God is Great, by which I mean, Very Very Large

I've been thinking about transubstantiation, the belief of many branches of Christianity that when you take communion, the bread and wine transform physically into the flesh and blood of Christ. According to the Catholic Church as late as 1965, this is literally true, not just symbolism: the flesh is present, the bread is gone.

So let's run some numbers....

( --More--(13%) )

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97 Responses:

  1. kespernorth says:

    Heck, if you're willing to posit that trasubstantiation actually takes place, it's not that far a leap to say that everyone ingests the same eternally renewing Body and Blood of Christ, over and over again.

    • Sure. Jesus was dead and in the ground before anyone took communion. His flesh and blood were gone. So if God can reconstitute Jesus's body from that, there's no reason he can't reclaim them once again from the bodies and/or bodily wastes of Catholics who eat him.

      Unless you consider the Last Supper to have been the first communion, in which case it's even more confusing. But I imagine the Catholic church doesn't, because that would almost require that the transformation be symbolic.

  2. mandil says:

    According to the literature in the bathroom at my in-laws....the Catholic Church belives this to be true today...not just as recently as 1965.

    Maybe I misunderstand what you're saying.

  3. fastfwd says:

    Actually, it's really more of a loaves and fishes thing.

    • jwz says:

      They don't actually think he's a fish, that's just an acronym. I don't believe this to be a "Shadow Over Innsmouth" type of outbreak.

      • fastfwd says:

        I'm sure you're right. I was just thinking in terms of Jesus as caterer: if you have Him provide the food and drink at your party, you get a lot for your money. Or if you send Him out for groceries, you probably never have to shop again. I thought maybe it worked the same for transubstantiation.

        But that's probably just wishful thinking because I'm too lazy to do the math.

  4. mato says:

    Did you just discover Frink?

  5. g_na says:

    A and B don't add up. I'm assuming A takes into account that many people who are baptised catholic eventually eschew the religion once they are old enough to think for themselves.

    Communion wafers are much smaller than Ritz crackers. I'm guessing 1/4-1/8 the size of one Ritz, and with less fat.

    Catholics nowadays almost never drink the "blood". The priest will "transubstantiate" some wine and take a sip, but it's almost never given to the general public. Maybe they're running out of blood?

    The average person sheds 18kg/40 lbs of skin in a lifetime (source: Human Anatomy, Marieb & Mallatt, PeArson Education 2003).

    • g_na says:

      Oh, also for G - that would be everytime they go to church, and catholics are supposed to go once per week.

    • jwz says:

      Don't add up how? 1.1 / 6.3 = 0.1746.

      I was assuming that the phenomenon of "raised Catholic, but never took communion" was non-negligible only within the last couple hundred years, but you're right, that's still enough to make a difference.

    • tfofurn says:

      Catholics nowadays almost never drink the "blood".

      Yeah, communal drinking cups can be a hygiene problem. Let's see, for the directly-on-the-tongue types, I believe some churches dunk the wafer in the wine. For the in-the-hand parishioners, the wine-laden wafer would just be too messy. Maybe the church could research anti-bac wines.

      • jwz says:

        It's safe to say, then, that bacteria attached to the material don't transubstantiate. Interesting.

        • enochsmiles says:

          I don't think it's safe to say that. I'm not certain what the doctrine is about impurities in the communion host, but since the transubstantiation happens prior to the receiving of communion, it would have no effect on bacteria later introduced into the transubstantiated wine by those receiving the communion.

          • jwz says:

            Oh, I thought the transubstantiation happened once you swallowed. I didn't realize that they believed there to be a stack of live Jesus Meats sitting out there in the open, unrefrigerated.

            • enochsmiles says:

              Actually, transubstantiation is believed to occur at a specific point in the mass, when the priest consecrates the communion host, quoting Jesus's words at the last supper when he perhaps too literally told the twelve apostles "this is my body and blood."

              At least as of a decade ago, the altar boys helpfully ring little bells at the very moment of the transubstantiation, so you know that your Jesus Meat is done.

              The freshly made batch is then served to the hungry Catholics.

              Any unconsumed consecrated host (bread) will then be stored in the Tabernacle, the fancy golden box-thing behind the altar. You might think of it as a spiritual refrigerator. Any leftover host (wine) will be drunk by the priest. (Once the host is transubstantiated, it doesn't turn back into bread and wine, so it must be carefully stored, or consumed. Consumption is the only acceptable disposal method.)

