Ethics Headline Of The Month: “Vatican: The Body of Christ Is Not Gluten Free”

Bravo to Johnathan Turley for neatly summarizing what’s wrong with the Catholic Church’s recent affirmation of its long-standing requirement that the bread and wafers used during communion in Catholic churches around the world must have at least some gluten in them, or the Church will collapse and Satan will reign, or something.  Meanwhile devout Catholics who must avoid eating gluten, including people who have Celiac disease, just have to plug along, get half a communion, or get sick. God wants it that way.

What a throbbing example of arrogant and compassion-free bureaucratic thinking. The Professor’s headline captured the idiocy and rigidity of it perfectly.

The Catholic News Agency shrugged the story off with a couple of rationalizations: “It’s always been this way” and “This is nothing new.” Neither are satisfactory excuses when making the communion dangerous to the increasing number of Catholics with Celiac disease. The issue is mirrored by the dilemma faced by alcoholics, who fear drinking wine; the Catholics, unlike the Methodists and other Protestant churches, insist on at least minimally fermented wine. Grape juice just won’t do. Why?

“Christ did not institute the Eucharist as rice and sake, or sweet potatoes and stout,” Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University, told the Washington Post. “It may seem a small thing to people. But the Catholic Church has spent 2,000 years working out how to be faithful to Christ even in the smallest things. To be vitally and vigorously faithful … is something which is simply integral to what it means to be Catholic.”

[A long bitter section about how bureaucracies are habitually doctrinaire about small matters while ignoring pervasive corruption and destructive hypocrisy has been deleted here, in part because it is ugly, and also because anyone who can’t write their own version hasn’t been paying attention to the Catholic Church for the last 500 years…or even the last 17.]

From the Post story: “Some theologians have argued the bread and wine are simply symbolic, but the Catholic Church does not consider the elements to be symbols. It teaches that Jesus himself instituted the bread and the wine during the Passover meal, and churches should follow his lead.”

Of course they are symbols. Who’s kidding who? They were symbols to Jesus, too.

Let’s play “What would Jesus do?” If one of the disciples said, while they were all posing for Da Vinci, “Uh, master? Remember that I have that wheat allergy and start projectile vomiting if I even nibble bread?”, does anyone think Jesus would say, “I don’t care, damn you! Eat it—just wait until I put on a smock!” Somehow I think he’d let that guy substitute a taco or something. Well, maybe not Judas.

If the Catholic Church can’t survive gluten-free wafers, it can’t be worth much. On the other hand, a Church that won’t make a compassionate adjustment in a ritual for the well-being of thousands of members just to maintain its authoritarian posture while it has shown itself to be impotent regarding far more universal  problems—abortion, the decline of marriage, adultery, and you know, may not be worth very much.

It may be, as Turley’s headline suggest, ridiculous.

Sidebar: While researching this, I encountered a forum discussing what alcoholic priests should do about the wine in communion. The ignorance regarding alcoholism is staggering, and given the near epideic nature of the illness, inexplicable. Two comments I found especially ridiculous:

  • “Why would a priest be an alcoholic in the first place?”
  • “There may be no intoxicating quality in an alcohol-reduced wine, but it is the taste of the alcohol itself to which alcoholics are susceptible, invoking a Pavlovian response in their association with the memory of it.”

76 Comments

Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Health and Medicine, Love, Religion and Philosophy

76 responses to “Ethics Headline Of The Month: “Vatican: The Body of Christ Is Not Gluten Free”

  1. “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

  2. ““There may be no intoxicating quality in an alcohol-reduced wine, but it is the taste of the alcohol itself to which alcoholics are susceptible, invoking a Pavlovian response in their association with the memory of it.””

    How is that ridiculous?

    How many substance-use FREE addicts cheat just once and are right back on the addiction the next day?

    • It has nothing to do with taste or smell. Many alcoholics are nauseated by the taste and smell of liquor. For true alcoholics, it’s a biochemical reaction; certain drugs can also trigger a relapse. SEEING liquor, in my experience, is enough to cause some addicts to relapse. The need for alcohol doesn’t go away, it can only be managed. “Pavlovian” is ridiculous: these people have negative association with liquor. The dogs were rewarded.

  3. Reading several Jewish solutions to gluten allergies, since our Communion is ultimately a derivation of the Seder, it would seem Rabbinic authorities fall somewhere between: Find an oat-based Matzoh, which has an absolute minimum and likely unnoticable quantity of gluten in it, or find a specially processed oat-based Matzoh that is claimed to be gluten free (it’s just expensive apparently because it’s a special process and must be eaten before the possibility of leavening…don’t ask me, I’m no baker)

    Then again, I go to a non-denominational church…we aren’t so worried about exacting standards of ingredients as long it’s generally a matzoh and generally a grape-flavored juice (though I wouldn’t mind going for the vino for an air of being closer to the original…still it doesn’t bother me though) because it is done “In Remembrance of Me”…not “According to the ingredients”.

    I’ve been to a Baptist church where the communion bread is busted up saltine crackers…the congregation still seemed to be on fire faithful despite it…

  4. I hope several of our Catholic commentators dive into this. As silly as it seems to the outside world, communion has been a remarkably divisive topic.

    • Alex

      I think the insistence on gluten-loaded hosts is stupid. Also, growing up, wine was optional when you took communion in my parish so I may be somewhat biased by that.

    • Tex,

      I will do my best.

      Although… Where to begin? The challenge of trying to explain some of the odder details of the Catholic faith is that many of those details don’t make sense without the context of the faith as a whole. So please forgive me if I seem to natter on about tangential matters.

      So, let’s begin with a few definitions to make discussion a little easier. A Sacrament is a visible sign, established by Jesus himself, through which God conveys grace upon mankind. A Sacrament is composed of two parts, one spiritual and one material. The reason it possess both qualities is because Sacraments are designed for us, and a human person is a body/spirit composite. We are not purely material beings, nor are we ghosts in a shell. We are not a complete person without our bodies. Now, to have a sign that is purely spiritual would neglect the physical aspect of our existence. To have a sign that is purely physical would neglect the spiritual dimension of our existence.

      The Eucharist is one of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Catholics really, truly believe Jesus was serious when he said repeatedly, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have eternal life.” When at the Last Supper, he blesses bread and wine and says, “Take this and eat. This is my body, given for you” and “This is the cup of my blood, which will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”, Catholics believe that yes, Jesus truly held himself in his hands and gave himself to his apostles to consume. So the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus, the fullness of his body, blood, soul, and divinity. When a priest says Mass and confects the Eucharist, Catholics believe that the bread and wine on the altar are transsubstantiated into Jesus. The accidents of bread and wine remain (so yes, consuming Jesus is problematic for anyone who has issues with the accidents of bread and wine), but the substance is entirely Jesus. The smallest drop from the chalice and the tiniest crumb of the loaf contains the fullness of Jesus.

      Okay, so a Sacrament has a spiritual and a physical dimension, and the Eucharist obviously uses bread and wine for the physical dimension. Why bread and wine? In just reference to food and drink, we understand the Eucharist as a meal, and historically the greatest communal activity is the sharing together of a meal. In earliest Christianity, the Eucharistic celebration was in the context of the agape feasts, which eventually St. Paul instructed to tone down because people would become drunk and riotous at these feasts. The point, though, is that eating together is sign of communion (which is in part why the Eucharist is also called Communion). Jesus had prayed that “they may all be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me,” and the Eucharist is the Sacrament Jesus instituted to make that possible. By consuming Jesus himself, we bring him into ourselves and are in turn incorporated into him. (You are what you eat, right?)

      Now we turn to matter. Catholics believe that matter matters. Our bodies matter, because our bodies integral to who we are individually. The whole material world has a teleological value, and the matter used for the Sacraments is deliberately chosen. It is not a valid baptism if one does not use water. Why? Water is both necessary for life and it is pretty ubiquitously used for cleansing. So water is required for baptism, which restores us to life spiritually and cleans us from our sins. The water itself points to what the Sacrament is about. If you tried to baptize with Pepsi, or beer, you really lose the physical meaning of the Sacrament, because neither of those are typically seen as cleansing agents. (Ever see someone try use Newcastle Brown to mop a floor?)

      What about bread and wine? Catholics do take Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist as guidance. Jesus used bread and wine, and said “Do this in remembrance of me.” But the importance of bread and wine run through the entirety of the Bible. Melchizedek offered bread and wine for Abraham, and Jesus is a priest forever of the line of Melchizedek. At the first Passover, the Israelites consumed unleavened bread with the sacrificial lamb. In the desert, the Israelites ate manna, the Bread from Heaven. When the Law was promulgated, among the sacrifices listed were not only animal sacrifices, but also sacrifices that included bread and wine. Also included in the Law was the making of the showbread, the Bread of the Presence, which was held in the tabernacle.

      The Eucharist, in addition to being a meal and being Jesus and being the means of bringing people into communion, is a sacrifice. In fact, it is the same sacrifice of Calvary, made present to all people in all places in all times. The sacrifice of Calvary is what wrought salvation for all of mankind. Thus the matter of the Eucharist should be matter that points to the sacrifice at Calvary, and more fundamentally, to Calvary as the summation of salvation history. The theme of bread and wine continually crops up throughout salvation history, so bread and wine are especially fitting.

      (to be continued…)
      Why wheat bread? Why grape wine? I don’t have the clearest of answers to this. They are the substance Jesus used, and that sets a precedent. But is a doctrinal or disciplinary precedent? For example, we are fairly sure that Jesus used unleavened bread at the Last Supper, but the Catholic Church only holds the use of unleavened bread as disciplinary. The Latin Rite (what most people call the Roman Catholic Church) as a discipline uses unleavened bread, but the Eastern Rites use leavened bread. Yet the Catholic Church insists on wheat bread in all its Rites. One of the most telling passages in the Bible about this is that at the time of the plagues in Egypt, we’re told that the other grains were destroyed, but the wheat was left unspoiled. Thus wheat more than any other grain seems to point best across salvation history.
      Two thoughts that I do have regarding the Catholic intransigence about wheat are private thoughts, not ones that I’ve learned from any other resource. First, we’re upset about wheat because of the various forms of gluten intolerance that cropping up around the world. But we neglect that there are allergies pretty much to any type of food out there, so what substance is chosen, there will be people who feel excluded because of that substance. It may also be that in the future, gluten intolerance becomes less prominent than some other form of grain. To go about changing the matter of the Sacrament willy-nilly because someone might be excluded really seems irrational, especially given the deep appreciation Catholics have to the matter involved in the Sacraments.

