« Previous | Main | Next »

PZ Myers's host desecration

Post categories:

William Crawley | 19:09 UK time, Friday, 22 August 2008

Pzm_london_lg.jpgThis is in some ways a bizarre story. To say the least. A university professor has outraged Catholics across the United States by calling on the public to send him consecrated communion wafers -- which he plans to desecrate. The professor is PZ Myers, who teaches biology at the University of Minnesota Morris.

This is the same professor who was, last March, excluded from a screening of Ben Stein's film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed at a Mall in Minneapolis. Oddly enough, Dr Myers's guest that evening was permitted to view the film -- none other than the anti-Creationist campaigner Richard Dawkins, who susequently interviewed Myers about the incident.

Last month, Professor Myers announced on his blog that he was planning to desecrate communion wafers in protest at calls from America's Catholic League president Bill Donohue that a university student in Florida should face expulsion for removing a consecrated wafer from a Catholic mass at his college.

The student's behaviour angered many Catholics when it was made public in June. But Professor Myers says he was provoked by the incident into a response which has angered even more people. I interviewed PZ Myers this afternoon, and you can hear his account of this curious episode on Sunday morning. He explains that he is committing acts which some will regard as sacrilege as a protest against what he believes is an attack on free speech -- and as a gesture of opposition to religious ideas which he dismisses as 'silly'.

Plainly many of our listeners will find even Professor Myers's descriptions of his acts of desecration deeply offensive. When I put that point to the professor he was undeterred. He believes the debate that has followed his actions across the United States -- about the limits of free speech and the right of individiuals to perform acts regarded by others as 'offensive' -- has justified his decision to act as he has done. He also confirms that he has received some death threats as a consequence of that decision.


Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

    PZ Myers' pharyngula blog is regular read for me. It's not such a high-volume blog for no reason, he always puts things in refreshingly clear language. The title of the post that started 'Crackergate' (as it has become know) says it all:



    For a picture of the cracker with a rusty nail put through it, resting among other refuse, see


    Myers' comment to accompany the picture:
    I hope Jesus's tetanus shots are up to date

    On a more serious note, Myers' entry about The Great Desecration notes how lunacy about those crackers has in the past been a reason for extensive bloodshed by Catholics. From the death threats against Myers it seems the thinking of some Catholics hasn't progressed a lot since the Dark Ages.

  • Comment number 2.

    I've posted on this idiotic action elsewhere - I believe on the "Pornography without Sex" thread.

    Yes, obviously a belief in the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist inevitably leads to violence. Just like religion makes you dumb.

    G Veale

  • Comment number 3.

    Oh, and thanks for another wonderful link PK. I've always wanted to see a wafer smeared in coffee beans.

    I believe the Tate modern has expressed an interest in the original.


  • Comment number 4.

    Well done, Will! PZ is a superb chap, and I hope that the regular readers here will make frequent visits to his blog.


    It's excellent.

  • Comment number 5.

    Graham, I think the point was that the belief in the physical presence of "christ" in the eucharist is utter nonsense, and the "offence" claimed by many adherents to this ludicrous myth (biblically ludicrous, indeed, as I'm sure PTL and PB will confirm for us) is very very well deserved. Maybe it'll make some of them *think*.


  • Comment number 6.

    I made a post on this topic in response to Graham and would reiterate my point - it is often dramatic offensive actions which capture the attention and the imagination and which consequently make us think.

    It is easy to ignore polite discourse - much harder to walk away from an in-your-face assault. Myers actions, like the wonderful 'Jesus was a fag' poster, transcend their origins and take on an iconic significance which expands and enhances our knowledge of Christ.

  • Comment number 7.

  • Comment number 8.

    There is really no justification for this professor's behaviour. He has made himself look foolish and he had offended (unnecessarily) many sincer Catholic believers. I can't understand what he hopes to gain except the publicity and name recognition. He is trying to become a big name like Dawkins with this behaviour. Childish attention-seeking.

  • Comment number 9.

    This man Myers is a disgrace to his profession as an educator. I am getting really tired of this new breed of arrogant atheists who slag off everyone else's worldview as silly and pour scorn on the lives of sincere people. How many atheists have changed the world as positively as Christians? Just look at the 20th century alone: Martin Luther King, Mother theresa, the founders of Oxfam, the red cross, opening hospitals across the world, fighting diseases like TB and HIV ... and on and on and on. Who's really silly?

  • Comment number 10.

    It seems to me a lot of people in NI don't understand or agree with the principle of freedom of speech, one of the pillars of democracy. That is hardly surprising given its 400 year history. The alternative is to return to the 10th century when heretics were burned at the stake. No need to wish for a time machine to live in that kind of world. Just convert to Islam and buy a plane ticket to Pakistan or Iran where you'll be perfectly happy.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hello jovialPTL,

    Sorry, but you've just made one of the classic believers mistakes: using the actions of believers to argue for the validity of their world view. Just because people have done good things because of their beliefs, doesn't make those beliefs true and exempt from criticism by people like Myers.

  • Comment number 12.

    The actions of Bill Donahue and the Catholic League in this matter need to be questioned. The Center for Inquiry issued a statement in support of Prof. Myers
    "Regrettably, many individuals have chosen to threaten to take a vigilante approach to this controversy in an entirely inappropriate and criminal manner, subjecting Webster Cook, P.Z. Myers, and their families to threats of violence. These actions are a blatant affront to our common human dignity. Threats of death and violence, beyond being inarguably dangerous, are an affront to the reputation of your faith tradition and your own organization"

  • Comment number 13.

    For once we are in total agreement.
    I don't believe in the physical presence of Christ in the Host. However, using silly and vulgar insults doesn't advance the case against one iota. They have been tried before, by Protestants during the Reformation. Debasing anothers belief is not likely to convince them of their falsity.
    I missed Portwyne's reply; if you can help me find it I'd appreciate it Portwyne. But in any case I cannot discourse with Myer's at all. He has not presented any argument.
    Furthermore, subversives of Myer's ilk are entirely parasitic. To quote the great philosopher Georeg Lucas "You can learn from cynicism; you can't build on it."
    Myers mocks traditional beliefs in the sacred - (yet every society has some concept of evil and the sacrosanct). But what would he replace it with? The command - "Question everything." Deep. And self refuting. Should I question the mantra "question everything"? In any case if he takes this mantra seriously all Myers can do is watch others try to sift the good from the evil, and mock their efforts.
    And on this note, can I just mention that H, Brian, Marc and others can be very forthright in their criticisms. They can pull my leg (H and Marc) or make incisive comments (Brian). Yet never once have I felt that they have shown anything less than total respect to me as a believer - that is as a human being. I would not accuse them of polite discourse - but they are a world away from Myer's antics. For this reason, I find them impossible to ignore.

    G Veale

  • Comment number 14.

    Sorry - that philosopher was GEORGE Lucas. You know - Star Wars? Really deep thinker, our George.

  • Comment number 15.

    In response to the comment about free speech. yes, this guy has the freedom to do what he wants and I would be the first to defend his right to do so. That's not the point. I am not arguing for the criminalisation of his behaviour. I am arguing that he doesnt need to exercise that freedom in this way, and his decision to do so merely brings shame on himself.

  • Comment number 16.

    Again, I agree with Augustine. I don't believe his actions should be criminalised - there are moral actions that legislation cannot arbitrate. Either Myers was merely rude, or incomprehensibly evil. How can the Judiciary decide?

    Besides, as I've said elsewhere, it's best to limit the power of the State in these areas.
    At the moment some posters are rallying to Myer's defence. I wonder if their attitude would have been the same if a Fundamentalist Protestant in Ulster, or a member of the British National Party had peformed exactly the same actions as Myers?


  • Comment number 17.

    So here's the thing I'm wondering; is PZ (and I presume that's Pee Zee and not Pee Zed) Myers an atheist or a fundamentalist, and bigoted (is there any other kind), Protestant in the IRKPee mould? I mean criticising the Roman Catholic host is bigotry, isn't it; it most certainly was when I was growing up, and I was warned against it on a number of occasions. (well done mum and dad!)

    I mean, it's not that I'm advocating bigotry or anything but if PZ says it, it's fair game, go on old chap and well done my man, high fives all round; but if a bigoted fundamentalist says it, see religion, bad for you, brings out the worst in people, inciting hatred and violence and... so maybe the first thing some of the 'stick another nail in the host' lobby might like to answer is, is it bigotry or is it free speech?

    For my part I really don't find it offensive... at all. Maybe that's because I'm not a Roman Catholic, and so I've been trying to think of an equally offensive Protestant equivalent; bible burning perhaps, using the pages for roll ups (it would probably be cheaper than 'Rizla'), maybe standing up during a communion service and cursing and swearing and calling God all sorts of names, possibly kicking the moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Bishop Brennan like, up the arse, but I'm not sure if, given the lack of emphasis Protestants place on sacred objects, the examples carry the same 'offence' weight, and I'm still not convinced I'd be offended anyway.

    So PZ put a rusty nail through a holy object, that was original, wasn't it; I mean crucifying Jesus, cripes, gosh and golly, creative man, wherever did he get that idea, maybe he had a hand in the crucified Kermit in a town in Italy thing too.

    The trouble with atheists is that they don't really know how to do blasphemy all that well, it's a bit like atheists and doubt, they can't do that either. (you don't really expect non-believers to live by the 'question everything' mantra Graham, do you? My goodness, if they did that they'd have to question themselves and we wouldn't want anything as risky as that, would we.)

    Professing christians are much, much better at blasphemy. Most of the guys on the religious channels are good at it, flogging miracle water and prayer cloths and the presence of god in 3CD box sets and ripping vulnerable people off with 'spiritual' investments (which is really only conning people out of their money by another name). And then there's Protestants and Catholics knocking the tar out of each other, and shouting 'my god's better than your god' insults at one another, our grubby little war wasn't the first 30 (or so) years war in Europe. And then there's the rest of us, with our weekly promises of sincerity and religious integrity.

    PZ, please accept my thanks for your metaphor; you put a nail through the God of Heaven and Earth, which is exactly the sort of thing he would have us remember.

    Pee Zee, Pee Zee, Pee Zee, Pee Zee, Pee Zee, Pee Zee, Pee Zee..............

  • Comment number 18.

    Peter - this is dangerous - I think I broadly agree with you once again! Your two penultimate paragraphs makes the point I have been arguing exactly.

