Friday, July 24, 2009

Read my Homework

Blasphemy is now a criminal offense that carries a fine of €25,000? Christ-on-His-divine-bicycle! That’s entirely absurd! Only a complete buffoon would ignore all the decent people that the bill offends and outrages for the sake of appeasing a few crackpots!

Whilst pondering what this dangerously loose worded bill means to a loudmouthed ragamuffin like me, I thought of a happier time. It was September 2006, and I was in The Greatest Country in the World™, enjoying the first few weeks of my exchange year of college in Pittsburgh. My Study of Rhetoric professor gave the class the task of critically analysing a cultural event through the rhetorical toolkit he had spent the past few lectures explaining.

The cultural event I chose was close to my heart – the Catholic mass. The following essay is stacked with unnecessary jargon buzzwords to show the prof that I was paying attention, and some clumsy segues, but I still get a kick out of seeing what an irreligious asshat I was long before I had heard of Richard Dawkins.

Just bear in mind, any of you litigious twats, that my ample ass was covered by the first amendment when I wrote this. God bless America!

Critique #3
Eating Christ-Crackers in the 21st Century

One of the many rituals that may be considered odd to an outside observer is the manner in which the cultural group known as Catholics, near the end of their weekly prayer gathering, queue orderly to make their way towards the altar, eat a piece of wafer, sip from a golden goblet, then return to their seats for a few more moments of prayer before vacating their place of worship.

Of course, the ritual in question is the holy sacrament of the Eucharist, and Catholics are educated on this important tradition as part of their faith. Before they ingest the holy disc, the priest reminds the assembled worshippers that they are fulfilling Jesus' instructions from the Last Supper, as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible. First, the priest will read these relevant passages, and then he will administer Communion in a manner that echoes what has just been read. By indexical association, the priest 'becomes' Jesus, as he takes “the bread”, breaks it, and gives it to his “disciples”, represented by the congregation.

The Bible states how Jesus told his guests that they were eating his body and drinking his blood at the Last Supper, and the purpose of the Eucharist is to make all of mankind present at this seminal event. What this means is that the Catholic church do not believe that the bread is a symbol of Jesus' flesh, nor is the wine a symbol of his blood, but rather they somehow transform into the actual physical components of Christ, whilst retaining their original properties; a process known as transubstantiation. Interestingly, the Catholic church makes no effort to explain how the transformation occurs, but rather dictates what changes; the bread, while still looking and being in every way perceivable to the human eye as bread, becomes Christ's flesh, and the wine, while still looking and being in every way perceivable to the human eye as wine, becomes Christ's blood.

After transubstantiation has taken place, those who are eligible for communion may approach their nearest Christ-flesh vendor to consume their lord. After they are prompted with “Body of Christ”, the recipient replies “Amen”, which (whether they know it or not) is the Hebrew term for “Truly”, signifying their awareness or compliance with this theory. The bread will then be placed on the tongue, and the beneficiary will trace a cross on their body; beginning around their forehead, making their down to their mid-section, then over to the left and right shoulders. This is the act of blessing oneself, and it is an iconic allusion to the crucifix on which Jesus died while sacrificing himself for mankind, and also an indexical reference to the holy Trinity of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.

As a person who can associate with the group identity of ‘one who has worked in catering', I am aware of the basic tenets of food preparation. At the most recent mass I attended, the priest was an elderly gentleman who appeared to be suffering from a cold at the time. Several times during his sermon did he cough and splutter into his hand, even while handling the communion wafer. Many people present at that mass would normally identify themselves as being unwilling to take unnecessary risks with their health, and be horrified by what had transpired, but nobody seemed put off the holy bread by the fact that it had been handled by potentially contaminated hands. Similarly, scores of people were drinking out of the same chalice, their health concerns seemingly satiated by the slight rub the lip of the grail received in between sups; an instance of western common-sense being overruled by habit, perhaps, as it is one of the few examples of a time where strangers may share drinking utensils with one another.

It is interesting to see the ways in which these hallowed traditions alienate certain people. [Deleted] is one such person - a celiac-disease sufferer. He is unable to participate in the consumption of Christ's flesh, transubstantiation or not, as it contains gluten, like most wafers and breads. This grants him an uncommon subject position, and subsequently causes an oppositional reading of the text as it is laid out before him. If the motivation behind the Sacrament of the Eucharist being carried out in churches is for all of mankind to be 'present' at the Last Supper in some form, then why is he, a man, not allowed to participate without risking grievous harm to himself? Is his autoimmune dysfunction a sign that he is unqualified for Catholicism, and therefore will miss out on the eternal life that is offered to followers of Christ? He investigated the issue and conversed with many priests before learning, much to his amusement that only bread made with wheat is considered eligible for the rather magical-sounding transubstantiation, prompting him to cynically ask, “if a substance as unremarkable as bread can magically become Christ's body, why not something else?”

The practice of the Eucharist is such a common occurrence in so many Catholics’ lives, that they are likely to not think much about what is happening, or question why they are engaging in the act, a situation that surely works to the advantage of the church. There are few who raise cannibalistic worries when summoned to consume the body and blood of Christ. Similarly, there are few who are aware that the bread and wine they are consuming is actually the body and blood of their saviour. There are even fewer who are aware of how this process occurs. Whereas other branches of Christianity practice the ceremony of communion, they carry it out with a different set of beliefs; some believe that the bread and wine are symbolic, whereas others choose to believe that Christ is present in a different form.

As societies continue to evolve, more people begin to ask questions, and religions lose their influence over the world, one must ask, when examining archaic rituals such as the Eucharist as carried out by the Catholic Church, how much longer will these cultural groups be willing to participate in increasingly outdated traditions?


Jason said...

When you deconstruct it like that, it sounds, just for a precious moment, completely batshit insane - a primitive, superstitious ritual performed by lobotomy-glazed apes high on comforting self-delusion. Then the moment's gone, and we're back unconsciously following the strictures of institionalised superstition, in a haven of pre-packaged, easy-to-digest mythology bulwarked from the terrifying meaningless of your life as a talking, shitting, breathing, self-aggrandising monkey. Everything's gonna be ok, just keep on keeping on.
Snap out of it, bitches.

The politicians who passed the blaphemy law are puke-inducing cretins. Enforced delusions and Big-Brother style silencing are blashemous and offensive to me.
Free speech FTW.

Grayson said...

Did you just call our president a buffoon?
I mean,I'm the least patriotic guy you'd come across,but FFS, theres plenty of other nations out there to criticise the president.
Also, We get the point you're atheist.

Jason said...

I think you're right in pointing that there are plenty of other nations to criticise, and I did spew the venom pretty thick.
At the same time, that doesn't negate anything I said. When Sully writes a blog entry about some other debasement of sense in the world, I'll add my 2 cents. For now we're talking about a law which criminalises free speech.
On the bright side, it's probably unenforceable.
And I didn't say anything about the president.

Sully said...

Jason, glad you enjoyed it - I think it meanders a bit, and the end is a bit of naive wankery, but the prof did essentially say what you said, just in a more polite fashion.

Grayson, I think you'll find that I called 'our' president a 'complete buffoon', and I don't understand your comment about other nations criticising the president - if you're implying we should rally around Die Fuhrerin so as to save face with the other countries, then I know a regime you'll see eye-to-eye with.

(And yes, I did just cram both an Ad-Hitlerum and an Ad-Kim-Jong-Ilum into the mix!)

I just thought it'd be fun to get the digs in before she passes the 'Presidential Defamation Bill', ultimately ruining all the fun we can have.

Jason said...

Whoops. I somehow thought Grayson was addressing me. Wtf. My bad.