I have never quite gotten the schtick of the New Atheists.
There are lots of things in which I don’t believe, including leprechauns and unicorns, but I hardly ever waste my time thinking about them. Even when it comes to major religions – I don’t spend hours of my day tweeting about what’s wrong with the ones I don’t profess.
But for the New Atheists, building altars to what they say isn’t there just so they can tear them down is a favored pastime.
Case in point: Richard Dawkins — famous for his 2006 book, The God Delusion — still uses his Twitter (coincidentally also born in 2006) to rally the troops against those “faith heads.”
On Sunday, he put the Catholic Church in his sights:
“Roman Catholics are required to believe that communion wine actually is literally the blood of Christ, and the wafer literally is his body. Not symbolically but literally. Not a metaphor but literally. That way madness lies. At very least it’s a pernicious abuse of language,” he tweeted.
Roman Catholics are required to believe that communion wine actually is literally the blood of Christ, and the wafer literally is his body. Not symbolically but literally. Not a metaphor but literally. That way madness lies. At very least it’s a pernicious abuse of language.
“Most Catholics don’t believe the official dogma: ‘… the entire substance of the bread and the entire substance of the wine are converted respectively into the Body and Blood of Christ in such a way that ‘only the appearances of bread and wine remain’,” was his follow up. He even offered a link to the New Advent website’s article on the Eucharist, taken from the 1907-1912 Catholic Encyclopedia.
Now, I don’t have a major beef with Dawkins on this: His understanding of Catholic doctrine is inexact, but not egregiously wrong.
The responses, on the other hand, were … disturbing, to say little – especially those that came from Catholics.
“As an ex-Catholic, I can confirm that this isn’t true,” read one. “All Catholics I knew believed it was either metaphor or a ‘spiritual’ thing. Absolutely no-one believed that we were being cannibals, not even the priest.”
“Cannibalism?” asked another. “I was raised Catholic. Nobody believed it was actually blood or flesh. We knew it was grape juice and stale crackers.”
“I was raised in a Catholic household and never in my life did I ever hear of anybody that ever believed that literally,” read yet another. “It doesn’t matter what ancient words the priest utters.”
“Actually, Catholic teaching is that the physical form is symbolic. It is symbolic. True symbol. The presence is a sacramental, not physical presence. Study theology first if you want to discuss theology.”
This series of tweets really said it:
“I’m a Roman Catholic and what you’ve just said is WRONG!! As per usual It’s a re-enactment of the LAST SUPPER and what Jesus was witnessed to have said!! It’s also a reference to the Holy Spirit, this is my body … It’s the remembrance that’s important, we cleanse our souls of sin with partaking of the Holy Spirit the bread & wine that’s symbolic of the torture Jesus went through to gain our redemption. It’s to give thanks! It’s self explanatory [sic] if you even took the time to actually read it Every time we partake in Holy Communion we are REMEMBERING that Jesus gave up his life for OUR redemption because he died without any SIN and re-opened the gates of Heaven. So yeah it’s SYMBOLIC we don’t see it at all as flesh & blood, we’re remembering HIM”
They went on and on.
If I were a Catholic priest or bishop, I would be hanging my head in shame.
Yes, the usual Catholic Twitter brigade soon entered the fray, to make sure everyone on the thread was up on their Catechism, but they were late to the party and spent their time correcting their fellow Catholics, rather than countering the New Atheist.
Because in this instance, the New Atheist was right, and the Catholics were wrong, on a subject of Catholic doctrine.
For years, people have complained about the dumbing down of doctrine in religious education courses, but this takes the cake: Catholics literally enraged because an atheist describes Catholic teaching fairly accurately.
And not just any Catholic teaching: The central Catholic teaching that distinguishes it from most other Western Christian traditions and was thumped into the heads of young Catholic schoolchildren by generations of nuns with their rulers.
In 2019, a Pew Research Center poll found that 69 percent of Catholics believe the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” In other words, less than a third of Catholics believe in the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.
Perhaps if the New Atheists get tired of their current schtick, we could hire them to teach Catholic doctrine in our parishes?