pumatay, etc). Pero yung rules gaya ng, "Bawal kumain ng baka kasi sacred"... ewan ko sa kanila pero ako, di ako mapapaniwala niyan. Burger!

Jose Jean Paolo said...

My reservations about any religion is how static they are prone become. They are so set in their ways that I don't see much room for growth. It doesn't sit well with me that they are not open to being wrong(most of the time), which I believe is important, as to invite the opportunity for progress. Religion can be counter productive sometimes, it tends to box-in who God can be to a person. God in any shape or form shall ultimately be the final judge, let's just leave it to "him/her" to decide those moral and ethical issues beyond man's laws.

For this issue I will not say the if the Church and the faithful are wrong or not but I will say that I ashamed of how they have responded.

Francis Ocoma said...

"How pansy-ass is your god that his honor needs to be defended by humans?"

Pretty pansy-ass, yes. :-P The poor sod can't even save himself from being humiliated, tortured, and killed by puny humans. What, after all, is the use of a god who can't smite his enemies properly, eh?

"Hey, I'll grant you for the sake of argument that there is something beyond the material world. What makes you so sure it's YOUR god that's there?"

That's just it, isn't it, Sir Pat? What makes anyone so sure of anything? What makes you so sure that laws (which are in your philosophy simply glorified lies that everyone is forced to believe in, supposedly to keep some semblance of order in society) are worth keeping, and that the anarchist philosophy isn't a rational option? What makes the anonymous guy so sure that his "conscience" (whatever he means by that, if he doesn't believe in the religious definition of it) has any real use in solving moral problems?

Reason can help, sometimes. Evidence helps, too. But Reason ultimately rests upon unproven assumptions, and Evidence rests upon one of the greatest assumptions of all: that people's senses have any meaningful relationship with Reality.

I believe that basing my beliefs on the existence of a Law-Maker is the most rational option available. Otherwise we begin basing our beliefs on ourselves, and end up calling things like morality, justice, and love "the Big Lies, that people need to believe in or else what's the point?"

As I said, I respect that people are sometimes unfortunate enough to honestly believe that they have no other choice than to lie to themselves in order to live a happy life. But I don't like lying to myself. I refuse to believe that morality is just useful fiction, that we can change it depending on the whim of the majority.

And because I refuse to believe in Lies, I'm quite happy to assume... to have faith... that certain events really did take place: That God created everything, that he became Man and built his infallible Church. I put my whole faith in that Church, though I understand that it is only infallible in its dogmas, not in its members' actions. The Church might be filled with Pharisees, but I am not looking for pleasant charismatic leaders; I am looking for the Truth.

"I have no problem with laws as long as they're something society agrees on and they're not based on the claims of individuals who claim access to "the" truth."

Oh, golly, I sure hope "society" doesn't some day agree on something you don't like, coz you'll just stand down and accept it, right? ;-) Believe it or not, there are bad laws even in a democracy, and it is up to the nasty elitist individuals who "claim to have access to the truth" to do something about the bad laws that "society" agreed upon.

I have my Faith. You have your Big Lies. Ultimately, that is the only difference.

Jose Jean Paolo said...

Francis: Basing this perspective on the bible, I think Jesus/God allowed himself to be "tortured, humiliated and killed" which means he wasn't tortured, humiliated or killed. I think it was all part of his plan to educate.

About basing your beliefs in the existence of a Law-maker: sure he exists, but to think one can understand those laws without question is egotistical.

I agree on the point where you say morality has little to do with the whim of the majority(but my agreement stops here). Morality is important to individuals but it shall vary from one individual to the next. God will judge differently from one person to the next basing it on the moral compass they each used in their lives.

Again based on the bible God did build the Church but we are the ones maintaining it which leaves it open to deterioration. I must stress that cling to the belief that Dogmas are "perfectly" relevant to all times removes the possibility of improving on "perfection".

You want to find the "Truth" then I believe you have to open yourself to the fact that your way of approaching faith might be wrong. God will thank you for it...

Get off you high chair if you are on one because thats how you are coming across... stuck up

missingpoints said...

@Francis: Isn't it ironic that the ultimate apologetic of the modern Catholic is some post-modern rationalization claiming "we can't be sure of anything?" From claiming knowledge of absolute truths to saying "we cant be sure, it all ultimately boils down to faith."

