Vatican't

By Phil Plait | January 16, 2009 10:20 am

I generally don’t write too much about specific religions here on BA, for a lot of reasons. One is because discussing an entire religion is sure to drop the signal to noise ratio in the comments to 0, which is a pain and typically leads to irrational screaming rather than rational discussions based on evidence. But the big reason is that I prefer to attack specific arguments, not the people or establishments who make them. Many religions say the Earth is young, for example, but I don’t worry too much about who they are, but what they’re saying. And many religions do lots of good things, so attacking them en masse can be unfair.

Having said that, what the heck is the Pope thinking lately?

A recent article in the UK’s Daily Mail talks about the Pope creating a guideline to help determine what apparitions of the Virgin Mary are real and which aren’t. As regular readers know, I’m of the opinion — backed by substantial evidence — that at the very best the vast majority of these sightings are not real. They are, so far as I can tell, cases of pareidolia (seeing familiar patterns like faces in random noise) or mass hallucination. Some, of course, are simply hoaxes, and the Pope acknowledges this. His guidelines include having the claimant not go public, since that is highly suspicious behavior.

Virgin in a lava lamp

Some are just silly, like seeing the Virgin in your lava lamp (bonus: the skeptical viewpoint in that article is given by my friend Richard Saunders). I sometimes wonder: don’t people ever take into account the likelihood that an event will spawn a Virgin-shaped object? Oil dripping down, wax solidifying, grain patterns, folds: all of these can easily make a simple oval shape, reminiscent of how Mary is generally depicted. Seeing that pattern in them is hardly a miracle; I’d expect it to occur given enough examples. If someone shows me a demure cloaked Virgin in a quartz crystal, then maybe you’ll have something.

But that announcement pales in comparisons to the next: the Vatican has released a previously secret list of sins. The list itself is not terribly surprising, of course. What shocked me was the way it listed relative importance of these sins: desecrating a Eucharist (the cracker Catholics believe is the transubstantiated body of Christ) is considered a worse sin than murder or even genocide.

I had to read that part twice to make sure I had understood it, but the meaning is pretty clear. What PZ Myers did was worse, according to this doctrine, than what Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot did.

I understand that if you are a devout Catholic, you truly and fervently believe the cracker has become the actual body of Christ. But honestly, is spitting it out — an example specifically stated in the article — or even driving a rusty nail through it a worse sin than actually murdering millions of living people? I’ve read the Bible, and from the Sermon on the Mount it doesn’t sound to me that Jesus was someone who would think that way.

Now, having dealt with the media many times before, I understand how things get distorted in articles like these. Also, I was not raised Catholic, so perhaps I am missing important information here. I would be very interested in getting the opinions and viewpoints of other people in the comments. There are well over a billion Catholics on the planet, so whether you agree or disagree with the tenets of the religion, it’s a force with which to be dealt.

So let’s talk. Keep it polite, folks, and if you make claims, please try to include links. I am seriously interested in learning here — I always am — so let’s keep this dialogue respectful of people’s feelings, if not their ideas.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion

Comments (219)

  1. Colin J

    Well, this might be interesting Phil. I’m solidly of the opinion that genocide is orders of magnitude more than desecrating a eucharist. Opinion can never replace reality. Murder is real.

  2. Chris

    I lol’d when I read the part about desecrating a Eucharist. I went to highschool with a guy who’d bring in a huge bag of the little crackers (or Jeez-its) and eat them as a snack all day. Hilarious? Yes. Evil? No.

  3. Well, in one case, it’s killing millions of sinful, corrupt, unimportant people, and in the other, it’s making Jesus cry. And Jesus is soooo much more important than mere humanity that of course the latter is the greater crime.

  4. Phil, you did a great job with this article. I think you covered all of your bases, and if people still get upset, oh well. Since I immersed myself in the skeptical movement I notice countless examples of personal pareidolia. Occam’s Razor is always good for these things as well, come on, what is more likely: A proven neurological process (pareidolia) or a supernatural intervention on behalf of a lava lamp? (I will refrain from comment on the cracker fiasco.)
    -Jacob

  5. Todd W.

    I would just like to add to what Phil mentioned in the last paragraph. Keep in mind that if someone criticizes or ridicules something in which you believe, that does not necessarily mean that they are criticizing or ridiculing you personally.

    So, I second Phil’s entreaty to be polite, and please don’t take the comments as personal attacks.

  6. Regarding Chris’s comment on the guy eating the wafers – until they’ve been blessed, Catholics don’t think there’s anything special about them (officially, at least – I’m sure there are many Catholics that don’t really understand their religion and consider all the wafers to be sacred, whether blessed or not). So, eating a whole bag of them wouldn’t be evil under the Vatican’s guidelines.

  7. Todd W.

    @PZ Myers

    I urge caution, lest the powers that be make it even colder there than it already is. I’d hate for you to become a squidcicle. :P

  8. Dan

    Phil, as a Catholic I gotta say I agree with you on this one. I think Jesus would put genocide just slightly ahead of Eucharist desecration.

    However, I see where the RCC is coming from. For Catholics the Eucharist IS the body of Christ. It isn’t representative, so desecrating a Eucharist is, in some sense, akin to killing Christ himself.

    That being said, I gotta think Jesus would rather you desecrate a Eucharist as opposed to…ya know…kill millions of people

  9. I was raised Catholic, and, when I went to Catholic School in Britain (where I was born), one of the things we did was prepare for First Communion. When the momentous day arrived, myself, my classmates, and all of our families gathered on a Sunday Morning at the church. My turn came to receive communion, and as the priest placed the wafer on my tongue, I took one taste of the thing, and promptly spat it on the floor. I thought the priest was going to have a heart attack right then and there, as well as my mother!

    I guess that makes me a worse sinner than Hitler, Stalin, Pol-Pot, Charles Manson and every other mass murderer. Oh, I was six years old at the time!

  10. You’re just now getting confused about the Vatican’s arbitrary and ridiculous statements?

  11. DMLou

    It’s ridiculous stuff like this that makes me a “wedding, funeral, and baptism” Catholic (whereas I’d only step into a church for those and similar ceremonies/rituals) as opposed to a “real” Catholic. I was raised Catholic and have a soft spot for certain traditions, but there’s a lot of stuff that the Church is preaching that neither I nor my family (who for the most part have similar feelings on the Church as mine) thinks is right (and in the areas where I happen to agree with the Church, it’s due to independent decision making, not listening to what they say is “right” and “wrong”).

    Personally, I’m actually more of an agnostic with a soft spot for tradition than anything else.

  12. RL

    I don’t believe that the meaning of this is that the Church feels that desecration of a host is worse than mass murder. Thats taking the meaning of this document out of context. These rules govern who can forgive sins at confession. Since this document was written in 1179, I’m not up on it. I’ll ask my priest if I get the chance. He’s also a canon lawyer.

    I also don’t get what the problem is with the first announcement. Isn’t it a good thing that the pope is creating guidelines for investigating reported sightings? Investigation guidelines are common for looking into reported miracles and the like.

  13. themadchemist

    Phil,
    I think you were fair in your response and I would have one recommendation for those of us more skeptical people. As opposed to some I find theology fascinating. I think it would be appropriate as skeptics/atheists/christians/everyone to actually study in depth strange doctrine and the history of the time period to see if perhaps we are judging it correctly. I have found that when I come across a strange doctrine if I look to see when it was first established often the historical contexts makes more sense(sometimes not). For one thing this used to be a “secret” and is not now so perhaps they are going to revise their stances in view of modern ideals. For instance 800 years ago I don’t think most people groups would really understand our ideas of genocide and mass murder. We might also be getting caught up on something for instance that requires us to understand more about sacramental(Eucharist/Confession) rather than just normal sins of murder/theft etc and how those are absolved via Church hierarchy and so has no bearing on their “seriousness” in that sense. Just my two cents but I think if we are going demand that “religious” people actually learn about evolution/cosmology before berating it with counterpoints that make no sense we should do the same.
    Regards,
    Caleb

  14. IVAN3MAN

    Phil, I tried to post a cartoon, but the bloody stupid system “spammed” it!

  15. Papabear

    I was raised Catholic and if forced to identify my “religion” it would be Catholicism….yes I believe in evolution, that kids should be vaccinated, and that the earth is very old before anyone ask . I wouldn’t be considered practicing, but I still feel a need to defend, or at least correct, some of the inaccuracies I hear (sometimes that’s pretty much impossible). The Catholic Church actually doesn’t accept the majority of the so called miracles. Some of the seemingly unexplainable might be accepted, but at least with a portion of the Clergy the message is more important than how you get it. More precisely, it doesn’t matter if Jesus really appeared in my cereal bowl, if it has a profound and positive affect on your life. It doesn’t make rational sense, but that’s religion in general.

    As far as the hidden sins. I was taught to treat communion and the Eucharist with respect because it represented the body of Christ. I will even admit that most Catholics would consider desecrating the Eucharist a sin (me, not so much) , but I think a large majority of Catholic would put murder, genocide, rape, etc. much higher on the sin list. For as progressive as the Catholic church can be relative to some other religions, it is things like this that drove me away. The idea of Papal Infallibility was something else I always had a major problem with…among many others. The Catholic Church actually doesn’t have a problem with most scientific theory, but many of the members routinely screw that up.

  16. IVAN3MAN

    Jebus must have been offended!

  17. Dave Wiley

    The one thing that always confounds me about Jesus or Virgin Mary sightings is we have no reference. People are comparing ostensible sightings of the fab family to representations of them painted hundreds of years after their death by artists who didn’t know what they looked like either. Is the claim that Mary appears in the form of a Medieval painting so that we can recognize her? If this is true than I expect an image of Jesus on a BigMac wrapper to look like the South Park character so the average American will understand what they are seeing.

    I think the Pope usually gets a pass because few people outside the church scrutinize what he says. My parents were Catholic right up until they read the writings that came out of Vatican II. This convinced my parents that the church was making up new rules as it went along, and there was more of men and politics to its teachings rather than the eternal and truth with a capital T. As I kid I only understood that I was spared an hour on a rock-hard bench every Sunday.

  18. Tom

    As a Catholic myself (although I hate practicing and slam the church every chance I get- which is now also very Catholic) with 17 years of Catholic school education, the church has lots of symbols, which the eucharist is. I think you will be hard pressed to find many catholics who actually believe they are eating the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. If so, he’s rather dry.. could use some salt. Even the teachings within the bible we are taught to not take literally. I was once shown in Catholic school inconsistancies within the bible where the same story was told but different names were used because the writings were made to appeal to the listener of the time. Its all about symbols but unfortunatly it can be misinterpretted. Now, the story you have posted is not from the Catholic church so I would question the bias. I do remember being taught to watch for anyone who does not put the Eucharist in their mouth or spits it out. I would then have to report it and I think someone like the Albino in the Da Vinci Code then comes out and beats the crap out of them. Actually come to think of it, that was also disinformation but it made for one hell of a story, same as this article. By the way, “cracker catholics” in one sentance can came come off sounding bad when you not trying to insult.

  19. bob

    “what the heck is the Pope thinking lately”

    You’re talking about a man who believes in the supernatural. Who knows what he’s thinking?

  20. sophia8

    As an ex-Catholic, I’d like to point out that the Apostolic Penitentiary is dealing specifically with sins against the Church; while any old priest can issue forgiveness for crimes against humanity (murder etc), only the High Mucky-Mucks of the Vatican have the authority to deal with crimes against the religion – which is what desecrating communion wafers is.
    I’m certainly not defending this weird view; just pointing out that the Vatican divides “sin” into different categories that require different treatment, and don’t nessessarily think that one category is morally worse than another.

  21. In terms of the Church’s view of “sin,” it’s perfectly logical that desecrating the eucharist would be worse than mass murder. The Church is interested in souls, not lives. If a person kills another (or another and another and…), well, that’s just sending the victim’s soul to heaven that much quicker, and the killer can confess it all and be absolved of the sin. If a person desecrates a wafer, his soul is likely going to hell for all eternity. So from the Pope’s point of view, the murderer actually presents the lesser of the threats.

  22. sophia8

    Ack!! Just realised that I posted this to the wrong post! This was meant to go in the post about the Vatican’s list of sins. Serves me right for having so many pages open at once.

  23. Maybe someone has already raised this point. I don’t have time to read the hundreds of comments.
    How can anyone see Jesus or Mary in anything. We don’t have actual photographs or even paintings from the time of these actual people. The images we have are all from the minds of artists. So, what people are seeing is some artists conception of someone that we have no idea of what they looked like. At least when someone thinks they see John Lennon or Hitler they are basing it on actual pictures of these people. I see squares, circles and triangles in everything. Is that a miracle?

  24. OK. Now I see that someone has made this same observation (Dave Wiley), so, point is – I agree.

  25. bjn

    I just don’t get what you have to gain by trying to logically interpret someone’s religious dogma. PZ’s “cracker” grandstanding exhibits the emotional maturity of a 10-year-old. I don’t care where on the scale of “sins” descration of a Eucarist is ranked by the Catholic church. I’m not a Catholic and unless there’s some move to insert this dogma into civil law, it’s something for Catholics to deal with or ignore.

    Being intentionally and graphically offensive with someone else’s deeply held beliefs isn’t remotely akin to genocide. But being intentionally offensive is stupid and mean-spirited. If I get face-to-face with someone and yell obscenities at that person, I can claim that I’m only disturbing a few air molecules ant that I’m really causing no harm. At the very least, the harm is making the argument emotional when the objective is (ostensibly at least) to encourage rationality.

    And Phil, although you’ve tried to be civil, referring to the Eucharist as a cracker is like calling the Bible an old pulp novel.

  26. Charles Boyer

    Let’s see, the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-seeing dude in the sky is more offended by an insult than millions of his children being murdered in violation of his laws?

    That defies common sense, and I mean no insult to Catholics by saying so.

  27. Spiv

    Wouldn’t Jesus have demanded that he take the damage over millions of bystanders? Wasn’t that, like, the whole ‘died for our sins’ point of it?

    I dunno, it wouldn’t be the first time I misinterpreted catholicism.

  28. DrFlimmer

    I actually am a Catholic (and believing in god does not contradict science in my opinion). But I must say, I don’t really believe in the transformation of water and flour into “flesh of Jesus” – I take it as a symbol , just like the protestants. I am also not taking the bible literally – but interpretating it can be very precious, I think. And not everything the pope says is actually right, I disagree with him on a few things (I would strongly disagree with him that point about the sins!!).
    But: The Catholic church is a very hugh institution. It has done very bad things in the past (how can a Christian go to crusades?) but it is not fair to judge them on the things in the past. They are really doing fine by now (I think that they are “robbed” of their secular power put them back to the roots). Not everything is good, of course, but they are improving – but it needs time!
    The Catholic church does not deny evolution or science in general – and that is the right thing! Religion has to do with believing, science with knowledge; one should keep it that way!

  29. Phil: Careful referencing PZ! He (correctly, I think) advocates being uncivil in the face of ignorance, dishonesty, and delusion. This cracker nonsense could easily go under all three headings, what with priests pushing food as more sacred than human life and their audiences gullibly believing it.

  30. SteveG

    I was raised as a Catholic although I am a member of the Episcopal Church now. As a boy I remember struggling with the idea that the Eucharist was actually Christ’s body. For one it didn’t look like it; for two, I wasn’t sure I’d want to eat it if it was!