      Second, offering the Eucharist under a variety of options to accommodate those who can’t eat gluten really breaks the communal breaking of bread that the Eucharist symbolizes. Instead of breaking bread together, I have my meal, you have your meal, and while we’re sitting close to each other, we’re not sharing a meal. So in the attempt to bring everyone together by making this exception, we essentially start down the path of everyone going their own way doing their own thing. I don’t know about anyone else, but it is really hard for a family to prepare two meals (or three, in the case of some friends I know). To me at least, it seems more uniting if we are all eating the same thing.

      Last thought, and then I’ll finish this post and reap whirlwind that is bound to follow. The Catholic Church holds that under normal circumstances, the letter of the law needs to be obeyed. But we are not held accountable in abnormal circumstances. Someone who desires to be baptized but doesn’t have the opportunity, through his desire receives the effects of baptism. Someone who cannot take communion because they can neither drink wine nor eat gluten is not barred from the graces of the Sacrament, because that is an extraordinary circumstance.

      • “Second, offering the Eucharist under a variety of options to accommodate those who can’t eat gluten really breaks the communal breaking of bread that the Eucharist symbolizes.”

        I would think the lack of actually sitting around a table together undermines the communal nature of breaking of bread more than the possibility there are two different loaves of bread at the figurative table…

        • That would be a big table we’d all sit around, if we all sit right up at the table…

          • So, what you are saying, is due to extenuating circumstances, the Church adapted and loosened some of the ties that directly illustrated “community”. And yet, the act of the communion still symbolizes community.

            Now, I think that principle can be extended to traditional Matzoh and gluten-free versions without undermining the community aspect of “breaking bread” together.

          • (Oh, I forgot to add…the Lord’s table IS a big table)

            • Touche!

              To clarify, I was just making an inane comment about the image that went through my head with everyone at Mass sitting around this enormous round table, with the people on the far side so far away you could barely see them.

              A more serious answer would be to point out at the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus had the crowd sit down in groups of fifty. I’d say that’s pretty good precedent for handling a large group of people sharing the same meal.

  5. It is silly, which is a softspoken way to reject. It is stupid and cruel. It was only relatively recently that the stance on calisthenics and other traditions for aged or disabled were softened. And I know many seniors who felt great angst when they could no longer do the kneel-stand or only view mass on TV.

    The celiacs and diabetics are just not a large or vocal group to have made enough of an impression on traditionalists. ‘Pain make you purer’ people have trouble with empathizing with those who can’t contemplate very well when ill. Compassion is not as important as singing ‘Tradition.’

    It will change. It has to. But this is causing needless pain or guilt to their ‘brothers and sisters’ until it does.

  6. Adam C

    Catholics don’t “get half a communion” if they can’t receive in the form of bread. We believe that each crumb of bread and each drop of wine, once consecrated, is both the Body and Blood of Christ. Nobody (except the priest, who must receive both) is required to receive in one form or the other (or at all, at least more than once a year; and a sufficiently serious health condition would dispense with even that obligation).

    At my church they offer low-gluten hosts as well as the chalice for those who can’t tolerate gluten. No doubt some people would feel better if they could receive the same way as everyone else; but if you believe you are actually receiving Christ, you’re probably willing to do what is necessary.

    The church is riddled with corruption and hypocrisy, as it has been since its founding (they couldn’t get twelve men together without one going seriously bad). This will continue to be a serious problem as long as humans are involved, but throwing out rules (even seemingly unimportant ones) won’t help.

    • Steve-O-in-NJ

      Exactly right. Where there is body, there is blood, and where there is blood, there is body. Wine wasn’t even offered to the congregation until the 1970s, as I recall, but it’s been used for communion in the sacrament of the sick if the person cannot receive the bread for decades. There are ways around this problem without discarding existing rules.

      That said, I can see how a lot of the Catholic rules about holy days of obligation, diet, and so on might seem silly to an outsider. Frankly they seem silly and a pain to some of US. As something of a lampshading of the Lenten abstinence I used to take my parents out for fish dinner on Good Friday (while mom was still around). We’d always pick the highest end places: the Sea Shack, Legal Seafoods, McCormick & Schmick, and once even the Oceanaire, the 11th most expensive restaurant in the state. It’s perfectly ok to have a $40 salmon fillet with lobster filling and au gratin mashed potatoes, and finish with chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and Heath bar dust, but a $5 hamburger is a no-no. I’ll also never forget the hour-long interrogation I got from my pastor when I realized I had missed a holy day because I had been on vacation in a diocese where this holy day was transferred to Sunday, but returned to my home diocese where it wasn’t on that day, but too late to attend. He quizzed me about everything I had done on that vacation, how I had found out about it, how I had set it up, how much had been online and how many phone calls, etc. After that he told me that if I could do all that, I needed to make it my business next time to make another phone call and check the calendar, and arrange my schedule so I wouldn’t miss, and if it meant I had to come back sooner or later and forego some otherwise planned activity, well, some sacrifice is sometimes required and the First Commandment is that you shall have no other gods before God.

      I have to give a rueful smile at Tony’s story about his nephew. One thing about the nuns and the brothers who ran the Catholic schools, they brooked no argument about anything. If they said this was how it was going to be, then this was how it was going to be, no questions allowed. If you challenged a nun, expect a whack from a ruler. If you challenged a brother (who usually taught the older boys), expect to get punched.

      Still, it’s dangerous to tell other people how they practice their religion is wrong. You wouldn’t mock the Hasidic Jews for their manner of dress, as outdated and odd as it may seem in a modern society. You also wouldn’t question Adventist dietary practices, although pork was long ago rendered perfectly safe. You wouldn’t give the Witnesses grief about their strict non-celebration of secular holidays and political non-engagement. And no one, if he is wise, gives the Muslims grief about any aspect of things. Anyone who does any of these things is buying himself a lot of grief. For some reason mainstream Christianity, including Catholicism, gets less of a pass, though.

      • A considerable amount of religious devotion and piety that seems silly to outsiders is, no doubt, often items in which the greater religion asks the disciple to GIVE UP somethings the world considers high priority in favor what the wold considers silly or low priority.

        I’ve often seen the, even on vacation, go to church debates. And even though the easy way out is to skip church on Sunday, I try to practice that discipline or avoid vacations that interfere with important acts (though not with consistency yet).

        That being said: apparently the clarification coming from the top is generated not by complaints from the outside but concerns from within, in which case I’m not sure “it’s dangerous to tell other people how they practice their religion is wrong” is an applicable comment.

      • Wouldn’t I? I may not mock people, and I may not criticize their style or fashion, but I will criticize them for believing things are true or important when they aren’t. I just don’t do it in everyday contexts, when people just want to get on with their lives. Nevertheless, we will all eventually need to be on the same page regarding what is “right and moral” or we will continue to attempt to determine morality through numerical superiority and violence. I’m not going to let people get away with ignoring the important questions.

        • Steve-O-in-NJ

          “Nevertheless, we will all eventually need to be on the same page regarding what is “right and moral” or we will continue to attempt to determine morality through numerical superiority and violence.”

          Out of context that sounds almost totalitarian. If you’re saying eventually we all need to come to a consensus, ok, but that’s just wishful thinking. As for criticizing people for believing things that are true when they aren’t, well, some things are facts, and those who don’t accept facts are in fact open to criticism. Some things are matters of faith, and unprovable. The question of what’s important is often open to interpretation. But I’ll tell you right now, if you start Catholic-bashing in front of me, that’s no different than me reviving the “tide” in front of gay people, and it could end the same way.

          • Ah, but faith is often used to assert facts, and that’s cheating.

            In the words of God, “When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.”

            …Or was that Stevie Wonder? I get them confused, because God is love and both love and Stevie Wonder are blind. /ClassicLogicalSyllogismFallacy /facetiousness

            I assure you that any bashing I may indulge in is strictly non-denominational. I am an equal opportunity atheist. Sometimes I ask questions that religions should be able to answer but can’t. If we ignore the discrepancy, we all lose.

            • EC, I love the equivocation on the syllogism! I would love to hear any of those questions you ask, which religion seems not able to answer. Maybe not in Jack’s backyard, though…

              • Well, a great many questions can be found on the Iron Chariots wiki* (the Euthyphro dilemma being one of my favorites), but I’d probably start off with this:

                Why do people assert that the character of this supposed deity is perfectly good, while simultaneously asserting that its true nature is beyond human comprehension? From an existentialist point of view, those statements contradict. If a being is beyond comprehension, then it is unpredictable and there’s no point in attempting to ascribe traits or motivations to it. It has roughly the same significance as asking, “does Cthulhu love me?,” or, “is infinity a prime number?” The truth value of those questions is, “mu; those ideas don’t work that way together.”

                To the extent that an entity is predictable, it is comprehensible, and has limitations. Because the Christian deity is said to be omnipotent, omniscient, and beyond comprehension, we’re not supposed to ascribe any limitations to it (which conveniently means we can’t prove its existence by making and testing predictions).

                As far as I can tell, these assertions look like a combination of doublethink and circular logic, allowing people to use good events as evidence of the deity’s goodness, while using the deity’s goodness and incomprehensibility as evidence that bad events are a) actually good, b) not that bad, at least compared to paradise, or c) not the deity’s fault.

                It gets really weird when we see people attempt to predict or alter events because of the deity’s goodness, and then immediately lower the bar by switching to one of the incomprehensibility excuses. Perhaps the most bizarre aspect is when people assert reason a) above and say that the deity needed to make a bad thing needed to happen in order for a good thing to happen later. We’re dealing with a supposed deity that, by some people’s definition, has no limitations other than those self-imposed, and that includes logic. It can eat its cake and have it, too. It doesn’t need to do anything to make anything else happen.

                Personally, I wouldn’t mind if there was a deity, but I’d expect it to make the world much more didactic, at least if there was anything at stake (like, say, an eternal afterlife). People need personalized attention to learn things a lot of the time, and they’re not getting it. Plus, there are a lot of hardships that don’t teach anyone anything. That’s something I can’t overlook.