    Graham the post to which you asked me to direct you is to be found in 'The prophet and his 86 wives' thread.

  • Comment number 19.

    Augustine_of_Clippo #15

    "In response to the comment about free speech. yes, this guy has the freedom to do what he wants and I would be the first to defend his right to do so. That's not the point. I am not arguing for the criminalisation of his behaviour. I am arguing that he doesnt need to exercise that freedom in this way, and his decision to do so merely brings shame on himself."

    Oh contraire, he does need to exercise free speech and he must. Freedom of speech only needs defending when it is at its most offensive. That is when it is tested. You also confuse what he can say and what he can do. He cannot do whatever he wants. That is why we have freedom of speech but limit freedom of action. And even freedom of speech is limited. You cannot shout fire in a crowded theater in the US. You cannot advocate the violent overthrow of the United States government. But you can say whatever you wish about groups no matter how hateful it is. You can talk about religions, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations or any other thing which distinguishes them such as the color of their eyes or hair. What you cannot do is directly incite people to commit crimes against them. The test to prove that you have is a very difficult one for prosecutors to meet and this is correct or we would suffer down the sippery slope of censorship.

    As for shame, that seems to be an archaic concept in American culture. Watch American television on any given day and you will see people openly talking about doing and having done things which once would have been far too embarrassing for most people to speak about even in private. We no longer have shame. But we do have laws. And we have contrition. I don't know if confession will give absolution to a Catholic Priest who sexually mollests children or to the Monsegnieur who helped shield him from discovery and criminal prosecution but that is one place I know contrition does not seem to carry much weight in the public eye.

  • Comment number 20.

    Interesting posts so far. Now that we've broadcast the interview, has anyone reason to reconsider their initial response to PZ Myers's host desecration?

  • Comment number 21.

    I listened this morning and thought it was a very interesting discussion. As an ex-Catholic, I understand the importance of the consecrated host in that religion. However, As PZ makes clear, that is but a belief, an idea. Ideas must be held up for free discussion. I doubt if PZ would have taken this step had the US student not come under fire for what was considered to be inappropriate actions.

    I enjoyed his response to William's question about desecrating a photo. It illustrated well that no one has the right to tell everyone, even those who do not share their beliefs, how they must act.

    I no longer believe that Christ is present in the communion wafer. And while I wouldn't mess about with one when I go to Mass for a wedding or funeral, it is obviously silly to expect me to treat it with huge amounts of respect.

  • Comment number 22.

    Ref: PZ Myer's 24.8.08.
    Value Judgements
    I suggest that the comments should prompt a reexamination of PZ Myer's value base. The role of any academic is to add to our existing knowledge base not to desecrate. The comments betray a lack of respect for the many individuals who wish to receive communion.
    Beannachtaí Dia libh.
    A deBrún

  • Comment number 23.

    Transubstanciation is of course one of the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. All Protestant denominations see the communion service (the equivelent of mass) as merely a remembrance service (i.e. "this do in remembrence of me" is written at the foot of many communionm rails).

    Like the YEC debate, it's all to do with the interpretation of the bible and which parts are literal (or not)

  • Comment number 24.

    Just a point on the issue of remembrance raised by Peterjhenderson. In fact, Protestant theology is historically divided over the meaning of communion too. The Zwinglian tradition regards the eucharist as simply a memorial act; but there are at least two other positions held within historic Protestantism: consubstantiation (the view that the substance of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the elements of brad and wine), and 'real presence' theology (which holds that Jesus Christ is really present in communion, which is not seen as a merely symbolic or memorial act). Real presence theology remains the official position of, for example, many contemporary Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

  • Comment number 25.

    Peter Henderson, I find myself agreeing with William Crawley here, which is a rarity in itself. Not all Protestant churches hold the view that communion is simply a memorial. For example historical Anglicanism, Presbyterianism as represented by, the Irish Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland. These churches all believe according to their confessional documents that Christ is really present in communion. This view is basically the same view that Calvin held.

    It is churches of a more fundamentalist nature that hold the memorial view of communion.

    David Agnew

  • Comment number 26.

    The "Real Presence" surely means that Jesus is "there", not that he is present in the brad (sic) and the angelina (not sic), no?

    Either way, PZ (I think he likes being called "Pee-Zed" when he's this side of the pond) has performed a very useful public service, and should be thanked for it.

    SecretParaclete, you have it entirely wrong. Many protestants, for instance, had no idea that catholics thought that transubstantiation meant the *actual* b+b of JC became one with the host. It is also highly revealing to see the rabid slavering response of some commentators to PZ's little experiment (or indeed in the original attacks on Webster Cook).

    The bottom line is this: why should we respect something that is stupid, simply because it is claimed as a "religious belief"? *IF* there is a god (which is highly doubtful), it is big enough to look after itself, without the modern Sanhedrin getting "offended" on its behalf. Even if, and I want to make this perfectly clear, even if they DO say Jehovah.

  • Comment number 27.

    David, William: Surely they still hold that the bread and wine are symbolic ?

    Not being a Roman Catholic I admit that I may be somewhat ignorant about what a majority of Roman Catholics do actually believe on this subject.

    I was brought up in the Methodist church (although I am now a member of the Presbyterian church in Ireland) and it was at that church I saw the words "this do in remembrence of me" at the foot of the communion rail.

    Certainly in any of the talks on Roman Catholic doctrine that I've attended (the late Jim McCormick and the Breda centre for example) the issue of transubstanciation by Roman Catholics has been held in some ridicule by certain sections of the Protestant church.

  • Comment number 28.


    Yes, if there was a God (which is as probable to me as your existence) he would be big enough to look after himself; the clue would be in the 'God' bit.

    Then you say, "Even if, and I want to make this perfectly clear, even if they DO say Jehovah."

    Perfectly clear? Maybe you could run this 'Jehovah' comment by me again.

    I mean are you trying to say that it's all stupid even if the possible 'it' god is called 'Jehovah'?

    You mean religion is stupid even if it's the christian religion?

    You're saying the christian religion is stupid - is that it?

    I mean, are you trying to say Jesus was stupid? If you are, why don't you just say it?

    Are you trying to convince yourself you've really lost your faith?

    Just curious.

    Oh and BTW was it free speech or bigotry?

    William, you ask if anyone, having heard the broadcast, has changed their initial opinion. I for one have not.

    PZ's stunt, sorry, deep and meaningful demonstration of free speech and provocation of debate, is sort of pathetic. I mean, grown man, sits in his office, makes a point, puts it in the bin, takes a photo, shows it to a few of his mates, hi mum, look what I've done, puts it on his blog... dare ya dare ya, had a giggle, snigger, snigger.... big deal. Yawn Yawn!

    So he gets remembered for a picture of a dustbin. Great.

    Go on PZ, smoke a bible - we're worried.

  • Comment number 29.

    Did I change my mind because of the interview? Not much, as Myers actions (or his own assessment of them) weren't so much the point to me in the first place.

    Myers actions by themselves didn't amount to all that much. It was some Catholics that made the point for him with their response. The point that in the 21st century, religion still inspires a level of lunacy that should worry anyone, both believers and non-believers. It's a sad but very potent demonstration that peoples concern over a cracker will make them issue death threats to a man and his family members.

  • Comment number 30.

    Interesting to come late to this "discussion" and read the, frankly, empty remarks of most of the contributors.

    Firstly - desecrating a communion host is not free speech - free speech is about debate and argument - desecrating a host is an action, not a speech - it's like my sticking a red hot poker up Myer's smug --- and claiming it was an exercise in free speech.

    No one forces anyone to believe in transubstantiation - so why defend the actions of people who want to physically interfere with the religious beliefs of others. It's just crude and rude and attention seeking.

    Some people have said here "why should we be forced to respect a cracker just because the catholic church believes it to be God?" No one is forcing you - you should just ignore it - but you have no right, none whatsoever, to enter a Catholic church and to remove hosts.

  • Comment number 31.

    Hi PeterK

    You say, "It was some Catholics that made the point for him (PZ Myers) with their response."

    Death threats aside, which are obviously wrong, I'm not sure you can limit his actions in this way. What did he think was going to happen? I'm not a Catholic and I could have figured it out. He's hardy that naive, and one wouldn't have to be a cynic to suggest that he might have carried out his little 'experiment', to quote helio, in order to provoke a response. Are you seriously arguing that he didn't already know what might have happened? In the interview he said that the use of consecrated bread wasn't important to him but it was important to Catholics, so he ... used consecrated bread and then said, 'see, it's only bread.' Now if he'd used unconsecrated bread, presumably no one would have been bothered. So he sort of did make a point.

    And the point seems to be that he took something (he knew to be) important to Catholics and did something to it (that he knew) they wouldn't like. It's exactly the same sort of thing that some Protestants have done with their comments about Roman Catholicism, and they were criticised for inciting hatred and being bigots. (and they were)

    I'm sure we could all think of things, religious or otherwise, to desecrate. All we have to do is take something which is important to someone else, something they have built their life around, and pour scorn on it. William's example of a photo of his mother, despite Myers answer, was a good example. Myers tried to duck the question by changing William’s example. William mentioned nothing about calling on people to treat a published photo with utmost respect, and anyway even if a photo was published in a newspaper and someone then deliberately went out of their way to select that picture, seek out the person for whom the picture was important and publicly desecrated that picture, it probably would be classed as an offence. And I’m not sure that the defence, 'it was just newsprint and it's just a picture which someone else *believes* to be important' would be adequate. It's certainly no more of a defence than, burning a Rainbow flag outside a gay advice centre and then saying, 'it's just a flag.'

    Thing is this, even if God doesn't exist, and even if Christians are lunatics, and even if what they believe is just a figment of their imagination, it doesn't stop their beliefs and traditions being important to them. Everyone in every culture has a set of traditions and beliefs which are important to them and even atheists (who have their own deeply held set of values) know that they can hold societies together. Have we reached the stage in western society that free speech can only be demonstrated by ridiculing those who are 'other' than us. Is it all about tearing down? Is everybody and anybody fair game? Is that how we can best demonstrate our freedom? Pretty poor really, is it not?

    And a comment by way of balance, the initial student should not loose his place in college (calling for it was in my opinion a sign of weakness), but maybe we need to have a debate about how we build societies rather than destroying them.

    Some atheists seem to think that they can provoke a response from Christians and them poke fun at them. Personally it's just pathetic, little more than a playground taunt, and ought to be ignored.