    My comment though is a general one. I think we need to be very careful not to apply too much importance to things originally meant as symbols, whether it’s the Eucharist, the flag, a wedding ring, a statue, a photograph, etc.

    Your belief is your own and it’s what you hold in your heart that’s important; the symbol is not. If my wife lost her wedding ring, we’d still be married, she’d still love me and I’d still love her. If my mother’s photograph was destroyed, I would still think of her and remember her. Symbols might help us to retain information, give us a tangible thing to hold while we meditate. But in the end, they are unnecessary and in clearly some cases, distracting.

  31. John Powell

    @Dan, et al
    “However, I see where the RCC is coming from. For Catholics the Eucharist IS the body of Christ. It isn’t representative, so desecrating a Eucharist is, in some sense, akin to killing Christ himself.”

    This, and persecuting Jews as “Christ-killers” is something I just don’t get. If you are Christian, isn’t the execution of Jesus *the whole damned point*? I mean the Jesuits showed me “Jesus Christ, Superstar” back in high school, and that made it pretty clear to me…

  32. mocular

    My take on the pope’s position is that desecration of the cracker is obviously worse than killing because cracker buggery weakens the authority of the church by making a mockery of their doctrine. The pope has to maintain the authority of the church by maintaining the doctrine and keeping the faithful together through shared belief in extreme positions.

    As for murder, no big deal – people are always killing other people in large and small numbers – it will not decrease the pope’s or the church’s authority so no need to put it as the number 1 sin.

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the behavior of a religious organization is completely determined by morality – it is a political body that has maintaining and increasing it’s authority as it’s highest priorities. Morality is only a secondary consideration.

  33. Spiv

    sophia8: that makes a little more sense I guess. It still seems like a hierarchy of what you have to do to be forgiven though, right?

  34. Tim G

    I would, in most instances, respect sentimental value attached to inanimate objects but this is ridiculous.

  35. Timothy from Boulder

    “Desecrating Eucharist worse than Genocide” is the easy angle to play, but I believe it’s disingenuous.

    Not to be taken as Gospel (awww, snap) this article (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0900179.htm) highlights that the specific acts covered are of such an unusual and personal nature, that foregiveness for the act can’t be carried out by a priest or bishop, but is reserved to the Apostolic Penitentiary.

    That’s different than “worse”.

    A discussion with a knowledgeable member of the Catholic Church may be in order (even then, there may be disagreement, but I’ve run out of favors that’ll get me in to see the Pope), but until then, the characterization that desecrating the Eucharist is worse than genocide is almost certainly an unfair demonization. There are plenty of things that can be accurately said about the failings of the Church without inventing spurious ones.

  36. galaxy coma

    Still nothing on the NASA announcement on “methane discovery reveals mars is not a dead planet”? Come on, Phil, I’m waiting for your take on that. ;) Sorry for the off-topic.

  37. Nicholas

    When is the official name change of the blog from Bad Astronomy to Pareidolia Blog?

  38. 1) http://www.godchecker.com/
    2) Based on Michelangelo’s Pietà, if she doesn’t have 72″ hips she ain’t the real thing. Then again, Michelangelo didn’t circumcize David and displayed leavened bread at the Last Supper (a Passover seder).
    3) Pope Benny 16, formerly “God’s rotweiler”, is drowning in a world of mysticism demanding rational basis. His predecessor – magnus! – had absolute faith. Poster girl Mother Teresa admitted to having no faith at all. Either way pretty much gets you to the same end – real world agony of the lumpen rank and file. Every priest says “Hodie mihi, cras tibi“.

  39. nichole

    Let’s not forget about York’s theory:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/8961/York-David-Christ-and-the-Sacred-Mushroom

    (Personal favorite.)

    Putting the psilocybin back in the eucharist would certainly increase membership, no?

  40. It makes a certain degree of sense, memetically speaking. If a religion wants to succeed it must have a mechanism to preserve it’s own sanctity. Many, if not most, faiths put crimes against the religion more important than crimes against other people.

    Really, any successful memetic complex has a mechanism like this. That’s why the crime of “failure to appear” as it’s called in my state has a stiffer punishment than the traffic violation that landed you in court in the first place.

  41. John Karabaic

    Full disclosure: I am a lapsed Catholic who remembers the sisters and priests who taught me in grade school quite fondly. I have no anti- or pro-Catholic axe to grind in this case.

    It could be that these sins are regarded as requiring removal from the local environment of the priest to adjudicate. They’re not more “serious”, per se, but they’re best removed from all taint of local bias.

    For example, Americans have an expression, “Let’s not make a Federal case out of it”, as if Federal prosecution is worse than local or state prosecution. In my observation, this doesn’t appear to be true. In many cases, you might get a fairer shake in Federal court than a local court.

    Messing with the articles of the faith may provoke a very hot reaction on the part of the local clergy. It may be best to change the venue for the judgement of the sin to someone who may be more able to judge it calmly.

  42. Todd W.

    @themadchemist

    Good comment about looking at the history behind the creation of the rule. It would behoove the RCC to examine this history a little more closely, as well, now and then and determine if, perhaps, the rules should not be brought up to date.

    @sophia8

    Interesting point about “crimes against humanity” vs. “crimes against the church”. It makes sense, sorta, in that regard. I can see the “secret” sins not being viewed, necessarily, as worse than murder, in that context…just of a different nature.

    However, whether it was an intentional spin by the reporter or just misinterpretation, it appears that a lay individual could very easily interpret this news as meaning that defiling the Eucharist or blurting out secrets are worse than murder. The RCC should definitely address such things before they go spinning wildly out of control on various sites across the web. (Though I imagine it’s already a bit too late for that.)

  43. @ bjn:

    And Phil, although you’ve tried to be civil, referring to the Eucharist as a cracker is like calling the Bible an old pulp novel.

    Is that a deliberate set-up line, because…no, no…ack!…must…not…do…it….

    .

    @ John Powell:

    If you are Christian, isn’t the execution of Jesus *the whole damned point*?

    Don’t go there, John. Trying to sort out the idiosyncrasies of religion is fairly pointless.

  44. Chambered

    As you said, Catholics (the ‘good’ ones) truly believe that the Eucharist is the body of God. Given that, spitting God out is a rejection of Him and the Faith.
    Ideally, the only people allowed to even TOUCH the Eucharist, are priests. This was fairly recently changed and now they hand it out to pretty much anyone that wants it.

    Of course, the key point is what you believe. If you believe that killing other people is the good and right thing to do, then no one will convince you otherwise.
    These days, I doubt that most Catholics truly believe what their faith says they are supposed to believe. I’ve seen too many opposing opinions on the “right” way to follow that faith to believe that anyone actually knows what’s going on.

  45. rcn2

    bjn: The Bible is an old pulp novel! One might argue the first trashy novels to hit the stands. Sex, murder, death, genocide, betrayal, what more do you want?

    I agree that being rude for rude’s sake is simply stupid. The difference between making fun of a person’s private beliefs and making fun of religion is the inordinate respect religion demands within society. When considering ROTC in my youth I had to defend my designation of “atheist’ to the recruiter. When making straight-forward statements about scientific evidence in class (I’m a teacher) I have to tip-toe around topics to ensure the material gets taught without creating a backlash from ignorant parents and administration (and of course this only ensures the material gets taught, not that it gets taught well). The pope has threatened excommunication to politicians if they supported abortion rights.

    When personal religious beliefs stop insisting on controlling the politics of my country and the standards of education you may have a point. Until then, desecrating the Eucharist is a public service.

  46. AFakeGuy

    Those crazy Catholics. *shakes head*

  47. RoaldFalcon

    Murder is a state offense.
    Tampering with a mailbox is a federal offense.

    But which is worse?

    I don’t see how identifying a sin as pope-level has anything to do with how serious it is.

  48. Timothy from Boulder

    Any talk of wafercide wouldn’t be complete without mention of Dane Cook’s comedy routine in which he refers to the Eucharist as the “Crouton o’ Christ” and “Jeez-its” (my favorite) and reflects on how as a child he used to want to grab the whole bowl of wafers and gobble them down with milk like “Christ Chex.”

  49. The Daily Mail probably isn’t a _terrifically_ reliable source. If advised by them that the sky was blue, you’d be well advised to take a quick look outside. For a North American analogue, think Fox News, perhaps.

    The Telegraph is well-known for reporting that vaccines cause autism and that global warming is a hoax. On the up-side, however, it’s famously authoritative on stories about the army and about gay vicars.

  50. Martin Moran

    As a Catholic I also agree with you about which is the worse. I also agree with some of your readers about Theology being important. It truly is the moment you realize our Church existed for hundreds of years before the Bible was even written.

    As for desecrating the Eucharist I think it is a very bad thing, but mainly because it’s a very blinkered black and white way to look at things and that is wrong.

  51. I was raised Catholic. The whole time I took communion, it never occurred to me that the whole idea that the church was insisting the idea the wafer was being transformed before our eyes. I always thought it was allegorical.

    It wasn’t until P.Z.’s Crackergate that I had ever *heard* the word “transubstantiation” (or don’t recall it, at any rate.) Shows how well I paid attention during CCD.

    As far as one act being more “sinful” than the other: at one mass I snuck in a Godzilla comic book to read during the sermon, as I found the sermons really boring. Based on my father’s reaction, you would have thought I was drinking the blood of sacrificed puppies!

  52. Brian Mangravite

    Didn’t I read earlier that the document was written in 1179? 1179? And you people are judging modern Catholicism from a document written in 1179? The Pope releases this document as a general guideline, but chose not to edit it, and Catholics the world over are being slammed? I thought you intellectual types were supposed to be open minded. Regarding the Eucharist, let me try to explain for you scientific types. Obviously, the Host is not changed into literal human flesh. No one believes that. And yet, it is a primary point of faith for Catholics that, after it is transmuted, which occurs during the Mass, that it becomes the body of Christ (not the blood — that’s the sacremental wine). It may be less than complimentary to the Eucharist to compare it this way but when a person has a parasite they are that parasite’s host. It is not a coincidence that the Eucharist is referred to as the “Host”. It is the means by which Jesus, who is now no longer in a physical, incarnate state, becomes physical again for the purposes the Mass, accepting Jesus into your body, being sustained and strengthened by Him. And, yes, it is the single most holy act in the Catholic religion. No, no thinking person would equate that to murder, etc. But it is incredibly offensive to any who take their religion seriously, to disrespect Jesus by disrespecting the Host. I don’t expect you unbelievers to understand it. But have a little respect, or at least tolerance, for those of us who are believers. And, by the way, even the Pope supports teaching evolution in the schools and acknowledges that the planet is really old.

  53. Nicholas

    Two days now and no post on the Mars Methane discovery but we continue to get worthless Pareidolia posts. Wake me up when this blog gets exciting again.

  54. Todd W.

    @Nicholas

    Perhaps you should just not pay attention to the non-astronomy posts? The titles and the category notations should serve as a pretty good guide on which posts to pass over and which to read.

  55. Jason Heldenbrand

    This ‘sin’ is there as its creation during the early years of the Church in power likely found that desecrating this ceremony was tantamount to challenging the power of the Church and thus a form of treason. It makes no sense in modern times, but is pretty clear in forms of intent for medieval ones. Whether or not the Pope actually believes it or passes if off as an archaic rule is the only part that concerns me.

  56. Nicholas

    I do know to pass over them, but I have held off posting comments for a while thinking the Anti-Vax & Pareidolia posts would be a fad. This is one of the first sites I check daily and especially after reading on other sites about the Methane/Life on Mars discovery hoping to get Phil’s insight only to be disappointed not to even hear a mention of it.

  57. Todd W.

    @Nicholas

    It may also be worth keeping in mind that, while astronomy is the main focus of the blog, he also deals with skepticism, science in general, rational thought and Star Trek.

    Here’s a breakdown of the last 10 posts:

    5 were on astronomy
    2 were on pareidolia/religion
    1 was on Star Trek
    1 was on vaccines
    1 was on the JREF

    Despite his lag in reporting the methane bit (which he may be gethering more info on and carefully putting together his words), I’d say that that is a pretty good ratio of astronomy posts to other, non-astronomy-critical-thinking posts.

  58. Cheyenne

    I like the balance of this blog too. And I thought this article was really well done.

    Nicholas – You can always check out the other bazillion blogs out there for science/Astronomy news. Universe Today is pretty good.

  59. Charles Boyer

    Hmmm. People that don’t like a particular person’s blog ought to start their own blog and make one that they think is better. It’s pretty easy these days to get started.

    Phil Plait is not only an astronomer, he is also a note skeptic that has a senior role in a well-noted skeptic organization. Said organization covers pareidolia and other subjects, yet you express surprise when the author writes about those subjects?

    It didn’t surprise for even a Plank Limit / Speed of Light amount of time. But hey, that’s just me.

  60. Charles Boyer

    Despite his lag in reporting the methane bit (which he may be gethering more info on and carefully putting together his words),

    All you need to know about the subject is contained in this simple diagram:

    images.spaceref.com/news/2009/fartin.martian.jpg

  61. M

    I am a Christian and a skeptic. I will admit that things I believe because of my faith by definition cannot be proven (or disproven) scientifically. I have a problem when other skeptics try to assert their superiority because they believe in atheism, and are therefore more skeptical and better. While some religions assert things that are provably incorrect (young earth, evolution, etc.) I think the majority of religious people accept the science and agree with skeptics. I know I do. I can reconcile these things with my faith. Trivializing religion just drives people away. If you have scientific proof that is one thing, but ridiculing Catholics because they rank sins differently than you do seems like it will do nothing to advance the cause of skepticism, in fact I expect it will have exactly the opposite effect.

  62. Jason Dick

    I understand that if you are a devout Catholic, you truly and fervently believe the cracker has become the actual body of Christ. But honestly, is spitting it out — an example specifically stated in the article — or even driving a rusty nail through it a worse sin than actually murdering millions of living people?

    Well, how else could they have used host desecration as an excuse for pogroms?

  63. @M:

    I think the Vatican’s unbelievable lack of perspective is what everyone is criticizing.

  64. Todd W.

    @M

    I didn’t interpret Phil’s post as ridiculing Catholics. He did quite earnestly ask for input from others, including Catholics, to try to understand the article/list. Granted, some of the comments following do look down on such beliefs.

  65. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.,

    You forgot to mention Dr. Who.

  66. M

    Perhaps I am being a bit oversensitive. I enjoy this blog as well as randi.org and others, but the constant anti-religious tone does get annoying, especially as it is often not relevant to the topic. In this case it is relevant to the topic, but I do not understand why the topic is relevant to skepticism. That the Catholic church believes in miracles and thinks desecrating the host is a sin is hardly news and does nothing to advance the case of skepticism. As I said before you are only going to alienate people that you might otherwise be able to bring to your side.

  67. paradoctor

    For me the tell-tale was that only the Pope could forgive an attempted assassination of the Pope. So these aren’t ‘higher sins’; they’re ‘internal problems’. It’s organizational self-protection; and keeping the list secret is also standard organizational self-protection.

    We see here a large bureaucracy doing what comes naturally.

  68. Helioprogenus

    @galaxycoma,

    I completely agree with you. I’m surprised that there has been no news on the Methane discovery on Mars. I’d like to think that Phil’s burning the midnight oil on this one, trying to get the most information available to the general public.