                Side note: What do Catholics say about how the Original Sin propagated throughout all of humanity? Were all human souls present at the time of the Original Sin, and thus they became tainted when it was committed? Or do new souls get created at the time of each human’s conception, and become tainted then? Heads up: neither option implies good things about the supreme being.

                Other side note: As I understand it, Mormons believe that humans are ultimately supposed to ascend to the level of Jesus and God, which makes sense to me as an extension of the idea that humans are children of God. Children have to grow up, after all. If we’re just sheep, I’d expect to get eaten at some point.

                What do you think?

                *For some reason it’s hard to Google, so here’s a link: http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Main_Page

                • EC, I’ll take a look at that Iron Chariots site. It looks like something I would really like to look through and maybe even chip in. Are you a contributor?

                  Why do people assert that the character of this supposed deity is perfectly good, while simultaneously asserting that its true nature is beyond human comprehension?

                  You make a lot of good points as you expound on the problems you have with this particular question. You’re absolutely right that in one sense this is contradictory. I would phrase it this way. We postulate an entity E with a set of properties P such for all properties p in P, p is unknowable to a finite mind. But the assertion that all properties p of E are unknowable to is itself a property p0 of E. If p0 is in P, then it is unknowable that the properties of E are unknowable, but we know that the properties of E are unknowable, a contradiction. If p0 is not in P, we right away contradiction the notion that the properties of E are unknowable.

                  However, there is another sense in which we can talk about the nature of God being beyond human comprehension, and I’ll use prime numbers since you used the brain-cramping example of the illogical question “is infinity a prime number?”.

                  The entirety of prime numbers, I will assert, is beyond human comprehension, because we can only maintain a finite amount of knowledge and there are an infinite number of primes. There are certain patterns in primes that we can observe (such as Mersenne primes and twin primes, the relative distribution of primes, etc) and there are certain conjectures we can make and questions we can ask (are there only finitely many Mersenne primes, are there an infinite number of twin primes?) As we study and write theorems and other patterns emerge, we get to know more and more about prime numbers. We can find incredibly large prime numbers by using Mersenne numbers, or other techniques that are a far cry better than the Sieve of Erastothenes. We even learn more about solutions to other mathematical problems through what we discover through the study of prime numbers. But we will never exhaust what we can find out about prime numbers, and so the entirety of the nature of primes is beyond our comprehension.

                  As a side note, one of the things that really influenced my return to faith was Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem which states essentially for any sufficiently complex formal system of axioms, there are true statements in that system that cannot be proven true. What I gleaned from it is that we humans are fundamentally incapable of proving true everything that is true. Some truths, of course, are not well-contained in any formal, axiomatic system, and some truths can be argued informally, but there do exist truths that we cannot prove true. That, to me, was stunning.

                  Back to the problem. I would say that the true way to understand that idea that God is unknowable is that there is too much about God for a finite understanding, and there are things about God that we could never reason to ourselves. However, that does not mean we cannot reason about God, learn quite a bit about God and his attributes (the Greeks did so thousands of years ago), or receive from God knowledge about him that we would not otherwise acquire from ourselves.

                  You write, Perhaps the most bizarre aspect is when people assert reason a) above and say that the deity needed to make a bad thing needed to happen in order for a good thing to happen later. We’re dealing with a supposed deity that, by some people’s definition, has no limitations other than those self-imposed, and that includes logic. It can eat its cake and have it, too. It doesn’t need to do anything to make anything else happen.

                  I will agree that there are difficulties in addressing this issue (more broadly the problem of evil or the problem of suffering). Part of it is admittedly our limitations as finite beings. We do not see and comprehend the entirety of history. We cannot see the sum flow of events from the present forward to entirely determine all the outcomes of a particular action. This limitation on our part means we will, unfortunately, always have to aver to not knowing fully, or not being able to explain fully why God would allow this particular suffering. This is frustrating. I think it has to be doubly frustrating when an atheist argues with a theist, and the theist continually dodges an uncomfortable situation by referring solely to the ineffable knowledge of God. I’m sure you’ve been through lengthy discussions on various topics, like why God permitted the Fall of man, and each question leads to answers that lead to more questions, and the answers start to become more speculative and ad hoc. I’m not going to chase that question here, but I would submit that first, it is dishonest of the theist to pose as though he has all the answers, and second, it should be okay for the theist to admit, “I don’t have the answer to that.”

                  Side note: What do Catholics say about how the Original Sin propagated throughout all of humanity? Were all human souls present at the time of the Original Sin, and thus they became tainted when it was committed? Or do new souls get created at the time of each human’s conception, and become tainted then? Heads up: neither option implies good things about the supreme being.

                  Catholics believe that the human soul is created immediately at the time of conception. The soul, according to Catholic teaching, is the unifying and vivifying principle of a material being, so even plants and animals have souls. Humans have a spiritual soul, which is what endows us with intellect and will, and which survives the separation of soul and body (whereas the material souls of plants and animals cease to exist when they die). But the soul doesn’t make sense without the body (which is why the Resurrection is also a pretty important part of Catholic theology), so a human spirit pre-existing its incarnate life likewise doesn’t make sense from the Catholic viewpoint. So no, it was not that the case that all human souls were present at the Fall.

                  To be clear on Original Sin, we can either be talking about the actual first sin which brought about the Fall, or we can be talking about the fallen condition inherited from our ultimate parents. The first is an actual act, the second is a state of being. Catholic teaching on Original Sin is that God created Man in a state of perfect innocence and perfect harmony as a grace. At the Fall, Man forfeited that grace. He lost his original innocence, and his perfect harmony was lost to himself and to his progeny. The analogy used to describe how Original Sin is transmitted is that of a millionaire who squandered his riches. If he had been wise, he would have had wealth to pass on to his children. But since he squandered it all, he had nothing to pass on to them, and so his children are born into a state of penury. So yes, all human beings, at the time of conception (unless saved at that time by a special grace) inherit the fallen state known as Original Sin.

                  I know you say that doesn’t imply good things about God, but that will have to be a topic for some other time.

                  Other side note: As I understand it, Mormons believe that humans are ultimately supposed to ascend to the level of Jesus and God, which makes sense to me as an extension of the idea that humans are children of God. Children have to grow up, after all. If we’re just sheep, I’d expect to get eaten at some point.

                  What do you think?

                  The LDS theology posits an eternal progression in which God was once a human being who lived an exemplary life in his mortal existence, following the commands of his God (who had also been a human being who lived an exemplary life…) and being rewarded by being exalted and given a universe to rule over. He then begat a host of spirit children, the first of which was Jesus, and through the plan of salvation that Jesus proposed, the spirit children go through the process of incarnation. In the mortal life, they can choose to live according to God’s laws, and if they are exemplary, they can likewise reach exaltation, and the process continues. So there is a very organic connection between God and man in the LDS view, and there is a very appealing sense to it.

                  I think it fails on several accounts. First, the eternal progression requires an infinite chain of contingencies, and I personal accept the logic that says there cannot be an infinite chain of contingencies. There has to be a first cause, a necessary being, else nothing could exist. The arguments about necessity, and the properties of the necessary being, can be quite lengthy, so I won’t delve into them here. But simply put, the fact that there is an infinite gulf between a necessary being and contingent being means that humans being children of God comes either from analogy or adoption. (Jews understood God as Father by analogy; Christians understand God as Father by adoption, which was made possible through the Incarnation of Jesus.)

                  As for your statement about getting eaten at some point, and to tie this back into the original thread, note that Jesus is called the Lamb of God, and in the Eucharist, we do eat his body and drink his blood. But the reference to humans as sheep is supposed to allude to care-taking attitude of the shepherd to his flock, not to every aspect of a sheep. For example, we don’t grow wool, and we’re not sheared on a regular basis to produce clothing from our hair.

                  Thanks again for the link!

                  • I’m trying to decide which of several great posts on this thread should be Comments of the Day, and this is certainly a leading contender. Wonderful work.

                    • Thank you very much, Jack. This thread has been wonderful, because I’ve been able to talk about Catholicism, logic, philosophy, and math all in one go! I do apologize that the content has not been quite so strong on the ethical considerations you raised with the original post.

                  • Thanks a lot for your comment! It’s given me a lot to consider about approaching the issue. I hadn’t considered the idea of the prime mover being a status that no created being could ascend to. (I don’t contribute to Iron Chariots; I just found it was a useful resource.)

                    I don’t know about you, but I consider religion in general an issue of extreme ethical importance. It results in vast numbers of people having strong descriptive and normative beliefs, which makes it very important. When those beliefs are (as far as I can tell) ill-supported and poorly thought out, that’s an enormous problem, by my standards, just as much as the flat Earth people. If necessary, though, we can take this to another medium.

                    You raise some excellent points about knowing some but not all of the qualities of the Christian god. There’s an issue I still have with that explanation, though. “Perfect moral superiority” is not a property p in the set P. It can’t be directly observed in isolation of other properties. Moral superiority is something we can only judge knowing all (or at least most) properties p in P. I’m imagining the dialog to go like this (with David Mitchell as Person A and Robert Webb as Person B):
                    Person A: “What have you got for me?”
                    Person B: “There is still much about this being that we don’t, and may never, understand. However, based on what little we’ve found, including information provided by the being itself, we have determined that it is morally supreme in every possible way.”
                    Person A: “Astounding! This will resolve so many arguments! Tell me, did you find out why it keeps causing children to be born with horrifying genetic diseases?”
                    Person B: “No, that part we may never know. But given that the being is morally supreme in every way, it must have a very good reason for doing it.”
                    Person A: “Well, obviously.”

                    To an existentialist, that logic doesn’t follow. Goodness isn’t an inherent property of anything. Rather, it is something we must judge according to our own standards as conscious beings, because they’re the only standards we can possibly have access to (even including our ability to understand and account for different value systems). We can’t make such a judgment based on limited information. This touches on the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God does it (i.e. is God an arbiter of good, or synonymous with it), or does God do it because it is good (i.e. is goodness an independent principle)? Neither explanation works out well for the deity in question.

