An "oops" moment: Did I desecrate the Body of Christ?
Via the invincible PZ Myers, here's the kind of "they've-got-to-making-this-up" story that passes for reality in religiondom:
A student went to Catholic mass, and instead of chewing the communion wafer, walked off with it. (Instead of respectfully, piously swallowing and digesting and defecating it.)
A cracker. (See: IT'S A GODDAMNED CRACKER)
The Catholic community is in an uproar. The student has desecrated and defiled the Body of Christ. He has commited a mortal sin and sacrilege. There's talk of disciplinary action at his school, and accusations of "beyond a hate crime".
It's got to be a joke, right? No. Catholics worldwide are seizing this opportunity to prove that they are not going to take second place to fundamental Islamic fanatics in medieval superstitious lunacy.
Anyway. I have a confession (or is it Confession?) to make. I may have desecrated the Body of Christ myself.
The Case of the Misdirected Communion
Simple story: Years ago, I found myself as a tourist at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, for my money possibly the most beautiful structure on Earth. Inside, a Mass was in progress, and I took part.
I had little idea of what goes on in a Mass, and naturally have zero sympathy for the religious hokum behind it, but why pass up a chance to take part in an ancient human ritual in awe-inspiring surroundings? There was certainly no disrespect in me, just a desire to not miss a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (If, say, a Native American tribe offered to let me sit in on a ritual offering to their deity, you bet I'd take part!)
So there I am in the famed cathedral. I slip quietly into a pew and the Mass begins. Kneel. Stand. Sit. Read. Sing. I do my best to follow along with the motions so well known and rehearsed by the regulars. Nothing too difficult, and I doubt that people around me even have reason to notice that I'm winging it. I certainly don't want to disturb what for them is a meaningful, meditative moment in their busy lives. It's clear to me that I'm observing a fascinating social ritual, and I feel grateful for the chance to quietly observe.
Uh oh. My row has stood up again, and everyone is turning to face me! What did I do!? Oh, I see; they want to file out of the pew, and I'm blocking the way on the end. So I quickly stumble out and forward... and find myself at the head of a line to receive Communion. Suddenly I'm the leader! For Communion, in Notre bloody Dame!
The black-clad priest – Father? Friar? Vicar? I have no idea – quickly discerns that I don't know what I'm doing. With a tight-lipped expression, he makes an "eat" gesture. So, knowing what this wafer thing is supposed to represent, and having an idea that it's meant only for True Believers, I pop open my mouth anyway, because... HEY, FREE CRACKER!
Chomp. Then, seeing how the procession is smoothly flowing in a parallel line of people led by a more astute Mass-goer, I discern that I need to step aside and let the soul behind me get saved. So I veer off to the sidelines, and my little anecdote ends.
Who's going to burn for this?
Was the priest wrong to give me the wafer? I don't know. He couldn't know himself, of course, whether I was a smirking non-believer, or just a long-lapsed (or mentally slow) Catholic. And I guess it's not policy to halt proceedings and quiz every suspicious-looking cracker-beggar.
Was I wrong? Is it wrong for an utter non-believer in God/Christ – an antitheist, in fact – to take the wafer? Did I "desecrate" the "Body of Christ"? I don't know the religionist position on that. I do know that if I did do those symbolic bad things... well, I'm sure not bothered by it! As someone wise once pointed out, IT'S A GODDAMNED CRACKER!
Moral of the story: Whatever your view of religion, go to Notre Dame. It's awesome. And you just might score free munchies.