Jesus was a cracker

July 11, 2008 By: erik Category: Religion, USA 905 views

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I’ve been following this story, in utter disbelief, for a few days now. I can’t describe it any better than PZ Myers (which sounds like the name of a circus or ice cream mogul), so I give you a short clipping of his post.

There are days when it is agony to read the news, because people are so goddamned stupid. Petty and stupid. Hateful and stupid. Just plain stupid. And nothing makes them stupider than religion.

Here’s a story that will destroy your hopes for a reasonable humanity.

Webster Cook says he smuggled a Eucharist, a small bread wafer that to Catholics symbolic of the Body of Christ after a priest blesses it, out of mass, didn’t eat it as he was supposed to do, but instead walked with it.

This isn’t the stupid part yet. He walked off with a cracker that was put in his mouth, and people in the church fought with him to get it back. It is just a cracker!

Grab your jaw so it doesn’t hit the floor too hard and read this:

“We don’t know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was,” said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. “However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.”

Yes. She’s referring to not eating a cracker…as a hate crime! I highly encourage you to read the rest of this wonderfully written Monty Python sketch actual blog post here.

For exercising his free speech, PZ Myers has received death threats and his boss has received numerous requests demands for his dismissal. As a result, Dr. Myers has requested that those of us that agree with him send a very polite, rational email to President Robert Bruininks, presumably Myers’ boss, to show our support.

So I wrote him.

Dear Prof. Bruininks,

I have been following this story with Webster Cook and the cracker theft via PZ Myers’ blog. It very deeply saddens me to see such religious superstition in the 21st century. We live in a time of immense prosperity from the scientific achievements that our species has made over the past hundred years. Heck, I’m writing to you from another country and no paper is involved and delivery is instantaneous! That’s what science, testing and rejecting incorrect hypotheses, and critical thinking have given us.

If I hadn’t been so amazed, I think I would have wept when I learned that people were getting outraged over a man taking a cracker because it was thought to have magically transformed into the flesh of a man that died 2000 years ago. How can that happen? Maybe if it happened 500 years ago, I could believe it, but today? In our most sophisticated society in the richest, most educated country on the planet? Very disturbing.

I hope that you and your organization continue to support PZ Myers and his very reasonable outcry at what is happening in Florida.

Very sincerely,
Erik Rasmussen

Darn! I just realized I forgot to sign it with MHNATY! Oh well.

  • I am astounded by all of this.

  • Nice post. I admit when I saw the title in Feedreader I thought it was going to be a post about the colour of Jesus’ skin.

  • Everybody knows Jesus was a six-toed black woman.

  • aquariumdrinker

    I followed a couple of the links, but wasn’t able to get clear on what the kid’s motivation was. The community’s response is ridiculous; The community’s response is ridiculous; The community’s response is ridiculous.

    But I think it’s worth knowing whether the Jesus rustler copped the cracker knowing that it was forbidden. And it would be helpful to know whether he was acting out of some misguided belief about what was good for his soul as opposed to a desire to tweak the Christians. If the latter, then what he did was profoundly disrespectful and he deserves some censure.

    You don’t have to agree with someone’s rules to know not to flout them when you’re in their house. To put it another way, believing that religion is boloney doesn’t make you anything but an athiest. Thinking that makes it OK for you to go out of your way to kick them in the nuts makes you a total tool.

  • From one of the articles:

    Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.

    It doesn’t sound like arrogant disrespect was the prime motivating factor, but who knows if he’s telling the truth. And all accounts report that he was attempting to be discreet. It’s not like he was running around with it and waving his arms.

    What should have happened is that he should have been taken aside and told that walking around with the cracker is considered disrespectful and would he please not do that. If he resisted and walked away, he should have been told asked not to return unless he planned on following the church rules. He should not have been physically grabbed and his hands clawed at to retrieve the clutched cracker.

    Even if it was an intentional nut kick, I’m having trouble thinking of a “breaking the house rules without physically hurting anyone” parallel to something else that could be considered a hate crime.

  • Agreed – it is definitionally not even close to a hate crime. As for whether he should have been grabbed — dude, he had JESUS! But definitely everything beyond that is over the top.