    Smasher BTW, my earlier comments were a from of cynical response to the topic. While I do not share you view on the mass/communion, I would not for one moment wish to belittle your understanding; mature, respectful dialogue is the only way forward.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hello petermorrow,

    Most of your post reads to me as an appeal to respect any idea, no matter how silly the idea is, if that idea is deeply held to by some people. You're asking for a free respect pass for any idea if rubbishing that idea offends people. Obviously I'm not going to go along with that. The clearest call for respecting any lunacy (doing so almost literally) came when you wrote

    "Thing is this, even if God doesn't exist, and even if Christians are lunatics, and even if what they believe is just a figment of their imagination, it doesn't stop their beliefs and traditions being important to them."

    So there we have it. Even if the believers, in your own words, are lunatics and the beliefs are just figments of their imagination, you think the overriding consideration should be the importance the believers attach to these ideas. And that that is enough to demand respect for any nonsense idea, exempting it from scorn or ridicule. I don't think it should surprise you that I won't go along with that.

    And then you then cast the discussion about a mutilated little cracker in dramatic terms of 'how to build a society'. Phhhffrt. Some society we would have if any nonsense idea were respected and exempt from ridiculing just because people would be offended if it happened.

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi PeterK

    I think if you read carefully you'll find that I didn't make an appeal to respect any kind of idea however much a lunacy it is. Frankly I don't care what you or anybody else thinks or says or does about me or my faith. In fact as I implied earlier I can laugh at it, and I do, better than most atheists. Trouble is most atheists don't know enough about God or christianity to really laugh at it or Him or engage in blasphemy. In fact if you want I'll post you a bible, you can read it or burn it.

    My point was that PZed knew what he was doing, if he didn't he's an idiot. He did it deliberately and then made a song and dance about Catholics being offended as if they (or some of them) wouldn't be. Come to think of it that is either idiotic or childish. Put simply he was making as much of a point as the Catholics were. And complaining that Catholics were offended isn't really a defence. Why doesn't he just say look, 'I think Catholics (and Protestants) are stupid people with no brains, the whole bundle, with their belief in pink unicorns and virgin births, put them on a level with sheep farmers (historical sheep farmers of course). The way to heaven is really the yellow brick road and the bible reads something like this,

    'Once upon a time – it was in the days when dwarves forged rings, and dragons breathed fire - there was a famine in the land. A man from the ANE left home, he and his wife and children and his sacred cow, which he hoped to sell on the way, and they set off in search of fame, fortune, faith, salvation and beans. The man's name was Jack, and his wife's name was Jill, and his sons were named, Sleepy, Sneezy, and Dopey, there were only three of them (a trinity of children), but they were all well. And they went to live in a new land, somewhere beyond Kansas, and they were very, very, (very) happy there."

    And then why doesn't he make us all wear plastic crosses round our necks, ban us from public employment and organise 'laugh at christians nights'.

    Peter, I DON'T CARE.

    However, deliberately desecrating, for example, a picture of someone's late mother, would be offensive, even if we are free to do it within the law. What about burning the Rainbow flag, do you defend my right, or would I be a bigot?

    On the point of God not existing, I was simply pointing out that if he doesn't exist, then it merely makes one person's deeply held lifestyle choice (stupid though it may be) as valid as another deeply held point of view. You see the thing is nobody actually thinks that *THEIR* deeply held view is stupid, if they did it wouldn't be important to them. Obviously it's everybody else who is stupid, it's never me. And hate is only a crime when it's the worldview I identify with that is hated.

    Did you actually think about my comments about ridiculing others in society?

    Maybe you could answer this one, is *EVERBODY* fair game? Have you any limits? What is your 'sacred cow', how could I offend you, what is PC for you? Who are your untouchables? At what point do you recoil with a, 'maybe that went too far' wince?

    If you really have no limits then congratulations... you're consistent, but I expect that you've a few raw nerves somewhere, everybody does.

    Ridiculing others is an exercise in self-justification, we all do it, whether we're honest enough to admit it is another matter.

  • Comment number 34.

    PeterJHenderson: The term 'remembrance' is used in all Christian eucharists, Catholic and Protestant. The issue is how best to understand the meaning of remembrance. Some churches in the Zwinglian tradition (e.g., Baptsists, Brethren, etc) read this term to mean that their communion service is merely an act of memorialisation. The majority Protestant traditions press beyond memorialism to something more metaphysical. That said, Real presence is certainly not synonymous with transubstantiation.

  • Comment number 35.

    Hello petermorrow,

    Thanks for the offer to send me a bible, but that won't be necessary. I've read it. I grew up in a christian family, my father in particular is an embarrassingly zealous and unintelligent believer. And despite that, when I was young I voluntarily exceeded what he expected of me religion-wise.
    After I came to the age of reason I dropped religion, but it's not as if I haven't read the bible since then. Although from a different perspective. As Thomas Paine said, the best evidence against the bible is the bible.

    I won't spend too many lines on your blasphemy example, or the paragraph with the (I presume ironically intended) example of christian persecution syndrome, instead answering your questions about what I would find offensive. Your first question is wrong I think:

    "What about burning the Rainbow flag, do you defend my right, or would I be a bigot?"

    You pose it as an 'or' question while I think it is an 'and' matter. While it would show you to be a bigot, I don't think you should be arrested if you did it.

    But sure, there are things that would offend me. And there are areas where I would thread carefully not to offend others, even if it were allowed to do so (did I at any point suggest there weren't?). But I can't think of anything that would make me seriously issue death threats against the person who offended me, or his/her family, the way some Catholics did to Myers. I don't think I have any 'untouchables', as you call them, in that sense. I've been on the receiving end of death threats once and it's something distinctly upsetting. I can't imagine seriously doing it.

  • Comment number 36.

    Hi PeterK

    I don't think any of us emerged unscathed for our experience of christianity. Indeed, not only was my example of christian 'persecution' ironic, so was the paragraph about the bible, as was my offer to send you a bible. None were an attempt at blasphemy; in fact my own faith journey has included the idea that maybe the way to heaven really is the yellow brick road, doubt is part of who I am; I gave up trying to trust in my own ability to believe ages ago. Protestations of zeal are overrated and may actually be closer to real blasphemy than anything. That is, looking the God in whom I believe straight in the eye and telling him he owes me.

    On the issue of the Rainbow flag. I have no intention of burning one, but it's interesting that you would consider me a bigot for doing so. Why, I wonder? Lack of respect? Something else? Of course you think religion is stupid, but that doesn't make it stupid. As I said hate crime is only a crime when we are hated. I note you failed to comment on this.

    So is PZ a bigot or/and is he enlightened? He's right, is he? Because you agree with him? Because you share his world view? There are those, you do not say who they are, whom you would seek not to offend. Why? What is the difference? There are limits to free speech then? Is that censorship? Why ought you be free to decide what is offensive and Catholics are not? Is it because they are stupid?

    And regarding the death threats, I dealt with that; of course it is distinctly upsetting. If I had been in your company when you received them I hope I would have defended you; my comments weren't specifically about death threats, they were about the fact that PZ Myers *was* point scoring against Catholics and then exonerating himself on the basis of the following uproar. 'See, see, told you, told you'.

    Peter the simple fact is we all have our deeply held views and I suggest to you that defending free speech by means of ridicule is a poor measure of society. The 'right' to ridicule may well be inherent in the concept of free speech, but I think we can all do better. Indeed the degree to which we believe in free speech may well be gauged by the degree to which we are prepared to submit ourselves to scorn. Frankly I don't see a lot of that.

  • Comment number 37.


    They are more than symbols. You do not eat mere symbols. In communion we can touch, smell, taste and are nourished by the elements. They call the whole of man's being to God.

    Just as the elements sustain physical life so Jesus Christ creates and sustains true spiritual life within his people.

    It also reminds us of a day to come in which all of God's people will share in what the Bible calls the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. A day in which we celebrate the redemption which is in Jesus Christ and the victory already won over sin, the world and the devil.

    David Agnew.

  • Comment number 38.

    Peter H

    On the issue of Protestants and communion William and David are correct, although I think that most Protestants think that their denominations believe in communion being a memorial.

    My own understanding, which has grown over the years, is that in the same way that Christ is present by the Holy Spirit in the declaring of the gospel, bringing faith and new life, so Christ is present by his Spirit in the act of eating bread and drinking wine.

    It is at Divine worship, in the preaching of God's Word and in the Sacrament, that we can expect to experience the miracle of mercy, faith and forgiveness.

    In a sense the greatest christian hope, is the hope of the future made possible by the past.

  • Comment number 39.

    I view the sacraments of the church rather as 'performance icons' - it is the drama and the representation which are important not the physical elements - water, oil, bread ,wine. In particular I would see Holy Communion as representing the idea that we find nourishment in and from God. I therefore attach no importance whatsoever to the actual wafer and regard the idea that God is in any sense present in it as wholly absurd.

    In this light, Dr Myers is perhaps celebrating a truer sacrament than many a priest unthinkingly performing his routine daily mass. Christ's real body was pierced by nails, he was scorned, despised, and rejected. It would be possible to argue (and I rather think I would) that the real blasphemy is to encase him in silver and gilt and so to reduce the challenges of his life and message that he becomes little more than the prime ingredient in some sort of 'grace pill' to be popped regularly for the maintenance of one's spiritual health.

    I pointed-out in another thread that Christ himself did not hesitate to use offensive language and provocative actions to make his points and rightly so. If one has something important to say then the only important thing is to say it and to say it effectively.

    I listened to the interview and found Dr Myers very impressive - his actions did not arise ex nihilo - he responded in a highly effective way to a specific incident and provoked debate on a scale which no other means would have been likely to achieve.

  • Comment number 40.

    Discerning exactly what the Reformed tradition means by Real Presence is like trying to nail down a fog. In any case, the Jewish background to the Last Supper makes all sacramental understandings implausible, to my mind at least.
    In any case, would PK and H have defended Jerry Falwell, or Pat Robertson if they had made a similar protest against the Eucharist? Or would they have classed this as an instance of religious bigotry?
    I am also disturbed by the insinuation that Catholicism leads to lunacy and violence. Is there a public interest in stamping out Catholicism, if it is so obviously dangerous, and so obviously false?
    I am also concerned at the Religious Illiteracy of our age. A reading of the King James version of the Bible does not make you conversant with Christian History or Theology. It does not guarantee a grasp of Biblical Literature.
    A brief reading of Christian History would show that iconoclasm is a poor strategy. It raises morale on your own side of the debate, but never convinces others.