                    As far as the problem of evil is concerned, the primary issue I take with the lack of a coherent answer is that it seems to me that it can’t be answered, and people are cheating by saying that they know there is an answer but they (and maybe can’t) don’t know what it is. That could be used to justify literally anything. I could say that I was literally the sun, and when people ask me why I am visible when the sun is in the sky, and why I am not crushing and vaporizing everything, my answer is, “that’s one of the great mysteries of life. I never claimed to have all the answers. All I know is that I’m the sun.” The evidence that contradicts me being the sun (and my shrugging answer) should call for a reevaluation of my claim that I’m the sun, and be weighed heavily against any evidence that I provide that I am the sun. At the very least, it seems like a good reason to treat me, for all practical purposes, as not the sun. The same goes for the Christian god: for all practical purposes, it’s not good or helpful. Being made of goodness means nothing. Good is as good does. The religious description of the world raises more questions than it answers, and makes fundamentally contradictory statements. Thus there seems no compelling reason to believe it, and several compelling reasons not to.

                    I like the analogy of the millionaire who squanders his children’s inheritance. It does lose something for me, though, because it seems more like we are born into debt slavery, which hardly seems fair from a human standpoint. I have often heard people say that due to their fallen state, humans “deserve” to go to Hell. The first problem with that is that “deserve” means “the world would be a better place if that sort of thing happened to this sort of person.” I’m not sure for whom the world would be a better place if we all went to Hell, since neither the Christian god nor the people it created want everyone to go to Hell. The second problem is that this statement implies that the Christian god deliberately creates beings that, from the moment they are born, deserve to go to Hell (and will by default do so), despite having the ability to create them otherwise. I’m not sure how this is a good thing to do, but since Christians have already concluded from our limited information that a supreme being exists and is good, that logically implies that there’s a good reason for it, albeit one we’ll never understand. That’s not something I find comforting at all.

                    What do you think? (Let me know if there was too much snark in there.)

                    • I don’t know about you, but I consider religion in general an issue of extreme ethical importance. It results in vast numbers of people having strong descriptive and normative beliefs, which makes it very important. When those beliefs are (as far as I can tell) ill-supported and poorly thought out, that’s an enormous problem, by my standards, just as much as the flat Earth people. If necessary, though, we can take this to another medium.

                      On this point at least I think Jack can forgive more points on his blog, because the ethical issues that arise from beliefs that are erroneously formed are profound. But to dig even deeper, I would submit that one’s view on the ontology of man forms one’s beliefs and approaches to ethical issues. I would like to know if you agree with this, because I believe there is a fundamental difference in what is ethical if man is simply a cosmic coincidence as opposed to being created for a specific purpose. I also believe there is a fundamental difference in what is ethical if man is created by a single god versus multiple gods; if man is created by a consistent god or an arbitrary god; if man is created by a god who is constantly present in the lives of its creation or a god who wound up the universe, set it in motion, and walked away.

                      “Perfect moral superiority” is not a property p in the set P. It can’t be directly observed in isolation of other properties. Moral superiority is something we can only judge knowing all (or at least most) properties p in P.

                      The argument that the Necessary Being possesses moral perfection is an argument based on examining what we mean by a necessary being and what consequences emerge from that definition. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail. If you follow the link in my name to my blog (which I haven’t posted in since 2009…yeesh), you can find my email address on the homepage.

                      To an existentialist, that logic doesn’t follow. Goodness isn’t an inherent property of anything. Rather, it is something we must judge according to our own standards as conscious beings, because they’re the only standards we can possibly have access to (even including our ability to understand and account for different value systems). We can’t make such a judgment based on limited information.

                      I think I need a little clarification on what you mean by “Goodness isn’t an inherent property of anything.” I may be misunderstanding, but it seems that you’re saying that goodness is a quality we assign based upon our values. But our societal values are constantly shifting and are influenced by new philosophies and new discoveries about the world. In a word, our societal standards are based on limited information, and using those to judge goodness would encounter the same difficulty that the theist encounters. Is something good because society deems it good, or does society merely acknowledge the goodness of something? If goodness isn’t an inherent property, then it falls that goodness is arbitrary, based on the whims of society.

                      This touches on the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God does it (i.e. is God an arbiter of good, or synonymous with it), or does God do it because it is good (i.e. is goodness an independent principle)? Neither explanation works out well for the deity in question.

                      I always liked Euthyphro’s dilemma. I think it is a classic that everyone should study at least in high school if not earlier.

                      As far as the problem of evil is concerned, the primary issue I take with the lack of a coherent answer is that it seems to me that it can’t be answered, and people are cheating by saying that they know there is an answer but they (and maybe can’t) don’t know what it is. That could be used to justify literally anything.

                      One of the classic arguments against the existence of God is: of the four following properties, only three can be true. God is all good. God is all knowing. God is all powerful. Evil exists. If God is all good, all knowing and all powerful, evil should not exist. It is a very powerful argument. St. Thomas Aquinas had a version that states, “If one of two contraries is infinite, then the other should be utterly destroyed. God is called the infinite good, so there should be no evil. However, there is evil. Therefore God does not exist.” I state this by way of saying I appreciate your issue. These arguments are the most powerful arguments against the existence of God, and any theist ought to take a long, hard look at them.

                      I like the analogy of the millionaire who squanders his children’s inheritance. It does lose something for me, though, because it seems more like we are born into debt slavery, which hardly seems fair from a human standpoint.

                      It does seem unfair. It should also seem unfair, in the Christian viewpoint, that not only are we born into debt slavery, but we are fundamentally incapable of repaying that debt ourselves. This is a topic I mull over quite a bit, in part because the answers Catholicism gives to this problem are fascinating, but also in part because Christianity falls apart if Original Sin is not true.

                      I have often heard people say that due to their fallen state, humans “deserve” to go to Hell. The first problem with that is that “deserve” means “the world would be a better place if that sort of thing happened to this sort of person.” I’m not sure for whom the world would be a better place if we all went to Hell, since neither the Christian god nor the people it created want everyone to go to Hell.

                      It is inaccurate to say that humans “deserve” to go to Hell because of our fallen state. Our fallen state, if not remedied, leaves us separated from God. If there are only two eternal destinations, and the up escalator is closed, that leaves only one option. But God made us for himself, with the intent that we live in eternal happiness with him. So you’re absolutely right to find affront at this notion of “deserving” to go to Hell. Also, given that God literally died on a cross to keep us from Hell should give anyone pause about the concept of “deserving” to go to Hell. It certainly seems to me that God goes to all lengths and gives us all kinds of loopholes to help ensure that as many of us get to Heaven as possible.

                      The second problem is that this statement implies that the Christian god deliberately creates beings that, from the moment they are born, deserve to go to Hell (and will by default do so), despite having the ability to create them otherwise. I’m not sure how this is a good thing to do, but since Christians have already concluded from our limited information that a supreme being exists and is good, that logically implies that there’s a good reason for it, albeit one we’ll never understand. That’s not something I find comforting at all.

                      I agree that that is not a comforting thought, but then, the Catholic Church disagrees with what seems to be the Calvinist bent of that problem. The Catholic Church teaches that Hell is the deliberate self-exclusion of the damned from God and the elect. Their willful turning away from God is what ultimately sends them to Hell. Calvinist philosophy teaches double-predestination, in which God creates people with the deliberate intent of sending some to Heaven and the rest to Hell. The difference is essentially whether God wills someone to be damned or allows that person to damn himself. But I think this example aids my point that different religions, different ontologies of man, and different views on God lead to different ideas of ethics.

                      What do you think? (Let me know if there was too much snark in there.)

                      To be perfectly honest, I like snark. So I think there wasn’t quite enough…

                      I know I didn’t directly address a lot of the points you made above. Time is a factor, as well as my little ones. What do they have against taking naps? Why is going to sleep at night such a challenge?

                    • The concept of a Necessary Being and its relationship to ethics intrigues me. I’ll follow up with you on that via email. (I need to update my blog as well! Currently working on a long post.)

                      Regarding your question on ontological ethics, as an existentialist I consider it pointless to define a being by its origin. Ideally, I think everyone should learn to be an Ubermensch (or Eigenmensch, if you prefer), which just means we should all take responsibility for our own choices and not feel obligated to do anything in particular just because of how we were born or whether we were created for someone else’s purpose. The presence and nature of a supreme being doesn’t change ethical principles, but it may change what the best ways are to fulfill those ethical principles.

                      To clarify what I said about judging things as “good”, I don’t believe ethical principles are subjective, but I believe the ways of fulfilling them can change based on society. I derive ethics from sustainability and the Veil of Ignorance. That is, “what principles would make a society that we would all want to live in, and which would remain that way indefinitely, given the limitations of the environment?” So no, I don’t think goodness is arbitrary. However, that doesn’t mean something can be made of good, and it doesn’t mean we can conclude that something has no bad properties without having seen all of them. Most things are nuanced, and have good and bad aspects. The parable of the six blind men and the elephant warns us that our judgments may be wrong because of things we aren’t aware of, especially if we aren’t actively seeking them.

                      I’m glad we’re on the same page about “deserving” Hell, and Calvinism.

                      The thing I find most odd, I think, is your statement, “These arguments are the most powerful arguments against the existence of God, and any theist ought to take a long, hard look at them.” I’m always baffled by the train of thought that goes, “Hypothesis: A deity exists and is good and omnipotent. Prediction: evil does not exist, because the deity does not want it to and has the power to get rid of it with no downside. Empirically, evil exists. Conclusion: The deity exists as described, and the universe is weirder than anyone can understand.”*

                      What I would consider the obvious answer would be to fail to reject the null hypothesis, that the deity doesn’t exist. At the very least, I could formulate an alternative hypothesis which explains both the creation of the universe and the existence of evil. Instead, the answer most people give is to disguise arrogance as humility, to say that humans are capable of knowing something for a fact, without actually being able to reconcile it with statements or observations that contradict it absolutely. To the people who tell me that humans can’t understand the universe, I say, “Speak for yourself, human! I have no trouble understanding these things, because I know when to reject a hypothesis.” To the people who claim my statement is arrogant, I say, “Imagining yourself to have absolute mandates and protections bestowed by a supreme being is more arrogant than I could ever hope to be. Holding yourself as infinitely inferior to it doesn’t make that better; it just makes it arrogance by proxy.”

                      Again as an existentialist, I say that there are no contradictions. Paradoxes aren’t “real”, functional problems, but rather problems of semantics. Things don’t have essential properties, but rather are defined functionally, by how they affect and are affected by everything else. If a spear that breaks anything meets an unbreakable shield, one of them will lose, because there is no such thing as “breaks anything” or “unbreakable.” Those are merely labels of convenience we put on things that have never failed yet in their tasks. We can pretend they are functional properties, but no functional property is absolute. Unbreakable is as unbreakable does.

