One damp evening, back when I was about 18, I was waiting for the bus in downtown Vancouver. I’d let out a pained groan as the thought of how long it was going to take me to get home floated through my mind, and I knew I’d be trudging kilometers in the icy Vancouver rain to do it. Apparently, my audible dissatisfaction caught someone’s attention. I heard squeaking, like metal grinding on metal and turned to see a decades old Safeway shopping cart, covered in rust, pull up beside me.
“What ya matter, miss?” The old guy pushing the cart was wrapped in a limp old rug, with holes cut out for his arms. He had a plastic BC Liquor Stores bag tied on top of his head, to keep the rain out I presumed. He was dirty, wore holy boots and torn up mittens and he had a little sign hanging around his neck, fashioned from a shoelace and a piece of cardboard. “Doctor”, the sign read. In his cart were only three things: A soggy Archie comic, an old, wood-paneled television, and what looked like a brand new pair of running shoes, loosely covered with a 7-11 bag.
I stared. I’ve never been all that graceful.
“Miss, what ya matter?” His head twitched to the left twice and he forcefully rubbed his nose.
“What do you mean? Nothing. I’m fine.”
“Miss, ya growled like the pits-a-hell were bubblin’ outta ya. What ya matter? I’m a doctor. I’ll help ya.”
“Growled? Like groaned? I am not looking forward to my commute is all.”
“Ya commute? Ya commute? Like a camel ride in the Polynesian desert?”
“What?” I said out loud, and mumbled, “There’s no Polynesian desert.” under my breath.
“Ya, miss. They is.” He stuck his chin out and widened his eyes, as if to prove his claim. “And they got ferrets!”
The way he said that last word, ‘ferrets’ with brutal emphasis that shook his whole body, made me want to burst out laughing. I held it in.
“I tell ya what, lady. I’m gonna give you a prescription for…” He bent over and hit the rear left wheel of his shopping cart with a Bic ballpoint pen he’d pulled from behind his ear. “A prescription for…” He kept trailing off and hitting that wheel over and over. I was beginning to get impatient wondering what he was going to give me a prescription for, when he popped a squat, got his face up an inch away from the wheel and shouted,
“No, ya ain’t! No, sir!” his eyes appeared to cross as he focused on the wheel and got closer to it. “Ya heard me!” He reiterated.
I felt bad for the guy. He was obviously not well. GM isn’t great at holding in her laughter at the best of times. Somehow, I managed, though. Perhaps it was the apparent grimness of his situation that kept the giggles at bay. Whatever it was, I was able to keep my composure while the doc got a few things straight with a rusty wheel.
Like a rocket, he suddenly shot back up, shook his head, shrugged and sighed, “He ain’t gotta tell me twice.” His ballpoint pen was pointed at the wheel. I nodded in agreement. What else was I supposed to do?
“Now, where was I? Prescription for smiles.” He pulled a receipt from inside the Archie comic, struggled to get his pen to write on the soggy paper, but managed to nonetheless. He handed it to me.
“Smiles”, it read, in fairly decent penmanship.
“Doctor’s orders!” He shouted at me as he turned his cart around and walked away.
There was a strange mix of feelings I was left with afterwards. I mean, it worked. I smiled. I felt like he had a good heart and good intentions but I was bothered by the fact that the man clearly needed some help. I was floored by the idea that he was seeing and hearing things that no one else was, and even going so far as to think he was having a conversation with something that was not sentient, let alone able to speak. Though I knew there existed many mental illnesses that can lead a person to behave this way, seeing it right there in front of me was shocking and something that haunted me for a long time to come.
I tell you this story because as someone who has never been religious, I find it near impossible to explain to religious people or even those who used to be religious, what religious ritual feels like to me. I tell you this story because the feelings this homeless man in downtown Vancouver gave me, are the precise feelings I see when people engage in religious ceremony and tradition.
I am often left thinking, like I was this gloomy night in Vancouver, “What the fuck just happened?”
The Eucharist, my sane little skeptics, is the worst offender of all. That shit gets me more mentally twisted than Bill Cosby at an abortion clinic. Taking part in holy goddamned communion is a sure sign you’ve lost all your damned marbles and are playing Hungry, Hungry Hippos with nothing to feed ’em. Here are four reasons why The Lord’s Supper means y’all crazy:
1. Transubstantiation – In order to truly partake in the Eucharist, the Catholic church says you must fully believe that the bread and wine offered during the ritual actually become the body and blood of Christ. You must understand that while your senses still see, taste and smell bread and wine, in a process that is beyond our understanding, they become flesh and blood. This is not meant to be symbolic; it is no metaphor. Catholics taking communion are to believe that in reality, they are truly being offered the very real body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Boy howdy! If that ain’t batshit crazy, I dunno what is!
2. You’re a goddamned cannibal – given that you must truly believe the bread and wine you’re offered while taking communion is, in reality, the body and blood of your saviour who died on the cross two thousand years ago, you are, for all intents and purposes, consuming human flesh when you partake in the Lord’s Supper. You are, my sweet little nutter, a fucking cannibal.
3. None of you feel at all weird about eating two-thousand-year-dead human flesh. You’ll protest a man giving his eternal vows to another man because it’s “unnatural”, but you’ll happily consume what you are supposed to believe is actual human flesh without the blink of an eye. You’ll balk at ancient cultures that practised cannibalism, perhaps even during a sermon preceding your own cannibalistic ritual. Even the Donner party survivors struggled after their harrowing experience with cannibalism. Even the Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes and were forced to consume their dead friends to stay alive, found the entire experience traumatic and difficult to discuss afterwards. But you Catholics at communion just jump right on that dead guy flesh and walk out of your church no worse for wear. No remorse, no disgust and no trauma after eating what you are required to believe is the flesh of a member of your own species.
4. You’ll push the act of eating human flesh on your own children as though it is a good thing. You actively want your children to be cannibals. I mean, really, this point alone makes you completely insane.
You want so badly for your religion to be as wholesome as your priests tell you, but you are cannibals. You ritualistically eat human flesh; you are to believe it is the true flesh of an ancient man, or you are not truly taking part in Holy Communion. You push this cannibalistic ritual on your children and you walk away from it all not just feeling zero remorse, but even happy with yourselves, as though you’ve done a good thing.
That man I met one chilly Vancouver evening way back when has a chance at recovery. He can be treated for his illness with medication and therapy. He can be given a warm bed, a shower and some clean clothes. He has more hope than Catholics who consume the flesh of an ancient man, because Catholics think their act righteous. Catholics will exercise endless mental gymnastics to make the act of cannibalism seem not just okay, but right. There is no changing the mind of a Catholic deep in the throes of a post-cannibalism adrenaline rush. No, their cannibalism is different. It’s wholesome. It’s godly.
It is divinely prescribed.
If a Catholic will eat the flesh of a human because God wants him to, what else would he do if he thought God wanted him to? A lot worse than just writing a prescription for smiles, I would think. A lot worse.