  • Comment number 41.

    FAO Heliopolitan,
    The appliance of science.
    Please note I suggested a reexamination of values and made no reference to any denomination or the need to believe anything. Respect is a value judgement it is neither right or wrong. I repeat the role of an academic is to add to a knowledge base not to desecrate.

  • Comment number 42.


    If Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or even Ian Paisley had desecrated a host wafer it would have been an instance of religious bigotry - it would also have counted as iconoclasm - as Dr Myers is not religious the charges can hardly be levelled at him.

    I would be interested to know what you think about the point I raised in previous posts: Jesus' disciples pulling the corn on the Sabbath in full view of the Pharisees - was it unnessarily provocative and counter-productive?

  • Comment number 43.

    Dr Myers is an intellectual bigot. I can't see that a lack of religiosity gets him of the hook. The same sense of certainty and superiority that characterises the Protestant bigot is evident in his actions.
    You use the term "Christlike" to defend his actions - in that Jesus caused offence also. Jesus was also bipedal. Is it Christlike to be bipedal? If I claim authority to forgive sins am I being Christlike? If I claim that I existed before Abraham? Should I submit to torture or crucifixion?
    Was Jesus blasphemous? Only if he was wrong. Furthermore his protest in the Temple has good prophetic precedent. And as I have pointed out on "86 wives" he was claiming to fulfill hopes engendered by Israel's own Scriptures. In a rather surprising fashion, to be sure, but once again, only blasphemous if he was wrong.
    Was Jesus needlessly rude and offensive? At no stage was he offensive simply to subvert or to sully. In other words, being subversive was not an end in itself. He did not behave like the Cynic philosophers, relieving himself in public and the like. The path of the subversive was open to him, and he did not take it. (In fact, compared to Ezekiel, Isaiah and Hosea, he was postively restrained.)
    Is it ever right to be offensive? Of course. When confronting a great evil, it's difficult to be polite. Furthermore, when the issue is of fundamental concern, and when there is no way to avoid giving offence, then I can offend others. Insofar as it depends on me, I must do everything I can to be avoid giving offence. I'm not the Son of God, so a little humility would seem wise.
    Now, lets grant for the sake of argument that Dr Myers has not the authority of the Son of God. Let's also grant that belief in the physical presence is not a great evil. It's not up there with slavery.
    Could Dr Myers have made the same point, without being offensive? (offensive is far to weak a term - let's be clear, he was degrading Catholic beliefs). It's difficult to say - because I don't think he has a point. Catholic's believe that no empirically detectable change takes place in the consecrated wafer. Detailed Scientific examination would show no interesting results. It looks and tastes just like any other wafer. Dr Myers has not established anything that Catholics didn't already know.
    Was his action needlessly rude or evil? As I see it, any attempt to profane the Holy is evil. Whilst Jesus had different ideas as to what was appropriate on the Sabbath, he never atempted to profane it, or God's name.
    In your opinion, is there more to "evil" than physical and emotional harm?


  • Comment number 44.

    Much of what I can say has already been said. That said, while PZ Meyers has offended Catholics (and possibly other Christians), Muslims, Dawkins-worshipers (Hopefully a small sect) and nice people, he has nothing on Aleister Crowley. HE wrote in his Book of the Law about pecking Jesus, blinding Mohammed, tearing at the flesh of "Hindu and Buddhist, Mongol and Din", and desecrated Mary and other chaste women.

    I'm not a Catholic, a believer in transubstantiation, or a Muslim (And I'm certainly not a Dawkins-worshiper...) but I am offended by this. And while he has the free speech right to do this, it won't be likely to earn him many supporters...

  • Comment number 45.

    Hello petermorrow,

    I must admit that at first you seemed to make me realize an apparent inconsistency in my thinking in your post 36. Burning a Rainbow flag would seem bigoted to me, as would such an expression against peoples political views, gender, eating meat of being vegetarian, etc. Yet I don't regard Myers actions as bigoted. I suppose it's because of the especially low view I have of some religious ideas. If someone tells me he's a fervent Marxist, I would disagree a lot with his political philosophy but would not want to see their political headquarters paint bombed etc. While I would disagree with them, I wouldn't think of them as lunatics. But if, as you phrased it in post 31, peoples views are just figments of their imagination and the believers are lunatics, then I don't think their ideas deserve respect or are exempt from ridicule (it's not exclusively religious ideas that don't meet the required threshold of respect for me btw). The idea that a man would speak some words and thereby turn a cracker into the actual body of man who has been dead for almost 2000 years (call Health and Safety?) certainly ranks among them.

    On a separate note, I didn't respond to your statement of 'hate crime is only a crime when we are hated' the first time because I wasn't sure what you meant. My first inclination would be to say of course not. If we see a KKK mob beating up blacks or gays then people consider it a hate crime when they are not black or gay themselves. But that is such a simple answer that I suspect you weren't asking for that. What exactly did you mean?

  • Comment number 46.

    Hello Graham,

    "In any case, would PK and H have defended Jerry Falwell, or Pat Robertson if they had made a similar protest against the Eucharist? Or would they have classed this as an instance of religious bigotry?"

    If Falwell or Robertson had wanted to point out the crazyness of saying that a cracker really becomes the body of a 2000 year old man then fine with me. I would merely add that the credibility of that message coming from them is somewhat lower than if Myers says it. Compare it to two drunks who limp out of a bar. One of them is about to drive off in his car, the other on his motor bike. One of them yells to the other that he shouldn't drive while being drunk. True enough. But I would find the message more credible if it came from a sober bystander, rather than from a person who is about to do something comparable.

  • Comment number 47.

    Why is it that the House Rules specifically reject comments that are "racist, sexist, homophobic" but not blasphemous or insulting to religion.

    This piece of filth has taken something which a billion people regard as important and holy and trashed it. I cannot believe we have people here defending his actions in any shape or form. This has nothing to do with free speech, nothing. It's like burning Orange Halls, or putting burning crosses outside black churches. It has nothing to do with debate. It has nothing to do with being free or intellectual. It is simply a sad little man looking for attention in the cheapest and foulest way possible. And you guys who are defending him should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • Comment number 48.

    Thanks smasher. By stating that the actions of 'this piece of filth' are on the same level as burning down an Orange Hall, you've just underlined his point.

  • Comment number 49.

    Smasher, you're just wrong. The man is exercising his free speech to make what he thinks is an important point: that it is ridiculous to believe that a cracker has changed substance in that way, and to underscore his wider point that religious belief is rubbish. I haven't kept up with this thread, but has anyone ever conducted lab tests on consecrated crackers? It seems to me that science can either prove or disprove transubstantiation very easily, can it not? End of discussion.... if we're talking about rational discussion.

  • Comment number 50.

    Nice idea John. Smasher, could I invite you to participate in an experiment?

    If I can get hold of 30 wafers, one consecrated, I'll post them to you and let you make out which is the body of christ. You can test them in any way you like. And not just by physical means like putting them under a microscope. Feel free to take them to a bishop or Herr Razinger himself to let them help you. Consult a Wiccan priestess if you like. Keep each one them under your pillow for a night to see if the dreams they give you will help you determine which of them is the body of Christ. Any way you like.

    And then you tell me which one out of 30 is the consecrated one.

    If you are willing to participate in this experiment, would you also be willing to place a bet? I would bet that your chances of getting the right one are about 1/30, the lucky chance of picking any one random day.

  • Comment number 51.

    Oh, and surely discussions of legality are different than discussions of morality. Even if we believe it immoral to do what PZ did - and I don't, for the record - whether or not it should be legal is another discussion entirely, with no moral bearing upon it.

  • Comment number 52.

    Peter Klaver- I'll participate in that bet.

  • Comment number 53.

    Which way would you place your bet John? I suspect we might be betting on the same outcome.

  • Comment number 54.


    You say you do not regard Myers as a bigot, probably "because of the especially low view (you) have of some religious ideas."

    Seems to me then that what you are saying is that it is your world view (i.e. one which includes a low view of religion) which directly affects whether or not you consider a particular set of actions to be bigoted or not.

    This is precisely the point I have been making which regard to how we think of hate crimes.

    What I mean is this; whether or not I am offended by something is usually directly linked to how valuable or worthwhile I consider something to be. For example you or I might be offended by particular actions against vegetarianism, while other people, who place a different emphasis on this life choice, might not be offended at all. Indeed some might even laugh at a vegetarian being offered lamb chops for dinner, and they might justify these actions by called vegetarians stupid. After all meat is not particularly damaging to our health.

    The examples you give about the KKK are most obviously offensive (dangerous even) to blacks and gays, and while I think I ought to be offended by them, and indeed take action which would protect the victim, that does not mean I would act with such courage nor would I mean I felt offended.

    So when I say that we only consider hate crimes to be hate crime when we are hated, what I mean is that any offence given by certain actions is felt most acutely by those whose world view or lifestyle choice is being attacked. It is not sufficient then to justify ones actions by saying those who take offence are stupid, their beliefs are stupid and their traditions are stupid.

    Neither you nor PZ Myers are offended by the desecration of the consecrated host because you think the whole notion of religion of is stupid, and it is this belief of yours which appears to be the critical difference in how you might treat a Catholic or a Marxist. Catholics are fair game because you think they are lunatics, Marxists, although you disagree with them, are not lunatics so ought not to be attacked or mocked. Peter do you not see the inherent contradiction?

    So it's OK to 'offend' people you consider to be lunatics? Particular actions not to be considered bigotry if you have previously decided that a certain section of our society are lunatics? This is strange is it not.

    Let me put it this way. I am a heterosexual married male with two children. My christianity causes me to view sex outside marriage, adultery against my partner, and a homosexual lifestyle as something less than God's best plan for society. However I would not under any circumstances seek to publicly shame, offend, discriminate against or cause harm to those with whom I disagree. Indeed those with whom I disagree would be welcome in my home.

    I guess in terms of PZ Myers, Catholics are just asking for the same respect whether you consider them to be lunatics or not, indeed whether they are lunatics of not. By all means let's have robust debate, but I really did think that the days of the public ridicule of 'lunatics' had gone.

    Of course I do not consider myself, nor do I think of Roman Catholics as insane because of our religious beliefs.

  • Comment number 55.

    Peter Klaver- I'll bet with you. As someone wise once said, "A cracker is a cracker."

    Peter Morrow- Sometimes the views that people have will be offensive. I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. I don't mind offending at all, as long as I'm making my point in a way that people will understand.