    I appreciate a lively debate like this one, but honestly, I think the importance of real science and real observations overshadows the belief in imaginary sky fairies. Then again, it’s Phil’s blog, he can post any subject he wishes. Yet, one can only hope for his eloquence and in depth knowledge from the people involved to help bring us more details on these methane venting events on Mars.

  69. Todd W.

    @M

    Looking at the claims and teachings of a particular religious sect does tie into skepticism and rational thinking. Examination of the basis of the claim or teaching is, if not world-changing, at least a good exercise in critical thinking skills. How does it connect with the real world? What effect do those claims and teachings have on the people who hear them? Do they increase or decrease the propensity for people to think critically for themselves, rather than just deferring rational thought to an authority figure?

  70. Retrogarde

    Very off topic but very interesting. A bit more evidence for a hologram universe.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126911.300-our-world-may-be-a-giant-hologram.html?page=1

  71. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Who? Oh, the first-baseman! Yep.

  72. Menyambal

    You gotta remember that the suffering of Jesus, or his transubstantiation, counts for a hell of a lot more than the suffering of the rest of us. He spent time in hell, and it paid for everybody else, right? So do the math . . .

    5 billion people alive now, probably 5 billion in the past, that gives 10 billion, assume a need-for-redemption of near-totality, so 10 billion people in hell for eternity (round that down to 100,000 years each) gives 1,000,000,000,000 hell-years or 365,000,000,000,000 hell-days for all of humanity. Jesus was prophesied to spend three days and three nights in hell, but only got from Friday evening to Sunday morning at most, so call that 36 hours, to be generous and giving, or 1.5 hell-days. No, let’s simplify the math by assuming some transit time, registration delays and matters beyond our understanding, and call it 24 hell-hours or 1 hell-day. Which paid for all, and establishes that Jesus’s suffering counts 365,000,000,000,000 times as much as yours or mine.

    Now, if someone threatens to stick a nail in ANYTHING of yours 365,000,000,000,000 times, or instead, to commit genocide off in some third-world country, the question is this: Do you send flowers, or just a card?

  73. nichole

    Before you holy rollers get all uppity, the Catholic church has yet to apologize for sacking the library in Alexandria and flaying Hypatia and destroying hundreds of years of literature and plummeting most of the world into the Dark Ages.

    Consider your any disrespect you get to be penance.

  74. I have no formal training in the history of religion, but it’s my impression that the Pope’s recent statements about investigating miracles are mostly a tightening-up of existing rules. The Catholic Church already decides whether miracles are “go” or “no-go” (for example, in evaluating people for sainthood). Their theology already includes the ingredient that lots of apparent miracles are due to natural causes — like, all but a dozen out of a few thousand, or so. Not that anybody notices!

  75. Cheyenne

    @M-

    I’m not exactly a religious guy but the Skeptic movement has completely turned me off from counting myself among its ranks due to the anti-religious bias of it. I’m just not down with making fun of people because they were raised Hindu or Jewish or Lutheran or whatever. And quick disclaimer – BA doesn’t do this really. I’m thinking of the other popular skeptics out there (PZ is obviously one, he clearly gets his rocks off from it).

    So yeah, it does turn some people off. I’m one of those. I just think it’s best to keep science and religion separated.

  76. Brian Mangravite

    Oh, come on. You people saying it’s ok to trash the Church because of centuries-old pogroms, sacking the library in Alexandria, etc… crack me up. Any institution as old as the Church, that’s composed of all too fallible humans, is subject to, well, let’s call them “issues”. If you are going to judge the Church the only justifiable point is to judge it based on it’s premise – the teachings of Jesus — not the human’s who very often abandoned his teachings in his name. Very wrong. Do you think Jesus would have tolerated killing or destroying anyone or anything in His name? Don’t be stupid. You want to start cricizing? Let’s get a little more current shall we? How about noted atheists like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, et. al? Or let’s go after some scientists — like the Tuskegee Syphillis Experiment. No, I wouldn’t for a minute equate atheists or scientists with the misdeeds of a few, funny how you intellectual types are more than happy to trash a centuries old religion with billions of believers for your own amusement.

  77. kuhnigget

    @ Nichole:

    the Catholic church has yet to apologize for sacking the library in Alexandria

    I think if you did a wee bit of research you would reconsider that statement.

    The Catholic Church did not sack the library in Alexandria. The great library was not destroyed in any one grand event, but rather suffered a series of attacks over many centuries. The christian romans (by order of the emperor, not the bishop of rome) may have destroyed the last remnants of it, but its collection of manuscripts might have already been in Constantinople by then. Nobody really knows. In any case, hardly the sort of thing to carry a grudge against the Catholic Church. (There are many other possibilities, but…)

  78. mocular

    M said:

    I am a Christian and a skeptic.

    How do you successfully compartmentalize these two sides of your personality?

    Doesn’t the the cognitive dissonance give you migraines?

  79. RM

    I was raised Catholic, and spent 13 years in school learning all about evolution and proper science.

    I love and appreciate the good work you do, Phil, but as a Catholic, I think you may have stepped up a little too quickly here. Unfortunately, I feel forced to defend the faith of my people, as I think we’re getting misrepresented here. I don’t think you said anything poorly or wrong, Phil, but nothing in that article says that genocide is a “worse” sin than desecrating a sanctified Communion Wafer. They may be in the same category, but not worse.

    All they’re saying here is that to a Catholic, the holiest item we can ever come up with is the Communion Wafer that has been blessed by a priest during Mass. If you, as a practicing Catholic, knowingly and willfully defile the body of Christ, you are automatically excommunicated, unless the Pope grants an absolution.

    That doesn’t mean that we believe the sin of Genocide is worse.

    Let me make a point of comparison. Think of our code of laws. If you murder somebody, you will be tried by a county prosecuter in a state courthouse. But, if you kidnap somebody, that’s a federal crime. You will be tried at the federal level.

    The same thing here. Now, I think murder is arguably worse than kidnapping, but you could make the argument that the government doesn’t think so; it’s merely a remnant of the importance we have placed on it historically.

    No doubt about it, we take our Communion Wafers seriously. And given it’s a religion, common sense often takes a back seat to many issues in our religion, as I’m sure yours does too. But please realize it’s more complex than just a ranking of sins.

    And given the importance of the Catholic Church in science over the last several hundred years, I’d appreciate a little more reverence on the topic… :) After all, what other head of a religion has his own observatory? (http://vaticanobservatory.org/)

  80. Todd W.

    @Brian Mangravite

    Expecting the organization that sanctioned the destruction of the library and so on is perfectly reasonable. It is just as valid as expecting an apology from the U.S. government to the native tribes whose land was stolen from them.

    Your equating it to condemning atheists or scientists for the acts of a few people who happen to be either atheists or scientists is disingenuous. Why? They are not part of, nor acting for, some structured organization. They are not agents, nor policy deciders, for any such organization. If they were, then yes, the same criticisms could be leveled at that organization.

  81. Sean

    I’ve never been a particularly devout Catholic. Perhaps that has given me the perspective to see the simple truth of the following:

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”

    – Voltaire

    Asserting that defacing a Eucharist is a more serious crime than genocide is patently absurd. When people, even good God-fearing people, use an absurdity as the starting point for their reasoning, Evil invariable results.

    The only difference between the Catholic church of today and the Catholic church of 500 years ago, is that civil society has moderated its behavior somewhat. The Catholic church is still reasoning from absurdities and is, therefore, still capable of committing atrocities.

    Ensuring that it doesn’t, is left as an exercise to the reader.

    -S

  82. Todd W.

    Based on kuhnigget’s post, scratch the destruction of the library bit from my last comment.

  83. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    PZ’s “cracker” grandstanding exhibits the emotional maturity of a 10-year-old.

    Um, if “grandstanding” is to effectively expose the delusions of grandeur and special pleading of a belief those members asked for censuring and expulsion of a student for simply showing another student what such a cracker in case is, and throwing in for equal measure texts from both islam and atheism, he can “grandstand” for my causes any day. He did it for a good and moral purpose, a smaller effort wouldn’t have sufficed, and so accusing him of grandstanding only makes his point for him. (“Nothing must be held sacred.”)

    Then again, I don’t think he technically made a grandstand by being pretentious. He noted that the procedure was the original idea of desecration, so he made sure to get it right, he could expand on the ludicrous and sad historical background, and he could expose the current (mis)use in the case at hand.

  84. Grand Lunar

    “I sometimes wonder: don’t people ever take into account the likelihood that an event will spawn a Virgin-shaped object?”

    Considering the popularity of shows like “Ghost Hunters”, I say the answer is “No”.

  85. Phil, I give you credit on finally stepping up and posting about the Marian visions thing. Better late than never.

    On the other hand, how about a big hand for piling on with the media’s oversimplifications, people? Phil’s an expert here! Of course, he’d castigate them if they oversimplified science, but that’s beside the point.

    Seriously, “more serious” or “worse” are really awful ways to put it. If you’d read the articles you’d find that what this is is a list of sins for which it requires a dispensation from the Pope to be a Catholic in good standing. It doesn’t say that they believe one puts your soul in any less danger than another, just that one more seriously jeopardizes their willingness to let you even be part of their club.

  86. UNDERCOVER

    Religion is the opium of mankind! And it’s true because the difference between a scientist and a creationist or a priest is that a scientist knows the chemical formulas of some drugs and a creationist or a priest looks like someone who’s on drugs! It’s the symbol of ignorance and depravity and to top it off, they’re nothing but a bunch of nonsense that have been debunked a long time ago! THEY’RE RESPONSABLE FOR MOST OF THE EVIL ON THIS WORLD AND SEXUAL TERROR. LIKE SEXUAL OPRESSION AND GENITAL MUTILATIONS, ESPECIALLY MALE GENITAL MUTILATIONS. I can’t believe that you americans do this kind of barbarity these days, something that started off with muzzies and jews and then went on to christians because they hated the fun of masturbation. The United States of America are more like the United States of Jesus and Europe is now under siege by muzzies! See what Pat Condell has to say on YouTube.

  87. Charles Boyer

    the Catholic church has yet to apologize for sacking the library in Alexandria

    Of more interest to me is the Fourth Crusade and the Sacking of Constantinople.

  88. Todd W.

    @UNDERCOVER

    Keep the slurs out of your posts, please.

  89. Helioprogenus

    @Brian Mangravite and Menyambal,
    You two do realize that there are 5 billion people on this planet that don’t belief in your particular imaginary deity right? You’re so sure and convinced that Jesus explains so many things that you can’t stop and think, what if you where born in Tehran, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, New Delhi, Oslo, etc. Your belief structure is an artifice of the society in which you were raised. Just because you really really really believe in something does not make it so.

    Yes, perhaps sticking a rusty nail in that which you hold sacred is a bit extreme, but it was done to show that a majority of people here on this planet don’t follow the rules that you follow. If you want to believe in imaginary sky fairies, that’s your prerogative, but don’t dictate to other people who choose not to believe the same thing you do. If someone feels that the cracker they chew is just a cracker, then they can spit it out.

    When priorities are skewed to where Genocide becomes a lesser issue than a flat tasteless piece of bread, there are major problems with your belief system. To some, people in a third world country like Sudan do not matter, but the truth is they are human beings, every single one of them the same flesh and blood as your brothers, sisters, parents, etc. They have the same thoughts, feelings, and urges as you do, and just because they remain hidden to you does not make their lives any less relevant.

  90. Martin Moran
  91. Leon

    I was raised semi-Catholic myself (that is, we attended Mass for a while when I was growing up, and I attended Catechism, but was never confirmed–which would have made me eligible to take Communion).

    This relative rating of crimes dovetails nicely with the “cracker incident” as a superb example of an entrenched religion getting to have things both ways whenever it wants. The Church insists, dead serious and with a straight face, that you’re physically eating the physical body of Christ (and physically drinking his physical blood). But when you point out the consequences of that line of thinking (that it makes them, by their own admission, cannibals), they flat-out deny it and accuse you of being insensitive. Then they turn around and claim that since the wafer is the physical body of Christ (even though they’re not cannibals when they eat it), desecrating it is the worst thing you can do.

  92. Daniel

    I’m getting pretty disenchanted about this blog. The fact is that you bash people for their beliefs when you should be uncovering the sources of these un-provable an inaccurately supported beliefs.

    This not about religion. It isn’t even about the pope. It is biology and man’s ability to justify the belief in anything.

    Sorry, but you come off as a RELIGION BIGOT, not a scientist. Teach the pope something, don’t insult his intelligence because it is not about brains, but understanding how brains work and are fooled by such things as images of a woman we actually don’t have a confirmed image of to compare to in the first place.

  93. David D

    Echoing John Armstrong’s comments above . . .

    Once again, another post where Phil apparently did not closely read the articles he was posting about. The Telegraph article did not give a list or ranking of sins at all. Nor does the article say that desecrating the host is actually worse than genocide, only that the two are dealt with in different manners.

    Instead of RTFM, Phil–RTFA . . .

  94. Menyambal

    Helioprogenus Says:

    Menyambal,
    You do realize that there are 5 billion people on this planet that don’t belief in your particular imaginary deity right?

    Heh, heh. I was so worried that I’d gone over the top with my snarkasm, and made atheists like me look all petty and mean. Now I find that I came a cross as a good and loving theist, all supportive and stuff.

  95. I have to agree. I have a hard time imagining that anyone who has read and understood the teaching of Jesus, regardless of belief in his divinity (and if you think this is a sin) could think that Jesus would want this “sin” listed higher then Genocide. I mean even if you believe in transubstantiation, wasn’t Jesus all about the self sacrifice. Does anyone really think he would care more about the desecration of his body/blood than the murder of living people…

  96. kuhnigget

    @ Todd:

    I’ll scratch your post if you…oh, wait. What?

    Never mind.

  97. David D

    @Todd W–
    “Your equating it to condemning atheists or scientists for the acts of a few people who happen to be either atheists or scientists is disingenuous. Why? They are not part of, nor acting for, some structured organization. They are not agents, nor policy deciders, for any such organization. If they were, then yes, the same criticisms could be leveled at that organization.”

    But they are acting as atheists, right?

    Here’s an anecdote for you:

    An SS officer watches as an elderly Jew laboriously digs what he knows to be his grave. Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner. “God is watching what you are doing,” he said. Without a word, the officer shoots him dead.

    And this is precisely the point. What Hitler or Stalin or Mao or the NKVD or the other perpetrators of our recent historical horrors did NOT believe was that God was watching what they were doing. That certainly meets my definition of what an atheist is. This does not mean that all atheists are evil by any stretch, nor am I claiming such.

  98. Helioprogenus

    @ Menyambal oops, I didn’t meant you I meant to direct it at M instead.

    For future reference, if you’ve been awake for the last 28 hours, and you decide to post something, it might help to double check everything, but then again, double checking is the least of your problems at that point. There’s a point where your pupils start dancing uncontrollably and you find yourself in a plane that’s 4 centimeters out of phase with everything around you.

  99. Charles Boyer

    “What Hitler or Stalin or Mao or the NKVD or the other perpetrators of our recent historical horrors did NOT believe was that God was watching what they were doing.”

    David D: do you think David Koresh thought God wasn’t watching? How about any of the suicide bombers that we’re all too familiar with?