                      *For a more concrete and snarkier example, I may try to find out why my bread got moldy. Hypothesis: Someone snuck into my house and put mold on it. Prediction: If I put a camera in my refrigerator, I can catch them in the act. Empirical evidence: The bread gets moldy, and the camera reveals nobody opening the refrigerator or putting mold on the bread. Conclusion: Someone who can turn invisible and intangible put mold on my bread. I started out trying to figure out why my bread was moldy, and instead of disproving my hypothesis I accidentally ended up concluding the existence of some sort of mold spirit. That sort of magical thinking is how superstitions start, and from what I can tell the only thing that makes Christianity seem like more than a superstition is that it has better funding and much more audacious claims than mere mold spirits.

                      Does all that sound reasonable?

                    • Ideally, I think everyone should learn to be an Ubermensch (or Eigenmensch, if you prefer), which just means we should all take responsibility for our own choices and not feel obligated to do anything in particular just because of how we were born or whether we were created for someone else’s purpose.

                      To admit my limitations, I have not studied very much on the concept of the Ubermensch (and I haven’t run across Eigenmensch before, and Google was not very forthcoming in the first couple of pages). The little I do know about the Ubermensch comes mostly from brief asides to Nietzsche in some of the historical works I’ve read. I haven’t studied Nietzsche directly. I think I need to, because his work was, if I understand correctly, very influential in early twentieth-century Europe.

                      As for the principles you state, I agree wholeheartedly in taking responsibility for our own choices. Fundamental to morality is the concept of free will, and if we accept the concept of free will, then we have to acknowledge that our choices, though perhaps greatly influenced by external factors, are still our own. The abdication of taking responsibility for our actions has two major consequences. First, the obvious, is that it justifies unethical behavior, because whatever one does isn’t one’s fault. Second, it disempowers us and leaves us in a realm of frustration, because when we place the responsibility for our actions into others’ hands, we end up at the mercy of their whims. This problem is especially difficult when one is caught in a bad situation. I’m thinking of an acquaintance who constantly feel into trouble because his friends were engaging in illegal activities. It was always his friends’ fault, not his, because they were the ones dragging him along.

                      However, I disagree that defining a being by its origins is pointless. This might come down to how I view things in general. I’m a theoretician at heart, and I have a very difficult time applying concepts without knowing a good portion of the theory behind it. Therefore it makes sense to me that knowing the origins of a being reveals to us how that being is supposed to operate. If we know to what purpose it is made, we have a clear idea of when it behaves as desired and when it behave erroneously. This also applies to the broader concept of the nature of a being. If we know what something is, we have a better idea of what is good and what is harmful for that thing.

                      As an example, let us ask the question of why it is not moral for humans beings to eat other human beings, but it is moral for human beings to eat chickens. Let’s work from the principle of “I wouldn’t want to be eaten, so I shouldn’t eat another human being.” That seems fair enough, except we could entertain the idea that a chicken doesn’t want to be eaten, either. Why doesn’t the chicken receive a fair shake, then? Is it because it isn’t as cognitively complex as a human? Ah, but here we touch on natures. Is it true that a chicken isn’t as cognitively complex as a human? Is this matter of degree or a matter of kind? Moreover, does this mean if we can demonstrate that a particular human individual isn’t sufficiently cognitively complex, we could eat him? There are some philosophers who argue that it is more ethical to kill a baby than an adult animal because the baby is less cognitively developed. If cognitive complexity is not the issue, then is it because chickens aren’t human beings? How do you answer the charge that that is just being specieist? Moreover, how do you answer the cannibals out there who claim they don’t eat humans, they only eat witches (which look a great deal like humans, but aren’t, because they’re actually witches)? To answer any of these questions, you have to defer back to the origins and natures of the entities involved.

                      To clarify what I said about judging things as “good”, I don’t believe ethical principles are subjective, but I believe the ways of fulfilling them can change based on society. I derive ethics from sustainability and the Veil of Ignorance. That is, “what principles would make a society that we would all want to live in, and which would remain that way indefinitely, given the limitations of the environment?”

                      First, I hadn’t heard of the Veil of Ignorance until now, so thank you for bringing that up. I’ve only looked at the Wikipedia entry, so my understanding of it is based mostly on that. Let me know if there are nuances you’d really like me to look into. And now I really need to get around to Kant, Hobbes, and Locke in greater detail. My reading list keeps expanding, and I’m still mired in my World War I fixation… But my initial reaction is to compare it to the Golden Rule, namely that the Golden Rule is the principle, and the Veil of Ignorance is a practical means of determining whether one is or isn’t following it.

                      Second, I know that space limitations always means that one cannot fully flesh out certain ideas (unless one wants to fit an entire dissertation into a comment), so I hope I’m not trivializing anything or misinterpreting something. But I have a bit of an issue with that we would all want to live in. Perhaps it is the word “all”, because I could then ask what happens when you have some people who want to live in a society that that fundamentally opposed to what other want? How do you work in people who are entirely contrary? To use the example of slavery used in the Veil of Ignorance Wikipedia entry, what if there are people who only want to live in a society based on slavery? Moreover, what if society is most sustainable when there is slavery? (In my mind, this is very pertinent to the United States, and its import of goods made very cheaply in other countries. The question I have is: what would happen to our society if we didn’t rely on the cheap labor and lack of OSHA regulations in other countries for so much of our goods? Could we sustain our society?)

                      My point, though, is that while I like the principles you state – sustainability and the Veil of Ignorance – I don’t feel they are sufficient on their own, and I would argue they don’t move ethics out of the land of subjectivity. Rather, if those principles do give us consistent answers of how to build society, it is not because of them, per se, but because of the objective moral realities that emerge from the way the world works and the nature of human beings.

                      At the very least, I could formulate an alternative hypothesis which explains both the creation of the universe and the existence of evil. Instead, the answer most people give is to disguise arrogance as humility, to say that humans are capable of knowing something for a fact, without actually being able to reconcile it with statements or observations that contradict it absolutely.

                      The only comment I have about this is that, from the perspective of many theists, the existence of God is something that is so confirmed by evidence outside the issue of evil that there is simply no question of the matter. All that remains is to resolve the apparent conflict between God and the existence of evil, sort of like trying to reconcile quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity. (If you want to speak of the universe being weirder than anyone can understand, I would put quantum mechanics and general relativity as prime candidates in favor of weirdness!) But in part this is why I feel theists need to very seriously examine the arguments from the problem of evil. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems the conversations you’ve had with theists tend to follow the lines not of proving that the problem of evil does not disprove God, but trying to prove God by disproving the problem of evil. I would think this line of argumentation makes it feel like one is trying to build a house from the top down, and then when it comes to laying the foundation, they then aver to not having the answers and just assert the foundation is there.

                      To the people who tell me that humans can’t understand the universe, I say, “Speak for yourself, human! I have no trouble understanding these things, because I know when to reject a hypothesis.”

                      I don’t see how rejecting a hypothesis leads to understanding the universe. Rejecting a hypothesis means we’ve accumulated enough evidence to say the hypothesis is incorrect, but that doesn’t then give us a working theory. Perhaps you can clarify a little on what you mean here?

                      Again as an existentialist, I say that there are no contradictions. Paradoxes aren’t “real”, functional problems, but rather problems of semantics. Things don’t have essential properties, but rather are defined functionally, by how they affect and are affected by everything else. If a spear that breaks anything meets an unbreakable shield, one of them will lose, because there is no such thing as “breaks anything” or “unbreakable.” Those are merely labels of convenience we put on things that have never failed yet in their tasks. We can pretend they are functional properties, but no functional property is absolute. Unbreakable is as unbreakable does.

                      But… But… What about the penny that on one side says, “The statement on the other side of the coin is true,” and on the other side says, “The statement on the other side of the coin is false?” What about the barber who shaves all men who don’t shave themselves? What about the set of all subsets that don’t contain themselves?

                      I agree that contradictions don’t exist. That’s one of the three core rules of logic. And resolving any apparent contradiction or paradox does involve examining the premises of the contradiction and discovering where imprecision, lack of information, semantics, and so on cause the problem.

                      Does all that sound reasonable?

                      Indeed it does, and I hope you’ve been enjoying the conversation as much as I have. However, for your moldy bread example, I wouldn’t say it is magical thinking. Absent any knowledge of mold spores, and if all my prior experience tells me the mold only occurs when people have been involved, then the conclusion is actually reasonable. To an extent, for all practical purpose, someone invisible and intangible does cause the mold, because mold spores are pretty tiny (invisible) and we can’t seem to really prevent them from getting into things (intangible). This doesn’t mean the conclusion is correct, just that up to the point where you ended your analogy, there is still room to assume reasonableness. Now, if you really wanted to press the analogy, you could talk about how you then act on that conclusion and start offering sacrifices to the mold spirit, say by leaving out a slice of bread on the counter in hopes that this will appease the spirit into sparing the bread in the fridge. Then from there, you could mention what ad hoc explanation you arrive at to explain that the bread in the fridge still molded.

                      As to the comparison of Christianity to superstitions, perhaps that can also be something we discuss offline.

                    • Eigenmensch is a word I coined because people might not like the word Ubermensch, because the Nazis used it to justify their actions and they may have only heard it from there. It was quite ironic of the Nazis to use the term “Ubermensch” (and the swastika, for that matter), because by “just following orders” and thinking they had an obligation/destiny to take over the world, they were being the exact opposite of it. Ubermensch means “over-person”, and Eigenmensch means “own-person” (I got the idea from math); I consider them synonymous. The concept is ethically relevant because being an Eigenmensch, i.e. accepting responsibility for your own actions and not claiming you were “forced” by your environment, is necessary (but not sufficient) to be a reliably good person. You can do evil things and still own up to them, but it’s very hard to be good if things get a bit tough and suddenly you “have no choice”. I’m not saying that difficult times never justify harsh decisions or violent actions, but often people jump straight to the violence without thinking that maybe there are better choices. After all, there’s no reason to consider more constructive alternatives if you can’t be blamed for what you do anyway.