  • Comment number 56.

    Hi John and PeterK

    Different issue now.

    I see you propose to examine a consecrated host in a laboratory and plan to find that it looks like bread, feels like bread, smells like bread and tastes like bread. Well what a surprise. It would be the same with the 1 in 30 bet, they will all look, taste, feel and smell like bread. I can only assume that both of you have been more familiar with the Protestant version of Christianity (lunacy!) than the Roman Catholic version. Either that or you were bad Catholics. And equally uninformed Protestants have been trying to laugh at the same thing for years.

    I'm sure there are others more fit than me to explain more precisely the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation but, as I understand it, Catholics draw a distinction between the substance of the host and the appearance of the host. In other words the whole substance of the bread is changed into the substance of the body of Christ while the appearance of bread is retained.

    And before you go saying that all this is nonsense remember that getting over the existence of God in the first place is the real difficulty.

    I BTW am not a Catholic and do not understand communion in this way. However you might wish to check out the EWTN website for a fuller explanation.

  • Comment number 57.

    John you say,"Sometimes the views that people have will be offensive. I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. I don't mind offending at all, as long as I'm making my point in a way that people will understand."

    I'm not sure that this is the same thing PeterK was saying. He seemed to draw a distinction between those he thought of as lunatics and those the considered were not.

  • Comment number 58.

    Peter- Well, as you know I agree with you often on these issues, but I think transubstantiation, scientifically, must be a claim with an empirical nature: ie. it either is true that the substance is changed or it isn't.

    By using the word 'appearance' to include taste, texture and every other perceivable or scientifically testable quality, the Catholic church has cleverly made it impossible to verify that the 'substance' - which is something entirely apart from everything about it! - has changed. What the hell is substance, then, if it isn't the type and formation of the bloody molecules? What is it if it's not every perceivable description of the object? It's completely and utterly preposterous of course, but that doesn't stop the Catholic church insisting upon it.

    Wine is not wine but blood, but it will still, under the closest of examination, seem and be exactly like wine. Cracker is not cracker but flesh, but it will still, under the most careful, thorough, microscopic, scientific scrutiny, seem and even be exactly like cracker. Substance is not substance but sub-sub-metastance. Can't we call bullshit about something so blatantly absurd?

    Eating Jesus is a particularly bizarre concept, and people like PZ Myers are exacting an overdue level of honesty and brutal irreverence about it and other religious ideas that can only help us all move beyond such mysticism.

  • Comment number 59.

    Smasher - I agree with you - it is horribly anomalous that blasphemous comments are allowed while racist, sexist and homophobic comments are banned - unlike you, I imagine, I would like to see the ban removed completely. People should be free to express themselves in whatever way they want so long as they do not incite hatred or violence. It's only with freedom of expression that people reveal the truth about themselves and their viewpoints. Of-course I disagree with you about Dr Myers.

    Graham - I do tend to think that Jesus WAS a subversive - he was subversive of Jewish society, Jewish law, Jewish concepts of righteousness, subversive of the traditional wisdom of his day, even subversive of such basics as the concept of familial obligation. I would never argue that he was a nihilist or anarchist wishing to tear down a culture for its own sake - he had an agenda in all he said and did - but that desire for a positive outcome does not negate the subversive nature of much of his ministry.

    We paint a wholly false picture of Christ when we are so ready to label qualities such as meekness or gentleness 'Christ-like' - in my reading of the Bible he comes across as a prickly, tetchy, forthright, no-nonsense, in-your-face, kind of guy. In this context I think I am fully justified in characterising Dr Myers' actions as Christ-like when he chose not to mouth an ineffectual and instantly ignorable condemnation of the value system which placed a cracker above the future of college student but rather to dramatise his scorn by a clever combination of word and deed. He made thus very effectively his very important point.

    I do not regard anything as being intrinsically holy - holiness is simply a concept or set of associations in our minds. My cracker is your body of Christ - your figure of the Lord Buddha is, literally in this instance, my doorstop. You say Jesus did not profane the Sabbath - ask an orthodox Jew of his day and I rather think he would disagree.

    As to evil - that's an awkward one. I suspect it is when the human will turns consistently to hate, spite, harm. A single action may be wrong but is unlikely to be evil - I would reserve the term for a nurtured opposition to love, joy, and care.

  • Comment number 60.

    Hi John

    The short answer to your questions is, I really don't know; I'm not a Catholic and I was only stating their view as I understood it. Neither do I accept the Transubstantiation doctrine. In communion I consider the bread and wine to be bread and wine on the basis that when Jesus said here is my body he meant here is an everyday picture of food for your physical needs which will direct to think of your need of spiritual 'food'.

    The thing is this, PeterK, if I understand him correctly, dismisses the whole idea of God, rather than just one aspect of it, as inane because he can't see him, taste him, touch him etc. and he doesn't accept any of the written biblical text as any kind of evidence for God. This, it seems, leads him to conclude that belief/faith are misplaced leaps into the land of pink unicorns with no credibility whatsoever and which are not rational in anyway.

    How the doctrine of transubstantiation came about, I don't know, but I do think that sometimes in christianity our explanations of what we believe to be real, yet unseen, will always be limited, and to try to evaluate them in modern scientific terms is pointless.

    We can have endless debates about the philosophy of the existence of God, the reliability of the bible, the historical Jesus, various doctrines such as baptism or the Holy Spirit, and while I have views on each of these and while I believe faith to be rational, for me the measure of the truth of Christianity is often best measured in terms of the change which takes place in my character than in much anything else. Maybe it is having a faith which calls me to love my enemy and then continuing to hate him anyway which is blasphemy. Something about trees and fruit I think. And that is why I suggest we ought to think twice about how we exercise our right to free speech.

  • Comment number 61.


    You say all free speech should be allowed except that which incites hatred or violence. Let's stick with the violence one as it is usually observable.

    I'm not sure how we are going to determine which expressions are going to incite violence and which are not until violence actually happens. How then do we sort that one out? If I say something which you find offensive but you do not act violently towards me then presumably that is OK. However if you were to act violently towards me, what then? Was my expression wrong because it incited you to hit me for example, and would that incitement offer you a defense for your violence, or is violence always wrong whether one is incited or not?

    Maybe a solution is for me, in exercising free speech, to consider the implications of what I say before I say it and remember that I am equally free to be silent.

  • Comment number 62.

    Peter M- Yes, and I disagree with the conclusions of atheists about the existence of a deity, even as I agree with most of their conclusions about religion, and the religious.

    Ultimately, reason must be compatible with faith for it to work for me. My reason is my means of establishing truth, and science informs my reason. So if something doesn't work scientifically, it doesn't work at all. Faith is well and good, so long as it changes with reason, and that includes scientific fact (like evolution, and a cracker being a cracker). See what I mean?

  • Comment number 63.

    PeterM - to define what I mean by incitement, nothing other than the following counts:

    (1) A direct invitation to violence against a person or group - for example 'Burn all fags'.
    (2) A MISrepresentation of reality likely to produce such a feeling of loathing in the target audience that their behaviour toward the group so misrepresented is sufficiently changed to engender potential violence. Example: (From WWII) 'While you are over here fighting for your country the Negroes are raping your wives at home.'

    I agree that silence is an option - but it is often the coward's option - wrong NEEDS to be challenged and challenged vigorously.

  • Comment number 64.

    Oh irony of ironies. Portwyne has had his comment 63 referred to the moderators. Interestingly I, and I expect some others, read it before it disappeared.

    I will come back to this when I have more time, but from memory Portwyne gave *examples* of statements which he considered would incite violence, explained that they were *examples* and entered his comments in quote marks.

    Seems some people don't understand the basic construction of language.

  • Comment number 65.

    Just a wee reminder that it was the bigoted and offensive action of Catholics (against Webster Cook) that prompted PZ Myers to try this little experiment.

    The experiment has been a stunning success.

    One little question - if god can consecrate a cracker, why can't he just unconsecrate it again if someone takes it out of the church (not in their intestines, obviously!)? Would have thought it would be a cinch.

    Is it still consecrated when its digested detritus hits the crapper? Or what about if someone throws up on the pavement outside chapel? I'm sure that has happened many times. Are there wee cracker ambulances standing by to come and render first aid to the ailing holy boke?

    Once again, theology becomes the drag queen of the sciences. Raise a glass of non-alcoholic non-GM wine to PZM and CRD!

  • Comment number 66.

    Hello petermorrow,

    I see your point about the distinction I make in responding to ideas I merely strongly disagree with and those I see as lunacy. Yet I don't feel bad about dismissing some ideas as nonsense. The reason for that lies in the question

    Is any idea ever crazy enough to dismiss it outright as nonsense?

    I suspect most people will have some ideas they happily resign to the mental trash can without feeling like a bigot for doing so. Doesn't have to be anything to do with religion, just think of the most craziest thing you ever heard anyone state.

    If you say you've never simply responded 'Rubbish!' to any idea then I'd say you're handing out far too many free respect passes and are way too tolerant of blatant mind excrement.

    Assuming you too have some ideas you're happy to spit on (if not then please see previous paragraph and ignore the rest of my post) then we're probably not approaching things too differently, we just pick different ideas to dismiss. And then the inconsistency actually transfers to the indignant believers who get all hypersensitive (and sometimes turn into rabid maniacs as a result) when it is their turn to have their ideas brutally dismissed.

  • Comment number 67.

    If you want to maintain that Jesus was subversive, in a manner analogous to Myers, then you have to deal with the historical evidence. (a) There was no monolithic view of the Law in 1st Century Judaism, or indeed Palestine (b) Jesus did not profane Torah or Temple to make his point. All the historical indicators are of a Law observant Jew, with a liberal interpretation of the Mosaic Law (hardly unprecedented). Torah extends beyond the Law of Moses, and whatever hopes Jesus evoked, they were based on the Jewish Scriptures and worldview. (c) The only view that I know of that painted Jesus as a religious subversive was Morton Smith's portrait of a Magician leading Israel astray. This has been falsified by subsequent research. (d) Jesus could have sacrificed unclean animals in unclean places to make a theological point, or opposed circumcision. There is no evidence of anything like this in the historical records. (e) Jesus was a Galilean Rabbi, whose opponents had their power base in Jerusalem. He was engaged in a intra-Jewish debate. He was not seeking to undermine Judaism as a whole. Indeed, his followers continued to attend synagogues and the Temple after Easter. (f) There is a clear difference between being profane and being outspoken. (g) I didn't spot a deed/word complex in Myer's actions, or an intelligent debating point. I did detect a gimmick.