  100. Greg in Austin

    @David D said,

    “Once again, another post where Phil apparently did not closely read the articles he was posting about. The Telegraph article did not give a list or ranking of sins at all. Nor does the article say that desecrating the host is actually worse than genocide, only that the two are dealt with in different manners.

    Apparently David, you are the one who has trouble reading. From the story Vatican reveals secrets of worst sins, “While priests and bishops can deal with confessions of sins as grave as murder or even genocide, the tribunal is reserved for crimes which are viewed by the Church as even more serious.” And then it goes on to talk about those sins in detail.

    8)

  101. David D

    Greg–

    Where in the article does it SPECIFICALLY say that desecration of the host is a worse sin than genocide?

    Charles–
    I am not sure that Koresh was of sound mind. I am going to guess that a portion of murder bombers are similarly challenged.

  102. http://www.nobeliefs.com/hitler.htm

    @ David D:

    So Hitler was an Atheist was he? Funny but his own words (see link above) show that he very much did believe in God. Christians seem to want Hitler to be an Atheist because they don’t what to think that one of the most horrific people in history was one of their own. Sorry but you’ll just have to live with him.

  103. Greg in Austin

    @David D,

    Um, four paragraphs below the one I just quoted,

    “Defiling the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ, is also considered a sin of extreme gravity and one which is on the increase, the high-ranking members of the tribunal said.”

    You responded to my post, so I know you can read.

    8)

  104. Cheyenne

    “While priests and bishops can deal with confessions of sins as grave as murder or even genocide, the tribunal is reserved for crimes which are viewed by the Church as even more serious.

    They include attempting to assassinate the Pope, a priest abusing the confidentiality of the confessional by revealing the nature of the sin and the person who admitted to it, or a priest who has sex with someone and then offers forgiveness for the act. ”

    Like a lot of people I’m confounded by the “as even more serious” part of the quote. It is difficult to believe that they would actually think that. Do we have actual quotes from the Vatican or other articles on this? It seem (to me) that maybe the author wasn’t exactly right. That maybe this “Apostolic Penitentiary” is meant to deal with what are seen as abuses made by members of the church against the church (the others are sins of members against God and are judged by Him I’m guessing). I mean, the Pope doesn’t think he’s a higher authority than God I’m sure (so only he could deal with these sins or whatever you call them).

    Hmmmmm, I guess I would like to see what the Vatican itself says, or if there are other takes on what is at work here. Because I have to say, if it really believes that Genocide is not as bad of a crime as having sex with somebody and then offering forgiveness, well, I think I would be fairly critical of the Catholic leaders for believing that.

    Also, it’s true – I’m sorry but that new Pope looks like the guy in Star Wars. Eek.

  105. As my mother used to say… “Eat it all up, there’s people in Africa starving..”

    Seriously, I am utterly bemused by this. How can he wear that funny hat, write crap like that, and keep a straight face?

  106. Menyambal

    Regarding atheists and the lumping together of them: It’s bogus.

    Most of us got to atheism on our own, in our own way, for our own reasons. There may be similarities in our stories, and some mutual moral support, but that’s as far as it goes. That math I made up earlier was purely mine–I didn’t get it from an atheist’s handbook. It had nothing at all to do with, say, Adolf Hitler (who wasn’t an atheist) or Richard Dawkins (who is no Adolf Hitlert), even. There is no head-of-atheism leader to slap my wrist for being too snarky.

    Catholics, on the other hand, (to take the best-organized religion) have a book, schools, a hierarchy, a supreme leader here on earth, and a great leader in the sky, with a wireless communication system that theoretically ties them all together. And a history that they claim makes the pope the linear inheritor of whichever disciple it was.

    I can and should hold the kid next door as an accessory to the crimes of the Borgia pope. It’s the same group, claiming the history as theirs. He’s done the schools, and taken the communion. He’s in it.

    He, on the other hand, cannot hold me responsible for the actions of any non-Catholic, atheist or otherwise. I am not responsible for Buddha, nor for PZ Myers. I can support or repudiate as *I* see fit, but I am not in any way affiliated.

  107. gopher65


    *crackle*

    *ssssptpppsssssssssssssssh*

    I see that DMLou has a case of Parethitis (seek help, if you can) that is just as bad as mine (well, maybe not quite that bad (or is it?)).

    *psssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh*

    *crackle*

  108. Cheyenne

    “Apostolic Penitentiary” entry on Wikipedia

    “Normally confessions of even the most heinous of crimes and sins — such as genocide or mass murder — are handled at the local level by priests and their bishops and are not heard by the tribunal. However, its work involves those sins that are reserved for the pope — considered so serious that a local priest or bishop is not qualified to grant absolution. These sins include defiling the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ….”

    Assuming Wikipedia has a correct entry (which I will for now), I’m sorry but I have to say that I really don’t understand what the Catholic church is thinking with this.

  109. Stu

    @Brian

    But it is incredibly offensive to any who take their religion seriously, to disrespect Jesus by disrespecting the Host.

    Some simple questions:
    1. Do you eat beef?
    2. Would you see a psychiatrist?
    3. Would you accept a blood transfusion?
    4. What would you do if your child does not follow your religion?
    5. Do you eat shellfish?
    6. Do you work on Saturday?
    7. What does your wife wear?
    8. Is there a picture of God or Jesus in your home?
    9. Do your clothes have buttons and/or zippers?

    @David

    What Hitler or Stalin or Mao or the NKVD or the other perpetrators of our recent historical horrors did NOT believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

    Hitler was a good Christian, and much of his anti-semitism came straight from Luther. Communism replaced deism with slavish adherance to the Party, making it functionally equivalent to a religion.

    Nice try, though.

  110. Stu

    @David

    I am not sure that Koresh was of sound mind. I am going to guess that a portion of murder bombers are similarly challenged.

    You’re halfway to the No True Scotsman fallacy there.

    What makes your religious tenets more valid (or a product of a “sounder” mind) than Koresh?

  111. Jeffersonian

    @Phil
    “And many religions do lots of good things, so attacking them en masse can be unfair.”
    I disagree. If you call out woo thinknig, then call it out. It’s the religion itself that is the source. And, no, religions do NOT do lots of good things, people do lots of good things. Religions themselves do only bad.

    “I’ve read the Bible, and from the Sermon on the Mount it doesn’t sound to me that Jesus was someone who would think that way…
    Also, I was not raised Catholic, so perhaps I am missing important information here.”
    That’s easy. Almost none of Catholicism is based on what you read in the four gospels. It’s all about Paul’s ideas and centuries of claimants to his throne (dogma and doctrine), not Jeebus.

  112. @ David D:

    What Hitler or Stalin or Mao or the NKVD or the other perpetrators of our recent historical horrors did NOT believe was that God was watching what they were doing

    And you know this, how…?

  113. David D

    @Greg-
    Wow–we can both read. You still have not answered my question. There is no “ranking” of sins in the article.

    As Cheyenne says, I think people are having trouble with the “even more serious” line. Rather than relying on the interpretation of the Telegraph reporter, it would be instructive to ask a Church official directly, I think. I somehow doubt that the Church actually believes that genocide is in some way a lesser sin in some way. Again, the article appears to state that this is a matter of how the Church deals with this on a procedural basis, rather than a specific ranking. Not being a student of the more arcane points of Catholicism, I do not know this for sure.

    Menyambal–

    History is not a sin for which we need to beg for atonement. “I can and should hold the kid next door as an accessory to the crimes of the Borgia pope.” Are you serious? You must be fun to have as a neighbor. You seem to think that all Catholics (or Baptists, Muslims, etc.) all believe the exact same things, the exact same way. Have you ever spoken to the family next door? Or are you just assuming that they explicitly condone the crimes of the Borgia pope?

    Religious people are real people, not caricatures.

  114. @ cheyenne:

    Again, I think it has to do with the fundamental role of the Church (which, as Jeffersonian correctly points out, is an institution based more on the ideas of Paul than Jesus), at least as it was traditionally defined.

    To wit, the Church is interested in souls, not lives. Desecrating the Eucharist is a sign of a person rejecting Jesus as redeemer, hence threatening the salvation of souls.

    People killed in quantities large or small might be a bummer, so to speak, but to the Church their souls are still okay. Uh, assuming their good Catholic souls, of course. But if a person is threatening another’s soul, well, that’s seriously bad, and that’s why the “crime” is elevated to the level of the pope.

    BTW, I think the current pope is a spitting image of Lon Chaney in “London After Midnight.” You’d think these guys would clue up and elect some sexy young Italian for once. They’d probably attract a lot more people to the Church.

  115. David D

    @Stu–

    Hitler’s being a “good Christian” is open to historical debate. Some of his anti-Semitism also came from non-Lutheran sources, such as the “science” of eugenics. Communism is supposedly based on scientific principles; Marx developed it as a science to better mankind.
    I never claimed that my religious tenets are more valid (or a product of a “sounder” mind) than Koresh’s. You do not know my religious tenets or even if I have any, do you?

    @kuhnigget–
    If you know of evidence that Stalin or Mao were other than anti-religious, let me know.

  116. “…the vast majority of these sightings are not real…”

    Ah, it’s only the vast majority? You mean, there’s still a chance? (Sarcasm follows…)

  117. Stu

    Hitler’s being a “good Christian” is open to historical debate.

    But he was acting as a Christian, right?

    I never claimed that my religious tenets are more valid (or a product of a “sounder” mind) than Koresh’s.

    You most certainly implied it by saying you doubted he was of “sound mind”. Anyway, my point is that to a rational mind, any form of religion raises those same doubts.

    You do not know my religious tenets or even if I have any, do you?

    If you don’t have any, what the hell are you arguing for?

    If you know of evidence that Stalin or Mao were other than anti-religious, let me know.

    Like I said before, they made their own religion. Irrational adherence to an abstraction is the issue, whether it be bronze-age goatherder myths or Marx/Lenins perverted delusions.

  118. John Sherman

    Obviously, genocide is a greater sin than desecrating the cracker to any sane person, but the Church’s job is to stop sins against their own belief system, not Humanity. (Certainly their behavior during WWII indicates that.)

    The Pope hasn’t a prayer of stopping genocide. He might just be able to protect the crackers.

  119. @ David:

    If you know of evidence that Stalin or Mao were other than anti-religious, let me know.

    Since you are the one to make the original claim, I would think it would be your responsibility to back it up.

    I wasn’t contradicting you. I merely wanted to know the source of your insight, particularly about Adolf Hitler, who is fairly well documented as a protestant christian with a bit of a fetish for old pagan symbology.

  120. Jeffersonian

    @David D :
    “But they are acting as atheists, right?”

    No. Only in the sense that they are “acting as” non-Boy Scouts, non-Masons, non-Hindus, etc. You might as well say they were “non-rice growers” and that’s why they acted that way.

    “Hitler’s being a good Christian is open to historical debate.”
    Nobody’s questioning that, nor defining what that even means. (anyway, this was goal-posting)

    “You seem to think that all Catholics (or Baptists, Muslims, etc.) all believe the exact same things, the exact same way.”
    If you’re only going to pick certain things from the religion that match what you otherwise believe in, then why would you need the religion to begin with? The point of each organization is for a group of people to share the same beliefs, right? If you look at a group in Arizona who all believe that their bodily energy is created each morning by an invisible herd of miniature grey elephants, then the fact that 5% of the group believe the elephants are green doesn’t really matter from the larger perspective.

  121. Jeffersonian

    @DavidD
    (I mis-directed part of a post, my bad)

  122. Sili

    kuhnigget,

    Hitler was born Catholic, but he did admire Luther a lot. I think most of the ‘paganism’ was due to Himmler.

    According to Stalin’s personal bodyguard, he went to a private chapel and said mass every night during the ‘Great Patriotic War’. Of course it’s entirely inconceivable that he might be embellishing the truth now that the Orthodox Church is in the ascendent. /sarcasm.

  123. Michelle

    Calling hitler into any debate is weak. To every party, hitler was on the side of their opposition. Hitler was a crazed freak (to say the least). Freaks are freaks no matter what their religious views were.

    Now, having that said… I believe that the Church always had crooked views over reality… Equating what PZ did with the great murderers of humanity is insane. Myself I prefer thinking that eating the eucharist is a desecration by itself…

    …I mean, what do you think happens to Jesus after you eat him? The same that happens to the burger you had for lunch. :X

  124. @ Sili:

    Thanks, that’s what I thought.

    @ Michelle:

    …I mean, what do you think happens to Jesus after you eat him?

    Heh heh. Even as a kid in CCD class I could never get the whole transubstantiation thing. It seems like the early church had taken a fairly nice metaphor (“This is my body…” etc.) about the struggle to live a good life being just as nourishing as a loaf of bread, and turn it into a silly “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” sort of dogmatic nonsense.

    I guess that’s why CCD was the only class I ever flunked. :(

  125. Tom Woolf

    I read PZ’s comment on this hierarchy yesterday, and mentioned it to a couple of coworkers. I also gave them some background on the brouhaha of the stolen wafer and PZ’s reaction to it. One coworker is a conservative that believes liberals are TDoS (The Destroyers of Society) and is a christian of sorts, and the other is one of them dang’d liberals raised as a Catholic.

    The conservative tried to make me understand that according to the Catholic’s belief system, that ranking (cracker beats genocide) might make sense. The liberal simply stated he would have tackled the college student who stole the cracker, but did not comment on the rankings.

    In the wonderful world of “DANG – I wish I had thought of this when we were talking about it!”, it just occurred to me that I should have replied “Any belief system that places the value of a wafer, whatever it symbolizes, over 100,000 lives is as fu…. ummmm, *fouled* up as a belief system that pledges 57 virgins in heaven to a “martyr” who blows himself and innocent people up!”

    Oh, well…. next religious argum…. ummm, *discussion* I will make it a point of mentioning it.

  126. I’m kind of wondering why it is that all of us who are NOT distinctly religious must somehow always tiptoe around the opinions/teachings/bloviations/imaginings of those who ARE religious — as if the religious beliefs are so delicate that even the slightest doubt would blow them away.

    I mean, there is NO preferred point in the universe so why should there be a preferred way to treat some opinions as somehow more touchy than others? And, why is it that the folks who whinge the loudest about how we should respect their beliefs are often the first to blat out stupidity about atheists/pagans/etc.? If we are supposed to respect others’ beliefs (or moral codes) then why cannot there be a two-way street of respect coming back from the Christians toward those of us who don’t subscribe to their belief systems?

    Instead, I read this thread where Phil has started by practically giving himself a hernia trying to ask a simple question in such a way that the Catholics/whoever won’t get mad. He had a perfectly reasonable question and he has every right to ask it. He’s asking as a scientist and freethinker and has every right to ask those questions without the WATB contingent in each religion getting its collective panty in a bunch.

    Now, there are some fine comments in this thread and I’ve enjoyed reading many of them. But, where it starts to break down to me is when we get these dog-in-the-manager bellicosities which eventually devolve into accusations like the one that keeps coming up that Hitler was an atheist (Godwinning in the purest sense of the term?) and such-like. For the record, Hitler said the following in 1922:

    “My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice. …And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly, it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people. And when I look on my people I see them work and work and toil and labor, and at the end of the week they have only for their wages wretchedness and misery. When I go out in the morning and see these men standing in their queues and look into their pinched faces, then I believe I would be no Christian, but a very devil, if I felt no pity for them, if I did not, as did our Lord two thousand years ago, turn against those by whom today this poor people are plundered and exploited.”