                      Furthermore, the idea of an Eigenmensch is based on the idea that our morality does not come from the purpose for which we were created, that we aren’t “supposed” to do anything. Even if someone created us for their own purposes, we don’t owe them anything. We didn’t ask to be created. Instead of causing destruction with the excuse that it is our purpose, we can rise above such things and become better than we were created. (“You don’t have to be a gun. You are who you choose to be.”) To assert otherwise, I think, would be moral relativism, depending on what sort of beings you think could be legitimately created.

                      I’m still working out where qualia and conscious awareness come from, but I do think that cognitive complexity is a measure of how ethical it is to kill something, irrespective of species. That means that the witch-eating cannibals are being speciesist. (I’m actually a vegetarian by habit, because early on in my childhood Disney movies and Rex Harrison as Dr. Doolittle led me to believe that animals were just other kinds of people.) Yes, that means that I think that in theory, killing an average dog and killing a human with the intellect (or whatever technical term represents the level of consciousness) of an average dog are roughly ethically equivalent, same as killing an average human or a dog with the intellect of an average human. It’s a bit different with human infants, because they represent an ongoing investment of effort geared towards creating a mature human. Regardless of how intelligent an infant is at the time, its death represents a great blow to its parents and a loss of the care and effort that went into raising it. Before anyone else calls me some sort of monster, note that I do not profess to be able to judge any individual human’s intellect against other animals, and I make few pronouncements as to which species it is or is not acceptable to kill. (Insects and arachnids are almost always fair game, but I’m not ruthless enough to decide to kill and eat an animal if there are any alternatives.) I just think it’s only reasonable that level of consciousness be the determining factor in the theoretical ethical hierarchy, and while species is a useful rule of thumb for that, it’s not the defining metric. My ideal, as humanity advances technologically, is that there not be any call to kill things.

                      You’re right, the Veil of Ignorance is basically a reframing of the Golden Rule, based on designing society rather than deciding immediate actions. Jack has pointed out that the Golden Rule can’t be taken absolutely literally, since other people want different things. The Veil of Ignorance can’t be taken literally either, since people prioritize risk avoidance differently, and so may have different designs for society even with the Veil. As such, I just try to design a world that is as good as possible while continuously advancing, so that people won’t have to make horrible tradeoffs in the future. Sooner or later, though, all ethics comes down to helping other people get what they want, and what people want is based on the Eight Vices. Without the existence of desire, of positive and negative feelings, ethics would be meaningless. I still don’t think that the way the world works or where we came from has any bearing on ethics. We know some things (order), we don’t know other things (chaos), the boundary between order and chaos shifts back and forth as we learn new things and learn we’re wrong about others, and we exist and have desires. That’s all we need to derive general ethical principles. Everything else is building a world we like more and working out the ethical rules for specific situations.

                      (I don’t know if there’s more nuance to the Veil of Ignorance, but if there is I can’t think of what it would be. The basic concept seems clear-cut and plenty useful already. I’ll have to write up some sort of guide on how to recognize if a philosopher or philosophical concept is just rubbish or if it’s got something interesting to it. I got very angry at the guy who invented the term “intentionality” because it’s a word that has no practical meaning, and seems to have been created only to advertise a supposed paradox that is really just a collection of three statements with the definition of one word changed between two of them to confuse people.)

                      The only comment I have about this is that, from the perspective of many theists, the existence of God is something that is so confirmed by evidence outside the issue of evil that there is simply no question of the matter.

                      I suspect that’s the part with the Necessary Being that I emailed you about. I am curious as to how we think that existence itself has to imply not only a supreme being, but a supreme being which is a source of objective morality. I much appreciate your approach of proving the problem of evil doesn’t disprove a deity in any case, rather than trying to resolve it outright.

                      The problem I was trying to illustrate with the mold spirit wasn’t that the belief in spirits is unreasonable given ignorance of microbes, but that the process which led to that belief so quickly was incorrect. Instead of scrapping the hypothesis and starting fresh, I adhered to the assumption of an anthropomorphic agent, and added ad hoc attributes. Doing it wrong as I did, I might assume I could communicate with the mold spirit, because it’s just an invisible person. Starting fresh, I might realize that there’s no reason to assume the phenomenon that creates mold would have any form or motivation I could negotiate with (such as leaving bread sacrifices). With a new hypothesis that the mold grows from the bread itself (because inventing an invisible being that passes through solid matter for the sole purpose of spoiling food would raise more questions than it answered), I could try doing things to the bread that would leave it barren, like salting it or toasting it.

                      You’re right, I can’t adequately compare Christianity to this sort of superstition, because I don’t know enough about the Necessary Being idea to know which of the Christian deity’s properties are derived from that idea. It would be foolish of me to assume that any one of them was merely a projection or ad hoc theory, so I can’t criticize any of them on that basis.

                      Thoughts? (As a user of perception and communication mindsets, conversations like this make me feel alive.)

                    • I apologize that this comment was so long in coming.

                      Furthermore, the idea of an Eigenmensch is based on the idea that our morality does not come from the purpose for which we were created, that we aren’t “supposed” to do anything. Even if someone created us for their own purposes, we don’t owe them anything. We didn’t ask to be created. Instead of causing destruction with the excuse that it is our purpose, we can rise above such things and become better than we were created. (“You don’t have to be a gun. You are who you choose to be.”) To assert otherwise, I think, would be moral relativism, depending on what sort of beings you think could be legitimately created.

                      I’m not certain if the disagreement we have here is a matter of semantics or understanding of things. When you write about “rising above how we were created”, I’m not sure if we might not arrive at the same general principles, but maybe using different terms.

                      I agree that we were not asked to be created, but there is a problem that we can’t be asked our opinion about it until we actually exist, at which point it is too late. But if we are created a particular way with a particular purpose, I would argue that we do harm to ourselves if act against the way we are made. To pick a stupid example, consider the Princess Bride, when Wesley announces, “I have spent the last 5 years building up an immunity to iocane powder.” Now, a poison is a poison because it damages us (in the case of iocane powder, it kills us, because it is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is one of the deadlier poisons known to man). To take poison in general would be bad because of the very real, very objective harm it causes us. In other words, it runs contrary to the way we are made to take poison. However, if within our nature is the capacity to build up tolerances to toxic materials, then we can actually strengthen ourselves and overcome a normal weakness by taking very small doses until our bodies can handle larger doses. If, on the other hand, we cannot build up an immunity to a lethal substance, it would be objectively bad to expose ourselves to it.

                      Now, I am fairly confident that part of the reason you’d say “we don’t owe [our creator] anything” is because we might be created for the whim or amusement of said being, and to be used in particular way, or be forced into something that we find fundamentally distasteful or counter to what we believe is right, is tyrannical. If this is fair characterization of your thoughts, I agree wholeheartedly. It would be cruel and something to rebel against if we were created for the purpose of being abused, or created with a desire that cannot be met, or created with an expectation of a certain behavior that we are incapable of achieving.

                      I also agree that we can rise above excuses that aver to “this is how we’re created,” because such excuses fall short. We are created with intellect and will, and we are created with the capacity to do a great many things, either for good or for ill. It is technically true that, when confronted with a temptation to do something objectively wrong, how we are created allows us to do enact that wrong. Thus we could say that we are rising above that aspect of how we are created. But we are also created with the capacity to resist that temptation, with the capacity to choose to enact some good, and thus in doing so, we are acting according to how we were created.

                      The difference comes to down to this. Are we fundamentally wounding ourselves with the things we decide to do? On this I think, from what you’ve said, we probably could reach some agreement. If we build ethics based upon sustainability and the Veil of Ignorance, we judge what is right based upon the harmony or discord an action produces. However, what is harmonious is dependent upon what we are by nature. For example, we are very concerned with social conduct, social mores, and just laws to handle a wide variety of desires, opinions, and outlooks within a collection of human beings. This is a concern because humans are, by nature, social creatures. If we were by nature solitary beings (perhaps reproducing by binary division and then immediately kicking our clone out of the house), we would not be so concerned about how to make a collection of people function well together. We would probably instead be more concerned about how to keep people apart!

                      I would submit, then, that knowing our nature, knowing how we are made, is fundamental to ethics because our ontology dictates what is good or what is not good for us. We need food. We know that in general, deliberately starving someone is unethical, because need food. We don’t need recreational drugs, so in general, it is not unethical to deliberately withhold recreational drugs from people. We have a psychology that develops as we age, and our capacity to grasp abstract ideas takes a while to form. Thus it isn’t ethical to punish a lack of competency in abstract thinking in a four-year-old, and a case could be made that it isn’t ethical to demand abstract concepts in the curriculum of a preschool. We have a nature that can either descend into vice or rise in virtue, and it wouldn’t be ethical to encourage the former and discourage the latter, because vice both harms us individually and introduces discord into society, whereas virtue lifts us up and improves harmony in society.

                    • “But if we are created a particular way with a particular purpose, I would argue that we do harm to ourselves if act against the way we are made.”

                      I’m assuming (possibly incorrectly) that the way we determine whether or not we are made to do something is whether or not it harms us, which makes it a bit redundant to observe whether we are “made” to do something. Since harm is what we really care about here (or at least what I care about), does it matter what we are “made to do”?

                      “If, on the other hand, we cannot build up an immunity to a lethal substance, it would be objectively bad to expose ourselves to it.”

                      Only if we want to live. I say this in all seriousness. We can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”, but we can use the “oughts” we already have to derive more “oughts”. Part of the point of being an Eigenmensch is not blindly accepting the “oughts” that other entities try to push onto you.

                      “If we were by nature solitary beings (perhaps reproducing by binary division and then immediately kicking our clone out of the house), we would not be so concerned about how to make a collection of people function well together.”

                      Ethics wouldn’t actually change that much. As I understand it, ethics is the set of principles that helps multiple people live in the same world and better get what they want. Regardless of whether a species prefers solitude, it can solve bigger problems working together. Ethics would help with that. Knowledge of ethics would arguably be more important in a solitary species, because the individuals wouldn’t have any natural sense of conscience or cooperation.

                      “I would submit, then, that knowing our nature, knowing how we are made, is fundamental to ethics because our ontology dictates what is good or what is not good for us.”