  • Comment number 68.

    Again, beautiful imagery. Again, religious illiteracy. Catholics have always maintained that any change to the elements would be imperceptible. This is the very nature of a Sacrament. The physical presence is not to be interpreted in a crude and unthinking manner. It may show a little more humility to see if Roman Catholics (some of whom are quite bright) have a more nuanced understanding.

    A brief scan through the Catholic Cathechism, and, say, two minutes of careful reflection might be appropriate before you descend into satire.

    (a)"The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ...". Mystery is at the heart of Sacramental worship. After quantum physics, belief in this sort of thing seems mundane.
    (b) "The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique." The key term being "under". In effect, at the Sacrament Catholics are denying that the physical sciences capture the whole of reality. In fact, they are denying that they can capture the whole of physical reality. So before you ridicule Catholic belief you have to find a non-circular way of proving that the physical sciences are necessary and sufficient to understanding the physical world.
    (c) "the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present" .So we are talking about more that a crude physical presence - the divinity is also, somehow, physically present.
    (d) "Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ" - again, a purely spatio-temporal understanding of the presence does not apply. Again, you need a non-circular argument that only a spatio-temporal understanding of reality is rational before you resort to ridicule.
    (e) "As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species. It is for this reason that the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament". In other words, the elements are respected as holy as a means of worship and confession of a particular truth. Catholics are not protecting Christ from physical harm.

    I am very critical of official Roman Catholic belief, and would be opposed to Protestant-Catholic Ecumenism. I just find it safer not to assume that anyone who disagrees with me is a willfully blind idiot.


  • Comment number 69.

    Graham - how many liberal Law-observant Rabbis did the Jewish establishment think it necessary to crucify?

  • Comment number 70.

    The Romans crucified Jesus, as a source of potential political unrest. The Sanhedrin probably played a similar role as they did with Jesus ben Ananias. The Temple had a political and economic role, and Jesus had relativised the role of the Temple (as had John the Baptist, but he seems to have confined his ministry to Galilee).
    Messianic claims were not blasphemous - but they were threatening to the establishment. The Pharisees only appear in the Trial narratives in Jesus' defence, so his view of the Law played no role in his execution. Nor was Jesus accused of desecrating the Temple. The charge was that he claimed the miraculous power to fulfill Ezekiel's prophecy concerning the Temple. This very Jewish hope could have had explosive political consequences at the time of Passover.
    It also needs to be kept in mind that Jesus had good prophetic precedent for criticising the Temple.
    There are readings of the Historical Jesus that would make him a political or social subversive. I've some sympathy for these views, and it is difficult to explain Jesus crucifixion on Religious grounds alone (the Romans held the Jews of Palestine in contempt). It is impossible that the romans would have crucified Jesus for blasphemy - but they did want to preserve public order.


  • Comment number 71.

    Post 65

    "Just a wee reminder that it was the bigoted and offensive action of Catholics (against Webster Cook) that prompted PZ Myers to try this little experiment."

    Funny Helio, that's exactly the sort of defence used in a playground...'but he started it.'

    Real mature.

  • Comment number 72.

    PeterK post 66

    Yes some ideas may well be crazy enough to dismiss outright as nonsense. The 'Flying Spaghetti Monster' (may he live forever) for example. Of course if your references to his monsterness are something other than a satire on religion please accept my apologies and be assured that I have no intention of impaling a meatball and throwing it in the trash.

    However, there is a difference between dismissing ideas and exercising free speech in a way which will be known to offend 1000's of people. Their perceived state of lunacy, as I have suggested, does not make such actions permissible.

    As I said at the outset, I didn't actually find Myers actions offensive, but I'm not a catholic. Indeed I think it's best not to be hypersensitive about what others think of my beliefs and reacting like a rabid maniac is not good.

    I do think though, that those who do not believe do themselves a disservice by reacting to religion in the way Myers did. I'm not really sure why there is the need to repeatably make such points as forcibly as they are made. We sort of know already that some atheists think of god as a wizard in oz, it's kinda old hat; why not go for a debate with a bit more substance like... maybe... a deconstruction of the kind of faith you rejected and the kind of faith I still have?

  • Comment number 73.

    Graham - post #70

    This post strikes me as having a very revisionist stance on the role of the Jewish hierarchy in the death of Christ. I have noticed that many evangelical Christians now seek to distance every part of the Jewish nation from any responsibility for the death of Christ. I can understand how someone with my view of Scripture might well consider that there was an agenda in the compilation of the gospels but I can not see how evangelicals can play so fast and loose with the account as presented in the Bible.

    The Biblical account is crystal clear:
    (1) that the Romans only crucified Christ at the express behest of the Jewish hierarchy (endorsed by the masses) and that only after making every reasonable effort to avoid doing so.
    (2) the Chief Priests and the leadership of the Jewish people actively plotted to bring about Jesus' death and agitated for it right to the very end. The gospel of John links the Pharisees with the Chief Priests when it notes whose servants went to arrest Jesus - I can find no trace of Pharisees speaking in Jesus' defence at the trial but do please enlighten me.

    Messianic claims might not have been blasphemous but, for a Jew, claiming to be God most certainly was. Jesus, too, may have meant something else when he spoke of tearing down the temple but it is obvious that what the people heard was an attack on the physical building housing the Holy of Holies - it made such an impression that it was both a prominent accusation in his trial before the Jewish leaders and a taunt thrown at him even when he was on the cross.

    Luke records the charge of 'perverting our nation' in the accusations against Christ - it is therefore disingenuous in the extreme to argue that Jesus was a fairly orthodox rabbi for whose death the Romans were responsible largely as a public order issue. He was crucified because he offended profoundly and publicly the Jewish priestly and Pharisaic establishment, he trod on their sensibilities, and challenged a faith which hid God from his people in a cloud of religious observance and arbitrary morality.

  • Comment number 74.

    Hello petermorrow,

    We seem to agree on a number of things. However........

    "However, there is a difference between dismissing ideas and exercising free speech in a way which will be known to offend 1000's of people. Their perceived state of lunacy, as I have suggested, does not make such actions permissible."

    Let me ask a slightly different question then than in my prior post:

    Is any idea ever crazy enough to openly pour scorn on it and ridicule it? Many people will be offended if their ideas are spat on, so if catholics being offended is reason not to do it, does that mean that no idea may ever be subject to scorn or disdain?
    And you mention the number of people offended. Is that important? If it had concerned a religion with only a quarter of the adherents of catholicism, would that have made it 4 times less bad to do it?

    On a practical note, Myers message wasn't new, but as so many still don't get it, it can't hurt to repeat it.
    And yes, he could have aired his message by just putting on his blog the line 'believing that a cracker becomes the body of christ after a priest has a short chat with it, is irrational'. But that would not have sounded so loud and clear over half the world as his cracker piercing action did. So let me offer you a deal. You work out a practical way to get the message out as loud and clear as the cracker piercing does, without offending catholics, and then those evil, nasty, depraved atheists should refrain from piercing those poor, poor little crackers from now on. Deal?

  • Comment number 75.


    Graham, I'm not quite sure where you going with your argument, but I'm up for listening.

    The way I'm reading posts 70 and 73 I seem to be agreeing (again) with Portwyne.

    Portwyne, something very strange is going on here; you do not believe Jesus was God, I do, we do not share a common understanding on the authority of the bible, you think we have no significance, I think we are made in the image of God, you do not accept the doctrine of the atonement, I do, and yet it seems that we agree about an awful lot.

    Protwyne do you not understand that the history of the church tells us that we ought to be 'knocking the blazes' out of each other!

  • Comment number 76.


    post 74

    The deal sounds OK, however, seeing as I am not a Catholic, would you be happy with me changing the example to the gold dust thing on the other thread, it's more 'Protestant'. It would mean that I'd sort of be having a go at my 'own', so to speak.

  • Comment number 77.

    Hi petermorrow,

    Feel free to have a go at your own, but the more interesting bit is if you think that any idea deserves respectful treatment or not. And on a small side note, if the number of adherents of an idea is a factor to consider or not.

  • Comment number 78.

    Hi PeterKlaver

    Our conversation has changed a little at least in terms of respecting people and respecting ideas.

    I think that ideas ought to be debated and scrutinised, its how we do that that I think deserves consideration.

    On the small side note, the number of adherents hasn't really any effect on how we use free speech. My view is that even one person is important, (lunatics included) let's strive to respect one another even if we disagree robustly. The only reason I mentioned numbers was that given the large number of Catholics and therefore the degree of knowledge about their beliefs PZ Myers was bound to be acting with a pretty full understanding of the reaction he was going to provoke, indeed it could be argued that is was reaction more than debate which he was after.

    On the gold dust thing, I'd like a bit of time to think more fully about an appropriate scrutiny of the phenomenon but, as a first of the top of my head suggestion, I might take a camera crew, a mic and a sound man to one of the events, find a person who had experienced the gold dust on the shoulders thing and ask them what they had done with the dust.

    Surely it's a bit of a money spinner. All they have to do is collect it all in a jar, take it to a goldsmith, sell it and give the money to an orphanage.

  • Comment number 79.

    Hello petermorrow,

    "Our conversation has changed a little at least in terms of respecting people and respecting ideas."

    Oh, sorry that I'm going to spoil the good mood here. But the politically correct separation between the ideas a person has and the person is something I usually see as sanctimonious drivel. There are people who say 'Your ideas are sheer lunacy, but I respect you as a person'. I would say 'Your ideas are sheer lunacy and therefore you are a lunatic'. Rather fine basis for calling someone a lunatic isn't it, if their ideas are sheer lunacy?

    And the second paragraph of your reply seems like a 'yes', i.e. any idea should be respected. This may start to sound like going in circles, but I don't hand out free respect passes like that for literally every idea.

    About Myers actions you wrote

    "indeed it could be argued that is was reaction more than debate which he was after."

    I fully agree. And as I said before, the response by catholics is what made the point for him. His actions by themselves didn't amount to much. As others noted, it was the side that some catholics showed of themselves that made the whole thing worth noting.

    Good luck at the church. And do post pictures and any audio please!

  • Comment number 80.


    So how do you propose we treat/disagree with those we consider to be lunatics?

    "And the second paragraph of your reply seems like a 'yes', i.e. any idea should be respected." Well I suppose it would if you couldn't distinguish between a person and an idea.