    Hardly the words of an atheist. In fact, his Nazi Party sent known atheists to the camps, along with Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others the party deemed “unfit.” (Go read the Straight Dope on Hitler and his brand of Christianity.) My guess is that Hitler was not that religious, but was perfectly capable of twisting religion in the service of his own political ideology to achieve a political end. This is familiar territory and history is replete with religious leaders doing similar things in order to get power over people and their possessions. It is, as you might deduce, a twisting of religion away from the original good teachings of love and good will toward all.

    Anyway, back to my original question:

    I just don’t get why we need to dance lightly around some opinions and belief systems while others are fair game for insult and demogoguery (usually coming from Xtians, but not always).

    I’m a former Catholic. Raised in Catholic school, etc. Fairly early on it became pretty obvious to me that the church was a) in it for the money, b) in it for the power and c) had darned little to do with the teachings of Jesus, who would be shaming the entire church hierarchy to pieces if he were to come back and discovery what they’ve done in his name. Same for the other Christian religions. Rarely do I get proselytized by some Christian zealot without them also asking for money. It’s a shell game. And I opted out a long time ago to follow a credo of my own devising which emphasizes free thinking, a Golden Rule Code of Conduct, and a practice of treating people as human beings until they give me reason to think otherwise of them.

    The ROOT teachings of the various religions really do boil down to the Golden Rule (i.e. do unto others as you have them do unto you) and a moral code that humans should adhere to as human beings: don’t kill, don’t do stupid crap to each other, and try to behave.

    All the rest is hierarchical mumbo-jumbo designed to grab power over others and deprive them of their free will and ability to think freely without interference from shamans grubbing for money. And this doesn’t even get me to the issues of whether or not God/Goddess/etc. really existed. That’s called “Faith” and is quite a league apart from the whole human construct that is religion.

  127. i like that you so casually used “signal to noise ratio” in this article.

  128. scottb

    Brian Mangravite rants on about you intellectual types and you scientific types.

    You do realize that you self-identify as an anti-science, anti-intellectual? And why should we accept your arguments?

  129. Rob

    Reading the article, the idea that these sins are considered ‘worse’ by the Catholic Church would appear to have come from the reporter – all of the sins mentioned result in a ‘go straight to hell, do not pass purgatory, do not collect $200′ outcome if not absolved. The difference is in who can grant absolution for them. The ones that only the Pope can grant absolution for are not ‘worse’, they are sins that are specifically against the church.

  130. Michelle

    The Pope is the Boss, Rob. For lesser mistakes in an industry you can go to your supervisor. But if there’s a massive fumble, you go straight to the boss with massive consequences.

  131. Steve

    It’s not that the desecration of the Eucharist is worse than genocide. It’s that it, and the other sins dealt with by the Apostolic Penitentiary occur specific censures that cannot be absolved by a local priest or bishop alone.

    Specifically theological sins like desecrating the Eucharist, breaking the seal of the confessional, and so on incur automatic excommunication and can only be absolved by someone granted that faculty by the Church.

    This is my understanding anwyay, it’s probably too late to do any good here.

  132. Menyambal

    David D Says:

    You seem to think that all Catholics (or Baptists, Muslims, etc.) all believe the exact same things, the exact same way. Have you ever spoken to the family next door? Or are you just assuming that they explicitly condone the crimes of the Borgia pope?

    Religious people are real people, not caricatures.

    To me–this I believe–all members of a religion ARE supposed to believe the same thing, in the exact same way. If they don’t, there’s a breakdown somewhere–most likely the lack of a god at the center of it all. The fact that they don’t believe the same thing (of which I am well aware), exposes the religion as false.

    As for the family next door, my daughter went to church with them for a while. No, I’ve not discussed religion with them, but I assume they’ve never heard of any of the Borgias.

    But I’ve known many a religious person–hell, I’ve shared a house and worked with Seventh Day Adventists and Muslims at the same time, and regard that time as a high point of my life. I know that religious people are real people, thank you. It is their religion that has become a caricature.

  133. Timothy from Boulder

    @Greg in Austin

    Your highlighted passages:

    [b]“While priests and bishops can deal with confessions of sins as grave as murder or even genocide, the tribunal is reserved for crimes which are viewed by the Church as even more serious.[/b]

    and

    [b]“Defiling the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ, is also considered a sin of extreme gravity and one which is on the increase, the high-ranking members of the tribunal said.”[/b]

    are the interpretations of the reporter, and can’t be necessarily relied upon to correctly reflect any subtleties of Church doctrine.

    From the myriad other sources about the nautre of the Apostolic Penitentiary, it seems clear that the reporter missed a fine, but discrete, point.

  134. Timothy from Boulder

    Awww, dagnabit. I tried to embolden the text and now my post’s all funky. Is there a primer on how to do formatting changes?

  135. Mary

    I am a high school student going to a Catholic school, so I probably don’t know too much about Catholic teachings.

    But I can understand the reasoning for why certain sins go to the pope. It’s obvious what a priest should do for murder. Not so much for sins regarding matters that would deeply impact the RCC.

    Would a priest know how to deal with someone desecrating the Eucharist without going against church teachings and then causing his parish to believe the wrong thing in the RCC’s eyes in some way? That’s probably why it goes straight to the pope because according to Catholic teachings, the pope is infallible on spiritual matters (and only on spiritual matters and I admit I really don’t see how, with the history of the Church, that doctrine still stands).

    In other words, the tribunal would be like the Supreme Court. Its rulings greatly affect the Church’s teachings and laws.

  136. 1st Timothy, chapter 1, verse 1:

    Verily shalt thou embolden text by using ‘s, and not ['s and ]‘s, for to do otherwise is an abomination upon Blog.

  137. David D

    @Menyambal–

    You seem at the very least to live in a world of some very narrow assumptions. If you believe that ALL members of a religion are “supposed” to believe the same thing–well, as the teacher said on The Simpsons, “Sound like someone’s got a case of the ‘sposedtos.’ Sorry–they don’t. Whether it’s because they’re human or because they don’t fit into your narrow assumptions about the world, I don’t know.

    If scientists don’t all believe the same thing about, for example, missing solar neutrinos, or whether dinosaurs were cold- or warm-blooded, or how the brain learns language–according to you, that would suggest science is false (your quote:”The fact that they don’t believe the same thing (of which I am well aware), exposes the religion as false.”). What kind of logic is that?

    You know–if you truly believe it, you really should go ahead and act on holding that neighbor kid accountable. Citizen’s arrest? Maybe just getting in his face about all of “his” wrongdoings . . .

    Here are some other quotes from Hitler:
    “National Socialism and religion cannot exist together….
    “The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity….
    “Let it not be said that Christianity brought man the life of the soul, for that evolution was in the natural order of things.”
    “The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death…. When understanding of the universe has become widespread… Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity….”

    As I said, there is much historical debate about Hitler’s Christianity or lack thereof. We can spend all night trading selected quotes, but let’s leave that to another forum.

    The bottom line about these sins, I think, is that the reporter did indeed miss a subtle but discrete point. No one in this comment section has come out and said, “oh yeah, I remember the Catholics taught that genocide was not as bad as desecrating a host.”

  138. David D

    did i leave the italics on?

  139. David D
  140. Ian

    “Wouldn’t Jesus have demanded that he take the damage over millions of bystanders? Wasn’t that, like, the whole ‘died for our sins’ point of it?”

    So, you’re saying Jesus is a “tank.” Taking mad DPS and drawing aggro from the forces of evil? I can get behind that.

  141. José

    @Brian Mangravite
    Didn’t I read earlier that the document was written in 1179? 1179? And you people are judging modern Catholicism from a document written in 1179?

    Since the Catholic religion is based on a book whose last chapter was written around maybe 100 AD, 1179 AD seems rather recent. Or should we disregard that book as well?

  142. not to defend catholics or anything, but what you said about them “believing the cracker is the actual body of christ” is a gross misunderstanding. it’s a symbolic action, and i have yet to meet a catholic that thinks they way you think they do. it’s like saying, for instance, that all anglicans and lutherans and such are worried exclusively about working and disdain the joys of life, as you may hear in catholic countries. I just don’t see the point in cultivating such stupid stereotipes.
    As for the eucharisty, there’s a reason (i’m not saying is valid or anything, just that it makes sense within a system of beliefs) why it’s worse to deny it than to kill jews (goodwin’s law, anyone?). By doing that you are excluding yourself from the community. As long as you were a part of it, the church believes you may yet redeem yourself from any sins you commited, no matter how brutal, and they even may try to help you. But by alienating yourself from the community you rejected help and are in the hands of god, who will condemn you for denying his church (remember, as any religion they believe they are the only true one and all others aren’t going to heaven or nirvana or whatever). There’s the reason. I just believe it’s our duty to understand other people’s beliefs instead of showing off as “so superior to the rest of stupid mortals”.

  143. Phil, you write:
    “But that announcement pales in comparisons to the next: the Vatican has released a previously secret list of sins. The list itself is not terribly surprising, of course. What shocked me was the way it listed relative importance of these sins: desecrating a Eucharist (the cracker Catholics believe is the transubstantiated body of Christ) is considered a worse sin than murder or even genocide.”

    Funny, the source article you cite doesn’t mention murder or genocide.

    “So let’s talk. Keep it polite, folks, and if you make claims, please try to include links. I am seriously interested in learning here — I always am — so let’s keep this dialogue respectful of people’s feelings, if not their ideas.”

    Too late, Phil, your use of the word “cracker” was too much. You’re off the deep end again. You *do* go after specific religions. Look, I can respect that you don’t follow any religion. Fine. I’m not here for your religious sentiments. Buy why go out of your way so often to criticize religion? Why is religion so important to you?

    And don’t tell us about all the bad things done in the name of religion. People will abuse and have abused anything for their own benefit — even science.

    What you’re lacking, Phil, is an understanding that there are certain things sacred to *other* people. Why take such broad swipes at religion?

    I get it that you don’t get it. Is sanctimony the best you can muster?

  144. José

    @GKopy
    Buy why go out of your way so often to criticize religion? Why is religion so important to you?
    And don’t tell us about all the bad things done in the name of religion. People will abuse and have abused anything for their own benefit — even science.

    So you’re asking Phil to state his problems with religion, but he’s not allowed to use bad things religion can lead to as examples? That’s not very fair.

    Tell me why you think Ted Bundy was a bad guy. But don’t bore me with the tired old “he murdered people” argument. Plenty of other people have committed murder too.

  145. José

    @GKopy
    And I don’t mean to suggest that good arguments can’t be made without resorting to bad things done in the name of religion. They certainly can. I’m just pointing out that your restriction is unfair.

  146. Jamie

    LOL @ Ian for reference to MMORPGs (mostly I’m just thinking of WoW) “So, you’re saying Jesus is a “tank.” Taking mad DPS and drawing aggro from the forces of evil? I can get behind that.”

  147. AnthonyK

    Phil – I think this post shows exactly why religion is such a poisoned topic when it comes to science blogs. Whatever you say, religious people will be offended, if not by what you post then by your commentators. Thus, your forum gets clogged up with angry posts which do nothing to further knowledge, science, or even skepticism. Like many people here, I think religion is poisonous nonsense and resent it that “belief” is accorded such status in society, but that’s they way of the world. That said, of course, you don’t get involved much in these discussions, and perhaps it’s just as well. Leave it to PZ who takes it on so well, and so often. No ammount of questioning will elicit a response you can understand about “why” Catholics, in this instance, think the way they do – they just do.
    All that said, you can of course blog about what you want and religion should not be off-topic, it’s just that when you do so you allow nutters in, and nutters with big chips on their shoulders, who are determined to have their say.

  148. Thomas Siefert

    Any person or organised religion that considers their symbols and rituals more important than harming as much as a hair on anyone, deserves only contempt.

    I’ve come into discussion this rather late so someone might have said this better, but there you are.

  149. Gary Ansorge

    Thomas:
    Actually, I think that is pertinent. When dogma is used to trump reason, the kid gloves come off. As I’ve said before, I am not atheist however, I do detest ORGANIZED religion because it provides a legitimizing framework within which any whack job so inclined can justify their psychotic behavior by piece meal references to an old, fungus infested piece of pop culture.

    Great teachers we have had many times unfortunately, when their messages of peace and love become institutionalized they become bereft of reasonable content.

    To my brethren Bhuddah, Jesus and Mohammed: Y’All tried to teach the naked apes to be human,,,perhaps it will require a greater teacher than All of You to finish the task,,,

    GAry 7

  150. David D

    Thomas and Gary–

    I know you are late to the party, but the Church is not claiming that a symbol is more important than a human life.

  151. kuhnigget

    @ anthony k:

    I think this post shows exactly why religion is such a poisoned topic when it comes to science blogs.

    Au contraire, pierre! Inevitably, whenever Phil posts an article around religion the comments flock in like pilgrims to a tree sap Jesus. Hit count goes up. Ad revenue increases. Ka-ching! And since anyone who doesn’t want to join the fray can simply skip the post, it’s win-win.

    @ David D:

    the Church is not claiming that a symbol is more important than a human life.

    But I think that is clear from doctrine. Souls are are more important than lives. A crime against a soul that threatens it with eternal damnation is more serious than a crime against a life…one that may take that life away but leave the soul in the hands of god.

  152. David D

    I don’t think that the Catholic church makes such a sharp division between souls and lives.

    No where in the article does it clearly state that the Church teaches/believes/has part of its doctrine that desecrating a host is worse than genocide.

  153. David D,
    The article may not clearly state that desecrating the host is worse than genocide.
    It does state, however, that genocide can be dealt with by a priest or a bishop.
    It also states that host desecration is more serious and requires special papal handling.
    The implication is there.

  154. DrFlimmer

    @ Gary7
    “To my brethren Bhuddah, Jesus and Mohammed: Y’All tried to teach the naked apes to be human,,,perhaps it will require a greater teacher than All of You to finish the task,,,”

    There is much truth in that statement!

  155. kuhnigget

    @ David:

    I don’t think that the Catholic church makes such a sharp division between souls and lives.

    We’ll have to disagree on that one. That was pretty much the rationale behind the Inquisition. Torture, execution, imprisonment of a body in order to “save” the soul was SOP. Doctrine really hasn’t changed much in 500 years.

    But then, I did flunk CCD.

  156. Eheitz

    This blog is disturbingly ignorant.
    It’s like listening to second-graders talking about quantum mechanics.
    People have no idea how stupid they sound when they talk about things they don’t know anything about.
    You don’t get a physics education by watching cartoons, and you don’t get information about the Catholic Church from a stupid news story.
    The Catholic Church has authoritative sources of information and even scholarly journals.
    Why not spend some to study and really understand the arguments?

    Specifically, on the topic of severity of sins…
    Sin can be more or less severe depending on a number of factors:
    The *object* (objective actual thing that is done or not done),
    The person’s *knowledge* of the sin.
    The *intention* of the person,
    the level of *consent* (level of freedom), and
    the *circumstances* (stealing a dollar from a starving man is worse than stealing a dollar from a rich man).

    Sins are more or less severe in their *object* according to the *good* which they *oppose*.

    Desecration of the Holy Eucharist is by it’s object, directed against the greatest good in the universe. That’s why it is so severe.
    But… If the guy doesn’t believe it to be God, then he is not even in need of going to confession! Even though he has objectively committed a serious sin.