  • Mary

    The story does seem absurd if you think of the Eucharist as a cracker but if you think of it instead as something sacred and meaningful than its a very different story. Imagine someone coming into your home and taking off with a photo of your grandfather. Does the person have a right to do that? Is the photo just a piece of paper? What’s the big deal? Or better yet, what if a person tries to take your wallet? Is the money inside just paper? Or does that paper have value beyond the paper because society agrees that the paper represents something else? This young man is a Catholic. He was at a Catholic Mass and he was expected to act according to Catholic beliefs. Who imposed upon whom? I don’t think there is much of a mystery here. The death threats, if any, are over the top, I agree. But the law recognizes crimes of desecration and protect religious articles against abuse. Again, no mystery.

  • Paul

    I’m having a hard time understanding the outrage. Statements like this – “Imagine if they kidnapped somebody and you make a plea for that individual to please return that loved one to the family.” – seem ridiculous, considering that what the Church wanted was for the cracker to dissolve in the man’s stomach.

    I have apparently been mistaken in my belief that the bread and wine were symbolic of the flesh and blood of Jesus. Now I understand that at least some consider that after a Priest has blessed the bread and wine, he has literally converted the molecules of the bread into human flesh and the wine has actually turned into blood. This makes Mr. Cook’s refusal to destroy the Jesus flesh somewhat sensible, if for no other reason than it might allow him to conduct his own scientific appraisal of the Church’s logic. I understand that faith is belief without proof, but it can hardly be inappropriate for people struggling personally with questions of faith to use reason and analysis to reach their own position on the issue.

  • The exact nature of that bread and wine constitutes a significant difference between Catholic beliefs and protestantism. The doctrine of transubstantiation is to me certainly one of the more wack aspects of devout Catholicism. I am no theologian, much less a Catholic one, but as I understand it the penalty for flouting this particular little detail of that particular church involves the Pope and a bunch of cardinals holding a special ceremony to declare:

    …we deprive Webster Cook himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate…

    1545, 2008, what’s the difference?

  • Thank you, Mary. It’s nice to have some dissenting opinions.

    Imagine someone coming into your home and taking off with a photo of your grandfather. Does the person have a right to do that? Is the photo just a piece of paper? WhatÂ’s the big deal?

    Yes, the photo is just paper. Is the photo my grandfather? No. If it was my only copy, that would be different, but that’s not relevant to the discussion. The proper application of your analogy would be if I had 1000 copies of the photo of my grandfather in a box and I was passing them out to some friends to be looked at and returned, and someone didn’t hand it back to me but ran off with the copy. The behavior would be rude, and I might mutter “What a jerk!” to someone beside me, but I would not grab him by the arm and try to wrestle it back and then denounce his actions publicly.

    Or better yet, what if a person tries to take your wallet? Is the money inside just paper? Or does that paper have value beyond the paper because society agrees that the paper represents something else?

    This is another bad analogy. Money itself is worth nothing. It’s only useful as a way to trade between things with actual value. If having the cracker gave the thief the power to obtain something he valued in exchange for giving up the cracker, then your analogy would work. But it doesn’t.

    The value that Catholics place on the cracker has nothing to do with sentimental feelings for a loved one like my grandfather nor because they can exchange it for goods and services. The value comes from belief that the cracker had magically transformed into the flesh of a dead human being from two millennia ago.

    An equivalent analogy in my mind would be the following:

    Bob, an adult babysitter, is playing with a 4-year-old having an imaginary meal with a tea set. The 4-year-old explains that she’s brewed a special tea with fairy wings, frog tongues, and troll hair, which has magically turned clear. She goes on to explain that the tea is very special, and that if even one small drop is spilled, a thousand fairies will die. She’s very serious about this. She pours some water into your cup and expects you to drink it. But this kid’s been annoying Bob all day and, in an act of cruelty he mockingly says, “Is this really fairy wings? I don’t see them,” and he pours some of the water onto his hand and some drops fall on the floor. The little girl begins to cry.

    Was that a mean thing to do? Sure. Would it have been more polite to respect the water as if it contained fairy wings and troll hair? Sure. Was a ridiculous known-to-be-false belief ridiculed? Definitely. Does Bob deserve any punishment? No, not really.

    That’s how ridiculous this notion of transubstantiation seems to the rest of us, Mary.