    I have no intention of going to the church of course, but I'm glad you accept it as an equally valid way of getting the message out without resorting to the offence factor.

    Now to your part of the bargain!!

  • Comment number 81.


    "And as I said before, the response by catholics is what made the point for him."

    But I thought the point was to show that it was 'just a cracker'; not that Catholics were 'hypersensitive rabid maniacs'.

    Maybe I got that bit wrong.

  • Comment number 82.

    Hi petermorrow,

    "So how do you propose we treat/disagree with those we consider to be lunatics?"

    In the case of the consecrated wafers I grinningly endorse Myers approach.

    "Now to your part of the bargain!!"

    Once I see the story of you at the church lighting up every news website in the Western world. :) Don't forget to reserve a spot in your agenda for an interview with William Crawley. :) :)

  • Comment number 83.

    PeterM - I am often amazed at the common ground we share despite the huge differences in the grounding of our spiritualities - I must attempt to understand why sometime soon!

    Graham - I have been looking at the Gold Dust and Holy Oil thread and wonder if you might look at your post # 68 above in the light of what we read there.

    Would you say of the showers of gold and sapphire dust that:

    "After quantum physics, belief in this sort of thing seems mundane."
    "a purely spatio-temporal understanding of the presence [of gold] does not apply. Again, you need a non-circular argument that only a spatio-temporal understanding of reality is rational before you resort to ridicule."

    In my opinion golden showers is right up there with a claim to possessing and dispensing the actual body of Christ (grace throw in) as a means of fleecing not just the gullible but the vulnerable and needy.

  • Comment number 84.

    Peter Morrow
    To shed a little light on my discussion with Portwyne, I've been arguing on another thread that Christianity should be tied to a high view of Scripture as Jesus (a) Had a very High view of the Old Testament (b) gave his own interpretation of the OT a similar authority and (c) supplemented the OT with teachings he expected his followers to take as having Divine authority. This would be the foundation of the Christian Canon.
    Portwyne has made the counter argument that Jesus in fact subverted the OT law - in other words Jesus did not ascribe the authority to Scripture that I believe he did.
    If Jesus was a subversive to the same extent as Myers, then my case goes out the window.


  • Comment number 85.

    1) The view I'm outlining is based on Evangelical (eg. Darell Bock, Craig Evans) and liberal scholarship (eg. Gerd Thiessen). As always, I'm just going on what I've read.
    2) I'm not trying to exonerate the Sanhedrin (as Paula Fredriksen and JD Crossan would). Their motives were mainly political and economic, not religious, as John's Gospel makes clear.
    3) Jesus did offend their interpretations of Judaism - as would the views of other Jews, like Philo, or the Essenes. Jesus, once more, was a Galilean Rabbi in Jerusalem. He was perceived as a political and social threat. His teachings and activity made him so (according to the Sanhedrin). But he was not crucified for being insufficiently Jewish.
    4) The Sanhedrin's fear of the crowd, and the need for a night arrest, along with the mourning that took place for Jesus show that the mass of Israel cannot be equated with one crowd in Jerusalem (a crowd the Sanhedrin had sway over, which says something about it's composition).
    5) Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and Joseph of Arimethea had Pharisaic sympathies (as seen by his eschatological hopes). Gamaliel spoke in defence of the Jesus movement after Easter. Jesus dined with some Pharisees (which had social implications) and some Pharisees warned Jesus of a Herodian plot. Pharisaism was not a monolithic movement, and the Gospels do not portray a monolithic response to Jesus.
    6) To move on to Jesus' view of his own person. This was expressed in Jewish terms as fulfilling the hopes of Jewish scripture. He was only blasphemous if he was wrong.
    7) His claims to divine authority were implict, and guarded - the only "proof" the Sanhedrin had of blasphemy came during, not prior to the trial. The Sanhedrin needed a Religious reason to bring a messianic figure for crucifixion to the "goyim". Otherwise they would lose much of their authority over the Jewish people. Yes Jesus offended their religious philosophies and teachings. But so did the Essenes. More was needed to get you crucified. The Jewish High Priest was appointed by the Romans - so a key role was to keep order. Keep in mind who Jesus was crucified with - two "lestai", more freedom fighters than bandits.
    8) Some evangelicals may lynch me for this, but the Johannine style captures Jesus ideas and teachings accurately, but does not Jesus exact words. He uses his own Johannine style instead. (I would seldom use John in an historical argument with someone who does not share my view of the inspiration and accuracy of Scripture.)
    9) Some huge misconceptions on your part. It was not blasphemous to prophesy against the Temple - otherwise Ezekiel and Jeremiah would not be in the Jewish canon.
    10) A stoning in Galilee would have been the response to a blasphemous figure -the Romans only crucified those who threatened the Roman order. In fact the Sanhedrin did not go to Pilate with complaints about the "Son of Man" but rather that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews (for heaven's sake, Portwyne, what did the Titulus say? )
    11) It is a huge leap from shocking and surprising to heretical and blasphemous.
    12) There was a fashionable view of Jesus situated him as an opponent of Judaism. Certainly from the 1980's (if not 70's) this view has fallen apart. It remains recalcitrant in popular culture (and Evangelical preaching) but it is as falsified as an historical theory can get.


  • Comment number 86.

    Oh, and to talk about an orthodox Jewish Rabbi is anachronistic of any figure pre - 70 AD.

  • Comment number 87.


    I did not capitalise orthodox so the word should be read in its plain sense not as a reference to a particular tradition or faction.

    I have read your post # 85 and to be honest, whatever the scholarship, it seems to me just a sustained piece of special pleading the purpose of which I simply cannot grasp. The Bible is abundantly clear: Jesus was scathing in his condemnation of the empty religiosity of the Jewish establishment of his day. I am shocked at your assertion that Jesus was guarded in his comments: he did not wait till his trial to proclaim 'Before Abraham was, I am' - and the reaction *was* an attempt to stone him. Whether he was correct in his assertion or not is, in the context, irrelevant - he was perceived as being blasphemous.

    The Jews laid a charge of fomenting insurrection against Christ as a wholly cynical means of making him subject to a capital sentence - it was, though, the assertion of his understanding of his own nature as divine that convicted him before his own people.

    I really cannot understand where you are coming from here - it totally baffles me! I am sure you do not mean it to be so but to me your view seems to demean and diminish Jesus - it makes him a minor social revolutionary, the leader of an not particularly distinctive theological movement, a mere inconvenience to the hierarchy, in Monty Python terms a real Brian.

    I may not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was God but he was surely much more than that. I see the man not just as a great teacher, someone who said some of the most important things that have ever been said, someone who shook the temple faith of Israel to its very foundations, but as someone too, who gathered into himself the whole mythos of the Christ and rises, as Dali so wonderfully depicts him in his 'Christ of St John of the Cross', transcending time and space to embrace the whole world in his suffering arms - and he can't be reduced into a cracker.

  • Comment number 88.

    Hi Graham

    Thankyou for post 84, it is helping me think things through.

    I agree that Jesus had a high view of scripture and do not believe that he set out to subvert, as in damage, the OT law, however, it does seem that he did deliberately set out to goad the Pharisees and other teachers of the law by his actions. This of course subverted them and their teaching and their interpretation of the law and as such the battle lines were drawn.

    My confusion then probably stems from this. In your post 70 you seem to emphasis the execution of Jesus from a very Roman perspective, and yes while the teachers of the law might well have been duplicitous in their actions with regard to the Romans, I do think that they had specifically religious reasons for wanting Jesus crucified. This makes at least some of what Portwyne says in 73 about the biblical record, about claims to be God and so on correct. Rome had no reason to execute someone who claimed to be a god, so why shouldn't the Teachers of the law play the political card (i.e. that, as the king of the Jews he was a political threat) - it was simply expedience.

    Maybe another perspective which may add to our understanding is to think of the religious leaders expecting a Messiah to lead a very temporal salvation, freedom from immediate oppression, restoring the kingdom to Israel and so on, with the fact the Jesus said judgement would begin in the house of the Lord being something unexpected.

    As always, I suspect opposition to Jesus was probably a heady mix of both religion and politics, we often tend to confuse the two, and in a way which suits us best! And calling God's people, through their leaders, to decide to whom they would be loyal, for example, to God or Caesar, was a bit provocative! And it exposed a lot of hypocrisy on their part.

    I think though that I'm also going to have to ask you about your points (6) and (7) in post 85 as well. I could summarise it as 'who did Jesus think he was'. Are you seriously suggesting that the gospel record presents a Jesus who was 'guarded' in relation to his claims of divinity and that they were only 'implicit' and 'only during the trial'? N.T. Wright in his book 'Simply Christian' has some interesting things to say on Jesus' view of himself, but I would have thought that statements like before Abraham was was, I Am, was pretty clear.

    As an 'evangelical', I use the word tentatively, I don't see Jesus as an opponent of Judaism, he came I think, as the culmination and representative of all Judaism was intended to be and to build upon it, but you do seem to down play the religious offence he caused.

    Seems to me that anyone claiming to be god and anyone claiming to be a King with an eternal Kingdom and anyone who threatens the power of the state and/or the religious system is always going to cause trouble. In some ways it boils down to the answer to the question, 'Who is Lord, me, Caesar or Jesus?'

  • Comment number 89.


    I have just read you post 87.

    The mystery deepens!

  • Comment number 90.


    To return to your deal; I thought that all I had to do was to, "work out a practical way to get the message out as loud and clear as the cracker piercing does, without offending", you said nothing about actually doing anything about it!

    Your reply raises a question though. Was all the media attention generated by Myers actions the result of them being shocking, or the result of it being shocking *and* (conjunctive and) being aimed at probably the world's largest Christian denomination in a country highly tuned in to disputes about religious belief. (maybe the numbers do matter after all!)

    You see I suspect that few really care about what is happening at the Elim Centre in Belfast. Although if a high profile politician turned up in election year and claimed to have 'received the blessing' my little video idea might be worth a go.

    Put that with your assertion that a line on his blog doesn't grab the headlines and we're left with a situation in which it seems we kind of have to be offensive to make a point. Pity really.

  • Comment number 91.

    Hello petermorrow,

    "To return to your deal; I thought that all I had to do was to, "work out a practical way to get the message out as loud and clear as the cracker piercing does, without offending", you said nothing about actually doing anything about it!"