    • exoskeleton says:

      There's a new diet sacrament out now - it's called "I can't believe it's not Jesus"

  6. aka_cat says:

    I'm way too lazy to look it up, but I'm pretty sure communion wafers are a *lot* thinner than a ritz cracker.

    So it's quite possible Jesus is only 250x larger than a blue whale.

  7. novalis says:

    In 2001, Clarke claimed that the ratio of dead to living was 30:1, but I don't know whether this was a projection made when 2001 was written, or based on the time that it was written.

  8. ydna says:

    I wish I could find figures on how much skin people shed. I've heard that most household dust is made of people, but I haven't found any numbers. He would be very much larger indeed if we were to assume that all this consumed flesh and blood was non-essential.

    It all kinda depends on whether they have <lj comm="psoriasis"> or not.

  9. I remember hearing that at one stage, there were enough relics of the cross floating around Europe to make a dozen of them. Noow we know why.

  10. jkonrath says:

    Humans allegedly shed about 40 pounds of skin in their lifetime. I can't find out any facts on how much of that ends up in other peoples' food, though.

    What always got me is this: if you can use anything as the host for communion, and the host "becomes" the flesh of Christ, why not use a cadaver? Wouldn't that essentially bring Jesus back to life into someone's body?

    • Actually, what you'd have is a lifeless Jesus-clone. :-) Without the soul/spirit/spark of life/whatever you choose to call it, it's still just a dead body. And theoretically he's got better things to do Upstairs than come down to tell us what naughty boys and girls we've been.

      Unless you feel that the formula of transsubstantiation is strong enough that Jesus would be drawn into the body whether he wants to or not. Then you might get a ressurected Jesus, or maybe even a Zombie Jesus. That would be fun.

      • phoenixredux says:

        So you're saying that we might need to save the world from a 50' Zombie Jesus Transubstantiated Clone who is intent on making Revelations the status quo?

        Ha! Who ever said that religion wasn't any fun?

        I smell a screenplay brewing! :)

        • ...

          Exactly what kind of weapon do you use against a 50' Zombie Jesus Transubstantiated Clone? Ozzy Osbourn?

          Though really it'd make a much better cartoon than movie. :-)

          • phoenixredux says:

            It would be a great 50's sci-fi B-movie.

            That's a good question, because while you need to decapitate zombies, I think that you would need to crucify a zombie Jesus.

            The nice part about this is, there's sort of a built-in sequel: "50' Zombie Jesus - Three Days Later".

          • msoya says:

            Not sure about Jesus, but http://rebecca.hitherby.com/archives/000420.php explains about how to deal with zombie clones of Johannes Agricola, 50 times the normal size. Plus, it's a damn good story :P

            (I came here from BoingBoing, I think. Or slashdot, I really can't remember)

  11. primroseport says:

    We shed 1.5 million skin cells every hour with a new skin surface every 28 to 30 days or so.

  12. wilecoyote says:

    Wow, you truly are a gentleman of leisure.

    Actually, catholics can (and often do) take the Eucharist at every mass, which would mean every week (or even everyday, for hardcore believers). My childhood memory going to the church was that roughly half of the congregation every week stood up to take communion. OTOH, as people have pointed out, nobody except the priest drank the wine. And of course, I don't know to what extent this is extrapolable to the last 2000 years.

    • g_na says:

      I don't know to what extent this is extrapolable to the last 2000 years.

      Good point. I wonder how long catholicism has been around? One thousand years? 750?

      • basal_surge says:

        Basically, the Catholic church claims to start when Jesus left off, citing Peter as the first pope, so since about AD32.

        Here's a list of popes (they leave out some of the naughty ones, though)

        • jwz says:

          Which are the naughty ones?

            • ubq2s says:

              is this from monty python?

              • 33mhz says:

                Yeah. I know they're quoted and referenced to death, but she was the first person that sprung to mind when someone mentioned a "naughty" pope, given her odd little hat and white robe.

          • basal_surge says:

            Can't remember off the top of my head. I think they've left out a couple from those embarrasing times when there were two or three popes during those schisms in the 12th/13th Centuries.