                      I suppose I agree with that, but I do disagree to a certain extent on how we obtain knowledge of our nature and what that nature is. My point was that ethics is independent of what a creator might expect from us. It might be good to cooperate with such a creator, or it might not. We have no option but to use our own judgment to figure that out. There is no way for us to abdicate judgment onto another entity and still ikip

                    • [I was about to look up the quote on Wikipedia, and it switched to this window for a second without showing me. I loathe when it does that.]

                      What I was going to say was this:

                      There is no way for us to abdicate judgement and defer to another entity while still guaranteeing that we’re actually doing the right thing. An Eigenmensch accepts the responsibility for judging and does its best. This is part of what Sartre means (I think) by, “Man is condemned to be free.” Even in the attempt to pawn off one’s moral decisions onto another entity, we must accept culpability for choosing what entity deserves our obedience.

                      What do you think?

                    • To a large extent, I agree with you. If we are going to trust the moral judgment of someone else, we should make the effort to determine the trustworthiness of that other person. If we place our trust in an entity that proves to be untrustworthy, we are culpable for the extent to which we could have discovered how untrustworthy that entity is.

                      However, I think it is fully responsible to defer to the judgment of a being I trust in matters that are beyond my expertise. This is where deference to the nature of man once again comes into play. I have only a finite span of years to live, and given the overabundance of things to know, I have to pick and choose what things I will spend my time learning. For the rest, I either have to be satisfied with not knowing, or I can trust others who, having proved themselves trustworthy, and having spent the time studying these things, have reached conclusions to which I have no objection. Furthermore, since humans are both individuals and social creatures, it makes sense that we would first gravitate to different fields and then come together to pool our acquired wisdom.

                      Now, I have the following questions about the Eigenmensch that I hope you’ll clarify.

                      1. Is an Eigenmensch obligated to accept no other judgment than his own? It seems to me that we in general build our knowledge and form our moral values first and foremost by receiving and processing information and values handed to us, directly or via observation, from others. While I would agree that upon reaching adulthood, one should have the capacity and drive to re-evaluate this information, to what extent is an Eigenmensch allowed to accept information from trustworthy sources, and to what an extent must an Eigenmensch independently verify everything?

                      2. Does the principle of the Eigenmensch propose that two Eigenmensch will always reach the same conclusion about goodness, morals, and ethics? If this is not the case, is the difference in conclusions simply to be accepted, or is there something more that is to arbitrate which, if either, is correct?

                      3. Is the status of Eigenmensch something that is only attainable by an elite few, or is it a destination everyone could reach? Or, maybe putting this differently, is the Eigenmensch a destination or a path to walk?

                      The reason I ask these questions is because either I am grossly misunderstanding something, which I wall always allow as a possibility, or it seems that the Eigenmensch still encounters the same difficulties everyone else does in matters of morals and ethics.

                    • “However, I think it is fully responsible to defer to the judgment of a being I trust in matters that are beyond my expertise.”

                      That is responsible in principle. However, even if I were to believe that an entity claiming the role of the Christian deity existed, I certainly would not trust it as long as it purported perfection that it hasn’t delivered and love that it hasn’t shown. I’d be inclined to cooperate with a more humble being, or a more evidently excellent one. It takes many years to become an expert, but considerably less time to learn how to recognize charlatans.

                      1. An Eigenmensch can trust other people (as you point out, that’s important for society to exist) but must also practice skepticism. The greater the claim, and the more it affects people’s decisions, the greater the skepticism. If necessary, I could elaborate on what factors would go into figuring out which situations most require skepticism.

                      2. Being an Eigenmensch doesn’t equip a person with any special insight into ethics other than the realization of one’s own agency and responsibility, and it doesn’t imply that a person is good. An Eigenmensch is better equipped than anyone else to be good even when their environment or community gives them excuses to be unethical. That’s why it’s important. On its own, it is insufficient for identifying and following ethical behavior. An Eigenmensch is probably a more individualistic than other people, but won’t automatically agree with another Eigenmensch.

                      3. Being an Eigenmensch is a path to walk rather than a permanent status, similar to ethics. My goal is that everyone walks this path. If anyone finds themselves unable or unwilling, then until they do learn, it would probably be best to make sure they are in environments that do not “force” them to act unethically.

                      In short, being an Eigenmensch is necessary but insufficient for reliably being ethical. It makes it easier to do what one chooses to do, including what one thinks is right, despite environmental or societal pressure to the contrary. The reason it makes it easier is because by definition, an Eigenmensch will acknowledge there is a choice, and even if they are unwilling to take the difficult path, they will have the integrity to deliberately make the choice, acknowledge it, and deal with the consequences as they choose.

                      I guess you could say being an Eigenmensch is the path of not lying to oneself. It doesn’t make you good, or wise, or strong, but without it, it becomes very difficult to be any of those.

                      Does that clear things up?

                    • By the way, Ryan, I was unable to locate the email address on your blog or profile. Can you please email it to me? You can reach me at the email at the bottom of the Paradigm Synch webpage linked from my username.

                      If your kids are anything like I was at that age, it’s difficult and boring for them to clear their minds enough to sleep. Perhaps meditation lessons might work, I suggest half in jest?

                    • Odd. When I go to the blog page, it was on the bar at the very top of the page. I wonder if only I can see it?

                      And….sent. Hopefully.

                      I think we might have figured something out with our younger daughter. The feeding tube, of course, bothers her, but I think it bothers her most when the tube is brushing against her legs. When she’s in a full-body sleeper that buttons up, the tube easily slips out in between buttons. With a sleeper with a zipper, we have to feed the tube down a pant leg, and that seems to drive her to distraction.

                  • Not to intentionally abuse Jack’s patience with what amounts to a plug, but since I don’t have any other way to contact you, I think you’d appreciate the free subscriptions (there’s a paid version with greater access) to the articles published periodically by:

                    http://www.touchstonemag.com/

                    and possibly also to it’s affiliate:

                    http://www.salvomag.com/

        • “Nevertheless, we will all eventually need to be on the same page regarding what is “right and moral” or we will continue to attempt to determine morality through numerical superiority and violence.”

          Ok, but what does the process of “getting on the same page” entail? In a lot of situations, numerical superiority seems to make a difference in “getting on the same page”.

          This is the same argument about the polarization of the nation:

          Democrat: “We need to just stop the partisan bickering and do what’s right for America (Oh by the way, what is right for America is what I think is right, so quit being partisan and get on the same page as me)”

          Republican: “We need to just stop the partisan bickering and do what’s right for America (Oh by the way, what is right for America is what I think is right, so quit being partisan and get on the same page as me)”

          • I believe that if we practice critical thinking, intellectual honesty, and collaborative truth-seeking, we will all be on the same page as far as reality and ethics are concerned. Most people are just too afraid that if they don’t have all the answers, it might turn out that things are very bad for them. I admit, getting all worked up about Heaven and then finding out that that’s not how things work would probably be a major letdown. It’s still work asking the questions and pursuing the answers.

  7. charlesgreen

    Ah ha ha ha, what a great topic. Comic relief in the midst of all the rest. Thank you.

  8. wyogranny

    If it’s symbolism any symbol will do. If it’s an ordinance it might require more authority to change, but it seems to me (not a Catholic) that common sense should and will prevail.

    I can’t imagine that the same loving God who teaches us to love and serve one another would find it a problem to make allowances for human frailties. If there is no allowance for humanness why preach repentance. Jesus Christ atoned for our sins I’m sure He can handle gluten.

    • wyogranny

      Opps forgot the question mark.

    • “If it’s symbolism any symbol will do.”

      Well, even in the realm of symbolism, I think the symbols must be reasonably similar to the originals to carry the weight of symbols…I don’t think a communion of symbolic Celery and symbolic Almond Milk would be very useful to the Church.

  9. Phlinn

    But jack, it’s literally the body and blood of christ by catholic doctrine, which means gluten sensitivity is irrelevant since it’s transformed…

    • Phlinn

      That might have needed a /sarcasm tag in there.

    • I infer, then, that anyone who is sickened by the wafers must be a witch, a vampire, demonically possessed, or otherwise tainted by Satan (but still able to enter the church in the first place). I mean, God wouldn’t create a person in such a way that they, through no fault of their own, cannot receive the sacrament, right? That’d be downright abusive no matter how you slice it.

  10. Wiersielis Tony

    Jack,
    This might interest you. My nephew has 27 different food allergies that are epi-pen life threatening. He was getting ready for his first communion and the wafers were an issue. The nun who’s the principle at his school would not allow anything but wheat based wafers for him despite a pile of documentation to the contrary offered up by my sister in law. It took the cardinal to allow him to use non wheat wafers.
    I also find it interesting that the mass has changed to state “When supper was ended he took the cup” to “he took the chalice”. If you ever saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” you might remember that Indy “chose wisely” by picking a nondescript cup instead of one that was ornate and expensive, declaring, “this is the cup of a carpenter”.
    I would have to guess that the use of chalice is more symbolic than cup. Why then would they not allow the gluten free as symbolic

  11. John Billingsley

    Growing up in the Baptist church, the Lord’s Supper consisted of bits of some type of bread and tiny cups of Welch’s grape juice [historic note: Thomas Welch developed a process to pasteurize grape juice to prevent fermentation and the Christian temperance movement led the switch from wine to grape juice for communion]. Baptist believe that the blood and wine are symbolic and not the literal body and blood. Because Baptists focus on the symbol, the actual type of bread and whether the grape juice is fermented or not are not essential to the meaning of the religious experience. Baptist theological arguments surrounding communion seem to center on whether it should be closed, limited to the members of that specific church; close, limited to members of the specific denomination; or open, to all who are true believers in Christ.

    Despite my wife being a former Roman Catholic nun, I learn all my Catholic theology from Father Ted. Father Ted

  12. Rich in CT

    I get that you are an atheist, and the church is a waste of time anyways. I even agree with you 100% about its failure to protect children over predators. But there is literally nothing to this to this communion story.

    Yes, some priests are alcoholics. It is a rough and lonely job. Consuming a bit of wine is simply part of the job. It requires peak mental health. Priests in the Holocaust would squeeze raisins and consecrate bread crumbs for their faith.

    Yes, some people are deathly allergic/intolerant to gluten, even tiny bits.

    There are limited accommodations possible. Priests may use unprocessed grape juice, either freshly pressed or frozen, that has not yet had time to overtly ferment. They still must handle the ordinary wine for everybody else. If they cannot, there is no spiritual mandate that anyone serve as a priest. They can request a different ministry, or resign altogether if they must.