  • aquariumdrinker

    I don’t know, I kind of like transubstantiation, and it points to some of the larger aspects of the Catholic church that make me think — you know what, if I were a christian? I’d be a Catholic I would. If you’re going to believe, go whole hog.

    Take Protestants, on the other hand. Like Catholics, they believe that some jew hippy 2,000 years ago was able to absolve them of their sins by dying on the cross. But unlike the Catholics, they’re unable to carry it on through to its conclusion. I’m familiar with a kind of snobbery in Pretestant talk about transubstantiation that boils down to: “Well, I guess we’re all brothers in sisters in the fraternity of those saved by the magical cosmic zombie, but the Catholics certainly have some silly beliefs!”

    Not Catholicism. I’m going to write to their PR department and suggest the motto “Balls to the Wall Religion”.

    That’s why the photo-of-your-grandfather analogy is a fine one for Mary’s purposes. To a chapel full of papists on communion Sunday, the wafer to each parishioner is a photo of his or her grandfather, not a photo of Erik’s grandfather. Because it’s magic, that’s why. Your poopaw’s picture is one man’s connection to an intangible value, and each wafer is the same. And to ask the question “well, still, why can’t he take it out of the church” is to engage in a kind of disingenuous blindness that is willing to allow the magic to make the wafer special but not to set rules about that specialness.

    I just deleted a bunch of stuff about Sí¸ren Kierkegaard, but basically, he’s awesome.

    Internal sense vs. external sense is what I’m all about. You can’t ask a group to justify its behavior without resorting to its fundamental tenets. (At least, not without invoking some other, supposedly more important shared tenets.) It simply isn’t nice.

  • aquariumdrinker

    I just re-read sgazzetti’s comment and understood it (which is different from when I read it and didn’t understand it). And I think he’s on to something. Almost exactly twice the age of the United States ago, the rules were the same. It’s not like a certain amount of behavior that would look like overreaction to outsiders should come as a surprise.

    Can we get some threaded comments up in this piece?

  • Balls to the Wall religion.

    I also think that (assuming this young man’s motivations were as he said) there’s not only no crime here but also no disrespect or rudeness.

  • And another thing: How exhausting must it be to be a Catholic? Even if you aren’t thoroughly devout it sure seems like there are a lot of rules to follow and rituals to observe and an extensive list of things to avoid. It hardly seems like there is time left over to even think.


  • aquariumdrinker

    I find not believing to be more difficult than believing appears to be. More rules means less thinking, and thinking (if you’re doing it right) takes some time and effort.

  • Pizzy

    jane – I disagree with your comments about the rules of Catholicism preventing people from thinking. I think you’ve probably heard this quote: “Most people can’t think, most of the remainder won’t think, the small fraction who do think mostly can’t do it very well.” – R.Heinlein. This applies to both the religious and the atheists. I’ve met atheists who say “there is no god” and that’s it, discussion over, one of the most influential topics in human history tossed aside. And on the other hand, yes, Catholicism has plenty of rules, but it doesn’t seem to prevent the Catholic members of my family from thinking clearly. While we are at it – programming has a lot of rules, too, and yet Erik is a very skilled, yet creative programmer. Does this analogy fit?

  • Pizzy

    I just watched the video and have little sympathy for the kid. Really, he went with his Catholic friend and his friend didn’t tell him that he shouldn’t take the f’in eucharist from church? I cannot imagine that didn’t come up. He sounds like a douchebag just looking to make trouble and great quote too – “I thought Jesus was a pacifist.” Well, damn, that’ll win an angry mob of people over. Guess what, people have been assholes, are assholes, and will always be assholes and if you mess with things they put a lot of value on (which is the human prerogative) then you are gonna get some heat. I mean the kid who put a little spray paint on some concrete in Singapore – he got caned. Guess we can blame religion for that too? And I don’t want to give the wrong impression – I’m against anything that creates the mob mentality and for anything that encourages thinking for oneself. Hate crimes are stupid and the Catholic church is just trying to take advantage of the system that has been created, which is no credit to them.

  • Pizzy! Welcome.

    I’ve met atheists who say “there is no god” and that’s it, discussion over, one of the most influential topics in human history tossed aside.

