Remember how several large US banks stole homes from people who were protected by federal law? Those banks were required to compensate the owners – to the tune of $300 to $5,000. Does anyone know the punishment for petty theft? Does anyone know how many bankers have gone to jail for stealing people’s homes? Corruption isn’t just a problem that affects people in other countries.
Oh, and the checks than former homeowners are getting to ‘compensate’ them for the loss of their homes, they’re bouncing.
Pretend for a moment that you and I are sitting down together, and I show you a bottle. It can be any kind of bottle you like: a cold beer, some good wine, or your favorite soda. Then I tell you that the bottle is actually a penguin named Boris.
Quite reasonably, you ask why Boris looks like a bottle of sloshing liquid.
I respond by saying that Boris is a magical penguin. Boris has the ability to appear to be a bottle but remain, in reality, Boris. You could examine Boris under a microscope, perform chemical experiments, or do any other test that you wanted, and Boris would appear to be a bottle without actually being bottle. Boris’ nature, what Boris really was, is entirely separate from his appearance as a bottle.
Seeing the size of the bottle, you ask if Boris is a baby penguin, to be so small.
I explain to you that no, Boris is an adult male emperor penguin, weighing in at the average of that species, about 75 pounds. Answering before you can ask the question, I tell you that weight has two properties, internal weight and external weight. Internal weight is intrinsic to a thing’s nature. Right now, Boris is 75 pounds and there is nothing that can be done to change that in this instant. External weight, however, is simply how much an object appears to weigh, and Boris’ magic allows him to change his external weight (and dimensions) to appear to be the weight of a bottle.
Okay, now roll those ideas around in your head for a little bit. Do they make sense? Do the explanations seem contrived? I think so, but do you? If you’re Catholic, think especially hard about those explanations. Assume for a second that magical penguins are not only plausible, but likely. In that case, does the explanation make sense?
I ask Catholics to think especially hard, because (as I’m sure a few of you figured out) this is actually a post about transubstantiation. So, before I go any farther, I want to make something clear:
I am not intending to mock the idea of transubstantiation. Nor am I intending to mock the scholastics who developed these ideas. The example of Boris the magic penguin was intended to do two things: First, I wanted to examine the ideas behind transubstantiation in a way that would elicit genuine reactions from Catholic minds that were not informed by doctrine. Associations are the paint set of the mind, and I wanted to work with a blank canvas, at least for a little while. Second, I wanted to encourage people to keep reading through the abstract morass that is medieval philosophy. I thought I might not lose everyone in the second paragraph if Boris the penguin was there to give a bit of incentive for readers to continue. Anyway, if some of you are still offended, I can only say that I sincerely meant no disrespect.
So with that out of the way, I’m basing the rest of this discussion from this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
So, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, transubstantiation is the idea that the substance of the bread and wine change during the Mass into the Body and Blood of Christ. Once this change occurs, the bread ceases to be bread, and the wine ceases to be wine. The example given is of a soldier who is promoted. When someone is promoted, they cease entirely from their former rank to their current rank.
But the bread and wine still look like bread and wine. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains this by distinguishing between ‘substance’ and ‘accidents’. ‘Accidents’ refers to nonessential qualities of an object: characteristics like taste, appearance, weight, and size. If that doesn’t make much sense, that’s because ‘accidents’ is only fully understood in contrast to ‘substance.’ The Encyclopedia describes substance as ‘the thing in itself.’ For example, let’s say that Bob is a nice man. Then we push Bob into a lake. After we push Bob into a lake, the accidents of Bob are anger and wetness, but the substance of Bob is still a nice man.
A similar line of thought is used elsewhere to explain how Christ’s whole body fits into a small piece of bread.
Later Scholasticism… tried to improve upon this explanation along other lines by distinguishing between internal and external quantity. By internal quantity is understood that entity, by virtue of which a corporeal substance merely possesses… the “capability” of being extended in tri-dimensional space. External quantity, on the other hand, is the same entity, but in so far as it follows its natural tendency to occupy space and actually extends itself in the three dimensions.
So basically, internal quantity is the ability to be a size or shape, and external quantity is actually being that size or shape. So Christ’s internal quantity remains the same, it just doesn’t express itself as an external quantity when it is in the accidents of a host.
