The Last Communion
“Hypocrisy is the contrivance of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, while concealing real character or inclinations, esp. with respect to religious and moral beliefs; hence in general sense, dissimulation, pretense, sham. It is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles”
I recently went to a Catholic first communion and a funeral and it helped me to place a finger on a spot that had been hurting for a long time. A first inkling came when ‘the little ones’, after the “entire” church had gone to communion, went to get ‘little crosses on the forehead’ instead of the cracker. I am not convinced that this forehead-crosses-practice is part of what Christianity thought from the get go. I think it is more like eating fish on a Friday, an acquired ‘you really really have to’. What irked me a little was that the kids clearly would have preferred the wafer, and why not, by sheer body-size they were the only ones that could have possibly benefited anything from it in nourishment. But the church decided you can’t have your first communion until we have given you your first communion, even though we arbitrarily decide and frequently change the age at which we will give it to you. I think it was when I heard one of the kids asked her mother, while showing her forehead, “Can you see it mommy?”. Bless her for expecting that a material action would have a material consequence, right? And then it hit me. Religion is so full of hypocrisy!
There is hypocrisy in the way that when we are children-atheists the words used are ‘Jesus’, ‘friend’, ‘love’, ‘music’, ‘together’. As soon as we are ‘confirmed’ “Christians” the ‘Jesus-friend’ is replaced by ‘The Lord’, ‘the savior’. ‘Love’ becomes ‘Sin’, ‘music’ becomes ’blood’ ‘together’ becomes ‘Hell’ and ‘sacrifice’. There is also a lot of hypocrisy in the unquestioned assumption of faith. Surely everyone in church is a believer right? There couldn’t possibly be any social reasons for anyone being here when there is almost no one here when those social reasons don’t apply, right? It is in the way 6-years old are told they now get a chance to choose ‘Jesus’, which is a lie that is repeated 6 years later with both emphasis on ‘they’ and ‘now’ literally negating the lie told the first time. The hypocrisy lays in the seeming way that it matters less to them that we actually choose to believe as long as we think we have actually chosen ourselves. It is a tactic that has worked for centuries so why change it?
They might have made a good theist out of me if instead of pretending I had already swallowed the blue pill they had actively steered me clear of the red one. Instead they elicited revolt in me as not only did they require me to believe fantastical things but they also required me to lie and pretend ‘the emperor had clothes and this church wasn’t empty’.
There is hypocrisy in religions all around the world, both in the clergy as in the ‘flok’.
It’s in the cover-up of sexual molestation at the hands of priests. It’s in the pretense that near 100% of Muslim women wear heavily concealing clothes (often in heavy dark fabric), including headscarves, in some of the most brutally hot climates on the planet, for nearly 100% of the time, regardless whether they are shopping, running-track of swimming in the sea, all completely voluntarily without any possible social-pressure what-so-ever.
It’s in the way we are supposed to ignore religious incompatibility whenever the royals meet or marry each other and how we are not supposed to mention the rivers of red blood that were spilled over their, since (aided by their blue-blood), irrelevant religious incompatibilities.
It is in the telling of absurd tales ranging from the ‘Ark of Noah’ or ‘Jonah and the whale’ or the ‘infinite supply of bread and fishes’ or the wild claim that salt water and sweet water do not mix, while maintaining straight faces, never admitting the elephant in the room: namely that in order to literally believe these things requires, REQUIRES!, insanity!
It is also in the way Scientology denies being a religion, collects on tax benefits for being a religion, while claiming to be a self-help movement and denying the core out-off-touch tenets of their religion that have in the meantime leaked out. By the way it is also in the things that happen to affiliates of Scientology that happen to inquire into the where-about of Shelly Miscavige, who is only technically not ‘missing’; but whose rumored status as ‘hostage’ or ‘prisoner’ of Scientology hasn’t been denied by her as she just declined to comment in the presence of her alleged jailors. While she ostensibly wasn’t a saint herself, it is surely a punishment harder than she deserves.
For me, in attending a first-communion and a funeral, the hypocrisy was also in something more subtle: the booklets. I don’t know if it is a relatively new phenomenon (from last few decades) or if it has always been the case that Catholic-mass [in Belgium?] literally scripts the entire ceremony. Apart from an ‘editorial’ “Homily” by the priest, the mass is physically written down into a little booklet (including stage-notes documenting positions and actions) and handed out or placed on the chairs. Surely there is nothing immoral about this and I know from close up that it is a tremendous amount of work, which is by-the-way tremendously aided by MsOffice copy/paste functionality and the masses copy/paste-able nature.
While it is basically the theists good right to organize their masses in their own style, including any props they deem necessary, I did find much in this practice rich in hypocrisy. Sure, I don’t mind it at all if the play writers script their plays in the same way. I expect them to. And yes, I know that the structure of the mass won’t get any more creative or original by not making a pre-emptive transcript. A die-hard church attendant would not have much trouble to –ad verbatim- predict 50% of what is going to be said in mass in any case. The way it is done though smells an awful lot like control-issues are at play. It seems that, for some reason, if the ceremony is not organized like a play, that there could be a higher risk of unorthodoxy.