    Very low gluten wafers are also available. There are a group of nuns that very carefully remove 99.99% of the gluten. If that is still intolerable to some, they have the option of receiving the wine only, from a fresh bottle and a dedicated vessel that never touched any bread. They are theologically being denied nothing, as the church teaches both the bread and the wine individually make a complete sacrament.

    For the vanishingly small minority that can tolerate neither grape juice nor any trace of wheat, the requirement to receive communion is automatically waived. They can still receive confession, confirmation, last rites, and marriage. They can even still receive communion near death, viaticum,
    when the allergy presumably won’t matter.

    The church teaches that the Eucharist is a sacrament, ancient and direct from God. You are an atheist, so I do not expect you to personally care or be impressed, so I will not go into an exegesis about the underlying theological significances and blah, blah, blah.

    All that really matters for the purposes of this discussion is that duly ordained male priest must perform all sacraments, (except baptism and marriage), lest they be invalid. Invalid sacraments puts peoples immortal souls in danger.

    This is a point of faith, and simply not up for argument. Birds are gonna fly, fish are gonna swim, priests are going to consecrate only unprocessed bread and pressed grape products. Far better minds than I have tried to explain it. Write off the whole organization if you must over a few parts per thousand of gluten and trace droplets of alcohol. Protestants did just that, leave the church, because they disagreed with this rigid theology. That is why Methodists will use pasteurized juice, and Mormons will even use water!

    But to say it is blatantly unethical for Catholics to “deny” a very small minority reception of communion under both bread and wine (when they can validly receive either), and ask that those fully intolerant to abstain from communion until the time near their natural death is ignorant. You are are asking the church abandon its mission to put people in heaven, so that a few people are slightly less inconvenienced.

    (And if anyone asks, there is no “character” here.)

    • Your focus is off. Many, many religious people and whole denominations agree that this is gratuitously cruel and needlessly doctrinaire, as well as hypocritical and based on rationalizations. I would take this position regardless of my religious beliefs, unless, of course, the ethics were brainwashed out of me.

      “It’s faith” is a dodge. Faith in what? That’s not what the argument is; the argument being made is that it’s tradition. Jesus had no idea what gluten was; making that ingredient essential to the sacrament isn’t based on faith, it’s based on stubbornness.

      • Rich in CT

        The issue is that this is a very minor issue getting attention because gluten free is trendy. When the Catholic newspaper dismissed it as nothing new, it is because it is the same position that the church always has had.

        Saying this is an affirmation that gluten must be present is inaccurate. The recipe for communion wafers is wheat flour and water. Crack the wheat, grind it up, add water, kneed, and bake. Some traditions add a bit of yeast to supplement the naturally occurring yeasts. All the church says is that this is the recipe that must be used; the nuns are allowed to use mechanical processes to further kneed out the gluten, a slightly fancier method that still yields wheat flour. I’ve read that they can kneed away all biologically relevant amounts of gluten, but I am not qualified to personally vouch. Rice and other 100% gluten free grains do not produce wheat flour, so cannot be used, and have never been used.

        Now it is based on “tradition”, but it is the Sacred Tradition. Unlike Protestants, certain non-biblical practices are considered just as important as scripture. Many things Christ taught are in written scripture, many more were passed on orally to his apostles, who interpreted and implemented these teachings (this is undeniably true from strictly historical perspective). The church believes this oral tradition on religious matters is just as important; its mission is to tirelessly to preserve and faithfully implement it across changing times and trends. Those who reject the sacred tradition are Protestants, not Catholics.

        The recipe for communion wafers is part of this sacred tradition, thus the recipe thus cannot be changed. It is a literal WWJD: he would use wheat bread. He did use wheat bread, as well as appoint an all male clergy, etc. Many entire denominations may think this is needlessly cruel or doctrinaire, but their theology is based on entirely different principles. Heck, the first thing they abandoned was the sacramental clergy, so it is utterly moot what they attempt to consecrate from the Catholic perspective.

        What it boils down to is that for a Catholic to believe the Eucharist has any importance beyond a symbolic reenactment of Christ’s last meal, they must also accept the sacred tradition that teaches it to be as much. If they do not accept the tradition, then the Eucharist has no special significance.

        Your argument in this case boils down to it being unethical to do the impossible, accept that sacred tradition is unchanging, while changing it.

        • Do the impossible?

          The bread and wafers are symbolic. The Church has made far more substantive changes in response to public opinion, except Latin didn’t hurt anybody. It’s the fact that this is relatively minor—but major to thousands of people whose health is involved, is WHY it’s unethical, and also indicative of an ossified institution. The Church now allows divorce. The Church used to allow bribes so a marriage could be annulled. The Church once treated gays as sinners and outcasts; now the Pope urges love and tolerance. But they draw a line in the sand over gluten?

          You see, I think religion is important in society, and organized religions can be a great force for good…meaning that recklessly undermining their own respect and trust is irresponsible and incompetent. And that’s what a stand like this does. It’s arrogant and moronic. People don’t tend to take advice or guidance from institutions that are arrogant and moronic.

          • Well, in the Catholic Church they are more than symbolic…they are a conduit of Grace…

            the notion which opened one of the great conflicts within the Church.

          • philk57

            “The bread and wafers are symbolic.” Jack, you are wrong about this and it is fundamental to your position. The bread and wine is NOT symbolic once it has been blessed. It undergoes transubstantiation and becomes not a symbol but the actuality of Christ’s body and blood. (True also in several Protestant denominations, particularly those linked with Martin Luther).

            You also say that the church now allows divorce, but I don’t think that it is as simple as that. They still will not allow a divorced person to participate in the Eucharist (at least not locally to me) and will not sanctify the second marriage unless an annulment occurs.

            And yes, their current Pope does seem to be more willing to go along with secular thought as it applies to gays, divorce and adultery. Not at all sure why you would applaud any of that though as all it really does is erode any moral authority they may have remaining when the church is seen to be changing important doctrine as a result of societal pressure.

            Ryan said it much better above, but then, he is an actual Catholic.

            • I’m not applauding or not applauding. I am pointing out that when an institution shows that it will yield on the items that have substance and matter, being obstinate about things like the chemical ingredients of wafers when the original wafer blesser didn’t know the ingredient existed and wouldn’t have cared if he had to bless pumpernickel if that was all that was available is an unnecessary dispaly of hypocrisy and lack of integrity, as well as authoritarianism just to be that way. The importance of the gluten is certainly symbolic, unless the claim is that the blessing in rendered null by an absence of gluten.

              This is why organized religion is failing.

              • philk57

                “This is why organized religion is failing.”

                I agree that organized religion is failing, but I think that it is failing precisely because it “will yield on the items that have substance and matter.” None of this began recently and has been progressing over a very long period of time. The denominations in America that are healthy and growing are those that have NOT yielded to secular pressures.

                I would also propose that denominations that do not yield to secular pressure to re-define marriage to include liberal allowances for divorce on demand and same sex marriage etc, and suffer declines in membership as a result, are not failing. Christians are not called to conform to the world but are called to be “salt and light” in the world.

                • This is the problem: ignoring ethics for morality. Ethics evolves, because civilization gets smarter through experience, and learns that what was once seen as right and natural was, if fact, wrong and ignorant. Locking in values just to lock them in guarantees both injustice and extinction. We have learned that gays are not evil perverts, birth control is not a sin, masturbation is natural and harmless, sex outside of marriage can be responsible, and that there is no reason on earth why women shouldn’t be priests. An organized religion that responds to these revelations by sticking its fingers in its ears and holding its breath is doomed. And should be.

                  • But I think Phil is pointing out that it’s the denominations that ARE “evolving” their standards that are collapsing and failing and that the denominations that are sticking to their guns are thriving.

                    • Is the Catholic Church really “thriving” in comparison to, say, 50 years ago? When I was growing up n Boston, Mass, the Church was everywhere: on TV, in politics, throwing out the first ball at Red Sox games. But most of my Catholic classmates were quitting as soon as they could, and none that I know of have returned. I get it: if a Church is based on immutable moral edicts, once those stop holding it looks like a Church doesn’t stand for anything. Same thing when a church protects its insiders and reputation by covering up serious wrongdoing.

                      Morality has the advantage of being accessible for people who can’t think very deeply, and don’t want to. Unfortunately, when a church only attracts such members, it ends up ignorant and stupid. It’s got to attract and keep the smart people. How does it do that, if it appears to do and say stupid things?

  13. Other Bill

    How did cannibalism become part of Christianity? Yuck.

    • Other Bill, that’s kind of funny, because the earliest Christians were accused of cannibalism because they claimed to eat the body of their God. (The accusations extended beyond that, too, to gross bloody, infant sacrifice…)

      • Other Bill

        With good reason, RH. Just struck me as strange to the point of being bizarre. Even as a fully marinated Catholic until i was sixteen and could take the car and disappear on Sundays while acting as if i was going to church.

  14. Rip

    The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Mo., have been producing low-gluten altar breads that were approved by the U.S. bishops in 2003. These wafers have less than 0.01 percent gluten.

    According to the Washington post
    In 2004, Alessio Fasano, who was then director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland, said that one of the Benedictine Sisters’ low-gluten wafers contained such low gluten that someone with celiac disease would have to consume 270 wafers daily to reach a danger point.

    “You’d have to be very devout or really excited about going to church to eat that much at communion,” said Claire Baker, spokeswoman for Beyond Celiac, an advocacy organization for people with celiac disease. “You don’t eat communion wafers like you eat crackers.” –

    Now we catholic are not suppose to have multiple communions in a day. The chances of consuming enough to cause a reaction are nil.

    The Vatican letter also reaffirmed the existing practice of using of mustum, a grape juice where fermentation has begun before the alcohol content (usually less than 1 percent) reaches the levels found in most table wines. The letter recommends the grape juice as a substitute for communion wine for worshipers who could not tolerate alcohol. My point is this letter was meant to let the clergy know their options, and the press with out the facts. Make it sound like the options are not being explored. They were 13 years ago. The low gluten option is so low it manny tests can not detect gluten. So making a substitution that is gluten free which does not fit with the theology is not needed.
    More info
    http://www.catholicceliacs.org/Options.html

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