July 10, 2008

Bill Donohue and the Crackertholic Crusade

Bill Donohue as conceived by HimselfThere's a hilarious threadstorm happening over on PZ Myers' Pharyngula at the moment. The backstory here is that a college kid in Florida (why is it always Florida or Texas?) went to a Catholic church, was given communion, and walked out with the wafer instead of swallowing it (PZ has linked to the full story here). The response by fanatic elements led by notorious malodorous blowhard Bill Donohue (a man with a clear food fixation; remember his reaction over a chocolate Jesus art installation sometime ago?), who has appointed himself the Holy Defender since he knows deep down that the deity he claims to worship is utterly incapable of defending itself (hence his prior attacks on Kathy Griffin).

The response against the college kid was bad enough. It is after all, nothing but a cracker, albeit one over which a religiously sanctioned magician has mumbled an incantation that changes it, in the minds of those who believe in such things, into a sliver of flesh sliced from the corpus of an unfortunate Judean whom they think is a deity stuffed into a mansuit. No, the response I'm talking about is the one that has been directed at PZ Myers for having the gall to state the obvious — that the kid committed no crime and does not deserve to have his life made miserable by a bunch of pathetic religious wannabes who have so little faith in the competence of their allegedly omnipotent friend in the sky that they believe that they have to defend him and to make threats on his behalf. What sort of religion is it that teaches that its adherents are responsible for the well-being of their deity rather than the other way around, anyhow? If you want to be responsible for something that will demand your time and loyalty in return, adopt a child or rescue a puppy from your local shelter. Who needs a god who is neither powerful enough or observant enough to stop some kid from stealing his cookies?

Of course, these are fanatics, and fanatics are, by definition, not reasonable people. Thus, Myers' support for the cracker-snatcher in question has been met by even more death threats. His suggestion, his statements that he doesn't feel that there's any merit to transubstantive woo has been met, according to Myers, with

...39 pieces of personal hate mail of varying degrees of literacy... Four of them have included death threats, a personal one day record. Thirty-four of them have demanded that I be fired. Twenty-five of them have told me to desecrate a copy of the Koran, instead, or in some similar way offend Muslims...


Myers is absolutely correct in his estimation of the importance of communion wafers outside of their ritual context. They are just crackers. In fact, this is one of the very things that led to the Protestants splitting from Catholicism centuries ago; they don't believe in transubstantiation. A cracker is a cracker is a cracker, no matter how many Latin syllables are solemnly pronounced over it, no matter how many times the sign of the cross is made. This is no doubt part of the reason why Catholics and Protestants engaged in mutual persecutions and wars that really only ended a few years ago, when interfaith violence ceased in Northern Ireland.

One thing this episode points to in spades, however, is the utter rigidity, the complete lack of creativity, the sheer plodding dogmatism of the mindset of the religious faction represented by people like Bill Donohue and his Catholic League. Let's step through a little demonstration that while not based on rational premises is at least consistent with belief in an omniscient and omnipotent deity. Give me a moment to find my Catholic Hat. Ah, here it is.

Premise 1: God transforms a wafer into the body of Christ.
Premise 2: God knows all and is capable of any feat.
Conclusion: Therefore, God knew instantly when this student conceived the idea to remove the consecrated wafer and so withdrew the body of Christ from it.
Corollary: The kid stole nothing but a CRACKER.

There, that wasn't so difficult, was it? Such an argument violates absolutely no precept of Catholic theology with which I'm familiar (is there one that says that once the wafer is Jesus that it can never again become simply a wafer?) It's consistent with faith; God addresses the problem in a manner consistent with what's already believed by the believer. It violates not a single Biblical edict, such as the admonition to turn the other cheek when one is transgressed against, that the meek shall inherit the earth, and that the peacemakers are blessed. Everything tied up with one big, shiny happy bow that requires no violence of thought, word or deed. All it took was extending already existing principles.

But Bill Donohue and his fanatical flock are incapable of doing this precisely because they have no faith in the first place. They fly into a panicked rage whenever they think their deity is being slighted because they can't conceive of that deity being perfectly capable of looking after itself. Their version of God is so weak, so impotent and so empty that it makes mine look like something from a Cecille B. DeMille epic.

I have said this before, and said it in reference to fanatical Christianity, Hinduism and Islam equally. It bears repeating, daily if necessary, as a sort of mantra for any of those who believe that they are a defender of their faith.

No deity that requires your protection is a deity worthy of worship.

A deity that can't take care of itself certainly can't do much for you. Bill Donohue and company know this. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that no deities are worthy of worship. They aren't there. I'm honest and up front about it. The only difference between myself and Bill Donohue in terms of belief is this crumb of honesty. Donohue doesn't believe, and his followers don't believe, either, but they can't admit it, not to themselves and not to anyone else. When an incident occurs that calls their superficial belief into question — a superficial belief that serves no greater purpose than their own vain glorification of themselves as they bask in their self-appointed roles as defenders of the faith — they must react with this vehemence. Because let's face it, if they really and fully believed that there was a God and that God was omnipotent, of what possible significance could the theft of a wafer be? Here is what Bill Donohue said of the incident in Florida:
For a student to disrupt Mass by taking the Body of Christ hostage—regardless of the alleged nature of his grievance—is beyond hate speech.

Source: Catholic League Website

Did you catch that little slip-up? A student took the body of Christ hostage. A mere adolescent was so much more powerful than Donohue's deity that he could hold Christ to ransom, and it is up to Bill Donohue to see that justice is done for the kidnapping of Jesus.... because Jesus couldn't escape from this mere student all by himself, and Jesus' father was powerless to do anything about the situation.

No, it falls to Bill Donohue and his cadre of the faithful to do what God could not. It is only they who can restore the honor of the Holy Family and rescue poor, frightened Jesus from the clutches of this powerful fiend who happens to have enrolled at the University of Central Florida. This is Bill Donohue's claim that he is more powerful than God. This is his statement that he can do things that God and Jesus and Mary and Joseph and all the Saints and Apostles and Prophets and Angels and Seraphim and all the other beings of the mythology to which he subscribes were incapable of doing.

I am not a believer, but I do know that one of the ten commandments states that "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me." From where I sit, it looks very much like Donohue and his not-so-merry band of Crackertholics have pretty much punted that one right out the window.

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