Back in 1968 or so, Catholic and Lutheran theologians got together to discuss the religious rite of communion in which Christian believers are invited to gather at the altar to partake in the bread and wine. The ceremony is conducted in keeping with a practice established during what the Christian faith calls the Last Supper.
Both Lutherans and Catholics at the time agreed that the Eucharist, as communion is called, means that Christ is literally “present wholly and entirely, in his body and blood, under the signs of bread and wine.”
So far, so food. Symbolic acts of faith are a big part of religious tradition and ritual. You gotta take this stuff seriously or it doesn’t mean a thing.
But Catholics took the meaning of the Eucharist ritual a bit farther, and a whole lot more literally. They confabulated the term “transubstantiation” to describe the religious “fact” that the wine and bread served during communion is literally changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ.
Whoa. By that definition, Christians literally become cannibals when they eat the bread (the body) and drink the wine (or blood) of Christ. Isn’t that against the law?
Yes, it is. Which means that transubstantiation is all a bit of hocus pocus in which the wine and bread remain the same in substance, appearance, taste and smell. But still, according to the Catholic definition of transubstantiation, you’re literally eating Jesus when you ingest the bread and wine.
Oh, that’s all overblown you might think. Catholics don’t really believe that. Yet there are plenty of churches that require that no bread or wine be tossed down the sink or into the trash. People literally serve the role of eating the remainder of the bread as surrogate cannibals. The wine is consumer too, or else poured down a designated spot and back to the earth as a kind of faux burial.
This raises some really strange questions, such as: Does wine used in a service and discarded down a well to the earth need to be resurrected to be present at the next serving of communion?
See, the interpretation of religious beliefs is inconsistent and, when taken literally, often a bizarre, macabre mix of hookum spookum designed to scare people into behaviors deemed important by those in control of the religious narrative.
Jesus had a lot of problems with that kid of mind control. He fought the religious leaders of his day for setting up rituals in which people essentially were forced to buy sacrificial critters in order to earn the good graces of the church. Later on in history some branches of the Catholic Church started little “pay for play” scam to pay for things the church wanted to do. In other words, there is no such thing as a standard system by which Christianity has always behaved.
Of course the big issue in America right now is whether the government is impinging on religious liberty by creating laws that require people with certain religious beliefs to carry out functions that they see as contradictory to their personal value system. The idea of being required to create a wedding cake for a gay couple is, for example, anathema to certain breeds of so-called Christian believers.
But we could just as easily turn around and condemn the practices and belief systems of many Christians to be abhorrent according to common law. The idea that Christians are wantonly and avidly conducting cannibalism by eating the actual and real body of Christ?That’s disgusting. And who is to say, if we socially abide that belief, that someone could not form a faith around actual cannibalism under the claim that their religious beliefs are being impinged by a government that discourages eating other people?
Trumping religious prejudice
In all cases, protection of personal liberties under the banner or the United States Constitution is the first and foremost responsibility of the government. The nation has blocked religious practices such as polygamy on grounds that it is immoral under common law. Yet the nation has moved to protect the rights of gays to marry or create civil unions, also under common law. The fact that certain religious “liberties” are impinged by the spectrum of these decisions is in essence immaterial. Laws are established based on a common understanding of individual rights.
Some people might go their deathbeds claiming that they ate the real Jesus during Catholic Communion. We protect the right to believe that. But we don’t protect the right to impose that believe on all other citizens. That is freedom from religion. It is equally guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
Hard for some to grasp
It’s hard for some people to grasp the difference between being free to believe what you want and not being free to impose those religious beliefs indiscriminately because it inconveniences your worldview to serve a gay person, a black person, a woman, or Mexican or Muslim. All those choices to refuse service are discriminatory. We can’t run a civil society if a vigilante panoply of religious belief systems is engaged as the law of the land.
What’s really eating Jesus these days is the lack of understanding among people who speak on his behalf that it is not the law of the faith that matters, but the love. Because that’s what lacking in Indiana and other states committed to prejudicial faith as a matter of practice. It’s not about Christianity at all. It’s about selfish fears and hollow pride in controlling the social narrative.
And to that Jesus might just say, “Eat me.” Now that’s a truly liberating thought.