And yes, I will abide by the social contract. The cool thing about democracy AND science is that it's a self-correcting mechanism. It relies on evidence that EVERYONE can observe, not some truths and edicts that only a privileged few hand down and that no one else can verify. I rest easy in the fact that in a democracy, I CAN complain because fellow citizens make the laws, they're not handed down by some deity who is ascribed authority but wields no actual power.

@Jean: Here's the cool thing: Francis and I actually agree to disagree. :) He's right in that when you choose a religion, you follow what it says. It's what started me on the path to atheism, I just can't swallow the nonsense anymore.

ALL of the "revealed" religions are stuck up because they claim to know the truth. You can't expect an organization like that to follow every new trend. It took them 400 years to apologize to Galileo.

Based on your comments, you and Anonymous are actually more Unitarian Universalists than Catholic / Mainline Protestants.

Francis Ocoma said...

Hi Jean! :D

You do know that I was being flippant in that paragraph, right?

Here's another flippancy for ya: You seem to be very aware of how God's mind works re: how he will judge and thank people. You basically mentioned two doctrines:

- God judges people using different moral standards, depending on what those people believed in in life. (How convenient!)
- God is grateful to people who never make up their minds on anything regarding metaphysics because they like to open their minds to everything.

I wonder where you got those revelations from. Is this a new religion of yours, Jean? I'd be happy to follow it, except I'm a little confused about the doctrines. May I ask you to clarify some issues:

- If God bases his judgement on our own moral compass, wouldn't it be highly difficult to judge those who, because they "open themselves", refuse to have a definite moral compass? Why would God be grateful to those people, then? Because he likes the challenge?
- If God judges us using our own standards, won't that mean that we'd basically be judging ourselves? So is God just a symbolic extension of our own egos? If so, can't we get rid of God and just go straight to heaven?
- If God judges us using our own standards, can I still go on claiming that the Truth only belongs to the Catholic Church, argue w/ non-Catholics, submit myself to the pope's theological rule, and call your concept of God heretical...and still be allowed to enter heaven?

See, in this case, I am critiquing a religion based on its actual theological doctrines, not based on some children's stories or literature devices (unlike some people whose idea of enlightened skepticism is to laugh at the bearded-man-in-the-clouds and the red-guy-with-a-pitchfork).

I'd allow Jean the Theologian to use the perfectly valid defensive arguments "It's a mystery" and "I just have Faith in it", especially in answer to my first issue. After all, how could our puny minds possibly understand God's reason to thank the fickle and the morally relative?

Still, even though it would be nice if God really is a genie who bows to our own whims, there is absolutely no reason to believe in Jean's God, because I could simply define my moral standards to remove any need to believe Jean's God, and Jean's God will still send me to heaven. Isn't that just great?! So while I am already set to enter Jean's God's heaven (with its happy prospects of cute chicks and DOTA), I can still safely pursue my actual goal of entering the heaven of the God I actually believe in!

I think this is the only valid form of skepticism: to refuse to believe in a self-defeating religion, e.g. if you can enter its heaven w/o believing in it, or if its heaven is just as bad as its hell. Which is also why I am skeptical of atheism: because I can live a happy life in an atheist universe without being an atheist, and because their many varied ideals and goals are all quite futile and, in their own words, ultimately absurd.

missingpoints said...

^ So you need the concept of a god to give meaning to your life while I'm perfectly happy living mine according to how I see fit. You need something I find frivolous. I win. :)

Francis Ocoma said...

"The cool thing about democracy AND science is that it's a self-correcting mechanism."

Oh, trust me, I love democracy and science. It's just that they're bad bases for philosophy, for exactly the same reasons why they're perfect in what they are normally used for (i.e. making political decisions and finding usable patterns in nature, respectively). And that is because democracy and science assumes imperfection, while the goal of philosophy is to find truth, which is by definition perfect. All democratic laws are valid until they are democratically changed. All scientific theories are valid until disproved. But all philosophical theses cannot be valid unless they actually conform to reality.

Speaking of philosophy, you mentioned once that the Church has been supposedly supplanted by science and philosophy. The first part of that claim is patently bosh (go read the Cathecism and tell me what can be discredited via the scientific method), but the second part intrigues me:

Tell me, Sir, do you normally do self-correcting votes in your atheist club to decide on philosophical issues? Because that's what you just love about democracy, right? Is there a scientific journal of philosophy I could subscribe to, one that can show me the current consensus with regards to the Nature of Man, the Equality of the Races, and the Morality of War in light of the scientific method?

