Holy Communion

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Sam Harris on Christian Sacraments–Lunacy?

Sam Harris recently debated William Lane Craig on the topic “Is Good from God?” See my comments on the debate here. During the debate, Harris argued that the rituals of Christianity can be seen as a kind of lunacy. Harris said, “[Religion] allows perfectly decent and sane people  to believe by the billions what only lunatics could believe on their own. If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you have lost your mind. But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you’re just a Catholic.”

Consider what Harris is claiming here. Basically, he’s saying that to believe a cracker becomes the body of Jesus is a kind of lunacy. Interestingly, throughout the debate he issued these veiled (or not so veiled) insults to Christians at large, and quickly retreated from them when he was called out. But that’s neither here nor there.

My contention is that Harris’ implicit argument against the rationality of the Sacraments (and Christian rituals at large) contains an implicit assumption. Once that assumption is exposed, his argument fails. The implicit assumption is this:

1) Christianity is false

Yeah, I’m serious. The reason is because the only way Harris’ argument makes sense is if one assumes a priori that Christianity is false. For consider his objection if Christianity is true. If Christianity is true, then God exists, Jesus was God, Jesus told us what would happen in Communion/the Eucharist, etc., etc. But then if Christianity is true, it is perfectly rational to hold that the uttering of certain words as part of a ritual would be causative in the sense that God said it would be. So Harris’ argument turns on the assumption that Christianity is false.

But perhaps I’m missing Harris’ point. Perhaps he is instead trying to say “Look at what you guys do! It’s crazy if it’s something else!” But again the only way this would make sense is by assuming Christianity is false. If I believe Christianity is true, then I have no reason to think the rituals involved therein are lunacy or anything other than perfectly rational worship of our God.

But it could be pressed that it does seem as though Harris’ assertion that Holy Communion would be viewed as lunacy in other contexts is in some sense correct. For were I to do the same with pancakes and Elvis, I would be seen as a lunatic. Why not the Christian too? Well, then the question would have to be what kind of evidence do we have for thinking Christianity is true as opposed to other beliefs? In short, if the Christian is epistemically justified in believing Christianity to be true, then Harris’ argument is exposed for what it is: a facile argument which shows how deeply Harris and the other “New Atheists” fail to understand the position they attack.

SDG.

Image: Priest distributing Holy Communion at Holy Protection Church, Düsseldorf.

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