Friday, July 18, 2008

P.Z. Myers and the Eucharist

Perhaps you have heard by now of Minnesota professor P.Z. Myer's request to be sent a consecrated host so that he can desecrate it. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is attempting to get the secular authorities involved, both from the university and the Minnesota legislature.

I do think it is appropriate for Catholics to protect the Eucharist. But I am not sure using force to do so, or getting secular authorities involved, is always the wisest course in these circumstances. The Eucharist is the Body of Christ, literally. When Peter drew a sword to defend Christ in the Garden of Olives, Christ rebuked him. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Cannot Christ call down twelve legions of angels to defend Himself, in the Garden or in the Eucharist? Christ is helpless in the Eucharist because He chooses to be helpless; in His helplessness He exposes the violence and sin in the heart of man.

The irony of Christ - which man seems unable to fully accept - is that He is rich in His poverty, glorious in His humility and strong in His weakness. A man who desecrates Christ in the Eucharist can only defeat himself, not Christ; just as those who mocked and spat on Christ, and who crowned Him with thorns, only defeated themselves and not Christ.

The cocky arrogance of P.Z. Myers is only a mask to hide the emptiness of atheism. Christ and the Saints do not need cockiness or arrogance because they know themselves and the truth. An atheist like Myers must provoke the Christian because he needs the Christian's outraged response. It is only in the ringing echo of that outrage that the atheist can convince himself that atheism is something rather than nothing. In silence the atheist only knows.... nothing, and it is the blankness of nihilism that is truly terrifying.

Why does the atheist mock Christ and not, say, Thor or Odin or Buddha? As far as the atheist is concerned they are equally fictitious. Yet no one has ever mocked Thor as they mock Christ, as far as I know. The atheist's mockery of Christ is an unintentionally ironic testimony to the transcendent significance of Christ. He mocks Christ as the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees mocked Christ. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary made ever-present; Christ, through the priest, makes Himself present on the Altar. Prof. Myers, in his hatred, completes the scene by making the Romans and the Pharisees ever-present. This is how Christ completes His victory through weakness.

Ultimately the only thing atheism and the secular world know is power. Power is the metaphysical absolute. But the atheist, deep down, knows the emptiness of a world that is nothing but power. Christ reveals that the truth of the world is the love of God, not power, and He does so by coming to man, including atheists, in His weakness. The atheist has no answer for Christ other than mockery and rage; his only hope (if it can be called a hope) is to "expose" Christ as a fraud, as someone who is really about power rather than love. This was Nietzsche's theme. For while the atheist can just barely tolerate a world based on power (and tolerate it only for a time, before he desires to destroy the world and himself - that is the lesson of the 20th century), he cannot stand the possibility that his "realism", his "facing the cold hard facts," is really nothing but foolish pride. He can take nihilism, but not the knowledge that he is a fool in his nihilism.

And so the whole point of the atheist is to provoke the Christian into betraying his secret faith in power rather than God. He baits the Christian into a battle, any kind of battle, legal or rhetorical(*). For, whether he wins the contest of power or not, by provoking a contest of power he succeeds in making his point that power is really the absolute, both for himself and for the Christian. The Devil still tempts the way he tempted Christ in the desert. All his temptations are temptations for Christ to abandon His helplessness and take up His power again, in one form or another.

Far more damaging to the Catholic faith than the disrespect of P.Z. Myers to the Eucharist is the disrespect of Catholics to the Eucharist. How often do we take Communion without the prior benefit of Confession, or treat the Eucharist in an indifferent or sloppy manner, as though it were nothing but a french fry? I see the Eucharist regularly dropped on the floor by communicants barely paying attention to what they are doing, others taking it while chewing gum, others who jam it into their mouths with the palms of their hands. The finger is pointed at myself as much as anybody; it is a struggle to give Christ the respect He deserves in the Eucharist.

In a way, a provocative atheist like Myers has more faith than do we Catholics, for he at least believes disrespectful treatment of the Eucharist is something significant, something about which Catholics should be outraged. We Catholics seem to have grown insensible to the entire notion of "disrespect" to the Eucharist... perhaps our true philosophy is from Love Story, and we think love means never having to say you are sorry, even to Christ.

* I am not talking about genuine philosophical dialog here, which is a shared journey to truth. Most of what passes for philosophy these days is really sophistry, or a contest of power fought with words rather than swords.

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