Now here’s the deal, I don’t buy this. I think the scholastics were playing word games. When we talk about bread, we only ever refer to its accidents (unless we’re an anthropologist, a linguist, or a theologian). We use the word bread to convey something about taste, shape, chemical composition, or nutritional content. All of these are ‘accidents’ of bread that remain after the consecration. ‘Accidents’ and ‘substance’ are terms that were developed long after bread to convey a distinction between consecrated bread and unconsecrated bread. Before those terms, and even today in ordinary usage, the accidents of bread are merely referred to as bread, which indicates to me that the distinction exists only in the mind.
The same is true of internal and external quantity. These concepts were invented to explain how Christ’s Body was in the host without saying that Christ’s body was host-sized. These concepts were invented to play a linguistic game. The people who formulated these concepts wanted to be able to answer yes to these questions:
Is the consecrated host Christ?
Does the host contain Christ’s whole body?
And just as importantly, to avoid impiety (the Catholic Encyclopedia uses the term “fitting,” as in fitting the dignity of Christ), the theologians who contrived these ideas wanted to answer ‘no’ to these questions:
Is the consecrated host bread as well as Christ?
Has Christ’s body been shrunk to fit the host?
If you realize that the theologians had answered these questions before they ever started to try to figure out how Christ’s presence in the Eucharist works, their answers look ingenious. They also look obviously made up. How do you maintain that a consecrated host is not bread even when it fits every single description we have for bread? All you have to do is make up another layer of definition for bread: bread-in-itselfness, that you can maintain a consecrated host has lost. How can Christ’s whole body be contained in something as small as a host? Well if there are two kinds of sizes, it’s easy.
And oddly enough, I get the urge to do this. I don’t think the theologians who developed these ideas were stupid or evil or impious. They were clearly highly intelligent men who were motivated by respect for God. But that doesn’t change the fact that they were making up distinctions, that a host is smaller than Christ’s body, or that a consecrated host is still bread in every way that counts (albeit with something extra, too).
So I get the urge, but I reject the doctrine. I believe in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but I also believe that transubstantiation is just a word game.
The other day my wife and I were talking with an Iranian-American woman. We mentioned that we might teach English in order to finance travelling abroad. She asked why we didn’t become missionaries if we wanted to travel abroad.
I think that question caught us both off guard. Becoming missionaries wasn’t really something my wife and I had ever talked seriously about doing. For me personally, given my Catholic background, that kind of evangelism is deeply counter intuitive. Evangelism happens in the context of a other ministries to the under-served. But even more than that, it just seems rude to me now. I have been abroad and I am shallowly aware of how little I know of other countries’ contexts and experiences. Going to another country, any other country, with the message “I know what you need,” just seems presumptuous and arrogant at this point in my life.
But my wife responded a bit more simply, “We have more respect for other religions than that.”
And that’s when it happened. It’s only happened a few other times in my life, but every time it does I get a few warm fuzzies and my heart almost breaks with sorrow.
Our Iranian-American friend looked overjoyed and relieved at the same time. She asked if she could hug my wife and looked as if she might cry.
And so the myth of American tolerance died for me all over again. This woman, this person who had come to my country years ago and started to raise a son here, had found it notable that my wife and I did not want to go to her country and tell them all the ways they were wrong. And not just notable, she had found it moving that my wife and I did not feel comfortable being missionaries.
I have never felt like that. I have never felt like that because the people of America have accepted me in a way they never accepted this woman. I have never felt like that because the people of Morocco accepted me too. I never had to ask my mother not to wear a headscarf when she dropped my son off at school so he wouldn’t be bullied, the way this woman had.
As a white Christian male citizen of the country with the world’s most expensive army, sometimes I’m glad that I don’t know the extent of my own privilege. Because even the glimpses of the unprivilege of others shake my soul.
Find the links to all of them here. This one is my favorite:
Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee says there’s no need for an increase in the minimum wage, since she never struggled back when she was earning a minimum wage of only $2.15 an hour.