    For further *intelligent* reading see:
    First! : The Catechism of the Catholic Church: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/ccc_toc.htm
    Second : The Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen

    For more detailed general (and often difficult readings) search for keywords in “Encyclicals” and “Instructions” from the Vatican. They are the most authoritative sources.
    And… When you read a news story, imagine if it were about quantum mechanics. That’s about as much as you should trust religious topics in a mass-media news source.

  157. kuhnigget

    @ Eheitz:

    There have been numerous comments on this post that have suggested exactly as you have summarized, though not with your fine attention to detail.

    So I guess we aren’t all ignorant second-graders.

    Do not speak evil against another, brothers. The person who speaks evil against a brother or sister or judges a brother or sister speaks evil against the Law and judges the Law.

  158. About that “cracker” — it’s true. It IS a cracker. And, then in one instant of a priest raising it over his head and reciting old language over it, it is supposed to be representing the IDEA of Jesus Christ’s body. That’s okay, insofar as it goes — it’s following an equation “Let x=”body of Christ.” But the “idea” of body of Christ is just that — an idea. And, in a universe full of ideas, it’s just another one that we can toss around, discuss, regard or disregard as we have free will to do. Except that… except that… the church doesn’t want you to have free will when it comes to razing their shibboleths. Understandable, since the church is all about hierarchy and power and not so much about the what the actual Jesus person said and suggested we all do with our lives (that pesky “love thy neighbor as thyself” thang.

    As a former Cath0lic, I don’t buy the idea that the “idea” is mightier or more important than the actual living person. And, for a religion that so often flings about the idea that “life” is more important (when it comes to clumps of cells dividing in a uterus), the fact that suddenly (for the Pope and his minions) the cracker is more important than the life forms that baked it, for purposes of liturgy and power over the masses, is just too much.

  159. Eheitz

    Oh Yeah,…
    And on the topic of apparitions:
    Catholics are *never* obliged to believe them. Even “approved” ones.
    Lots of them are amazingly ridiculous, and that’s why the pope is putting out new directives on them. Because he has brains in his head.
    But every right-thinking, scientifically minded person should seek a *reasonable* explanation for actual experiences.
    And some are hard to explain.
    See this one for example: http://www.zeitun-eg.org/stmaridx.htm
    In 1968, the apparition happened in full sight of thousands of witnesses – Christians, Muslims, atheists, and was even photographed.
    There are a number of pictures, and this is in the pre-photo-shop days.
    I’m generally a bit skeptical, but I don’t know what to make of it.
    Let me know if you come up with a good explanation (other than “yep, there she is”).

  160. JP

    1st off, please, please, please do not ever refer to the Eucharist, the thing that we Catholics hold incredibly sacred, as an ordinary “cracker.” That may seem like no big thing to you, but to a devout Catholic that is unbelievably offensive.

    The issue here is not necessarily that the Church views defiling the Host as more serious than killing. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Murder is a sin (a serious, mortal sin at that) that may be forgiven by a priest if the sinner is truly sorry, no matter how many times the sinner committed the sin. However, defiling the Eucharist is grounds for Excommunication – total expulsion from the Church, directly mandated by the Pope. The only way to fix this is to go back to this papal office and seek absolution from the man that excommunicated you in the first place.

  161. John Phillips, FCD

    @JP, but to the rest of us it is just a cracker. Not our fault if you get your knickers in a twist when us godless refuse to respect what it is not possible to respect. For respect has to be earned and while I will respect your right to believe whatever you wish, I am under no obligation whatsoever to respect the belief. How nonsensical a world that would be, for then I would have to respect every stupid and/or dangerous belief out there. Or is it only your particular stupid belief I have to respect?

  162. Ken

    It’s perfectly reasonable that desecrating the Eucharist is more offensive to the vatican than murder or genocide.

    Absolutely perfectly reasonable.

    … If the vatican really thought murder and genocide were the worst sins, they would spontaneously implode into a black hole of guilt and contradiction due to the millions of innocent human beings that have been murdered and the intentional acts of genocide carried out by or supported by, or intentionally ignored by the Vatican in the last 2000 years for the purpose of gaining power for the christian church.

    As with any crime, if the crime actually suits the purposes of the police and judges, the crime becomes a minor annoyance, laws go unenforced.

    How many millions of native / aboriginal people were murdered and/or had their unique cultures destroyed around the world in the name of Christ?

    How many Muslims were murdered in the genocidal crusades? How many Jews were murdered in the name of Christianity, without objection by the Vatican during the holocaust and pogroms?

    It’s just all too embarassing now for the vatican in today’s world where most people can be properly informed if they choose to be, and hold their leaders to account, so the church can no longer condone their former actions.

    But the history of these crimes linger on in the details … such as in the relative importance of sins in this list.

    … and millions of fools go on believing it is all just dandy because it was done in the name of Christ.

    Doesn’t it make you cringe to think about, the idea of someone doing such evil things in praise of you? Kind of makes that whole ‘I died for your sins’ thing a waste of effort when you just go on killing in his name for 2000 years after he taught you to love your neighbours.

    So obey the golden rule boys and girls … unless you’re dealing with foreign cultures, different religions, or anyone who doesnt share the beliefs that were hammered into your head when you were too young to realize how insane the beliefs were.

    … in which case it’s just fine, go out and murder, commit genocide … because your false god is on your side.

    But please, please! DON’T act up when the priest makes you take part in a symbolic act of cannibalism because you’ll really go to hell if you screw up the cannibal cracker.

  163. Will Gibson

    Deadly Sins?
    “The co-called cardinal (or “deadly” or “capital”) sins are not sins at all but seven disorderly propensities in our personality that lead us to sinful behavior. Pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth are sound and healthy human proclivities gone askew: self-respect, self-preservation, communion, personal freedom, self-expression, celebration, relaxation. The cardinal sins result not from fundamental evil but from fundamental goodness running out of control, from human love that is confused and frightened and not trusting enough of love. The cardinal sins have nothing to do, of course, with the Sacred College, who, as we all know, commit hardly any sins.
    Traditional Catholic spirituality has contended that all of us have a “dominant fault,” the cardinal sin that is strongest in our personality (just as in medieval morality plays a different character paradigmatically represents each of our seven vices).”
    —Andrew M. Greeley
    As I read this battery of comments, I see not a little of this observation illuminated. IMHO, I enjoy Dr. Plait’s commentary on astronomy more than excursions into areas wherein his expertise is, perhaps, less well-honed than that of his critics.

  164. Greg in Austin

    @Eheitz,

    Photographs can be faked, even 40 years ago. Humans are easily fooled, even simultaneously in large numbers. Ever seen a magic show?

    8)

  165. Greg in Austin

    GKopy said,

    “Funny, the source article you cite doesn’t mention murder or genocide.”</blockquote"

    Actually, it does. Specifically,

    “While priests and bishops can deal with confessions of sins as grave as murder or even genocide, the tribunal is reserved for crimes which are viewed by the Church as even more serious. “

    Am I repeating myself?

    8)

  166. Greg in Austin

    GKopy said,

    “Funny, the source article you cite doesn’t mention murder or genocide.”

    Actually, it does. Specifically,

    “While priests and bishops can deal with confessions of sins as grave as murder or even genocide, the tribunal is reserved for crimes which are viewed by the Church as even more serious. “

    Am I repeating myself?

    8)

  167. kuhnigget

    @ erheitz:

    And some are hard to explain. See this one for example:…

    Uhhhh…you are kidding, right? A simple double exposure has “thousands” fooled? Next you are going to say that all those UFO pix couldn’t be fakes because “nobody had photoshop back then.” Kriminy, did anybody do anything before computers?

    It’s one thing to respect traditions as traditions, but it’s a whole other ball of bunk to assume that they are anything more than that.

    @ JP:

    1st off, please, please, please do not ever refer to the Eucharist, the thing that we Catholics hold incredibly sacred, as an ordinary “cracker.”

    What John Phillips said, and this: Please, please, please do not refer to a plate of boiled wheat product as “pasta.” Adherents of pastafarianism consider the great FSM’s holy relics incredibly sacred.

    See the problem here?

    Besides, all the Catholics I grew up with (including myself in that) called it a wafer, a holy wafer, a holy crisp…. It’s a cracker, okay? The symbolism is more important than the baked good.

  168. David D

    You know, if you want to, you can refer to it as a “cracker” or “that f–king cracker” or “Jeebus body” or whatever.

    But you can choose to be respectful.

    You probably wouldn’t use the N-word to refer to certain people (or at all). Many people find it to be offensive. But most people choose not to use that word for obvious reasons. I mean, it’s just a word, right?

    And ccpeterson doesn’t get it right at all–the host is not the IDEA of Christ’s body–many devout Catholics believe it IS Christ’s body. It is a fundamental part of Catholic dogma known as transubstantiation.

    Why not use the Golden Rule? It’s okay to be respectful. It really won’t hurt you.

  169. Ken

    Transubstantiation is just a big clean word word made up for the cracker because “ritualized symbolic cannibalism” just sounds too pagan to be at the heart of a ‘real’ religion.

    Maybe all the pareidolia is real!

    Maybe the churchy people who think they’ve somehow got the magical power to invoke the long lost corpse of Christ in convenient edible cracker form have just gotten loose!

    The’ve escaped the cannibal cracker factory! Out on the town, summoning the images of the long lost dead to appear in lava lamps and grilled cheese sandwhiches!

    Maybe Scientology isn’t such a crazy religion … when you compare it to this.

  170. Greg in Austin

    @JP, David D, et. al.,

    Please respect my First Amendment right of freedom of speech by allowing me to call a duck a duck, a cracker a cracker, and by not enforcing your religion on me or anyone else.

    8)

  171. Eheitz

    @kuhnigget

    “A simple double exposure?”

    You should read about the apparition again.
    I think you missed part of the story.

    Don’t get me wrong, I realize photos have always been easy to fake.

    But in this case, it was *witnessed* by thousands of people, and some of them took pictures of it. The film showed exactly what the people saw.

    Maybe some kind of fancy projection equipment could be used, but none was found, and the apparitions continued for three years.

    It’s hard to explain away.

  172. As someone who still isn’t crazy about the Catholic church but somewhat more sympathetic to it due to in-laws, I have to point out that this “list of sins” seems to be more technical rules on how people within the church who break church rules are dealt with strictly for church-related matters, not a statement on universal morality. It does not sound like they are trying to make secular legal systems punish anyone for what they see as offenses.

    We’d expect that someone who commits genocide would be punished primarily by non-church sources– a government, an international body such as the UN. And with a secular body being in charge of earthly punishment, the church gives over any spiritual treatment to the standard local authority. I’d assume a Pope or bishop could excommunicate a new Hitler or Stalin (although, I am not sure either of those men were active Catholics when their crimes were committed) but if either was brought before to trial in the Hague they could confess to the local parish priest.

    It sounds like these rules apply to someone who had a HUGE difference of opinion on BASIC theological matters and now wanted to WORK for the church. That seems pretty standard. If you want to drive a bus they don’t care about your marital status, they’re worried only about your driving record. If someone wants to be a priest, they need to be on board with what the crackers mean, even if the rest of us think its pretty silly.

  173. El Jefe

    I’ll keep it short; as far as the Pope is concerned…

    “Sic temper cloacus”

  174. @ eheitz:

    It’s hard to explain away.

    No it is not. That photograph is a very plain double exposure. If it’s being used as “evidence” of what people saw, then the people who are using it are either liars or extremely gullible.

    Might I suggest you look into the subject of mass (no pun intended) hysteria?

    You do know, don’t you, that thousands of people “saw” Martians invading the Earth back in October of 1938? There are literally hundreds of newspaper accounts of people fleeing in terror, nearly taking poison to avoid being incinerated by heat rays, and flooding police stations with calls demanding the authorities do something. I think you can conclude people are easily misled.

  175. @ David:

    The “n-word” — neutron? neanderthal? — is not quite the same. “Cracker” is what a holy wafer is. (You don’t object to “wafer,” do you…because that’s another word for a delectable little after-dinner mint.) They are made of unleavened flower, baked in an oven, and turned into a symbol by the Church. I think you find people targeted with “the n-word” rather more annoyed if you claimed it was an accurate description of what they were.

    And yes, we all know what transubstantiation is. And as a dogma of the Church, it is not without controversy.

  176. David D

    @Greg–

    A suggestion or a request about speech does not disrespect your First Amendment rights. The idea of respect and civil discourse is not “enforcing” religion on you.

    @kuhnigget–
    I am pretty sure that within the Church, transubstantiation is NOT controversial, although those outside the church may find it so. As far as your statement “we all know what transubstantiation is”, apparently you and ccpeterson are a little hazy on the subject, as you both seem to think that the host is a “symbol” or “idea” of some sort. That is incorrect.

    As far as the “n-word” [actually I was thinking of neutrino :) ]–I see your point; maybe that wasn’t the best example I could come up with. But after all, these are only words, right?

    There are words and speech that different folks might find to be offensive, and reasonable people can choose not to use them, out of respect for others.

  177. Greg in Austin

    @David D,

    With all due respect, I kindly disagree. The moment someone asks me to limit my speech in a public place on behalf of an organized religion, then I shall stand up for my rights.

    If you and I are having a private conversation, and you say, “Please don’t use that word in front of me, because it offends me personally,” then I probably will not use that word while I am talking to you. If you and I are in a public place (such as this blog), and you say to everyone there, “Do not use that word because it offends my organization,” then we have an issue of free speech.

    Do you see the difference?

    8)

  178. TheBlackCat

    Sorry, but it IS a cracker. It has all of the properties of the food that the English language has come to label with the word “cracker”. You may think it is more than a cracker, you may think it has something unique that makes it different than other crackers, but it still fits into the category of foods that we call a “cracker”. It is not an insult, it is not disrespectful, to call something what it is.

    The demand that we make a special, unique exception in the English language just for you is exactly the problem here. The demands by religious people that they be given special exceptions, that the rules that apply uniformly across society be waved just for them, that they and their ideas not be held to the same standards as all others, is exactly what people are complaining about. Demanding that we don’t call things what they are because they have religious significance, expecting that rules and regulations be waived for religious people, events, and institutions, expecting that religious ideas alone cannot be questioned or debated, expecting that religious ideas be respected without having to earn that respect like other ideas are required to. Rules should be applied consistently. Everything should be questioned and debated. Respect must earned, not given by default.

    What I find most bizarre is people who expect to still be consider a skeptic despite the fact that for a huge body of ideas they have decided to completely toss aside every principle that defines skepticism. It like saying “I am a homeopath, an astrologer, and a dowser, but I am a skeptic and I am deeply offended by anyone who says skeptics can’t be homeopaths or astrologers.” Sure, you can compartmentalize and apply skeptical ideas to things other than those things that you are not skeptical about, but your not a skeptic. A skeptic is a skeptic period, not a skeptic for some things but not for others.

    I have no problem with religion. None. I do not consider it an inherent force for evil, although it is certainly very easy to use it as one. All I expect is that thing be treated equally. Ideas should all be handled the same way. There shouldn’t be any special exemptions, no ideas should get a free ride. They should all have to earn their place, and none should be immune from criticism or debate. I expect rules to be handled equally. No group of people is exempt from the rules everyone else has to follow simply because of their beliefs. We should not have to make special exemptions in our language just because people don’t like something of theirs lumped in with other things like it. I am just tired of the double standard, I am tired of things related to religion not having to follow as strict of rules as everything else.