            • enochsmiles says:

              Well, there are times where there existed more than one legitimate pope, according to Catholic teaching. During the schism periods, there were multiple contenders to the papal throne, but all but "God's Pope" are now considered antipopes.

          • enochsmiles says:

            There were a bunch of sick ones. For instance, Pope Stephen VII had Pope Formosus's body pulled out of its tomb to be tortured years after his death.

            Then there were the various crusades and inquisition actions throughout history.

            But the most amusing popes of all might be those between Sergius III and John XII, who turned the Papal Palaces into a orgiastic den of sin.

          • basal_surge says:

            Ah (checks list) they've left people like Formosus and co in. Here's the Antipopes.

        • wilecoyote says:

          Why do you say "the Catholic church claims"? IIRC, the catholic church has always been the "original" one; protestantism started when Martin Luther separated himself from the catholic church in XVI century; anglicanism started when Henry VIII wanted a divorce etc., etc., etc. What do other churches claim?

          • basal_surge says:

            I say claims because there's bugger all documentation earlier than about 300 AD as to who was doing what in the early church. I'd say that either the Coptic church, the addled remnants of the Gnostic church or the Eastern Orthodox churches could also claim to be the 'original' one; the Catholic church just has the biggest numbers,(which equates to the biggest guns, basically). The Copts and the Gnostics started out very early on, within that first hundred years. The gnostics were mostly wiped out by internal purges from the Catholics AFAIK, whereas the Copts went south, and are now mostly based in the Sudan and Ethiopia; Interestingly, the Coptic Church has occasionally been noticed to claim it has the Ark of the Covenant, but they're not saying where. The Eastern Orthodox didn't split until much later, after the council of Nicaea, I think, sometime around the eighth century.

            If it makes any difference, I'd say any church 'claims' these sorts of things, because I'm an atheist, and I don't ascribe any great degree of truth or veracity to any of them, as at some point they've all engaged in a little revisionist history to gloss over the lumpy bits.

            • wilecoyote says:

              Ah. See, I thought that you were perhaps referring to those weird churches that you americans have over there :-P (baptists, methodists, episcopalians and who knows what else), and implying that one of those was the original one... I hadn't remembered the orthodox or the copts.

              • basal_surge says:

                You Americans? Why would I be American? I've only been there once, and it was such a harrowing experience (LAX, horrible place) I got on a plane out of there in less than ten hours, and even just that ten hours in LAX nearly cost me my doctoral thesis. If they hadn't been burning trucks on the runways in Tahiti, I would never have been diverted there in the first place. Damn separatists, why can't they riot when my plane is _not_ due to use their country as a stopover.

    • 15576987 says:

      At the church I went to sporadically when I was younger, the congregation could choose to drink from the cup rather than receive a wafer. It happened this way in Ireland too, and at my siblings' church

  13. leolo says:

    According to Roman Catholic dogma, transubstantiation is the change of the substance of the Eucharistic elements - bread and wine - into the body and blood of Jesus, although they retain the physical accidents - i.e. appearance, taste, texture, etc.- of bread and wine.

    From Wikipedia

    I'd also guess more clues could be had by wading through ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA but I don't have any patience for papal encyclical letters.

    • jwz says:

      What's your point?

      That Wikipedia article goes on to say "bread and wine are really absent, and this presence and absence is real and not merely something in the mind of the believer."

      • wsxyz says:

        In order to understand Catholic statements on transsubstantiation you have to first accept the somewhat mind-bending view that all physical properties of some item are somehow completely seperable from that items "being" or "substance". Meaning that the host can actually BE the flesh of Christ while still possessing all of the phyiscal properties (including molecular makeup, etc.) of a wafer of communion bread.

        Needless to say, this worldview is at odds with the basic assumptions of natural science. It fits fairly well with the ancient greek idea that everything in this world is an imperfect representation of its perfect architype on some alternate-planr perfect universe

        • zompist says:

          It's not Platonism; it goes back to Aristotle, and is thus perfectly good naive science. It accords well enough with naive experience: e.g. you can make eggs into omelettes or meringue or custard, and they're still eggs. Water can be fluffy snow or boiling water or hard ice and it's still water.

      • leolo says:

        Roughly, that while the eucharist is the body/blood of Christ, it's not the physical molecules that make/made up the physical body of Christ.

