I speak from experience as a lapsed Catholic when I say that communion involves swallowing a wafer and some wine, not the body and blood of Jesus.
OK, that experience was brief, since after I had my first communion, thankfully my mother let me decide whether to continue on to be confirmed as a Catholic -- which I definitely didn't want to do, since the black-clad nuns were scary, the mass was in Latin, the wood we had to kneel on was damn hard, and my Presbyterian boyhood friends got to enjoy their more pleasant Sunday School while I was listening to a priest drone on in a language I couldn't understand.
The thing with religions is, they all seem really weird to anyone who isn't a believer in that particular faith, while to those who embrace a religion, mostly it makes great good sense to them.
So as difficult as it is for me to recall in my current atheist frame of mind, for 35 years I was a member of an India-based religion led by a guru who was considered to be God in Human Form. Yeah, that's weird.
Equally weird were the teachings that the guru planted his "radiant form" in the consciousness of the disciple at the time of initiation; that radiant form guided the disciple all the way back to God; the reason initiation was necessary was because the Eastern equivalent of the Devil had stood on one supernatural leg for like forever, earning him a gift from God to keep souls trapped in this physical world where he could control them until a God in Human Form rescued some of them; and a whole lot of other strange stuff besides.
Which means, I used to accept religious teachings that equaled or surpassed the dogmas of Catholicism when it came to difficult-to-believe'ness. (I didn't really believe in all of them, yet I overlooked the most bizarre teachings in order to embrace the more reasonable ones.)
But now I'm a critic of that Eastern religion, and so feel comfortable also being a critic of Catholicism. Which is why I read an opinion piece in USA Today, um, today, called "Catholic truth on Communion belongs in public square."
Download Catholic truth on Communion belongs in public square - USA TODAY
I could tell from the title that I wasn't going to agree with it. Prediction fulfilled!
The woman who wrote the piece, Katrina Trinko, says that it is perfectly fine that bishops are laying the doctrinal groundwork for President Biden, a devout Catholic, to be denied communion because he favors abortion rights.
For some reason the bishops aren't going after the many Catholic Republican politicians who favor capital punishment, which also is a Catholic no-no.
Trinko is upset that so many Catholics don't accept everything that their religion says is true -- a quality that endears me to those independently-minded people.
But as a Catholic, I’ve been stupefied by the news coverage and punditry, which lacks awareness of what the Catholic Church teaches, what the Eucharist is and, yes, what it means to be a practicing Catholic.
In a way, I’m not surprised. Polls regularly show a gulf between the values of many American Catholics and the teachings of the Catholic Church. For instance, more than two-thirds of American Catholics support legalized samesex marriage, according to a 2020 Gallup survey. Fifty-six percent of American Catholics agree with Biden and Pelosi, backing abortion being legal in most or all cases, per a 2019 Pew Research Center survey.
And when it comes to the Eucharist, plenty of Catholics aren’t even aware what the Church teaches, namely that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus. Only half of Catholics know what the Church teaches, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center poll, which also found that 69% of American Catholics don’t believe the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus.
Well, duh, of course the Eucharist -- the supposed transformation of bread and wine into Jesus' body and blood -- isn't real. It's just bread and wine. In fact, there's no persuasive evidence that Jesus even existed, much less that he was a divine being.
Yet the urge to believe in unbelievable stuff runs deep in the human mind. Thousands of years of cultural indoctrination in religious mumbo-jumbo has caused the brains of billions of people to embrace dogmas that make no sense and have no basis in fact.
Again, I've been there and done that.
The guru who initiated me way back when in 1971 would bless food that then became sacred to his followers. Occasionally people would bring some of it back to this country after seeing the guru in India.
Then they might share it with other disciples. I recall the time I got a small bag of guru-blessed treats (could have been rice cereal; can't remember exactly). Before I meditated I'd carefully pick out two or three bits of whatever it was and savor it as the mystical treat I believed it to be.
If I dropped some on the floor, no problem. I still ate it.
This wasn't like believing that the blessed food was the body and blood of the guru, but it was close, since we initiates of the guru considered that somehow the food contained the guru's essence.
I'm glad to have given up that idea, along with the other crazy stuff I used to accept. Hopefully someday many more that 69% of American Catholics will stop believing that what's consumed at communion is the real presence of Jesus.