The Journal of Applied Impossibility
...OR, How P.Z. Meyers Changed My Mind
In July 2008 (This is a controversy to which I am terribly late)*, P.Z. Myers posted to his blog the following photograph:
About this, he had the following to say:
I know some of you have proposed intricate plans for how to do horrible things to these crackers, but I repeat…it’s just a cracker. I wasn’t going to make any major investment of time, money, or effort in treating these dabs of unpleasantness as they deserve, because all they deserve is casual disposal. However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffee grounds and a banana peel. My apologies to those who hoped for more, but the worst I can do is show my unconcerned contempt.
I originally thought to write about this in such a way as to conceal my personal thoughts about the matter. This sort of affectation in one’s writing has come to be called “objective”, but if we are to speak honestly it would be better called “dispassionate”. These are not the same, and deep down, no one believes they are. To write as though one does not care about important matters is not “objective” but disingenuous. To act as though we do not pity the pitiable, or hold in contempt that which is worthy of our contempt, not to ridicule the ridiculous is to pretend as though we are neutral about the truth. Myers himself said something most brilliant on this matter:
“The word for people who are neutral about truth is ‘liars’.”
I cannot be dispassionate. But I will strive to be objective; that is to speak what is true, and what must be true regardless of who does or does not believe it.
The “crackers” in question are communion wafers. Some Christians believe that, once consecrated, they embody the real presence of God by means of a process called “transubstantiation” and that once this happens, they ought to be treated with the reverence appropriate to God.
I find it hard to believe any of this. It seems vastly implausible, and full of “hocus pocus” (the etymology of these magic words pertains to the eucharist). In truth, I never did believe in it, and I always thought it was trivial nonsense -- until Meyers did this. I’m sure he did not mean to do so, but P.Z. Meyers convinced me of just how important the belief in real presence is. The LORD works in mysterious ways, I suppose.
I would like to make the case that even those who do not believe in this doctrine -- perhaps especially those who do not believe in it -- should care, and care deeply about what professor Meyers did, and that those whom this upset should perhaps care for different reasons. You don’t even need to read Aristotle’s Physics, or believe in transubstantiation to care. But you should care.†
First, you should know that while people may be upset about Meyers driving a nail through the consecrated host, no one thinks that it is terribly original. Driving a nail into the body of Christ is a two-thousand-year-old hat. It’s nearly as old as the words “this is my body...this is my blood…” -- by some accounts, it’s only off by a day.
Lest anyone forget, Christ was doubted, misunderstood, doubted, betrayed, doubted, unappreciated, doubted, denied, denied, denied, doubted, unrecognized, doubted, persecuted, doubted, misunderstood, and doubted some more. But that’s enough about His Disciples. He was also born under a political regime that engaged in mass infanticide in an attempt to murder him. He was beaten and mocked and executed and stabbed. Dead. The latest tetanus booster is the least of Jesus’ worries. The important point is that no one should be surprised by what professor Myers did -- especially those who acknowledge the real presence of God in the host. The treatment of the body of Christ with “unconcerned contempt” as though worthy of “casual disposal” is precisely the act that the eucharist commemorates. There is nothing clever or original about this act at all. It’s in the book! There is nothing new under the sun.
Myers doesn’t believe any of this. Neither did the people who did it the first time around, and so Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” -- words that are nearly as old as that first set of nails. So it’s important to remember: not only is what Myers did to the body of Christ terribly unoriginal, it is one of the things that Christ very explicitly wanted forgiven. But I’m guessing that Myers does not believe that he can be forgiven for these acts. Indeed, I don’t see how he could believe that this act can be forgiven, because he does not believe that what he did matters. That is the belief I would like to challenge.
We believers may be inclined to think that the truly terrible thing about what Myers did is that he did this to God. But remember that Myers “says in his heart, ‘there is no God’.” And with such a belief, he could not possibly see how it could matter to God. If this is the case, Myers knows not what he does... The God in whom I believe has already suffered as much and worse at the hands of greater men than professor Myers, and has forgiven them. But this will never be enough to persuade the unbeliever that this matters. Perhaps a different story might be enough. This is true.
When I was ten, I had a fight with my mother. I slammed the door and shouted, “I HATE you. I’m glad you have cancer. I hope you die!” Then, when I was eleven, she did.
Today, a parent myself, I’m pretty sure that hurt her more than I can imagine. Those of us who believe in the real presence think that Myers has done something very much like this (perhaps worse) to Christ.
Of course, if I somehow didn’t actually have a mother, or didn’t believe that I did, or if I could have convinced myself that these words didn’t really mean anything to anyone, I imagine that having said such a thing would not bother my conscience a bit. It would be like a “your mom” joke. Not the nicest thing you could say, but really intended more as an insult (to someone who probably deserved it) than as something to be taken seriously. Like this: “I pierced your mom with a rusty nail and threw a banana on her!”
See? Good clean fun.
...Only not so fun. Not so clean. Not so good. Most people would be very upset if someone told this kind of joke to someone who lost their mother to cancer. It’s not okay to say that sort of thing. If you didn’t believe that his mother died when he was eleven, you might not think that saying something like this would be disrespectful to her. But it’s obvious that it is disrespectful to the person you’re talking to.
The truly terrible thing about Myers’ action is not that he did something repugnant to God, in whom he does not believe, but that he did something hateful to his neighbor, in whom he certainly believes. The American Humanist Association named him “humanist of the year” in 2009. The AHA claims to be doing “good without God”, but I cannot see how doing something hateful to one’s fellow humans, and doing it because it is hateful to them, can be justified as “good” on any grounds. If the humanists tolerate, and even honor men who behave this way, they are betraying their lack of compassion toward their neighbors, their lack of compassion or empathy for others, and a bold, brazen meanness. These are, of course the symptoms of a psychopath.
But the thing which terrifies me is not whatever Myers did. What terrifies me is my own reaction to this. I am sorely tempted to hate not the sin but the sinner. I am tempted to see not my neighbor who knows not what he does -- and to whom Christ offers His mercy, but an enemy whom I may hate without pangs of conscience.
* I'm even later than when I wrote this (September 10, 2015). See:
† Also, you should read the Physics! It's important!
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