  179. David D

    @Greg–

    Then we can respectfully disagree. I am not demanding anything of anyone, simply asking for respect. It is your choice to honor that request–or not, whether it offends me personally, or a group of people that I may be associated with.

    @Black Cat–

    Amazingly to you, there are skeptics who are religious. In my experience, neither their skepticality nor their faith seem to suffer. Some people (like you) seem ferociously unable to grasp this concept.

    I agree that all ideas should be open to criticism and debate. I just think that ideas, social, political, whatever, should be debated and discussed in a civil, respectful manner. How do you define when an idea has “earned” respect? I will guess that many religious ideas and beliefs are considered respectable by quite a lot of people, some of whom don’t consider themselves religious.

    And as far as “Respect must earned, not given by default,” look–I don’t know you at all. Should I treat you disrespectfully right off the bat? You certainly haven’t “earned” my respect, so why should I give it to you? I choose, however, to treat you with respect by default, because I feel (and probably a few other people do too) that this makes our society much more pleasant to live in. How is it that asking for respect translates into an unreasonable demand, or a loss of free speech?

    Again, it’s simply a choice.

  180. scottb

    People (generally) deserve respect – not ideas.

    I can and should respect you as a person and your right to speak freely. I don’t have to respect your ideas and beliefs.

  181. @ David:

    As far as your statement “we all know what transubstantiation is”, apparently you and ccpeterson are a little hazy on the subject, as you both seem to think that the host is a “symbol” or “idea” of some sort. That is incorrect.

    You are correct, in that I should have said we know what the holy wafer is. Sorry for the error.

    But as a former Catholic, I can assure you there is dissent about the issue. A great many lay Catholics disagree with papal policy on many issues, the reality of transubstantiation being one of them. It seems a point of silliness, similar to debating about angels on pinheads (honestly, I recall a conversation in which the exact moment in which the wine changed to blood was prattled about endlessly…was it when it touched the lips? when it hit the gullet?) Honestl, there are so many other worldly issues the Church could focus upon.

    You are right, however, that people can choose to be respectful…but it is a two-way street, yes? Personally, I will have more respect for the Catholic Church when they have a wee bit more respect for me.

    Have a nice one.

  182. David D

    @scottb–

    You don’t have to respect my ideas or beliefs; you don’t even have to respect me as a person. It’s simply your choice–that’s all.

  183. scottb

    I didn’t really make myself clear so let me try again.

    I know I don’t have to respect you as a person but we were talking about civil discourse and that should be a basic requirement until you (or I or anyone else) has proven that you don’t deserve it.

    However, I don’t think ideas and belief deserve respect at all. They should be discussed and criticized on their merits alone. This is where a lot of religious people (not necessarily you) get all bent out of shape because they think that criticizing religious beliefs should be off limits period.

  184. David D

    “They should be discussed and criticized on their merits alone.”

    I agree–and it can be done with derision and ridicule and sarcasm (as a whole lot of “rational” people do–not necessarily you), and it can be done with mutual respect and civility. I personally don’t believe that religious beliefs should not be criticized. If you are strong in your beliefs, your faith should be able to withstand criticism.

  185. scottb

    “If you are strong in your beliefs, your faith should be able to withstand criticism.”

    Are you saying that if your ideas or beliefs are irrational that you should continue to hold them just because they are part of your faith?

  186. David D

    No.

    But I don’t consider faith to be necessarily irrational; that’s my opinion. Your opinion is probably different. If you want to label all religious ideas as irrational, go ahead–that doesn’t make it true.

  187. TheBlackCat

    @ David: Can someone who believes in astrology be a skeptic? Can someone who believes that praying to a deity will have an effect on the world be a skeptic? If one can be and one can’t, what is the difference between these two cases? Can a homeopath be a skeptic? Can someone who believes in transubstantiation be a skeptic? What is the difference?

    I should point out that I was what some might call a “religious skeptic”. I understand very well that you can compartmentalize, apply one set of rules to one part of your life and another set to another part. But I don’t consider someone a true skeptic unless they apply those rules consistently to the best of their abilities. Someone who intentionally and consistently ignores the rules of skepticism is not a skeptic, even if they are skeptical towards some things. Anybody can be skeptical of some things, but only a skeptic is skeptical of everything.

    “I agree that all ideas should be open to criticism and debate. I just think that ideas, social, political, whatever, should be debated and discussed in a civil, respectful manner.”

    Civil, yes, respectful, no. I can be civil about something without having to respect it.

    “How do you define when an idea has “earned” respect?”

    Well, for starters the idea should not require special exemptions from the normal rules in order for it to survive.

    “And as far as “Respect must earned, not given by default,” look–I don’t know you at all. Should I treat you disrespectfully right off the bat? You certainly haven’t “earned” my respect, so why should I give it to you? I choose, however, to treat you with respect by default, because I feel (and probably a few other people do too) that this makes our society much more pleasant to live in. How is it that asking for respect translates into an unreasonable demand, or a loss of free speech?”

    You are mixing up “respect” with “civility”. I would hope a stranger would treat me civilly, but I most certainly do not expect a perfect stranger to have any respect for me. And I certainly would hope that no stranger would respect my ideas just because I hold them, I want my ideas challenged.

  188. Larry

    I have not read this comment stream, and maybe I should have. But what I do know is that what I believe, and the Pope probably does too is that murder and genocide are terrible sins against God. While non-catholics will not understand, those of us with nine long years of Monday night catechism will. The Eucharist, or communion wafer, is believed by about a billion of us to become the body of Jesus through the sacred ceremony of the holy mass. Now that is all well and good for those who don’t believe, but understand what desecrating that communion wafer means in that context. If you do believe that is the case, and you do desecrate that communion wafer, then everything you believe about Jesus, and the Bible are thrown out the window. In other words, there are sins, mortal sins and unforgivable sins. Stealing for food, easy. Killing to protect your family, easy. Completely deneying the core beliefs of a religion not so easy to forgive. And that’s what it comes down to. While all sin may be forgiven, one must be in a position to ask for forgiveness THROUGH a particular means, if one denies the existence of that means of forgiveness, i.e. catholicism, then one is completely outside of its ability to forgive. It’s not a matter of degree of crime involved here; not quantitative, but qualitative. If you completely deny my belief system, as opposed to someone who doesn’t but has committed unspeakable acts, which one of you is likely to seek forgiveness in a manner consistent with my belief system, the complete unbeliever or the genocider (if that’s a word)? The Pope’s job is to save individual souls within the Roman Catholic religious philosopy. This means, that the first step is getting someone to accept the basic method of forgiveness of sin within that system, or else they have NO chance of forgiveness. A CATHOLIC murderer at least accepts the basic method for salvation; i.e. confession and penance. Someone who denies the church’s proscripted ways to salvation, needs first to be brought into the belief system of the church, and then to accept their sins before forgiven. The Pope is not a stupid or uncaring man, but one who devotely believes in a certain way to salvation. A person who defiles a communion wafer obviously does not believe in the same method of salvation that the Pope does, and thus must first be convinced that the Catholic system is true way before any thought of forgiveness of his sin. Simply put, if one man knows confession is good for his soul and doesn’t go he is asking for trouble; if another believes that confession is a farce then he is doomed. The Pope’s discsussion of the topic concerns the latter as someone incapable of redemption.

  189. MC

    I have not read all comments to this blog. After awhile they all looked the same:
    “I believe this and that”
    “But how can you, I know you’re wrong”
    “No, I’m not, that’s what I believe”
    *yawn*

    All I can say is this, Bill Maher made a movie last year called “Religulous”. I liked it alot as it pretty much nails it. Everyone should see it :)

    /M

  190. Jessica

    mocular Says:
    January 16th, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    M said: I am a Christian and a skeptic.

    How do you successfully compartmentalize these two sides of your personality?
    Doesn’t the the cognitive dissonance give you migraines?

    Late reply by a different person, but I did agree with what M was saying. I’ve grown up in a Christian family (Salvation Army to be specific) and have never really questioned the fact that God is real. I am personally convinced that He exists, though I know that from a non-Christian’s viewpoint it is entirely unproveable. On the other hand I am strongly interested in science, and my two obsessions when I was little were Space and Dinosaurs – so of course I read plenty about the scientific beginning of the Universe and the world and the evolution of life. So I knew the story of evolution, and the story of Creation, and I never thought of either solely as the “real” one. They both exist, and though they don’t really fit together, it doesn’t bother me. My faith is the same regardless.

    My stance on the eternal evolution/creation debate is “evolution happened, but God did it”. God’s hand in creating the world is (to me) unquestionable; however, I’m sure the vast majority of the scientists in the world haven’t misinterpreted the physical indications that the world is billions of years old and we all evolved from little swimmy things in the ocean. THEREFORE either God guided the formation of the world over those billions of years OR he made it in seven days but made it *look* much older – and really, why would He want to deliberately trick us?

    Ultimately, I think the Christians pushing ‘Intelligent Design’ are putting their effort into completely the wrong thing anyway. People won’t be saved just because they’re taught that the world was created by some nonspecific Creator (because that’s what they’re having to push it through as).

  191. Colin

    Sin and salvation are inventions of religion, not reality. Pass me a cracker please!

  192. scottb

    David,

    I never said “all religious ideas are irrational”. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

    However, as an example, belief in angels, ghosts, and demons is irrational. Remember, irrational means belief without evidence which is also part of “faith”, right?

    I don’t have any problem with people that want to believe in a supernatural entity until they start making claims that their belief affects reality. At that point, I say “prove it”. If you have no proof, saying “I take it on faith” is a huge cop-out and even worse, leads us down a road where everything is “sacred” just because someone says it is. Do you eat beef? If so, you’re commiting a horribly “disrespectful” act against Hindus. Would you take a blood transfusion? I hope you’re not a Jehova’s Witness.

    Which brings us back to the original point. If people want to believe in transubstantiation, fine, but don’t bring it into the public domain and start demanding unquestioning “respect”. People should be able to question why anyone would value a symbolic ritual above actual human life. Now, Phil may have misinterpreted the article (or not – I haven’t read it) but it’s still a legitimate question.

    If you are claiming that the Catholic Church doesn’t do that then fine, but the people who come here and insult everyone for even questioning religion are the ones who need a reality check.

  193. @ Greg in Austin: “With all due respect, I kindly disagree. The moment someone asks me to limit my speech in a public place on behalf of an organized religion, then I shall stand up for my rights.”

    Who is limiting your speech in a public place? Freedom of speech does not mean people have to agree with you. Don’t confuse disagreement with your right to speak.

    @All who use the word “cracker”

    You know that term was selected to be disrespectful. It’s typical Phil.

    @Eheitz

    Thank you for putting things in perspective. There are so many “experts” in theology out there whose only religious education is the last news article. I come here for the science, not Phil’s opinions on theology. Phil the Scientist is very thorough when it comes to physics, but always limits his inquiries on theology and paints all religions with a very, very large brush.

    Phil got what he wanted: traffic on his blog. And I’m sure Discovery Magazine is quite pleased as well with the traffic and the childish jabs at religion.

    In that respect, he’s not a very smart guy at all — just the typical juvenile bully calling names in the parking lot.

  194. scottb

    GKopy,

    “I come here for the science, not Phil’s opinions on theology.”

    Then why are you still on this thread? You should know that these Discovery blogs are personal blogs where anything can get posted. If you don’t like “non-science” posts, ignore them.

    “Phil the Scientist is very thorough when it comes to physics, but always limits his inquiries on theology and paints all religions with a very, very large brush.”

    He was responding to an article – he didn’t make this stuff up out of the blue. As I said before, he may have misinterpreted something in the article but are you saying he can’t comment on it because it deals with religion? It seems to me that when Phil posts articles on religion it’s usually dealing with the disconnect between religious belief and reality. It’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask if the church holds that violating a symbol is worse than violating human life.

    “In that respect, he’s not a very smart guy at all — just the typical juvenile bully calling names in the parking lot.”

    Pot, meet kettle.

  195. David, I don’t think I”m hazy on the subject of the transubstantion and its meaning. When I went through Catholic school (9 years, plus several more years of indoctrination as a teenager and young adult) we focused quite tightly on that whole issue (among others, including such things as celibate vs. married clergy, the meaning of the term “life”, etc.) from 9th grade on. We given the benefit of the latest thinking from the Catholic Think Tanks and taught that at the very least the wafer represents the idea of the body of Jesus.

    I recall several discussions and readings about the controversy among theologians about whether it actually MEANT it was really the body. There was vehement debate. As far as I know, that debate continues.

    If YOU choose to believe it’s the body, that’s YOUR business. But, my statement that it represents the IDEA of the body of Christ is also correct until somebody shows me where the guys in the Deep Thought Division of the Catholic church have come to an agreement on what it really is/means. And even then, since it’s something that I (and many others) do not personally believe, it falls into the realm of idea anyway, sort of like the Holy Ramen and Sacred Cows and other shibboleths of organized religions.

    This whole debate was, in fact, one of the many factors that caused my shift in feeling and beliefs as a church member and I ultimately left because it seemed to me that Holy Church Teaching was, more or less, a Make It Up as You Go Along to Control the Masses kind of thing and that the few absolutes (love thy neighbor, etc.) were not exclusive to the church — nor, in fact, to ANY religion. The moral absolutes were something that I could embrace without the trappings of hierarchy or, for that matter, the belief in a kindly tripartite guy floating around up there in the clouds, waiting for me to sin so he could take some action (if he felt like it). That part seemed quite fairy tale-ish and I left it behind.

    I concur with others that respect for you as a person is important, and that I can respect your right to believe in whatever you like. But, setting aside sacred protected territory for the ideas you profess to believe in (even when they turn out to be ideas that are under debate by theologians) is not even remotely fair. It is, as others have pointed out, asking for preferred treatment that is unwarranted.

    GKopy: , this IS Phil’s blog, and if you read about Phil up at the top there, you may also know that Phil is a Skeptic and committed to the cause of free thought and skeptical thinking. These things often go hand in hand with science. Phil gets to write about whatever he wishes, and I happen to think he does it pretty well and researches what he writes about. If that’s not to your liking or preference, you can always skip over the posts that put your knickers in a knot and move on to the next blog for that day. It’s called “choice” and you are free to exercise it.

  196. David D

    @BlackCat–

    Can someone who believes in astrology be a skeptic? Can someone who believes that praying to a deity will have an effect on the world be a skeptic? If one can be and one can’t, what is the difference between these two cases? Can a homeopath be a skeptic? Can someone who believes in transubstantiation be a skeptic? What is the difference?

    I’m not sure if I know the answers to your questions. All I know is that in my life, in my personal experience, I have met deeply religious people and those of perhaps just a more spiritual bent who were also incredibly rational people, some in the biological sciences, even one astronomer. You are unable to understand how that might work. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t.

    “How do you define when an idea has “earned” respect?”
    Well, for starters the idea should not require special exemptions from the normal rules in order for it to survive.

    Where did you see this “requirement?” Who enforces these “special exemptions” in your discussions? What else is needed for an idea to earn “respect?”
    Perhaps I am mixing up civility with respect. In my world, they are actually closely entwined. It seems as though we may have a difference in defining what we mean by respect. To me, challenging someone else’s ideas does not mean you don’t respect them. We’re parsing words here, I think.