    • gytterberg says:

      Wow, karma whoring in a LiveJournal. :) And there's not even any karma.

  14. kzinti says:

    For people who take communion in my church (Methodist), the ritual is merely symbolic cannibalism. For Catholics, though, it's actual cannibalism. Cool. Thou art God.

    • "Stranger in a Strange Land" reference, I assume? Hmm ... makes me wonder what other subtle jabs Heinlein may have tossed in that I overlooked (assuming this was intentional.)

      • kzinti says:

        Yeah, the Martians practiced cannibalism, and Michael considered it a great honor if his friends would eat him after he "disincorporated". One of the other characters is repulsed by the idea, at which point Jubal pointed out that many Christian churches practise ritual cannibalism as one of their most central rites. One of my favorite parts of the book.

  15. transgress says:

    catholicism is so funny, they _really_ sit down and think some things out, and other things it seems like they ran with a whim on drugs.. but of course I guess it was the 60's.

    I'm not religious, but if I was going to be I would go (back) to catholicism, if they would only say 'we sat down and thought about it and it makes best sense to us if...' instead of 'the holy ghost came to us and said'.

  16. sugamunki says:

    This math is assuming each person were to receive only One communion in their lifetime?!

    Don't most Catholics take up the cup Every week?

    therefore we'd have to take
    23,000,000,000 (the typical lifespan in years - 8) so for an easy number let's take 78 as the "typical" liespan and then subtract 8 *calculating* = 70...X56 weeks/year...

    so we have 23,000,000,000 (70*56) = 90,160,000,000,000
    so let's toss that into the equation and see where it brings us!

    23,000,000,000 people
    × 12 %
    × 3920 communion
    × 2000 years
    = unGodly number here

    (this moment of sheer stupidity has been tossed your way out of complete desperation to avoid thinking about homework-sorry to take it out on you)

    • lordkiev says:

      Is it blasphemy to consume an ungodly amount of a supposed god?

    • jwz says:

      No, my math was assuming one communion per year (per person). Others have pointed out that that's low, and that my size for the wafer is high (for modern wafers, anyway.)

  17. otterley says:

    What did you have for breakfast today? Because I want some.

  18. hawkeyemi says:

    I once heard that 75% of household dust is dead human skin cells. Now you just need numbers for how fast it accumulates.

    • jwz says:

      That's a fantastic book. The sequels aren't as good, though.

      • obra says:

        Oh. That's good to know. I hadn't actually known the sequels existed and almost oneclicked them when I went to grab the amazon url for my comment. But yeah, your post definitely made me think of the section where they docked with the corpse.

  19. randymorin says:

    And to think I always thought regeneration in omnipotent beings was assumed. Stupid me.

  20. mysterc says:

    Your formula does not include the all powerful nature of God.

    The formula should read:
    23,000,000,000 people
    × 12 %
    × 1 communion
    × 2000 years
    = 5,520,000,000,000 servings


    × 0.25 fl. oz.
    = 10,781,250,000 gallons of blood


    × 20 grams
    = 243,390,340,000 pounds of flesh
    = 121,695,170 tons of flesh
    x (n=Alpha+Omega)=
    Whatever the bible says it does...

    This is the answer that the nuns always gave me (a recovering catholic) whenever I tried to introduce logic into the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    God bless

    • dcdan says:

      The euphemism for "Whatever the bible says it does..."
      is now officaially known as "Faith Based Initiatives"

  21. baconmonkey says:

    this begs the question: does transubstatiated flesh run the full digestive course?

    if yes, there is a huge ammount of literally holy shit out there.
    that also puts a new spin on the Pisschrist work.

  22. Now my question is, does Jesus have an excess of either flesh or blood? What's the normal ratio of blood:body in an adult male? If he's got extra blood, he may be regularly donating it - you could have a bit of Jesus in you.

    • debi_v says:

      You'll probably just find this annoying, but of all the comments I was reading about the whole Catholic-Christ-Communion-transformation thing, yours grabbed my attention most and actually caused me to register on this site so I could respond.[Thank you very much.] I was Catholic once, but never made it to the the Communion years. I remember being quite annoyed at the time because my parents converted right before I was to wear the white dress and veil when I was 7-years-old (yet thrilled that I no longer had to attend Catholic School).