    Ah, but how to know it would work? Testing it would be one. You know, verifying, observation, etc. You didn't expect me to accept the effectiveness on a basis of faith did you? :)

    "Put that with your assertion that a line on his blog doesn't grab the headlines and we're left with a situation in which it seems we kind of have to be offensive to make a point. Pity really."

    Yes, that is a pity.

  • Comment number 92.

    Hi PeterKlaver

    "You didn't expect me to accept the effectiveness on a basis of faith did you? :)"

    So what your saying is, some kind of revelation or other might be handy? ;-)

  • Comment number 93.


    1) Roman Catholics do not reduce Jesus to a cracker.
    2) I'm sorry if I've wandered off topic - I do that if I find a subject interesting. To clarify my position on who Jesus was, it's that of the Westminster Confession.
    3) The Gospels and Epistles teach that Jesus was equal in status and authority with "I AM". This is the historical and Scriptural foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
    4) I also believe that Jesus' teachings and actions show that he believed that he had "I AM's" authority and status. A good historical case can be made for this.
    5) In case I forget the bone of contention, I'm challenging two ideas you've put forward on two threads. (i) Myers' actions can be considered Christlike. This is absurd. (ii) That Jesus sought to undermine or subvert Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures. He thought, talked and walked like a Jew. He evoked Jewish hopes, he expanded on Jewish concepts. Conflicts with Pharisees and Sadducees do not place him outside Judaism. His understanding of his messianic role was shaped by the Jewish Scriptures and Jewish expectations.

    My next post to Peter M may clear up further misunderstanding.

    BTW Thankyou for tolerating some longwinded posts


  • Comment number 94.

    Peter Morrow

    1) I think we're agreed that Pilate crucified Jesus as the Sanhedrin convinced him that he was a political threat.
    2) Why did the Sanhedrin want him dead? Partly they were offended by statements that put him on a par with "I AM". This was enough to get Jesus hated.
    3) Was it enough to get a Jew crucified? (As opposed to lynched, as was attempted Jn 8v59).
    4) Jn 18 v 14 gives the reason for the Crucifixion - Scripturally and Historically speaking, the motive was more political (and economic) than religious.
    5) John 18 v 20-23 is difficult to explain if Jesus was an habitual blasphemer, as is Mark 14 v 55-56.
    6) However, if Jesus claims were guarded in Parables etc., then these passages do make sense.
    7) Jesus would have been careful with his language, to avoid teaching Tri-theism or Modalism.
    8) Re. Mark 14v62, the charge of blasphemy is exaggerated rhetoric on the High Priests part. The unity of God is not threatened by such a statement - the Jews could conceive of Wisdom or Logos type figures existing alongside God. Nor, given Lev 24 v 16, and the evidence of the LXX and the Mishnah, could a charge of blasphemy have legal standing - the name of "I AM" was not used by Jesus. It was an outrageous claim (that is, unless it was true) but not blasphemous. The Sanhedrin were acting well beyond their authority.
    9) All this is important, as it shows that Jesus remained a Jewish figure, but also transcended the teachings of Judaism. He "fulfilled" them. Which is pretty much the opposite of subverting them.
    10) Again, it is worth reading Ezekiel 34, 37v15ff, Jeremiah 23 v1-7 etc. and seeing how Jesus combined hopes of "I AM's " return with the hope of a Davidic King in his own ministry. This was a hope taken from the Jewish scriptures. If we see Jesus as an enemy of Judaism (as opposed to the teachings of the Pharisees and the Saducees) we fail to understand him. If we do not recognise the political implications of his ministry, then we fail to take the incarnation seriously. The Word became flesh. His time and place shaped him as much as his biology.

    Graham Veale

  • Comment number 95.

    Hi Graham

    I'm reading your post 94 and saying yep nope yep nope, I'm just not sure what to make of it. I've never particularly though of myself as a prisoner to conservative doctrine, much less conservative church practice but there's something about your comments that I'm struggling to tie down. So how do I begin to explain my concerns. Maybe I could start with the bits of agreement which see clear to me.

    Your point (1) Agreed.

    (2) Why did the Sanhedrin want him dead. Jesus bugged them agreed.

    (9) Jesus was a Jewish figure who fufilled the law - agreed.

    (5) *I* do not believe Jesus to have been a blasphemer - but what I think doesn't actually matter here. It's what the Sanhedrin and Jesus himself thought. (I'll get back to the latter bit later.) and anyway Mark 14 v 63 64 is all about the Sanhedrin accusing Jesus of blasphemy in their eyes. Surely they were out to get him? Rhetoric? Why go for it then?

    Now for some of the rest.

    (3) I'm not sure that being stoned (which you call lynching) is much different to crucifixion. Both sort of leave you dead.

    (4) Jn 18 v 14 You're making a lot of this are you not? Reason for the crucifixion? From the author most concerned with the inner life and self identity of Jesus? Surely John is simply saying, 'it was Chiaphas, you know the one, the high priest chappy?'

    (8) The Sanhedrin were acting beyond their authority? Maybe beyond Roman authority, but not Jewish authority if they were, perceived as the custodians of the law.

    But it's (10) which really gets me. NT Wright speaks of Jesus sense of himself and his 'mission' in interesting terms. He says things like , "Jesus appears to have seen it (the role of Messiah) differently" (to what others expected), and has him understanding the themes of the Messiah (irrelevant to my point) which "Jesus *believed* he was called to..." and "There is every reason to suppose that Jesus (studied the scripture) and that he allowed this study to shape his sense of what he had to do. His task, he believed, was to bring the great story of Israel to it’s one-off decisive climax.” All from Simply Christian.

    Please understand this I have **NO** gripe with the conclusions NT Wright reaches about who Jesus was and what the role of the Messiah is, but do you hear the implicit suggestion, in how he writes, that Jesus took on a role and believed himself to be the Messiah and so on, without there being any clarity about Jesus actually knowing who he was. Here is where I will disagree with Portwyne in that I think Jesus was doing more than, "gathering into himself the whole mythos of the Christ", and yet I agree with his statement, "transcending time and space to embrace the whole world in his suffering arms". Trouble is Graham your point (10) reads like you think Jesus took on the Messiah role but might not have know it.

    However I agree his ministry had political and social role and the Word became flesh with all the following implications.

    The historical context of the bible is very important and we ought to consider it but we also bring to it the understanding that the gospel writers had that Jesus was the Son of God... and.. "truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; ..." as of Chalcedon, and I'm just saying that Jesus sort of knew this too and that the Sanhedrin knew what claims he was making and is primarily why they wanted him dead. Do you see my point?

    I also recognise the different debate you are having with Portwyne.

  • Comment number 96.

    A technical query: how long does it take a moderator to moderate?

    I have been watching to see if my post # 63 above is reinstated (as it should be) or removed for a breach of House Rules - so far it seems to be resting in limbo.

    Smasher raised a very valid point in post # 47. I would love to know what is the moral justification for a hierarchy of sensibilities. One for William perhaps...

  • Comment number 97.


    I would have thought an answer to that might be fashion.

  • Comment number 98.


    Thank you for the courtesy you have displayed in responding to my posts. I think the problem we have is that you and I have fundamentally and irreconcilably different approaches to faith. You exalt the intellect and advocate scholarship as a path to religious understanding while I think God can not be apprehended in any way by human reason and that one can only find the real Jesus in one's heart and not in the research papers of historians or theologians.

    In an attempt to get to the heart of our contention, I will rephrase one question I have asked before: can you not see that the action of Jesus' disciples in picking corn on the Sabbath in full view of the Pharisees is analogous to Dr Myers' desecration of a communion wafer. Whether the disciples were right, whether Dr Myers is right, is irrelevant: both, in the eyes of their opponents, profaned something considered holy to make a point. That, simply put, is what I have been arguing.

    I have argued that some actions and words take on a life of their own way beyond the scope or intention of their origin. I have outlined why Dr Myers action resonates with me in the second paragraph of my post # 39 above.

    American tele-evangelists and their imitators this side of the pond are centuries behind the Catholic Church when it comes to using religion to amass huge fortunes (personal as well as 'corporate'). Possession of the body of Christ was a powerful cash-cow for the Church down the centuries - it is a blasphemy which outrages me and I cannot imagine why you would wish to argue for something in which you yourself do not believe. As to the arguments themselves - if something is nonsense fine minds and fancy language can dress it up in much more elegant and sophisticated nonsense but it is still nonsense - just as a cracker, however ensorcelled by verbiage, is still just a cracker.

  • Comment number 99.


    Thanks for the discussion. The Myers incident is relevant to my GCSE syllabus, and your comments are helpful.
    1) I would maintain that Jesus' actions in the cornfield are not equivalent to Myer's actions. This would be to assume that every Jew had the same attitude to the Sabbath; that is to say, every Jew would have agreed with the Pharisaic interpretation of the Sabbath commandment. Jesus quotes Scriptural precedent, and regards Sabbath as God's gift, when defending his actions.
    2) Jesus Sabbath healings show that there were more important concerns than Sabbath observance, not that Sabbath had no importance.
    3) Jesus had a "low" view of Jewish purity laws. Yet he paid them token respect. We have no record of Jesus sacrificing an unclean animal - the equivalent of Myer's offence.
    4) If Jesus relativised some areas of the Mosaic Law, he intensified others. The Law of Moses was only relativised by his mission (not humanitarian concern). The prophets also had to set aside purity concerns in their mission - Isaiah, Ezekiel and Hosea spring to mind.
    5) What of Jesus claims to authority? Jesus threatened neither the unity or the authority of I AM, and showed an unprecedented respect for I AM's holiness. To the Gospel writers Jesus was not guilty of blasphemy. His opponents were blind when they made such assertions.
    6) Given the example of Jesus, the preaching in Acts, Romans 12 v 18, and 1 Peter 3 v 15-16, I do not believe that a Christian could behave in a similar manner to Myers.
    7) I have also outlined pragmatic arguments against causing unnecessary offence in a pluralistic culture. Sometimes our views will offend others - eg. the Muslim assertion that Jesus was not crucified. In such circumastances we should state our views with care, and defend them robustly. Mockery will prove counterproductive.

    8) One final note - it occurs to me that if Myer's had offered the wafer as a piece of art he would have been above critcism in many quarters - and in fact, it might have been judged as tame.


  • Comment number 100.

    I should add that reason serves faith - which is rather different than saying it has an authority that can dispense with faith, or ground faith. It is also different than saying that faith can dispense with reason.



Page 1 of 2

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.