Again I maintain that this whole debate has nothing to do with Science, and I am quite certain that Democracy shouldn't have even entered into the picture. The issue is our basis for our beliefs. If you don't like a few reasonably wise scholars dictating yours, I don't see why the hell you're so happy about the prospect of a few million people with various backgrounds dictating them.

One last thing, Sir. I was not arguing "we can't be sure of anything" at all. Read my post again. I was merely asking the question "How can we be sure of anything?" so that I can lead up to my own answer: I am sure of my beliefs because I base them on a set of logically consistent assumptions that I have faith in.

I have this really nagging suspicion that you haven't seen a lot of "apologetics of the modern Catholic", if you really think mine is the ultimate. ;-)

Francis Ocoma said...

"You need something I find frivolous. I win. :)"

You mean the need to lie to yourself regarding the objectivity of morality, and the need to pretend that the utter futility of your actions is just hunky-dory...that's winning?

I can be happy with any kind of lifestyle there is. I can be happy as an atheist. I can be happy living a lie. My goal, though, is to be happy living what I am sure is true. I am happy that you're happy, but that's not enough to convince me that God is frivolous.

missingpoints said...

Does god exist and do you have any evidence? Or is it all "faith?" Your entire belief system is a house of cards based on more than just one assumption.

"I am sure of my beliefs because I base them on a set of logically consistent assumptions that I have faith in."

And scientology has a set of logically consistent assumptions, too. So does Buddhism. Why is your set of assumptions more valid that theirs? Or have you studied everything in depth and rejected all of them?

It doesn't matter how complicated or self-consistent the theology is, the question remains: where is the evidence for your god? None of you (Christian, Scientologist, Buddhist, Norse, etc.) have any evidence except for your assumptions.

Now I'm fine with people believing anything they want, that's a part of secular society. The problem is when they insist that their beliefs be held by others too.

Which brings us back on topic. It's a frackin cracker. It's the body of Christ only to believers so Catholics can't insist on anyone else giving it the deference they do. The same way Muslims can't insist everyone follow their taboo on images of Muhammad.

missingpoints said...

"You mean the need to lie to yourself regarding the objectivity of morality, and the need to pretend that the utter futility of your actions is just hunky-dory...that's winning?"

I don't claim that morality is objective. It's a human invention, of course it's subject to bias. I just don't see the need to bring a god into the equation. Because doing so would put us in a ridiculous situation where a kid gets threatened for not eating a piece of bread given to him.

Francis Ocoma said...

Here's a really long blog post showing everything we know (and don't know) about the matter of the student and the Eucharist:

It seems to me from this more balanced report that the "assault" claim really was exaggerated. The death threats are real, though, and unfortunate (and wrong!), but as the Church isn't a hive mind and cannot control its members (including the student in question), it's not really unexpected given the scandal he has caused. Believe it or not, the ability to make stupid threats is a sad talent of human beings, including enlightened atheists. ;-)

"It's a frackin cracker. It's the body of Christ only to believers so Catholics can't insist on anyone else giving it the deference they do."

Fine by me! But will you allow us crazy Catholics to insist other Catholics, or at least people who actually attend Mass (e.g. the student) to give it deference? Will you allow us deluded pie-in-the-sky believers to be wary of people who talk about stealing our precious cracker and doing nasty things with it, even if they are probably, maybe, just joking?

Finally, about evidence. As I said, the chief problem with evidence is the need to trust the source of the evidence. First, you need to trust the integrity of the person who presented the evidence, then you need to trust that his senses (and yours) perceived the supposed evidence correctly. So tell me, Sir Pat, would you trust Alexis Carrel's testimony about Lourdes, or would you be like Zola who dismissed a Lourdes miracle that he himself witnessed? Would you trust the testimony of the many doctors who validated the various miracle claims that lead to the canonization of many Saints in the past century? No, you won't. I think that's the end of the matter.

P.S.
Really, you need to read more about Scientology if you think their official claims are consistent. And Buddhism? Inconsistent as well, and another self-defeating religion. Sorry.

missingpoints said...

^ Exactly, so why should I trust bronze age, barely literate sheepherders who claim their tribal leader came down from a mountain with two tablets of commandments?

The thing that bothers me about religion is how the lay person can't verify anything; too much emphasis is placed on faith and trusting that the guys in charge really do have a direct line to god.

Re: verification of miracles, that depends on the methods employed. But I don't see how a series of confirmed miracles actually leads to "condoms are wrong." Just because something supernatural happened doesn't mean it was done by THE creator of the universe who happens to care what people do with their lives.