    Those of us atheists that have thought and read a lot about this topic have the winning arguments against most of the talking points. For instance, the winning response to this is line of discussion is: We are all atheists about some gods. How much reflective thought have you put into whether or not Thor or Athena really exist? Millions of people throughout history have believed that these gods were 100% real and affected human lives. Have you questioned or prayed to them to see if they exist? No, of course not. Those believers were clearly delusional and more thought need not be applied. As Dawkins says, “We are all atheists about most gods. Some of us just go one god further.”

    While we are at it – programming has a lot of rules, too, and yet Erik is a very skilled, yet creative programmer. Does this analogy fit?

    Thank you. And no, the analogy doesn’t really fit. Any good programmer understands why the rules are as they are. I understand, more or less, all the way down to the 1’s and 0’s represented by the transistors in the chip how the system is functioning. When my logical mind starts to ask these questions of Religion, the answers very quickly get sketchy and circular.

    The Singapore caning analogy is a pretty good one, I think. An insensitive clod does something mean where he should have known better and gets way more punishment than he really deserved. The correct response, it seems to me, is, “Yes, he was being a jackass, but the archaic system that punished him is worse and should be corrected.”

    This is a great comment thread, everybody. Aquariumdrinker, I agree that the lack of properly threaded comments is a major problem with both WordPress and Flickr. I’ll see if there’s a solution out there that doesn’t require hosting the comments on a 3rd party server.

  • “Cook is upset more than $40,000 in student fees have been allocated to support religious organizations on campus for the 2008-2009 school year, according to student government records. He denied he is holding the Eucharist hostage to protest that support.”

    This is my first visit to the blog, (I found it looking for pictures of the San Fermin Festival).

    Frankly, I believe Cook got exactly what he was seeking, in the form of media coverage for his protest against monetary support on campus for religious organizations.

    As for the strong opinions against transubstantiation and the Catholic Church, it seems somewhat incongruous of Erik, who otherwise seems to feature himself a man of the world and tolerant of other cultures and customs.

    How is it that one can seem to respect the tradition and culture of the bullring and condemn the tradition and culture of one of the oldest churches in existence today, and not be an hypocrite?

  • Actually, Erik is famously intolerant. My wife knows him from high school, and tells the story of the time Erik founded the LLL, which hates all the stuff the KKK hates, but also hates the KKK too. (This seemed like quite a coup in hate escalation circles until 3M filed for a patent on spray-on industrial xenophobia.)

    Joking aside, Erik has been pretty straightforward and consistent as a crusader against woo. (I say this as someone who usually ends up disagreeing with him on these issues.)

  • If only they hadn’t filed their lawsuit against us in the form of 14 Post-It™ notes on my office door at LLL Headquarters. That’s what really stung.

    To answer John’s question, I draw my line very clearly between culture and traditions and the voodoo-fairy-magic-dragon-dust stuff that people feel the need to believe in. I don’t think it’s hypocritical to enjoy hearing a Native American explain about how his tribe has historically done a dance every spring that they believe causes rain to fall, and even take a class to learn the dance and participate for the fun of it, but still think that the belief that it will actually affect precipitation is a big pile of steaming delusion.

    As I mentioned above with Thor and Athena, the best way to understand how an atheist feels about your religion is to examine very closely how you feel about other religions.

    P.S. I love that John’s website has an ad that reads “Buy a gun and get a free beverage glass!” Awesome.

  • And don’t forget that ladies get free gun rentals every Thursday evening.

    Please don’t assume I am Catholic, as I am a recovering Catholic, having spent most of my childhood in Catholic Schools, was an alterboy, and graduated from a Catholic College. I can best be described as a pagan now, much aligned with Dante’s Limbo dwellers, e.g, Virgil, Plato, etc.

    I just wanted to make certain that selective bigotry was okay on this blog, and as long as the targets are primarily caucasian, it is okay to hate them and their customs/beliefs. I am now clear on the rules, thanks.

  • Yes, our bigotry here is selective. We only criticize things that aren’t true or don’t exist.

    I’m not sure where you got the word “hate” from, since I’m pretty sure I’ve never displayed that emotion here, certainly not directed at any human or set of humans. If you could provide an example, I’d be happy to reword it to avoid offense.

  • Nevermind, Erik. I have obviously misinterpreted your comments. Sorry to have questioned your sagacity.

    The world will be a much better place when the rest of us can finally figure out the “things that arenÂ’t true or donÂ’t exist” the way you have.