Also, when is the last time you went to the movies and was handed (and expected to read) the complete transcript of the movie? To me, the use of a transcript (though this word is mostly used when produced after the facts) makes the whole thing less about a community coming together in a, by nature, rigidly structured social activity and more like a videotape being played off on analogue 3-D hardware, meaning us! The few times I am, for social reasons, still attending mass, apart from the Homily that is disturbingly often riddled with factual- as well as theological(!)- errors, I could have left with the booklet and read it on a terrace over a beer or a glass of wine and not have missed ANYTHING.
Because as an atheist you tend to skip the boring parts, of which there are many in mass, you tend to find yourself at the end of the little booklet when the other attendants are going for their ‘little-piece-of-jesus’, a.k.a. the wafer or the cracker. This is just another ritual that is overflowing with hypocrisy.
Just think about what this ceremony used to mean. “Hoc est corpus christi” as the priest used to say in Latin, which was taken magically and literally enough for the magic formula ‘Hocus Pocus’ to have been derived from it. Today, with basic chemistry being taught in high-school, not a single person still accepts that there is anything that takes place in a literal sense. So it is all symbolic. But no one is going to say that, are they? The tenets of the Roman Catholic Church haven’t changed. Officially there is 2 tons of wafers being transubstantiated into a piece-of the flesh of Christ every year, which is both in violation of chemistry as well as of the second law of thermodynamics.
But the hypocrisy goes even further. Economics and the attitude of the church being what they are: that wafer isn’t going to be very nourishing or tasty. You are not going to church to have pleasure after all! So basically what you get is a tasteless cookie with zero hunger-stopping-power which people have to walk 50 yards for to get. Just try this one day at the office and see how many rush to your desk to get their ‘piece-of-eatable-cardboard’! I bet you’ll only get those that are at arm’s length to ‘have a taste’, the others won’t bother. So that is hypocrisy right? All those people rush to the front of the church for a cookie they all know isn’t literally Christ and which they would stone-cold ignore if there were gummy-bears on offer in the restaurant instead. But it gets even worse.
There are strict rules about the going-for-the-cookie ceremony. First of all you must unconditionally believe in the wheat-flour -to- human-flesh transubstantiation. This already rules out 95% of the non-crazies, with 5% just lying to themselves. Secondly you must not have eaten in the hour prior. While it is possible that none of those church-rushers ate in the morning, my gut (and their silent stomachs) tells me they just had breakfast like I did. Surely all those instant-gratification pre-teens would throw a fit if they didn’t have their cereal just before going to church, right? Also, you must have confessed since your last murder, abortion, sexual infidelity or deliberate impure thoughts in order to get communion. I usually prepare to tell people I masturbated the night before, which is probably always true, in case they question why I don’t ‘go-for-my-cookie’. In any case I recon this is technically still ‘since my last confession’ so …I’m quite safe.
So there I was, with nothing left to read (interesting or otherwise) trying to ignore the stares of the hypocrites going for their wafer, to which they were not entitled, when suddenly a strange thought came to me: I was now at the age where I, for the life of me, could not remember something from my past; I could not remember when it was that I gotten my last communion. It is not something the church makes as much fuss about as about our first time, but it happens to all of us (catholic-raised that is) and to some, like me, it happens rather early.
I do remember it was after I didn’t believe in transubstantiation, simply because I never believed this glaring sophistry, although I didn’t realize at the time it was a requirement. I do believe it was after I started having deliberate-impure-thoughts-with-intend-on-climaxing. But again I’m not sure if I was made aware of these prerequisites. I admit I learned a lot of the arcane rules of the religions in the course of taking on the anti-theist role (I was always an atheist, simply born that way; God’s fault, not mine!).
There was never a struggle in me regarding faith. But there has been, and in a way there still is, a struggle in me regarding the social parts of it. When it was my time to make the ‘sign of the cross’ over my grandmother’s coffin, I just went ahead and did it, even though I had refused on all prior funerals and I had not participated in any of the other religious expressions during the service. I guess I decided not to scoff my closest family directly in front of them. Perhaps I was just too tired to put up a fight.
Even worse. When it was time for the handful of us to do the last part of the funeral in intimate circle; when it came time to say the last prayer over her “final resting place”; my uncle (a sacristan) suffered a black-out while saying the ‘Our Father’; Without hesitation I stepped in (with the others) and I said those words though I hadn’t said them in over two decades. What’s more, I did it without a sense of shame or guilt because of any potential hypocrisy. Those words had become empty to me, as empty as the graveyard was. There was no God there. There was no magical solace or transcendental jolt of pain. It was down-to-earth and human in its flawed imperfectness. There were no outsiders or priests to impress. Ours was a heavy task to complete and regardless of our differences, we stood by each-other and did it as best we could.
I guess being an atheist doesn’t immunize you from being hypocritical. I’d like to believe though that we are less tolerant of it. That we take our actions out on the porch together with our beliefs to examine them, “with a cricket-bat”. Those are the only Ghosts I believe in, those that haunt me, with the things I did that I’m not proud of. I’m not perfect.