As I asked earlier why does the existence of the supernatural mean that your version of events is real?

* * *

As for the cracker, yes, you guys can give it deference. What we're complaining about is the fact that representatives of the church are asking secular authorities to harass the kid (and some of them did).

The church is not a hive mind but it does have a hierarchy. Myers juvenile behavior presented an opportunity for the Church to issue a statement castigating him for being rude and telling the faithful not to attack. They missed the chance and let rabble-rousers like Donohue take charge. What could've been a blow against atheists just served to fuel Myers's allegations against the religious. He baited you and many people bit.

* * *

For the record I actually agree with the Philippine bishops who withheld communion. It's an internal punishment for an internal lapse. But that's for another post (soon).

Francis Ocoma said...

"The church is not a hive mind but it does have a hierarchy. Myers juvenile behavior presented an opportunity for the Church to issue a statement castigating him for being rude and telling the faithful not to attack. They missed the chance and let rabble-rousers like Donohue take charge."

Yes, having smarter leaders is always good. It's too bad that the American bishops aren't as PR-savvy as we'd like. They might have reacted faster than the Catholic League (which isn't officially a representative of the Church, by the way) and averted another headache.

Donohue and his civil and religious rights organization has a very loud presence in the U.S. media, and that's something the bishops will find hard control for a reason: Being an unhelpful loudmouth (a characteristic of many activists, sadly) isn't necessarily heresy. Maybe if Donohue was a priest, the hierarchy might have more control over him.

Now, I still haven't seen the local bishop's official response to the matter, but I hear the student wants to meet with him. If that happens then hopefully the kid's issues might be resolved.

"The thing that bothers me about religion is how the lay person can't verify anything; too much emphasis is placed on faith and trusting that the guys in charge really do have a direct line to god."

That's strange, because I've never read anything about any Church leader outside of the Apostles who claimed to have a "direct line to god". The Apostles actually lived with the God-Man that we worship, so their "direct line" isn't exactly supernatural. A few might have experienced apparitions every once in a while, and we there is the limited papal infallibility, but those are hardly a "direct line" to God.

What the Church actually claims is that it follows a magisterial Tradition starting from the Apostles and continuously passed down from one generation to another. All historical evidence points to the fact that this claim is at least valid, and that this Tradition, while further developed through the centuries, has never contradicted itself. This, Sir, is quite verifiable by any lay person.

Remember, as various popes have said, in the Church, Faith is married to Reason. What is the use of all the scholarly work done by Catholic historians, theologians, and philosophers if all they really need is to blindly follow the Hive Queen (er...King)?

"As I asked earlier why does the existence of the supernatural mean that your version of events is real?"

This is another strange question. It's as if you forgot the nature of the supernatural events you are talking about. Let us take an example, say, the miracle of the Dancing Sun at Fatima. Let us for the sake of argument assume that the event is actually an optical illusion produced by the weather. The actual miracle here is as follows:

Days before the event, three ignorant children claimed that Mary had a message for the Church concerning Catholic matters, and that she would give a sign on a particular date to show that what she says is true. On that exact date, as witnessed by numerous people of various backgrounds, a probabilistically rare phenomenon inexplicably appeared in the sky.

The miracle is that a prediction was made and it actually happened. But if we accept that it really was a miracle, if we accept the supernatural origin of it, then we must also logically accept the message attached to it...and that message was an intrinsically Catholic one.

This applies to all Catholic miracles. e.g. St. Faustina's apparitions were intrinsically Catholic due to the content of received messages; all validated miracles attributed to Saints are intrinsically Catholic since they were based on the Catholic doctrine of intercession.

If an event is supernatural as well as Catholic, then it can only point to the truth of the Catholic Church (unless the universe is absurd...another theory I reject on principle.)

Of course, I don't expect you to even accept that those events were supernatural, but I hope that answers your question.

P.S.
Why do atheists keep on using the "Your Bible has part of the Jewish Scripture in it so I can bash you by bashing Judaism" card? Please, just stop it, kay? :)

Francis Ocoma said...

Heh, typos. /facepalm

missingpoints said...

"Why do atheists keep on using the Your Bible has part of the Jewish Scripture in it so I can bash you by bashing Judaism" card? Please, just stop it, kay? :)"

Because Jesus is supposedly the son of that god. Although the bashing applies more to fundamentalists and evangelicals more than Catholics.