    @scottb–

    Remember, irrational means belief without evidence which is also part of “faith”, right?

    That may be your definition of irrational. There are others. A more general connotation of the word “irrational” goes along the lines of “not endowed with reason,
    affected by loss of usual or normal mental clarity; incoherent.” There are many “rational” people (not necessarily you) who seem to believe that if you are religious, then you have lost mental clarity. That is not exactly the case.

    People should be able to question why anyone would value a symbolic ritual above actual human life. Now, Phil may have misinterpreted the article (or not – I haven’t read it) but it’s still a legitimate question.

    Well, after almost 200 comments, you haven’t read the article in question? That’s interesting. As other commenters have pointed out, it actually does appear that Phil and the reporter in the article are guilty of misinterpreting some facts and ideas; Phil has jumped the gun like this on several occasions before (see a recent post from a parent’s blog regarding a religious elementary school).

    It’s a legitimate question if there is some sound basis for the question. In this case, that basis was shaky at best. If you just want to ask wild questions, that’s different.

  197. David D

    @ccpetersen–

    I’ve checked several print and online references, but the Church still teaches (despite whatever ongoing debate may be taking place) that the Eucharist is the BODY of Christ, not a SYMBOL or an IDEA. Personally, it’s not my belief, btw. It is, however, along with things like the papacy, one of the things that “defines” the Catholic church and sets it apart from Protestant sects.

    Your statement is incorrect. Perhaps you can divulge your sources from the “Deep Thought Division.” You are making the claim; can you show me where the Church says it’s okay to think of the Eucharist as an idea?

  198. scottb

    David,

    That may be your definition of irrational. There are others. A more general connotation of the word “irrational” goes along the lines of “not endowed with reason,
    affected by loss of usual or normal mental clarity; incoherent.” There are many “rational” people (not necessarily you) who seem to believe that if you are religious, then you have lost mental clarity. That is not exactly the case.

    You seem more interested in argument against strawmen than what I actually said.

    Well, after almost 200 comments, you haven’t read the article in question? That’s interesting. As other commenters have pointed out, it actually does appear that Phil and the reporter in the article are guilty of misinterpreting some facts and ideas

    First, whatever the article says doesn’t change anything I’ve said. Phil’s post raised a question and yes, some people claimed he misrepresented the article but others have not and tried to defend the church’s policy as being correct.

    In this case, that basis was shaky at best.

    That’s your opinion and nothing more.

  199. David D

    scottb–
    “some people claimed he misrepresented the article but others have not and tried to defend the church’s policy as being correct.”

    Still haven’t read the article–why not?

    You seem to be laboring under the impression that it is Church policy to regard genocide as somehow less a sin than desecrating a host. That is not the case; the article (contrary to what Phil and others claim) does not say that. Some commenters have tried to clarify Church belief in this matter, which is NOT the same as defending “church’s policy.”

    “That’s your opinion and nothing more.” Well, at least I read the article . . . :)

  200. scottb

    David,

    I never said it was the church’s policy. I don’t really care if it is or not. That’s why I don’t care what the article says.

    If you go back and read, my arguments are against those that criticize people for asking any questions about religion and those who believe that religion trumps rational discourse.

  201. Todd W.

    @David D

    The article gives the impression that descecrating the host is a more serious offense than murder or genocide. The author may have misinterpreted how the whole forgiveness system is set up and the reasons behind it, as I and other pointed out above, but Phil was basing his understanding on that article and commenting on it.

    Also, note what Phil said in the second to last paragraph:

    Now, having dealt with the media many times before, I understand how things get distorted in articles like these. Also, I was not raised Catholic, so perhaps I am missing important information here. I would be very interested in getting the opinions and viewpoints of other people in the comments.

    He acknowledges that the article may be distorted, he admits to a lack of knowledge of Catholic doctrine, and he asks readers to comment on it.

    Regarding your claim that the article did not say that desecrating the Eucharist was worse than murder or genocide, emphasis added:

    While priests and bishops can deal with confessions of sins as grave as murder or even genocide, the tribunal is reserved for crimes which are viewed by the Church as even more serious.

    Defiling the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ, is also considered a sin of extreme gravity and one which is on the increase, the high-ranking members of the tribunal said.

    Cardinal Stafford said there had been a rise in incidents in which people would receive Communion and then spit it out or otherwise desecrate it, sometimes in Satanic rituals.

    (snipped example of PZ nailing a wafer and tossing it in the trash)

    Such sins, which can only be dealt with by the Pope, acting through the tribunal, bring automatic excommunication from the Church. If the Pope decides to grant absolution, the excommunication is lifted.

    So, getting back to your original statement against Phil, you were off-base. While the article does not specifically say “Defiling the Eucharist is worse than murder,” it ranks such an act among those that can only be handled by the tribunal, and the article stated earlier that sins handled by the tribunal are more serious than murder or genocide.

    Also, to belatedly comment on your response to my earlier comment, in which you said:

    @Todd W–
    “Your equating it to condemning atheists or scientists for the acts of a few people who happen to be either atheists or scientists is disingenuous. Why? They are not part of, nor acting for, some structured organization. They are not agents, nor policy deciders, for any such organization. If they were, then yes, the same criticisms could be leveled at that organization.”

    But they are acting as atheists, right?

    Here’s an anecdote for you:

    An SS officer watches as an elderly Jew laboriously digs what he knows to be his grave. Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner. “God is watching what you are doing,” he said. Without a word, the officer shoots him dead.

    And this is precisely the point. What Hitler or Stalin or Mao or the NKVD or the other perpetrators of our recent historical horrors did NOT believe was that God was watching what they were doing. That certainly meets my definition of what an atheist is. This does not mean that all atheists are evil by any stretch, nor am I claiming such.

    Again, you are off-base. The point of my comment was that the Catholic Church can, and should, be held responsible for past actions which its agents (Pope, cardinals, priests) condoned and, in some cases, ordered. The same criticism cannot be leveled at “atheists” for the actions of individual atheists, because there is no structured atheist organization on behalf of which they are acting. Your example of the SS officer is not an account of someone acting as an agent for atheism, but rather someone acting as an agent of an oppressive, totalitarian government. Whether the story is true or not, it does not read to me as having anything to do with religion, except on its surface. We do not know, for example, if the officer is rejecting God in totality (atheism) or just rejecting the captive’s idea of God (anti-semitism) or if the officer just simply views the capive as not human (a common occurrence in warfare) and therefore gives no value whatsoever to their comments, regardless of their content.

  202. TheBlackCat

    “I’m not sure if I know the answers to your questions. All I know is that in my life, in my personal experience, I have met deeply religious people and those of perhaps just a more spiritual bent who were also incredibly rational people, some in the biological sciences, even one astronomer. You are unable to understand how that might work. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t.”

    Being rational and being skeptical are not the same thing. Being rational means you are following the rules of logic. Being a skeptic means that as well, but it also means you are following the rules of science and evidence consistently (not just on some things). Religion fundamentally requires tossing aside those rules for a large body of events and ideas.

    “Where did you see this “requirement?” Who enforces these “special exemptions” in your discussions? What else is needed for an idea to earn “respect?””

    I was giving one of my criteria for respecting an idea. As for who enforces the special exemption, it society today that says we must tiptoe around ideas, no matter how bizarre and contrary to the evidence they may be, because they are important to people.

    As for other criteria I use, the idea must be logically consistent, must be parsimonious, and must fit with the known evidence. Religion does not fit any of those criteria.

    “Perhaps I am mixing up civility with respect. In my world, they are actually closely entwined. It seems as though we may have a difference in defining what we mean by respect. To me, challenging someone else’s ideas does not mean you don’t respect them. We’re parsing words here, I think.”

    Perhaps, but a lot of people say that the very act of question or debating a religious belief is inherently disrespectful. That is a problem.

    “That may be your definition of irrational. There are others. A more general connotation of the word “irrational” goes along the lines of “not endowed with reason, affected by loss of usual or normal mental clarity; incoherent.””

    That is not a “more general” definition, it is just a different one. Another definition, one which is just as valid and does describe all religions, is this:

    “not in accordance with reason; utterly illogical: irrational arguments. ”

    Since all religions, at the very least, demand that you toss aside Occam’s razor, a basic logical principle, then by that definition they are illogical.

  203. Mary

    The Eucharist is actually a wafer because it tastes and melts like a wafer minus the cream between each layer. Matzo bread is more similar to a cracker than a communion wafer. Those strawberry, vanilla, or chocolate flavored wafer cookies in the supermarkets are just not the same as saltine crackers.

    Also, since Catholics are dualists, during transubstantiation, the spirit of Jesus enters the wafer, making it a host. No Catholic believes the thing physically becomes the body of Christ, just spiritually. Because of that, it’s not cannibalism. It’s another form of spiritual nourishment like praying and Bible reading. Only this way, you “get more bang for the buck.”

    I thought I’d just throw in my two cents, albeit a little late.

  204. David D

    @ToddW–

    Again, we are reading an article in which a reporter is interpreting Church doctrine and how and where it chooses to absolve sins. Several commenters, who are apparently more familiar with Church doctrine than I am, have attempted to clarify and correct what they saw as a misinterpretation of Catholic teaching as reported by the article. It is a subtle difference that many people have missed.

    If you go around and start holding groups accountable for past actions, you may find yourself faced with about 6 billion guilty people. It’s not just the Catholic church that has some disturbing events in its past. There are few, if any cultures or societal groups that have not been guilty of some past heinous crimes.

    BlackCat–
    If I understand you correctly, your argument is that religion is irrational and illogical, and those who are religious deserve scorn for not thinking more logically. Again, my experience (and I don’t think it is unique in any way) is very different than this.

    Sigh. This is kind of like politics–each side is convinced they are right, and muster their unassailable arguments for their side, and if only those blind people on the other side would stop being so stupid–why the world would be a better place.

    There are examples over the years of people who are apologists for both sides who have debated this issue and who are far better at it than either you or I, with far better arguments.

  205. TheBlackCat

    “If I understand you correctly, your argument is that religion is irrational and illogical, and those who are religious deserve scorn for not thinking more logically. Again, my experience (and I don’t think it is unique in any way) is very different than this.”

    First, I don’t think they deserve scorn. I never said anything remotely similar to that. In fact I said exactly the opposite. All I said is that it is not rational. I made no further judgment besides that. Please do not put words in my mouth.

    Second, I gave a very specific, simple, and straightforward reason why I think it is irrational. Instead of actually discussing that reason, you simply dismiss it with a waive of your hand. Your counter-argument essentially amounts to “other people have claimed that they are right in the past, therefor I do not have to address your actual argument in any meaningful manner.” Even if that is true, it does not in any way contradict my argument.

    I am not saying that otherwise rational people cannot hold irrational beliefs. It is called compartmentalization. What I am saying is that such a person cannot be considered truly rational. I gave a specific reason why I think this is the case (religion requires abandoning Occam’s razor). Your experience does not contradict this, since your experience is fully compatible with compartmentalization.

  206. David D

    TheBlackCat–

    You say “irrational” like it’s a bad thing . . . (wasn’t there a similar T-shirt a while ago?) :)

    Sorry if I misunderstood you. You are saying that it is neither good nor bad to be irrational right?

    Your counter-argument essentially amounts to “other people have claimed that they are right in the past, therefor I do not have to address your actual argument in any meaningful manner.”

    I actually did not attempt any counter-argument. I simply stated that this is territory that has been well traversed by others before us who were better informed and had better arguments than you and I–I am referring to both sides not just one or the other. Please do not put words in my mouth, either.

  207. TheBlackCat

    “Sorry if I misunderstood you. You are saying that it is neither good nor bad to be irrational right?”

    Exactly.

    “I actually did not attempt any counter-argument. I simply stated that this is territory that has been well traversed by others before us who were better informed and had better arguments than you and I–I am referring to both sides not just one or the other. Please do not put words in my mouth, either.”

    I wasn’t putting words in your mouth, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. It didn’t seem like an argument to me but I thought it would be needlessly inflammatory to put the word argument in quotes. I apologize for trying to have the civility you have been demanding, I will not make such a mistake again.

    Ignoring the word “counter-argument”, how was my summary of your position any different than your summary of your position? They look identical to me. I was referring to both sides as well in my summary. Anyways, your version is still a cop-out, it is still dismissing my argument instead of actually addressing my point. You say that their arguments are better than mine, but you so far have not shown any problem with my argument that could justify such a conclusion. As I said before, just because other people have had arguments in the past does not make my argument wrong.

  208. TheBlackCat

    What is the difference between a disease and a disorder? I usually see disorder in reference to diseases that are caused by the body (although they can have an external trigger, like some autoimmune disorders). That doesn’t mean they are not major diseases with real effects on a person.

  209. TheBlackCat

    Oops, wrong thread.

  210. Eric the Read

    So, the list of “previously secret sins” is not a ranking of “badness”. Desecrating a Eucharist isn’t “worse” than genocide. It’s not “better”, either. Desecrating a consecrated Host is a foundational sin– it strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic. So it requires more steps not because it’s so bad, only a pontifical commission can absolve it, but because you’ve basically acted against the basic nature of Catholicism.

    I believe– though I’m not 100% sure, the details here can get awfully nice– that it’s either caused by, or related to, the automatic excommunication such acts incur. Basically, once you’ve excommunicated yourself, you’ve put yourself outside the Church’s authority, so it takes a few more steps to bring you back in the fold, so to speak.

    Regardless, it is explicitly *not* a judgement of value re: the sins themselves.

  211. Francois

    Well I think they start releasing “secret sins”, they are starting to make up stuff.
    So if they don’t like you doing something this week next week it will be a deadly sin.

  212. papageno

    Eric the Read:
    So, the list of “previously secret sins” is not a ranking of “badness”. Desecrating a Eucharist isn’t “worse” than genocide. It’s not “better”, either. Desecrating a consecrated Host is a foundational sin– it strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic. So it requires more steps not because it’s so bad, only a pontifical commission can absolve it, but because you’ve basically acted against the basic nature of Catholicism.

    So committing murder is not against the nature of Catholicism and therefore does not deserve automatic excommunication.
    Which means that the consacrated wafer is more important than a human life.

    How does this not imply a ranking of the sins?

  213. @ Eric the Read:

    Just catching up on this thread, there is something that needs to be pointed out:

    Different does not imply ordering. You can have a disordered set, with discrete subsets, wherein the subsets are defined by something other than “less” or “more”. There are very broad classifications of “severity” of sin in the Catholic church, but it’s not like there’s a well ordered ordinal scale of one to ten, with five being five times as bad as one and half as bad as ten.

    Even if “different” does imply “ordering”, it doesn’t necessarily include the property of magnitude; given a set {a, b, c}, it may be that the only thing we can say about a, b, and c is that a is “less” than b and b is “less” than c… we may not be able to say anything about how large the differences are between a and b vs b and c.

    From a proper canon law standpoint (at least in the Catholic church), excommunication is just a formality. Whenever you sin, you’re in effect excommunicating yourself, and you’re supposed to refrain from all of the sacraments (other than reconciliation) until you’ve repented and done your penance. Judging from the population in the physical church during Saturday confessional vs Sunday mass, I’d hazard a guess that fully 98% of the self-identified Catholics in the U.S. are actually not in a formal state of grace, as far as the church is officially concerned. A formal excommunication is basically just a public writ confirming that someone has excommunicated themselves :)

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