The title is puzzling: European colonialists have annihilated whole native and African cultures because they thought their Christian values were superior. The target point of Christian critique was often that the savages practiced cannibalism.
But we can find some cannibalism in Christianity.
More specifically, we’ll look at the Eucharist, a rite considered a sacrament or an ordinance depending on the Christian denomination, but all accepting it.
What Is the Eucharist?
With roots in the New Testament, namely with the episode of “The Last Supper,” it consists of drinking the sacramental wine and eating the sacramental bread, both representing the blood and the body of Jesus (`alayhi-salam), respectively.
Even if it were merely symbolic or metaphorical, it would still be odd to eat someone you consider your God. But it’s worse: Apart from the Calvinists, all Christian denominations believe in the “real presence” of Jesus during the rite.
What does that mean, practically?
That, as a Christian, you must believe that you’re literally eating his flesh and drinking his blood!
All Christian denominations have faith in this holy cannibalism: Catholics will talk of “transubstantiation,” i.e., that the bread and wine totally transform into the body and blood by losing their former substance (you only consume the body and blood), while Lutherans will talk of “consubstantiation,” i.e., that they do transform but that they retain their previous substance as well (so you consume the body and blood but also the bread and wine), etc. But ultimately they all talk of “real presence.”
In fact, when Christians tried to go against this cannibalistic belief, they were persecuted, even executed, as heretics.
For example, consider the 11th century French theologian Berengar of Tours, who denied this “real presence,” and thus was pushed to repent and even write a confession, forced to do so by the Catholic Church, and in 1215 the Fourth Council of the Lateran would definitively close this specific debate for Catholics.
Centuries later the Sacramentarians were persecuted as well, by the Protestants this time, for denying the physicality and corporeality during the Eucharist.
Let’s look at how all of this has been interpreted and how Christian scholars themselves admit that it’s a form of cannibalism.
The Pagan Accusations
The Greco-Roman pagans, with their philosophy which would ironically influence the formation of the Trinity, accused Christians of being cannibals because of the Eucharist.
Albert Henrichs writes in Greek Myth and Religion, p. 58:
The Greeks of the classical period were both fascinated and repelled by cannibalistic myths. They passed this peculiar fascination on to the pagan philhellenes of the second century AD who compared the Christian eucharist with Thyestean banquets and charged the Christian communities of their time with ritual child murder and incest. Their accusations recall similar charges brought against participants of the Roman Bacchanalia as well as against the Jews, Manichees, and other religious minorities who led a marginal existence outside the mainstream of Greco-Roman society. The eucharist remained a source of pagan suspicion and misunderstanding.
He then brings an observation from the 3rd century neo-Platonic philosopher Porphyry, who penned a pamphlet titled Against Christianity, which he describes as “the only extant comment on the Eucharist written by a pagan”:
“Much discussed,” he begins, “is the following word of the Teacher: ‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in yourselves’ (John 6.53). This is not truly bestial (θηριῶδες) and absurd, but absurd beyond any absurdity, and bestial beyond every sort of bestiality, that a man should taste human flesh and drink the blood of men of his own genus and species, and by so doing should have eternal life!”
You know you’ve lost it when even pagan apologists talk of absurdity and bestiality!
How the Eucharist Created a “Blood Cult”
Such theological justification of cannibalism was bound to have direct effects on wider society, and what did happen is that it created a “blood cult,” with Christians, both the laymen and the clergymen, desperate to drink the blood of Jesus.
To get an idea, let’s read David Biale in Blood and Belief, pp. 84-85:
But the physical reality of the Eucharist was not only a preoccupation of elite theology. Miri Rubin has shown in her study of the Corpus Christi feast that worship of the Eucharist on the popular level involved increasingly physical representations, such as processions with the venerated Host.
An example of this kind of blood piety can be found in the eleventh century, when the Italian monk Peter Damian related the following vision: “I often perceived, in a very vivid intuition of my mind, Christ fastened with nails, hanging on the cross, and, with my mouth placed underneath, I eagerly caught the dripping blood.” Note that Peter imagines he drinks directly of the blood of Christ from his wounds. To drink this blood meant to find salvation in the very violence with which the Savior had died.
How Christian Scholars Defend It… and Fail
The way Christian scholars contrast the Eucharist with cannibalism merely shows that it is indeed cannibalism.
Take Michael Foley in his “The Eucharist & Cannibalism,” writing for The Catholic Thing.
He writes that “cannibals eat what is dead” while “by contrast, Christ, is alive.” Also that “cannibals only take a part of their victims. But even the smallest particle of the Eucharist contains the entire body and blood of Christ.”
These bizarre, laughable arguments are not new. They date from the very first centuries of Christian intellectual history.
A Christian apologist website, trying to disassociate the rite from accusations of cannibalism, writes:
In his Plea for the Christians (written circa. 176 AD) Athenagoras addresses the charge of cannibalism in a letter addressed to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. That is, he argues Christians are not cannibals because cannibalism requires that the flesh of the victim be dead. He simply observes: “….you cannot eat human flesh unless you have killed someone.” Christians are therefore not cannibals because the flesh of Christ which is consumed is not dead flesh, but the Resurrected and fully alive flesh of Christ’s glorified body which is given to them by Christ Himself.
Again, we ask: how is that even an argument?
How is eating the flesh of a living person not cannibalism? It’s still cannibalism!
And even if it weren’t technically cannibalism, how would eating the flesh of a living person be any less horrifying and morally repugnant than eating that of a dead person?
Shirk definitely makes one irrational and even mad.
But we do ask the Christian missionaries who accuse Islam of barbarism: How does your “god” taste?