      I don't believe in religion, I believe in a relationship with God who created me, and His Son who was sent to redeem me through his death and resurrection. You could call me "born-again", but then I would fall into that category that so many in this country despise.
      I just wanted to comment on your choice of words: "a bit of Jesus in me". It's kinda like if if someone had the cure for cancer and met someone with cancer. It wouldn't be fair to keep such information to oneself. I've got Jesus in me (and I'm not a freak), and because of that, I've got the gift of eternal life. It wouldn't be fair not to share it with you.

      There. I've said my piece. Now I can go to bed. Man, I'm tired.

      ...Oh, and I receive communion now when I go to church. It's just crackers and juice, for pete's sake... :-) Symbolism... Hello?

  23. arucard says:

    I saw this on BoingBoing, and thought you might be interested to know about another problem with the whole transubstantiation thing....

    If, when you eat the wafer, it transforms into the flesh of Christ, then it's not the actual wafer you're eating, is it? it wouldn't matter what was in the wafer

    So why the heck do they make gluten free communion wafers for people with allergies?
    Could it be that they don't have *that* much faith that it really will turn into the flesh of Christ?

  24. kyronfive says:

    FYI--the Catholic church contends to this day that during the act of transubstantiation, the Eucharist literally becomes Jesus' flesh. I know this because this is the main reason that Catholics are not allowed to take communion in Episcopalian churches. (Episcopalians don't recognize transubstantiation.)

  25. God is large. He contains multitudes.

  26. dranore says:

    Here's a little something... let's take your weight multiplier:


    ...and THEN lets take the average human height... I'm gonna guess and say 5.5 feet... acounting for the wide variety of short and tall people.

    5.5 * 20,282,528

    If this were to hold true and Jesus has normal human weight distribution one might assume that Jesus was 111,553,904 feet tall. Oh that's right kids... the day of reconing will not contain multi-headed-dragons that eat babies, but one really tall Jesus.


      • denshi says:

        Taking that into account, and assuming that volume and mass are equivalent,

        massjesus = masshuman(heightjesus/heighthuman)^3

        heightjesus = 1310.3066 feet, but he can probably slouch to about 900 feet.

        • phoenixredux says:

          So we're going to need at least a 1600' cross for the zombie Jesus, due to the sag factor once he's hanging there. Is that about right? There must be a formula for the proper ratio of cross height to the average adult human that could be extrapolated to a custom design for a 1300-foot Jesus. I'll leave the math to others who are better suited to it.

  27. at_b says:

    The real question is: does Jesus weigh more than the Netscape codebade, circa 1998?

  28. romanticboy says:

    That's really the blood of Christ? Holy crap, that guy must of been wasted 24/7!

  29. willyumtx says:

    Jebus is HUGE! Jebus is as big as you can imagine!! Jebus fills your universe with his blood and flesh!!!

    Oh wait, you're talking about Jesus. Sorry.

  30. smokedamage says:

    mad as a hatter, you. but i admire that.

  31. 15576987 says:

    another issue with your equation: assuming on average most baptised catholics take it 4x a yr for the average 50 yr lifespan equalling 200x... you're forgetting that most people do not receive communion until age 8-10. :)

  32. irma_vep says:

    Americans are fatties. I went to Europe, and was amazed at how many thin people I saw. European young people are arrogant and stuck up, though. Maybe they resent rich, fat Americans who can be very obnoxious.

  33. andrew_pack says:

    That's a very peculiar, albeit entertaining calculation. I'd have to agree with the poster who said something along the lines of - if you can accept transubstantiation, you could also believe that it was just eternally renewing, and that the bits of Jesus we ate just regenerated.

    I am wondering now whether Jesus gets bits nibbled out of him while he's walking around. Also, that as a lapsed Catholic who sold his soul to the devil in order to influence the results of a football match (the devil paid up) whether I really have anything to fear by committing the sin of blasphemy (and if not, why I still feel sort of guilty)

    As to shedding of skin, I read this somewhere and liked it. Computers get hot - to keep them cool they have a fan inside which sucks in air and blows it over the circuitry, then blowing it out. The air contains dust. Dust is made up of dead skin. The dead skin around your computer is probably mostly yours. The air you breathe and the smell you detect when you're working at your computer is your own skin, roasting.