Trouble is, she forgot about that old debbil inflation, and didn’t seem to realize the $2.15 an hour she was getting paid in that worker’s paradise of Mississippi would in today’s dollars be worth significantly more than the wage Obama is calling for now. Even the minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968-70 was the equivalent of $10.56 today. So Blackburn was inadvertently making Obama’s point for him.
The movie Argo propagandistic and political. Read about it on Mondoweiss.
One of the actual hostages, Mark Lijek, noted that the CIA’s fake movie “cover story was never tested and in some ways proved irrelevant to the escape.” The departure of the six Americans from Tehran was actually mundane and uneventful. “If asked, we were going to say we were leaving Iran to return when it was safer,” Lijek recalled, “But no one ever asked!…The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador’s residence in Berne. It was that straightforward.”
Furthermore, Jimmy Carter has even acknowledged that “90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian [while] the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA…Ben Affleck’s character in the film was only in Tehran a day and a half and the real hero in my opinion was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”
Taylor himself recently remarked that “Argo” provides a myopic representation of both Iranians and their revolution, ignoring their “more hospitable side and an intent that they were looking for some degree of justice and hope and that it all wasn’t just a violent demonstration for nothing.”
I have some suggestions for the Catholic Church that I hope I will elaborate on in future posts, but for now I just want to get out there:
1. Take the incidence of suicide, bullying, and denial of medical care that affect LGB people at least as seriously as their sexual preference. And if taking one thing seriously requires legal action, then so should the other. Or at least the action should be proportionate to the time and resources spent on taking legal action.
2. Take the incidence of suicide, bullying, and denial of medical care that affect trans and intersex people at least as seriously as the possibility of their using a public restroom.
3. Launch an investigation into the abuse cover ups that is at least as wide in scope as the investigation of the LCWR for not being vocal enough about abortion and birth control.
4. Stop accepting bad science about abortion and birth control as fact. There should be a debate about the long term effects of birth control and it is prescribed too freely. But that is an entirely different matter from quoting woefully inadequate studies as if they were the final word. More research needs to be done, so either do it (and do it well, preferably through a third party) or shut up.
5.Reclaim your teachings about the poor and marginalized. The Catholic Church used to consider a living wage to be more than just a post-it note attached to the back of a book about sexual issues. Either human dignity is the driving force of Catholic moral teaching or abortion is. If it’s the latter, please continue what you’re doing. But if it’s the former, then please start acting as if all matters of human dignity were interrelated. Please.
There you go. None of these suggestions require removing the least word from current Catholic teachings. Any or all of them would make the Catholic Church look more consistent because all of them are things Catholic Church teaching essentially call for. I love the phrase “human dignity.” I use it all the time. And it comes from the Catholic lexicon. I didn’t make it up, the Catholic Church did. The Catholic Church should take its rightful place as a leader on issues affecting human dignity (like denial of medical services to LGBT people, which is shockingly common), and I hope it will.
Everyone should go read this excellent post. Here’s a snippit.
I started to see that God’s grace was perhaps bigger than I had ever imagined. That, perhaps, I as a woman had been freed from more than just the grip of sin and death, and perhaps the confines of patriarchy and male dominance were undone as well.
And Slacktivist is at it again:
Privilege can’t be preserved by keeping others down — that will only lead to everyone being kept down with them. If you want to preserve your privileges, insist that they are not privileges at all, but rights — and that they are the right of everyone.
Juan Cole has two good recent articles, one about Palestinians and one about green energy.
Arafat Jaradat was detained by Israeli authorities near Hebron last Monday at a protest of illegal Israeli squatting on Palestinian land. On Saturday the 30=year-old was reported dead in an Israeli jail cell. Thirty-year-old men are so healthy that the major cause of death for them is accidents, so the death is very suspicious. Palestinians rallied to protest Jaradat’s sudden demise, and thousands of Palestinian prisoners are said to have gone on hunger strike.
The Palestine issue is heating up at a time when two Oscar contenders for best documentary are shedding light on the human rights plight of the Occupied and stateless Palestinians.
Post-revolutionary Tunisia is also looking for 1 gigawatt of new green energy in the next few years. It is starting with putting a solar panel on a water desalinization plant. Since water and fuel shortages are drivers of the region’s political discontent, Tunisia is hoping to deal with both problems at the same time.